Catherine’s slap sobers Lantier and he successfully leads his fellow strikers to Montsou; however, the small voice of reason somewhere inside him asks what any of this will matter. He had set out for Jean-Bart this morning intending to prevent any violence; instead he is ending a day packed with violence by “laying siege to the manager’s house.”
Lantier is desperate to find something else on which the mob can unleash its fury and prevent further disaster. Rasseneur calls to Lantier from the doorway of Tison’s bar. Lantier tries to avoid him, but Rasseneur reminds Lantier that he warned him of just this kind of trouble if he started a strike. The mob might demand bread, but all they will get is bullets. Lantier accuses Rasseneur of being a coward while others risk their lives and livelihoods. Lantier will stay with his friends even if they all get killed. Everyone is throwing stones, and the women are more frightening than the men.
Suddenly there is a lull. The Gregoires walk across the road to the Hennebeau’s house as if this were an innocent gathering. As soon as the elderly couple goes inside the manager’s house, the stone-throwing and shouting intensify. Inside, Gregoire expresses his confidence that the mob will go home to their dinners as soon as everyone has had a good shout.
Hennebeau comes downstairs to greet his guests. Though he is broken as a man, he is still an “efficient administrator determined to carry out his duty.” They are all concerned that the ladies (and Negrel) have not yet returned, and Hennebeau about all the troops he requested. The cook is distraught because the pastry she ordered from the bakery has not arrived and she presumes the mob has confiscated it, Hennebeau discovers Maigrat cowering in terror, hoping for help in protecting his shop from the hostile crowd.
The Gregoires worry about Cecile and Hennebeau wonders how he had not foreseen any of this. Finally the group arrives back home, but they are being harassed by the mob. Negrel bolts the door behind them, assuming Cecile is inside. She is not. In the confusion she headed the wrong way and the women, driven to savagery, intend to whip the terrified rich girl. Bonnemort begins to strangle her out of some latent urge to kill, and the women start to rip the girl’s clothing from her body. La Maheude tries to stop them, as do Hennebeau and Negrel, and Lantier is able to distract some of the crowd by brandishing Levaque’s axe and smashing in the door of Maigrat’s shop. Deneulin, coming to dinner on horseback, is finally able to capture the unconscious Cecile and bring her inside.
The Gregoires are distraught as they watch their daughter recover from her faint (she has escaped any real harm) and stunned to hear that the mob has demolished La Piolane. Gregoire wonders why these people begrudge his living a “sober, decent life off the fruits of their labor.” Deneulin is glad to see his daughters, who had been with Madame Hennebeau and Negrel, are unharmed. He laughs but is shaking when he...
(The entire section contains 820 words.)
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