IT was at the Bon-Joyeux, Widow Désir's,
that the private meeting was organized for
Thursday at two o'clock. The widow, incensed at
the miseries inflicted on her children the
colliers, was in a constant state of anger,
especially as her inn was emptying. Never had
there been a less thirsty strike; the drunkards
had shut themselves up at home for fear of
disobeying the sober word of command. Thus
Montsou, which swarmed with people on feast-days,
now exhibited its wide street in mute and
melancholy desolation. No beer flowed from
counters or bellies, the gutters were dry. On the
pavement at the Casimir Bar and the Estaminet du
Progrés one only saw the pale faces of the
landladies, looking inquiringly into the street;
then in Montsou itself the deserted doors extended
from the Estaminet Lenfant to the Estaminet Tison.
passing by the Estaminet Piquette and the
Tete-Coupée Bar; only the Estaminet
Saint-Éloi, which was frequented by
captains, still drew occasional glasses; the
solitude even extended to the Volcan, where the
ladies were resting for lack of admirers, although
they had lowered their price from ten sous to five
in view of the hard times. A deep mourning was
breaking the heart of the entire country.
"By God!" exclaimed Widow Désir,
slapping her thighs with both hands, "it's
the fault of the gendarmes! Let them run me in,
devil take them, if they like, but I must plague
For her, all authorities and masters were
gendarmes; it was a term of general contempt in
which she enveloped all the enemies of the people.
She had greeted Étienne's request with
transport; her whole house belonged to the miners,
she would lend her ball-room gratuitously, and
would herself issue the invitations since the law
required it. Besides, if the law was not pleased,
so much the better! She would give them a bit of
her mind. Since yesterday the young man had
brought her some fifty letters to sign; he had
them copied by neighbours in the settlement who
knew how to write, and these letters were sent
around among the pits to delegates and to men of
whom they were sure. The avowed order of the day
was a discussion regarding the continuation of the
strike; but in reality they were expecting
Pluchart, and reckoning on a discourse from him
which would cause a general adhesion to the
On Thursday morning Étienne was disquieted
by the non-appearance of his old foreman, who had
promised by letter to arrive on Wednesday evening.
What, then, was happening? He was annoyed that he
would not be able to come to an understanding with
him before the meeting. At nine o'clock he went
to Montsou, with the idea that the mechanic had,
perhaps, gone there direct without stopping at the
"No, I've not seen your friend," replied
Widow Désir. "But everything is
ready. Come and see."
She led him into the ball-room. The decorations
were the same, the garlands which supported at the
ceiling a crown of painted paper flowers, and the
gilt cardboard shields in a line along the wall
with the names of saints, male and female. Only
the musicians' platform had been replaced by a
table and three chairs in one corner; and the room
was furnished with forms ranged along the floor.
"It's perfect," Étienne declared.
"And you know," said the widow,
"that you're at home here. Yell as much as
you like. The gendarmes will have to pass over my
body if they do come!"
In spite of his anxiety, he could not help smiling
when he looked at her, so vast did she appear,
with a pair of breasts so huge that one alone
would require a man to embrace it, which now led
to the saying that of her six weekday lovers she
had to take two every evening on account of the
But Étienne was astonished to see Rasseneur
and Souvarine enter; and as the widow left them
all three in the large empty hall he exclaimed:
"What! you here already!"
Souvarine, who had worked all night at the Voreux,
the engine-men not being on strike, had merely
come out of curiosity. As to Rasseneur, he had
seemed constrained during the last two days, and
his fat round face had lost its good-natured
"Pluchart has not arrived, and I am very
anxious," added Étienne.
The innkeeper turned away his eyes, and replied
between his teeth:
"I'm not surprised; I don't expect him."
Then he made up his mind, and looking the other
man in the face bravely:
"I, too, have sent him a letter, if you want
me to tell you; and in that letter I have begged
him not to come. Yes, I think we ought to manage
our own affairs ourselves, without turning to
Étienne, losing his self-possession and
trembling with anger, turned his eyes on his
mate's and stammered:
"You've done that, you've done that?"
"I have done that, certainly! and you know
that I trust Pluchart; he's a knowing fellow and
reliable, one can get on with him. But you see I
don't care a damn for your ideas, I don't!
Politics, Government, and all that, I don't care a
damn for it! What I want is for the miner to be
better treated. I have worked down below for
twenty years, I've sweated down there with fatigue
and misery, and I've sworn to make it easier for
the poor beggars who are there still; and I know
well enough you'll never get anything with all
your ideas, you'll only make the men's fate more
miserable still. When they are forced by hunger
to go down again, they will be more crushed than
ever; the Company will pay them with strokes of
the stick, like a runaway dog who is brought back
to his kennel. That's what I want to prevent, do
He raised his voice, protruding his belly and
squarely planted on his big legs. The man's whole
patient, reasonable nature was revealed in clear
phrases, which flowed abundantly without an
effort. Was it not absurd to believe that with
one stroke one could change the world, putting the
workers in the place of the masters and dividing
gold as one divides an apple? It would, perhaps,
take thousands and thousands of years for that to
be realized. There, hold your tongue, with your
miracles! The most sensible plan was, if one did
not wish to break one's nose, to go straight
forward, to demand possible reforms, in short, to
improve the lot of the workers on every occasion.
He did his best, so far as he occupied himself
with it, to bring the Company to better terms; if
not, damn it all! they would only starve by being
Étienne had let him speak, his own speech
cut short by indignation. Then he cried:
"Haven't you got any blood in your veins, by
God?" At one moment he would have struck him,
and to resist the temptation he rushed about the
hall with long strides, venting his fury on the
benches through which he made a passage.
"Shut the door, at all events,"
Souvarine remarked. "There is no need to be
Having himself gone to shut it, he quietly sat
down in one of the office chairs. He had rolled a
cigarette, and was looking at the other two men
with his mild subtle eye, his lips drawn by a
"You won't get any farther by being
angry," said Rasseneur judiciously. "I
believed at first that you had good sense. It was
sensible to recommend calmness to the mates, to
force them to keep indoors, and to use your power
to maintain order. And now you want to get them
into a mess!"
At each turn in his walks among the benches,
Étienne returned towards the innkeeper,
seizing him by the shoulders, shaking him, and
shouting out his replies in his face.
"But, blast it all! I mean to be calm. Yes,
I have imposed order on them! Yes, I do advise
them still not to stir! only it doesn't do to be
made a joke of after all! You are lucky to remain
cool. Now there are hours when I feel that I am
losing my head."
This was a confession on his part. He railed at
his illusions of a novice, his religious dream of
a city in which justice would soon reign among the
men who had become brothers. A fine method truly!
to fold one's arms and wait, if one wished to see
men eating each other to the end of the world like
wolves. No! one must interfere, or injustice
would be eternal, and the rich would for ever suck
the blood of the poor. Therefore he could not
forgive himself the stupidity of having said
formerly that politics ought to be banished from
the social question. He knew nothing then; now he
had read and studied, his ideas were ripe, and he
boasted that he had a system. He explained it
badly, however, in confused phrases which
contained a little of all the theories he had
successively passed through and abandoned. At the
summit Karl Marx's idea remained standing: capital
was the result of spoliation, it was the duty and
the privilege of labour to reconquer that stolen
wealth. In practice he had at first, with
Proudhon, been captured by the chimera of a mutual
credit, a vast bank of exchange which suppressed
middlemen; then Lassalle's cooperative societies,
endowed by the State, gradually transforming the
earth into a single industrial town, had aroused
his enthusiasm until he grew disgusted in face of
the difficulty of controlling them; and he had
arrived recently at collectivism, demanding that
all the instruments of production should be
restored to the community. But this remained
vague; he knew not how to realize this new dream,
still hindered by scruples of reason and good
sense, not daring to risk the secretary's absolute
affirmations. He simply said that it was a
question of getting possession of the government
first of all. Afterwards they would see.
"But what has taken you? Why are you going
over to the bourgeois?" he continued
violently, again planting himself before the
innkeeper. "You said yourself it would have
to burst up!"
Rasseneur blushed slightly.
"Yes, I said so. And if it does burst up,
you will see that I am no more of a coward than
any one else. Only I refuse to be among those who
increase the mess in order to fish out a position
Étienne blushed in his turn. The two men
no longer shouted, having become bitter and
spiteful, conquered by the coldness of their
rivalry. It was at bottom that which always
strains systems, making one man revolutionary in
the extreme, pushing the other to an affectation
of prudence, carrying them, in spite of
themselves, beyond their true ideas into those
fatal parts which men do not choose for
themselves. And Souvarine, who was listening,
exhibited on his pale, girlish face a silent
contempt--the crushing contempt of the man who was
willing to yield his life in obscurity without
even gaining the splendour of martyrdom.
"Then it's to me that you're saying
that?" asked Étienne; "you're
"Jealous of what?" replied Rasseneur.
"I don't pose as a big man; I'm not trying to
create a section at Montsou for the sake of being
The other man wanted to interrupt him, but he
"Why don't you be frank? You don't care a
damn for the International; you're only burning to
be at our head, the gentleman who corresponds with
the famous Federal Council of the Nord!"
There was silence. Étienne replied,
"Good! I don't think I have anything to
reproach myself with. I always asked your advice,
for I knew that you had fought here long before
me. But since you can't endure any one by your
side, I'll act alone in future. And first I warn
you that the meeting will take place even if
Pluchart does not come, and the mates will join in
spite of you."
"Oh! join!" muttered the innkeeper;
"that's not enough. You'll have to get them
to pay their subscriptions."
"Not at all. The International grants time
to workers on strike. It will at once come to our
help, and we shall pay later on."
Rasseneur was carried beyond himself.
"Well, we shall see. I belong to this
meeting of yours, and I shall speak. I shall not
let you turn our friends' heads, I shall let them
know where their real interests lie. We shall see
whom they mean to follow--me, whom they have known
for thirty years, or you, who have turned
everything upside down among us in less than a
year. No, no! damn it all! We shall see which
of us is going to crush the other."
And he went out, banging the door. The garlands
of flowers swayed from the ceiling, and the gilt
shields jumped against the walls. Then the great
room fell back into its heavy calm.
Souvarine was smoking in his quiet way, seated
before the table. After having paced for a moment
in silence, Étienne began to relieve his
feelings at length. Was it his fault if they had
left that fat lazy fellow to come to him? And he
defended himself from having sought popularity.
He knew not even how it had happened, this
friendliness of the settlement, the confidence of
the miners, the power which he now had over them.
He was indignant at being accused of wishing to
bring everything to confusion out of ambition; he
struck his chest, protesting his brotherly
Suddenly he stopped before Souvarine and
exclaimed. "Do you know, if I thought I
should cost a drop of blood to a friend, I would
go off at once to America!"
The engine-man shrugged his shoulders, and a smile
again came on his lips.
"Oh! blood!" he murmured. "What
does that matter? The earth has need of it."
Étienne, growing calm, took a chair, and
put his elbows on the other side of the table.
This fair face, with the dreamy eyes, which
sometimes grew savage with a red light, disturbed
him, and exercised a singular power over his will.
In spite of his comrade's silence, conquered even
by that silence, he felt himself gradually
"Well," he asked, "what would you
do in my place? Am I not right to act as I do?
Isn't it best for us to join this
Souvarine, after having slowly ejected a jet of
smoke, replied by his favourite word:
"Oh, foolery! but meanwhile it's always so.
Besides, their International will soon begin to
move. He has taken it up."
He had pronounced this word in a whisper, with
religious fervour, casting a glance towards the
east. He was speaking of the master, Bakunin the
"He alone can give the knock-out blow,"
he went on, "while your learned men, with
their evolution, are mere cowards. Before three
years are past, the International, under his
orders, will crush the old world."
Étienne pricked up his ears in attention.
He was burning to gain knowledge, to understand
this worship of destruction, regarding which the
engine-man only uttered occasional obscure words,
as though he kept certain mysteries to himself.
"Well, but explain to me. What is your
"To destroy everything. No more nations, no
more governments, no more property, no more God
"I quite understand. Only what will that
lead you to?"
"To the primitive formless commune, to a new
world, to the renewal of everything."
"And the means of execution? How do you
reckon to set about it?"
"By fire, by poison, by the dagger. The
brigand is the true hero, the popular avenger, the
revolutionary in action, with no phrases drawn out
of books. We need a series of tremendous outrages
to frighten the powerful and to arouse the
As he talked, Souvarine grew terrible. An ecstasy
raised him on his chair, a mystic flame darted
from his pale eyes, and his delicate hands gripped
the edge of the table almost to breaking. The
other man looked at him in fear, and thought of
the stories of which he had received vague
intimation, of charged mines beneath the tsar's
palace, of chiefs of police struck down by knives
like wild boars, of his mistress, the only woman
he had loved, hanged at Moscow one rainy morning,
while in the crowd he kissed her with his eyes for
the last time.
"No! no!" murmured Étienne, as
with a gesture he pushed away these abominable
visions, "we haven't got to that yet over
here. Murder and fire, never! It is monstrous,
unjust, all the mates would rise and strangle the
And besides, he could not understand; the
instincts of his race refused to accept this
sombre dream of the extermination of the world,
mown level like a rye-field. Then what would they
do afterwards? How would the nations spring up
again? He demanded a reply.
"Tell me your programme. We like to know
where we are going to."
Then Souvarine concluded peacefully, with his gaze
fixed on space:
"All reasoning about the future is criminal,
because it prevents pure destruction, and
interferes with the progress of revolution."
This made Étienne laugh, in spite of the
cold shiver which passed over his flesh. Besides,
he willingly acknowledged that there was something
in these ideas, which attracted him by their
fearful simplicity. Only it would be playing into
Rasseneur's hands if he were to repeat such things
to his comrades. It was necessary to be
Widow Désir proposed that they should have
lunch. They agreed, and went into the inn
parlour, which was separated from the ball-room on
weekdays by a movable partition. When they had
finished their omelette and cheese, the engineman
proposed to depart, and as the other tried to
"What for? To listen to you talking useless
foolery? I've seen enough of it. Good day."
He went off in his gentle, obstinate way, with a
cigarette between his lips.
Étienne's anxiety increased. It was one
o'clock, and Pluchart was decidedly breaking his
promise. Towards half-past one the delegates
began to appear, and he had to receive them, for
he wished to see who entered, for fear that the
Company might send its usual spies. He examined
every letter of invitation, and took note of those
who entered; many came in without a letter, as
they were admitted provided he knew them. As two
o'clock struck Rasseneur entered, finishing his
pipe at the counter, and chatting without haste.
This provoking calmness still further disturbed
Étienne, all the more as many had come
merely for fun--Zacharie, Mouquet, and others.
These cared little about the strike, and found it
a great joke to do nothing. Seated at tables, and
spending their last two sous on drink, they
grinned and bantered their mates, the serious
ones, who had come to make fools of themselves.
Another quarter of an hour passed; there was
impatience in the hall. Then Étienne, in
despair, made a gesture of resolution. And he
decided to enter, when Widow Désir, who was
putting her head outside, exclaimed:
"But here he is, your gentleman!"
It was, in fact, Pluchart. He came in a cab drawn
by a broken-winded horse. He jumped at once on to
the pavement, a thin, insipidly handsome man, with
a large square head--in his black cloth frock-coat
he had the Sunday air of a well-to-do workman.
For five years he had not done a stroke with the
file, and he took care of his appearance,
especially combing his hair in a correct manner,
vain of his successes on the platform; but his
limbs were still stiff, and the nails of his large
hands, eaten by the iron, had not grown again.
Very active, he worked out his ambitions, scouring
the province unceasingly in order to place his
"Ah! don't be angry with me," he said,
anticipating questions and reproaches.
"Yesterday, lecture at Preuilly in the
morning, meeting in the evening at Valencay.
Today, lunch at Marchiennes with Sauvagnat. At
last I was able to take a cab. I'm worn out; you
can tell by my voice. But that's nothing; I shall
speak all the same."
He was on the threshold of the Bon-Joyeux. when
he bethought himself.
"By jingo! I'm forgetting the tickets. We
should have been in a fine fix!"
He went back to the cab, which the cabman drew up
again, and he pulled out a little black wooden
box, which he carried off under his arm.
Étienne walked radiantly in his shadow,
while Rasseneur, in consternation, did not dare to
offer his hand. But the other was already
pressing it, and saying a rapid word or two about
the letter. What a rum idea! Why not hold this
meeting? One should always hold a meeting when
possible. Widow Désir asked if he would
take anything, but he refused. No need; he spoke
without drinking. Only he was in a hurry, because
in the evening he reckoned on pushing as far as
Joiselle, where he wished to come to an
understanding with Legoujeux. Then they all
entered the ball-room together. Maheu and
Levaque, who had arrived late, followed them. The
door was then locked, in order to be in privacy.
This made the jokers laugh even more, Zacharie
shouting to Mouquet that perhaps they were going
to get them all with child in there.
About a hundred miners were waiting on the benches
in the close air of the room, with the warm odours
of the last ball rising from the floor. Whispers
ran round and all heads turned, while the
new-comers sat down in the empty places. They
gazed at the Lille gentleman, and the black
frock-coat caused a certain surprise and
But on Étienne's proposition the meeting
was at once constituted. He gave out the names,
while the others approved by lifting their hands.
Pluchart was nominated chairman, and Maheu and
Étienne himself were voted stewards. There
was a movement of chairs and the officers were
installed; for a moment they watched the chairman
disappear beneath the table under which he slid
the box, which he had not let go. When he
reappeared he struck lightly with his fist to call
for attention; then he began in a hoarse voice:
A little door opened and he had to stop. It was
Widow Désir who, coming round by the
kitchen, brought in six glasses on a tray.
"Don't put yourselves out," she said.
"When one talks one gets thirsty."
Maheu relieved her of the tray and Pluchart was
able to go on. He said how very touched he was at
his reception by the Montsou workers, he excused
himself for his delay, mentioning his fatigue and
his sore throat, then he gave place to Citizen
Rasseneur, who wished to speak.
Rasseneur had already planted himself beside the
table near the glasses. The back of a chair
served him as a rostrum. He seemed very moved,
and coughed before starting in a loud voice:
What gave him his influence over the workers at
the pit was the facility of his speech, the
good-natured way in which he could go on talking
to them by the hour without ever growing weary.
He never ventured to gesticulate, but stood stolid
and smiling, drowning them and dazing them, until
they all shouted: "Yes, yes, that's true
enough, you're right!" However, on this day,
from the first word, he felt that there was a
sullen opposition. This made him advance
prudently. He only discussed the continuation of
the strike, and waited for applause before
attacking the International. Certainly honour
prevented them from yielding to the Company's
demands; but how much misery! what a terrible
future if it was necessary to persist much longer!
and without declaring for submission he damped
their courage, he showed them the settlements
dying of hunger, he asked on what resources the
partisans of resistance were counting. Three or
four friends tried to applaud him, but this
accentuated the cold silence of the majority, and
the gradually rising disapprobation which greeted
his phrases. Then, despairing of winning them
over, he was carried away by anger, he foretold
misfortune if they allowed their heads to be
turned at the instigation of strangers.
Two-thirds of the audience had risen indignantly,
trying to silence him, since he insulted them by
treating them like children unable to act for
themselves. But he went on speaking in spite of
the tumult, taking repeated gulps of beer, and
shouting violently that the man was not born who
would prevent him from doing his duty.
Pluchart had risen. As he had no bell he struck
his fist on the table, repeating in his hoarse
At last he obtained a little quiet and the
meeting, when consulted, brought Rasseneur's
speech to an end. The delegates who had
represented the pits in the interview with the
manager led the others, all enraged by starvation
and agitated by new ideas. The voting was decided
"You don't care a damn, you don't! you can
eat!" yelled Levaque, thrusting out his fist
Étienne leaned over behind the chairman's
back to appease Maheu, who was very red, and
carried out of himself by this hypocritical
"Citizens!" said Pluchart, "allow
me to speak!"
There was deep silence. He spoke. His voice
sounded painful and hoarse; but he was used to it
on his journeys, and took his laryngitis about
with him like his programme. Gradually his voice
expanded and he produced pathetic effects with it.
With open arms and accompanying his periods with a
swaying of his shoulders, he had an eloquence
which recalled the pulpit, a religious fashion of
sinking the ends of his sentences whose monotonous
roll at last carried conviction.
His discourse centred on the greatness and the
advantages of the International; it was that with
which he always started in every new locality. He
explained its aim, the emancipation of the
workers; he showed its imposing structure--below
the commune, higher the province, still higher the
nation, and at the summit humanity. His arms
moved slowly, piling up the stages, preparing the
immense cathedral of the future world. Then there
was the internal administration: he read the
statutes, spoke of the congresses, pointed out the
growing importance of the work, the enlargement of
the programme, which, starting from the discussion
of wages, was now working towards a social
liquidation, to have done with the wage system.
No more nationalities. The workers of the whole
world would be united by a common need for
justice, sweeping away the middle-class
corruption, founding, at last, a free society, in
which he who did not work should not reap! He
roared; his breath startled the flowers of painted
paper beneath the low smoky ceiling which sent
back the sound of his voice.
A wave passed through the audience. Some of them
"That's it! We're with you."
He went on. The world would be conquered before
three years. And he enumerated the nations
already conquered. From all sides adhesions were
raining in. Never had a young religion counted so
many disciples. Then, when they had the upper
hand they would dictate terms to the masters, who,
in their turn, would have a fist at their throats.
"Yes, yes! they'll have to go down!"
With a gesture he enforced silence. Now he was
entering on the strike question. In principle he
disapproved of strikes; it was a slow method,
which aggravated the sufferings of the worker.
But before better things arrived, and when they
were inevitable, one must make up one's mind to
them, for they had the advantage of disorganizing
capital. And in this case he showed the
International as providence for strikers, and
quoted examples: in Paris, during the strike of
the bronze-workers, the masters had granted
everything at once, terrified at the news that the
International was sending help; in London it had
saved the miners at a colliery, by sending back,
at its own expense, a ship-load of Belgians who
had been brought over by the coal-owner. It was
sufficient to join and the companies trembled, for
the men entered the great army of workers who were
resolved to die for one another rather than to
remain the slaves of a capitalistic society.
Applause interrupted him. He wiped his forehead
with his handkerchief, at the same time refusing a
glass which Maheu passed to him. When he was
about to continue fresh applause cut short his
"It's all right," he said rapidly to
Étienne. "They've had enough. Quick!
He had plunged beneath the table, and reappeared
with the little black wooden box.
"Citizens!" he shouted, dominating the
disturbance, "here are the cards of
membership. Let your delegates come up, and I
will give them to them to be distributed. Later
on we can arrange everything."
Rasseneur rushed forward and again protested.
Étienne was also agitated; having to make a
speech. Extreme confusion followed. Levaque
jumped up with his fists out, as if to fight.
Maheu was up and speaking, but nobody could
distinguish a single word. In the growing tumult
the dust rose from the floor, a floating dust of
former balls, poisoning the air with a strong
odour of putters and trammers.
Suddenly the little door opened, and Widow
Désir filled it with her belly and breast,
shouting in a thundering voice:
"For God's sake, silence! The
It was the commissioner of the district, who had
arrived rather late to prepare a report and to
break up the meeting. Four gendarmes accompanied
him. For five minutes the widow had delayed them
at the door, replying that she was at home, and
that she had a perfect right to entertain her
friends. But they had hustled her away, and she
had rushed in to warn her children.
"Must clear out through here," she said
again. "There's a dirty gendarme guarding
the court. It doesn't matter; my little
wood-house opens into the alley. Quick,
then!" The commissioner was already knocking
with his fist, and as the door was not opened, he
threatened to force it. A spy must have talked,
for he cried that the meeting was illegal, a large
number of miners being there without any letter of
In the hall the trouble was growing. They could
not escape thus; they had not even voted either
for adhesion or for the continuation of the
strike. All persisted in talking at the same
time. At last the chairman suggested a vote by
acclamation. Arms were raised, and the delegates
declared hastily that they would join in the name
of their absent mates. And it was thus that the
ten thousand colliers of Montsou became members of
the International. Meanwhile, the retreat began.
In order to cover it, Widow Désir had
propped herself up against the door, which the
butt-ends of the gendarmes' muskets were forcing
at her back. The miners jumped over the benches,
and escaped, one by one, through the kitchen and
the wood-yard. Rasseneur disappeared among the
first, and Levaque followed him, forgetful of his
abuse, and planning how he could get an offer of a
glass to pull himself together. Étienne,
after having seized the little box, waited with
Pluchart and Maheu, who considered it a point of
honour to emerge last. As they disappeared the
lock gave, and the commissioner found himself in
the presence of the widow, whose breast and belly
still formed a barricade.
"It doesn't help you much to smash everything
in my house," she said. "You can see
there's nobody here."
The commissioner, a slow man who did not care for
scenes, simply threatened to take her off to
prison. And he then went away with his four
gendarmes to prepare a report, beneath the jeers
of Zacharie and Mouquet, who were full of
admiration for the way in which their mates had
humbugged this armed force, for which they
themselves did not care a hang.
In the alley outside, Étienne, embarrassed
by the box, was rushing along, followed by the
others. He suddenly thought of Pierron, and asked
why he had not turned up. Maheu, also running,
replied that he was ill--a convenient illness, the
fear of compromising himself. They wished to
retain Pluchart, but, without stopping, he
declared that he must set out at once for
Joiselle, where Legoujeux was awaiting orders.
Then, as they ran, they shouted out to him their
wishes for a pleasant journey, and rushed through
Montsou with their heels in the air. A few words
were exchanged, broken by the panting of their
chests. Étienne and Maheu were laughing
confidently, henceforth certain of victory. When
the International had sent help, it would be the
Company that would beg them to resume work. And
in this burst of hope, in this gallop of big boots
sounding over the pavement of the streets, there
was something else also, something sombre and
fierce, a gust of violence which would inflame the
settlements in the four corners of the country.