At four o’clock the miners begin to descend. Dansaert writes each worker’s name down without comment, as the notices promised. He considers rejecting Lantier and Catherine, but he he gloats instead. Chaval is not silent and berates both of them, though it is clearly because he is jealous. No one else even seems to notice them.
Lantier and Catherine squeeze into an already full tub. The cage is released, and two-thirds of the way down there is a terrible scraping noise; everyone is jostled together when the ironwork creaks. Despite the problem, the cage reaches the bottom but the riders are soaked with water from a host of apparent leaks. Not one deputy decides to check on the excessive water.
At the bottom, miners are divided into ten-man teams, and Chaval deliberately becomes the tenth member of Lantier’s and Catherine’s crew. As work begins, no one speaks much; however, both of Catherine’s lovers nearly come to blows. Chaval insists he has no more use for Catherine. Lantier threatens Chaval, and the two men have to be separated.
Dansaert has been expecting Negrel but the overman has not appeared. Another hour passes and Dansaert has stopped work so the miners can spend time ramming the props to hold up the ceiling. As they work, they hear what seem to be people running above them, as if their comrades are racing for the surface; however, eventually the coal tubs get moving again.
Catherine is shaken as she reports that there is no one left in this part of the mine. Every worker immediately drops everything but lamps, horrified at the thought of being left behind in the pit so far from the shaft. They are all terrified and calling for help, but the silence only intensifies their terror. Soon they are up to their knees in water and the wood lining the shaft is beginning to fall on them. Water continues to fall and finally Dansaert, faced with an emergency, is forced to give the order to evacuate the mine.
A “terrible stampede” ensues. One cage is soon disabled and the other is catching so badly that its cable “is bound to snap soon.” A hundred miners remain below and three men have already died; Dansaert is ineffectual at maintaining order. Lantier and Chaval’s team arrive just as the cage disappears and the shaft collapses. The cage will not be returning, and the shaft is blocked. Lantier picks up Catherine. Twenty miners remain and the water is rising; water is spewing and there is no hope of rescue.
When Dansaert arrives at the surface, Negrel is waiting. (Madame Hennebeau had kept him that morning to select wedding gifts for Cecile.) Negrel asks if everyone is safe, and Dansaert lies. Negrel tries to account for all three hundred and twenty-two miners who went below ground that morning, but it is an impossible task. It is clear to him that as many as forty workers might still be trapped. People from Village Two Hundred and Forty arrive and...
(The entire section contains 772 words.)
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