Part 6, Chapter 4 Summary
Lantier and Catherine leave the bar, but Lantier does not quite know what to do with her. She refuses to go to her parents’ and he does not think it is appropriate for him to take her to his underground lair. They walk in awkward silence, and Lantier is reminded of their “previous passionate desire” for each other; it was also hesitant and awkward, and he wonders if this means the passion still exists. Finally she says she should not go to his hiding place because she has a man and he also has La Mouquette, though Lantier swears he has no one special.
Catherine assures Lantier that he is not missing anything because she is not a proper woman, her puberty long delayed by the conditions in which she has lived. She regrets she is a “useless specimen,” and Lantier pities her self-loathing. She does not want to go with Lantier so quickly after leaving Chaval, and she finds no pleasure in sex anyway.
Catherine says she is going home to Chaval, as it is the only place she has to sleep. Lantier fears for her safety, but Catherine shrugs in resignation. A beating eventually ends, and it is better than walking around like a beggar. She consoles herself with the knowledge that eight out of ten girls do not end up any better than she has.
They walk silently and Lantier’s heart is breaking for the girl, but he knows he has virtually nothing to offer her so he walks her near Chaval’s house where she tells him to leave. From inside, she whispers that Chaval is not back yet and she is going to bed. Lantier reluctantly leaves and walks past Le Voreux. He is surprised to see Jeanlin in the moonlight, creeping toward the armed guard; he is further astonished to see the boy jump on the sentry’s back and silently slit the soldier’s throat.
Lantier rages at the boy. Jeanlin says he did it just because he felt like it. Lantier is appalled that this child is seething with such criminal urges, and when he sees that the dead sentry is the one he recently spoke to, he feels an “enormous wave of pity” for the young soldier. Now he must help Jeanlin get rid of the body. There is no trace of blood because the knife is still in his neck, so they drag the body until they can laboriously drag it down to the loading bay. He sends Jeanlin for a precious candle and they proceed to place the guard in a precarious place and then collapse that part of the mine on top of him as a burial mound.
Lantier wrestles with his doubts and fears, but back on the surface he is able to catch his breath. He has concluded that, since he was not courageous enough to have killed Chaval (and a mere boy was unafraid to kill an armed guard), he must “die a valiant death” for the revolution. With this decided, Lantier walks to Le Voreux. Now Lantier wonders what would happen if he could convince these...
(The entire section is 786 words.)