Part 6, Chapter 5 Summary
All the entrances to Le Voreux are now closed, and the sixty soldiers on guard are protecting the one remaining entrance. The thirty miners from the village keep their distance at first. La Maheude is the first to arrive at the pit, and she insists that no one will come in or out without having to confront the strikers. Mouque, the old stableman, will not be dissuaded. Everyone allows him in, and he soon comes out bearing a dead horse in his cart.
It is Trumpet, the horse which never adapted to life underground. His death is no surprise and the overman had been warned that the death was likely; now Battle has to haul his dead companion out of the mine. It is a tragic sight, and the strikers are saddened to think that the horse has no choice in whether or not it wants to live its life underground.
A new group of striking miners arrives, and they are calling for the deaths of the Belgian workers. Lantier stops the strikers and tries to reason with the twenty-something captain, assuring him that justice is on the strikers’ side and the captain does not want to be responsible for not preventing a “pointless massacre.” He tries to reason with the grim-faced commander three more times as the miners are growing more restless. The captain finally shouts at Lantier that he is not here to negotiate but to follow orders and guard the pit; if the insurgents do not back away, he will be compelled to use force against them.
The captain’s voice is strong but he is visibly shaken and has already sent for reinforcements. Lantier admits defeat and knows he can no longer control what will happen. The crowd moves in, and Catherine is watching it all. She heard Lantier make an appeal to the guard as a fellow worker, as one of them, but clearly that argument had no effect on the young and determined captain.
The crowd, now nearly five hundred people, presses in as the soldiers present their bayonets. The crowd charges, “drunk on their heedlessness of death.” The soldiers have been ordered to avoid violence, but the crowd is leaving them little choice. Violence seems inevitable until Richomme, the deputy, appears. He assures the workers that he was once one of them and promises them fair treatment. This stalls the attack until the crowd spots the cowardly overman, Negrel, in a window.
Neither Richomme nor Lantier can do anything, so the captain decides staging a show of strength might calm the crowd. His sixty men load their guns, but none of the workers believe the soldiers will fire upon them. Suddenly a scuffle breaks out and the captain takes a few prisoners; this temporarily silences the crowd until it demands their release. When there is no response, the workers arm themselves with bricks and the stoning begins.
Catherine joins the group, feeling a sudden “absolute, desperate need to slaughter.” She has never had enough,...
(The entire section is 754 words.)