Part 7, Chapter 4 Summary
Hennebeau is not being blamed for negligence, but the Company believes the explosion was the work of many and begins protecting itself by firing the cowardly Dansaert. Deneulin, the newly appointed divisional engineer, has to deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
He stops the flooding from the canal and starts to pump the water from the underground mine. Negrel is still determined to rescue the trapped workers and has plenty of volunteers. The strike and other animosities are forgotten in the midst of this crisis. Though Negrel suspects the fifteen miners are dead, he acts as if they are still alive. The only viable option is to descend though Requillart, though it is a challenge, as well. Once they get below, they do not hear anything and are not sure where to punch through the wall to try to reach the Le Voreux passageways.
Every morning, La Maheude comes to Le Voreux and sits until evening, hoping for news. Jeanlin, whose underground lair at Requillart is being threatened by the presence of the rescue workers, is also frightened. Zacharie, Catherine’s young brother, is the most distraught. One day Zacharie emerges from the shaft, screaming that Catherine is alive.
Negrel and his men go to the spot but do not hear anything in response to their taps; soon, though, there is an astonishing tap in reply. The distance between the trapped miners and their freedom is only about fifty meters, and Negrel gives the order to begin digging. There is only room for one miner at a time to chip at the coal, and the miners work in two-hour shifts. Zacharie works his own shift and any others he can until he exhausted; then he goes back to work. The miners dig six meters in one day, but the coal gets harder to mine and they only cut through thirty-two meters in nine days. Negrel has been living below and is worried that this effort will be too late to save the trapped miners; it seems unlikely they could have lasted this long.
At noon on the ninth day, Zacharie does not answer when he is called, and it is too dark for anyone to see him. The rescue miners have been warned not to turn their lamps up too high because firedamp has been detected; huge pockets of gas have been accumulating on the narrow, unventilated shafts. Suddenly there is a “thunderous explosion.” Flames and chunks spew from the mine shaft. Three miners and the deputy are alive but so covered with burns that they cry out to die. Zachary’s headless, charred body is brought to the surface and La Maheude tearlessly follows the body. Once he has been taken home, she returns to wait for her daughter.
Another three days pass and there are only three meters of coal separating the trapped miners from freedom. It has been fifteen days and there is no longer any sound from the trapped miners. The bourgeois have taken an interest in the mines; the Gregoires come to tour the site, and Madame Hennebeau is already there. Jeanne begins to sketch and Lucie sits beside her and says it is all so...
(The entire section is 801 words.)