Part 7, Chapter 5 Summary
In the pit shaft, the twenty surviving miners are screaming with terror as the water rises to waist-level. The noise of the water is deafening, but worse is the whinnying of the horses trapped in the stable. When Mouque finally has to let go of Battle, the old horse stands his ground for a moment before racing down one of the haulage roads. They follow the horse, knowing their best chance for escape is Requillart.
At a crossroads, Chaval impatiently chooses one direction, and two others follow him. The rest follow old Mouque, though they are all disoriented and even the older miners are unsure where they are or where they are going. Lantier is in the rear because Catherine is exhausted and frightened. If he had been alone, he would have followed Chaval because he thought that was the right direction; now there are seven of them following Mouque.
Lantier offers to carry Catherine, but she would rather be left behind to die. They are fifty meters behind the others when Lantier finally picks her up despite her resistance; suddenly they are confronted with a slab of coal which has fallen and blocked them from the others. They are lost for a time, but Lantier finally recognizes a path and they are able to move forward, despite the water lapping at their chests and pushing against them. They watch the valiant horse, Battle, lose his struggle to live free; the sight of death changes Catherine’s mind. Though she is still terrified, she now wants to live.
They climb the chimney and the water pursues them until they reach the ninth level. Catherine sleeps for several hours, but when the water begins to reach them Lantier has to keep them moving. “The whole mine has been profoundly disturbed, and its frail intestines are bursting under the pressure of the enormous quantity of water it has imbibed.” Lantier manages to get them through a doorway and onto a road where they are astonished to see the glow of a lantern. It is Chaval.
Chaval’s two companions are dead and he has their food and their lanterns and the passage is blocked. He sneers when he sees Lantier and Catherine, but Lantier is pragmatic and asks about the blocked passage. Chaval has set the lanterns and the sandwiches against the wall and knows he can survive for several days if he is careful. Lantier begins tapping the miners’ code against the rock, but there is no answer. Catherine says nothing, as finding herself trapped between these two men again is the worst she can imagine.
“And so their appalling new life begins.” They sit in silence for hours, Catherine leaning against Lantier, before Chaval begins to eat. He taunts Catherine with food, but she knows what he is asking of her and refuses to be responsible for either man’s death. Unfortunately, the fight is inevitable and Lantier kills Chaval. Lantier’s “hair stands on end at the horror of this murder and, though all his upbringing is against it, his heart is racing with joy, the sheer animal joy of a sated...
(The entire section is 795 words.)