At four o’clock in the morning, Lantier is walking along the Vandame road after spending six weeks in the Montsou hospital. He is still not strong, but he felt strong enough to leave and began walking. The Company had dismissed him but offered him a hundred francs and suggested he quit the mining business. Lantier refused the money and wrote to Pluchart, who immediately invited him to Paris and sent the fare. Lantier is here now to tell his comrades goodbye before he leaves.
Lantier has not seen anyone since the disaster. La Maheude came once but had probably been stopped from coming again. All the workers from Village Two Hundred and Forty, including La Maheude, are now working at Jean-Bart. The miners slowly begin to appear on the road and pass Lantier on their way to work. The Company is taking advantage of its victory, offering its workers, “vanquished by hunger after two and a half months out on strike,” the same disguised pay-cuts which prompted the strike.
All the mines are resuming work, but the workers are seething with anger and hatred, reluctantly accepting only one master: hunger. Lantier has a lingering fear of the mine, but he visits his comrades in the changing room. None of the faces are familiar, and they seem to have no resentment toward him. Instead, they look at him with fear, embarrassed that he might see them as cowards for giving up the strike. A new batch of workers arrives, and Lantier recognizes them. They stammer excuses; but when they leave they shake hands silently with Lantier and he feels their unspoken fury at having to relent to the Company in order to feed their families.
Pierron has been promoted to deputy and is annoyed at Lantier’s presence. La Maheude arrives and will work at an awful job the Company created for her in consideration of her tragic losses, breaking its own policy about hiring a forty-year-old woman. She does not apologize, as it is a simple matter of survival. She tells Lantier that old Bonnemort is the same as he has been but will not get his pension from the Company. Jeanlin also has a job now, but what the two of them earn will not feed six people—and it will be four or five years before the next-youngest children will be able to work in the mines: “The job’s killed everyone else, so now it’s their turn.”
Before she goes below, La Maheude tells Lantier she bears him no grudge. It was bound to be something which started a strike, and one day the bourgeoisie will pay for its misdeeds. “Underneath the blind acceptance inherited from previous generations and the inborn sense of discipline that is bending her neck to the yoke, a shift has thus taken place, for now she is certain that the injustice cannot go on” and the poor will be avenged. La...
(The entire section contains 754 words.)
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