Germinal, by Émile Zola

Chapter 3

AT four o’clock the descent began. Dansaert, who was personally installed at the marker’s office in the lamp cabin, wrote down the name of each worker who presented himself and had a lamp given to him. He took them all, without remark, keeping to the promise of the placards. When, however, he noticed Étienne and Catherine at the wicket, he started and became very red, and was opening his mouth to refuse their names; then, he contented himself with the triumph, and a jeer. Ah! ah! so the strong man was thrown? The Company was, then, in luck since the terrible Montsou wrestler had come back to it to ask for bread? Étienne silently took his lamp and went towards the shaft with the putter.

But it was there, in the receiving-room, that Catherine feared the mates’ bad words. At the very entrance she recognized Chaval, in the midst of some twenty miners, waiting till a cage was free. He came furiously towards her, but the sight of Étienne stopped him. Then he affected to sneer with an offensive shrug of the shoulders.

Very good! he didn’t care a hang, since the other had come to occupy the place that was still warm; good riddance! It only concerned the gentleman if he liked the leavings; and beneath the exhibition of this contempt he was again seized by a tremor of jealousy, and his eyes flamed. For the rest, the mates did not stir, standing silent, with eyes lowered. They contented themselves with casting a sidelong look at the new-comers; then, dejected and without anger, they again stared fixedly at the mouth of the shaft, with their lamps in their hands, shivering beneath their thin jackets, in the constant draughts of this large room. At last the cage was wedged on to the keeps, and they were ordered to get in. Catherine and Étienne were squeezed in one tram, already containing Pierron and two pikemen. Beside them, in the other tram, Chaval was loudly saying to Father Mouque that the directors had made a mistake in not taking advantage of the opportunity to free the pits of the blackguards who were corrupting them; but the old groom, who had already fallen back into the dog-like resignation of his existence, no longer grew angry over the death of his children, and simply replied by a gesture of conciliation.

The cage freed itself and slipped down into the darkness. No one spoke. Suddenly, when they were in the middle third of the descent, there was a terrible jarring. The iron creaked, and the men were thrown on to each other.

“By God!” growled Étienne, “are they going to flatten us? We shall end by being left here for good, with their confounded tubbing. And they talk about having repaired it!”

The cage had, however, cleared the obstacle. It was now descending beneath so violent a rain, like a storm, that the workmen anxiously listened to the pouring. A number of leaks must then have appeared in the caulking of the joints.

Pierron, who had been working for several days, when asked about it did not like to show his fear, which might be considered as an attack on the management, so he only replied:

“Oh, no danger! it’s always like that. No doubt they’ve not had time to caulk the leaks.”

The torrent was roaring over their heads, and they at last reached the pit-eye beneath a veritable waterspout. Not one of the captains had thought of climbing up the ladders to investigate the matter. The pump would be enough, the carpenters would examine the joints the following night. The reorganization of work in the galleries gave considerable trouble. Before allowing the pikemen to return to their hewing cells, the engineer had decided that for the first five days all the men should execute certain works of consolidation which were extremely urgent. Landslips were threatening everywhere; the passages had suffered to such an extent that the timbering had to be repaired along a length of several hundred metres. Gangs of ten men were therefore formed below, each beneath the control of a captain. Then they were set to work at the most damaged spots. When the descent was complete, it was found that three hundred and twenty-two miners had gone down, about half of those who worked there when the pit was in full swing.

Chaval belonged to the same gang as Catherine and Étienne. This was not by chance; he had at first hidden behind his mates, and had then forced the captain s hand. This gang went to the end of the north gallery, nearly three kilometres away, to clear out a landslip which was stopping up a gallery in the Dix-Huit-Pouces seam. They attacked the fallen rocks with shovel and pick. Étienne, Chaval, and five others cleared away the rubbish while Catherine, with two trammers, wheeled the earth up to the upbrow. They seldom spoke, and the captain never left them. The putter’s two lovers, however, were on the point of coming to blows. While growling that he had had enough of this trollop, Chaval was still thinking of her, and slyly hustling her about, so that Étienne had threatened to settle him if he did not leave her alone. They eyed each other fiercely, and had to be separated.

Towards eight o’clock Dansaert passed to give a glance at the work. He appeared to be in a very bad humour, and was furious with the captain; nothing had gone well, what was the meaning of such work, the planking would everywhere have to be done over again! And he went away declaring that he would come back with the engineer. He had been waiting for Négrel since morning, and could not understand the cause of this delay.

Another hour passed by. The captain had stopped the removal of the rubbish to employ all his people in supporting the roof. Even the putter and the two trammers left off wheeling to prepare and bring pieces of timber. At this end of the gallery the gang formed a sort of advance guard at the very extremity of the mine, now without communication with the other stalls. Three or four times strange noises, distant rushes, made the workers turn their heads to listen. What was it, then? One would have said that the passages were being emptied and the mates already returning at a running pace. But the sound was lost in the deep silence, and they set to wedging their wood again, dazed by the loud blows of the hammer. At last they returned to the rubbish, and the wheeling began once more. Catherine came back from her first journey in terror, saying that no one was to be found at the upbrow.

“I called, but there was no reply. They’ve all cleared out of the place.”

The bewilderment was so great that the ten men threw down their tools to rush away. The idea that they were abandoned, left alone at the bottom of the mine, so far from the pit-eye, drove them wild. They only kept their lamp and ran in single file — the men, the boys, the putter; the captain himself lost his head and shouted out appeals, more and more frightened at the silence in this endless desert of galleries. What then had happened that they did not meet a soul? What accident could thus have driven away their mates? Their terror was increased by the uncertainty of the danger, this threat which they felt there without knowing what it was.

When they at last came near the pit-eye, a torrent barred their road. They were at once in water to the knees, and were no longer able to run, laboriously fording the flood with the thought that one minute’s delay might mean death.

“By God! it’s the tubbing that’s given way,” cried Étienne. “I said we should be left here for good.”

Since the descent Pierron had anxiously observed the increase of the deluge which fell from the shaft. As with two others he loaded the trains he raised his head, his face covered with large drops, and his ears ringing with the roar of the tempest above. But he trembled especially when he noticed that the sump beneath him, that pit ten metres deep. was filling; the water was already spurting through the floor and covering the metal plates. This showed that the pump was no longer sufficient to fight against the leaks. He heard it panting with the groan of fatigue. Then he warned Dansaert, who swore angrily,. replying that they must wait for the engineer. Twice he returned to the charge without extracting anything else but exasperated shrugs of the shoulder. Well! the water was rising; what could he do?

Mouque appeared with Bataille, whom he was leading to work, and he had to hold him with both hands, for the sleepy old horse had suddenly reared up, and, with a shrill neigh, was stretching his head towards the shaft. “Well, philosopher, what troubles you? Ah! it’s because it rains. Come along, that doesn’t concern you.”

But the beast quivered all over his skin, and Mouque forcibly drew him to the haulage gallery.

Almost at the same moment as Mouque and Bataille were disappearing at the end of a gallery, there was a crackling in the air, followed by the prolonged noise of a fall. It was a piece of tubbing which had got loose and was falling a hundred and eighty metres down, rebounding against the walls. Pierron and the other porters were able to get out of the way, and the oak plank only smashed an empty tram. At the same time, a mass of water, the leaping flood of a broken dyke, rushed down. Dansaert proposed to go up and examine; but, while he was still speaking, another piece rolled down. And in terror before the threatening catastrophe, he no longer hesitated, but gave the order to go up, sending captains to warn the men in their stalls.

Then a terrible hustling began. From every gallery rows of workers came rushing up, trying to take the cages by assault. They crushed madly against each other in order to be taken up at once. Some who had thought of trying the ladder passage came down again shouting that it was already stopped up. That was the terror they all felt each time that the cage rose; this time it was able to pass, but who knew if it would be able to pass again in the midst of the obstacles obstructing the shaft? The downfall must be continuing above, for a series of low detonations was heard, the planks were splitting and bursting amid the continuous and increasing roar of a storm. One cage soon became useless, broken in and no longer sliding between the guides, which were doubtless broken. The other jarred to such a degree that the cable would certainly break soon. And there remained a hundred men to be taken up, all panting, clinging to one another, bleeding and half-drowned. Two were killed by falls of planking. A third, who had seized the cage, fell back fifty metres up and disappeared in the sump.

Dansaert, however, was trying to arrange matters in an orderly manner. Armed with a pick he threatened to open the skull of the first man who refused to obey; and he tried to arrange them in file, shouting that the porters were to go up last after having sent up their mates. He was not listened to, and he had to prevent the pale and cowardly Pierron from entering among the first. At each departure he pushed him aside with a blow. But his own teeth were chattering, a minute more and he would be swallowed up; everything was smashing up there, a flood had broken loose, a murderous rain of scaffolding. A few men were still running up when, mad with fear, he jumped into a tram, allowing Pierron to jump in behind him. The cage rose.

At this moment the gang to which Étienne and Chaval belonged had just reached the pit-eye. They saw the cage disappear and rushed forward, but they had to draw back from the final downfall of the tubbing; the shaft was stopped up and the cage would not come down again. Catherine was sobbing, and Chaval was choked with shouting oaths. There were twenty of them; were those bloody bosses going to abandon them thus? Father Mouque, who had brought back Bataille without hurrying, was still holding him by the bridle, both of them stupefied, the man and the beast, in the face of this rapid flow of the inundation. The water was already rising to their thighs. Étienne in silence, with clenched teeth, supported Catherine between his arms. And the twenty yelled with their faces turned up, obstinately gazing at the shaft like imbeciles, that shifting hole which was belching out a flood and from which no help could henceforth come to them.

At the surface, Dansaert, on arriving, perceived Négrel running up. By some fatality, Madame Hennebeau had that morning delayed him on rising, turning over the leaves of catalogues for the purchase of wedding presents. It was ten o’clock.

“Well! what’s happening, then?” he shouted from afar.

“The pit is ruined,” replied the head captain.

And he described the catastrophe in a few stammered words, while the engineer incredulously shrugged his shoulders. What! could tubbing be demolished like that? They were exaggerating; he would make an examination.

“I suppose no one has been left at the bottom?”

Dansaert was confused. No, no one; at least, so he hoped. But some of the men might have been delayed.

“But,” said Négrel, “what in the name of creation have you come up for, then? You can’t leave your men!”

He immediately gave orders to count the lamps. In the morning three hundred and twenty-two had been distributed, and now only two hundred and fifty-five could be found; but several men acknowledged that in the hustling and panic they had dropped theirs and left them behind. An attempt was made to call over the men, but it was impossible to establish the exact number. Some of the miners had gone away, others did not hear their names. No one was agreed as to the number of the missing mates. It might be twenty, perhaps forty. And the engineer could only make out one thing with certainty: there were men down below, for their yells could be distinguished through the sound of the water and the fallen scaffolding, on leaning over the mouth of the shaft.

Négrel’s first care was to send for M. Hennebeau, and to try to close the pit; but it was already too late. The colliers who had rushed to the Deux-Cent-Quarante settlement, as though pursued by the cracking tubbing, had frightened the families; and bands of women, old men, and little ones came running up, shaken by cries and sobs. They had to be pushed back, and a line of overseers was formed to keep them off, for they would have interfered with the operations. Many of the men who had come up from the shaft remained there stupidly without thinking of changing their clothes, riveted by fear before this terrible hole in which they had nearly remained for ever. The women, rushing wildly around them, implored them for names. Was So-and-so among them? and that one? and this one? They did not know, they stammered; they shuddered terribly, and made gestures like madmen, gestures which seemed to be pushing away some abominable vision which was always present to them. The crowd rapidly increased, and lamentations arose from the roads. And up there on the pit-bank, in Bonnemort’s cabin, on the ground was seated a man, Souvarine, who had not gone away, who was looking on.

“The names! the names!” cried the women, with voices choked by tears.

Négrel appeared for a moment, and said hurriedly:

“As soon as we know the names they shall be given out, but nothing is lost so far: every one will be saved. I am going down.”

Then, silent with anguish, the crowd waited. The engineer, in fact, with quiet courage was preparing to go down. He had had the cage unfastened, giving orders to replace it at the end of the cable by a tub; and as he feared that the water would extinguish his lamp, he had another fastened beneath the tub, which would protect it.

Several captains, trembling and with white, disturbed faces, assisted in these preparations.

“You will come with me, Dansaert,” said Négrel, abruptly.

Then, when he saw them all without courage, and that the head captain was tottering, giddy with terror, he pushed him aside with a movement of contempt.

“No, you will be in my way. I would rather go alone.” He was already in the narrow bucket, which swayed at the end of the cable; and holding his lamp in one hand and the signal-cord in the other, he shouted to the engine-man:

“Gently!”

The engine set the drums in movement, and Négrel disappeared in the gulf, from which the yells of the wretches below still arose.

At the upper part nothing had moved. He found that the tubbing here was in good condition. Balanced in the middle of the shaft he lighted up the walls as he turned round; the leaks between the joints were so slight that his lamp did not suffer. But at three hundred metres, when he reached the lower tubbing, the lamp was extinguished, as he expected, for a jet had filled the tub. After that he was only able to see by the hanging lamp which preceded him in the darkness, and, in spite of his courage, he shuddered and turned pale in the face of the horror of the disaster. A few pieces of timber alone remained; the others had fallen in with their frames. Behind, enormous cavities had been hollowed out, and the yellow sand, as fine as flour, was flowing in considerable masses; while the waters of the Torrent, that subterranean sea with its unknown tempests and shipwrecks, were discharging in a flow like a weir. He went down lower, lost in the midst of these chasms which continued to multiply, beaten and turned round by the waterspout of the springs, so badly lighted by the red star of the lamp moving on below, that he seemed to distinguish the roads and squares of some destroyed town far away in the play of the great moving shadows. No human work was any longer possible. His only remaining hope was to attempt to save the men in peril. As he sank down he heard the cries becoming louder, and he was obliged to stop; an impassable obstacle barred the shaft — a mass of scaffolding, the broken joists of the guides, the split brattices entangled with the metal-work torn from the pump. As he looked on for a long time with aching heart, the yelling suddenly ceased. No doubt, the rapid rise of the water had forced the wretches to flee into the galleries, if, indeed, the flood had not already filled their mouths.

Négrel resigned himself to pulling the signal-cord as a sign to draw up. Then he had himself stopped again. He could not conceive the cause of this sudden accident. He wished to investigate it, and examined those pieces of the tubbing which were still in place. At a distance the tears and cuts in the wood had surprised him. His lamp, drowned in dampness, was going out, and, touching with his fingers, he clearly recognized the marks of the saw and of the wimble — the whole abominable labour of destruction. Evidently this catastrophe had been intentionally produced. He was stupefied, and the pieces of timber, cracking and falling down with their frames in a last slide, nearly carried him with them. His courage fled. The thought of the man who had done that made his hair stand on end, and froze him with a supernatural fear of evil, as though, mixed with the darkness, the man were still there paying for his immeasurable crime. He shouted and shook the cord furiously; and it was, indeed, time, for he perceived that the uppertubbing, a hundred metres higher, was in its turn beginning to move. The joints were opening, losing their oakum caulking, and streams were rushing through. It was now only a question of hours before the tubbing would all fall down.

At the surface M. Hennebeau was anxiously waiting for Négrel.

“Well, what?” he asked.

But the engineer was choked, and could not speak; he felt faint.

“It is not possible; such a thing was never seen. Have you examined?”

He nodded with a cautious look. He refused to talk in the presence of some captains who were listening, and led his uncle ten metres away, and not thinking this far enough, drew still farther back; then, in a low whisper, he at last told of the outrage, the torn and sawn planks, the pit bleeding at the neck and groaning. Turning pale, the manager also lowered his voice, with that instinctive need of silence in face of the monstrosity of great orgies and great crimes. It was useless to look as though they were trembling before the ten thousand Montsou men; later on they would see. And they both continued whispering, overcome at the thought that a man had had the courage to go down, to hang in the midst of space, to risk his life twenty times over in his terrible task. They could not even understand this mad courage in destruction; they refused to believe, in spite of the evidence, just as we doubt those stories of celebrated escapes of prisoners who fly through windows thirty metres above the ground.

When M. Hennebeau came back to the captains a nervous spasm was drawing his face. He made a gesture of despair, and gave orders that the mine should be evacuated at once. It was a kind of funeral procession, in silent abandonment, with glances thrown back at those great masses of bricks, empty and still standing, but which nothing henceforth could save.

And as the manager and the engineer came down last from the receiving-room, the crowd met them with its clamour, repeating obstinately:

“The names! the names! Tell us the names!”

Maheude was now there, among the women. She recollected the noise in the night; her daughter and the lodger must have gone away together, and they were certainly down at the bottom. And after having cried that it was a good thing, that they deserved to stay there, the heartless cowards, she had run up, and was standing in the first row, trembling with anguish. Besides, she no longer dared to doubt; the discussion going on around her informed her as to the names of those who were down. Yes, yes, Catherine was among them, Étienne also — a mate had seen them. But there was not always agreement with regard to the others. No, not this one; on the contrary, that one, perhaps Chaval, with whom, however, a trammer declared that he had ascended. The Levaque and Pierronne, although none of their people were in danger, cried out and lamented as loudly as the others. Zacharie, who had come up among the first, in spite of his inclination to make fun of everything had weepingly kissed his wife and mother, and remained near the latter, quivering, and showing an unexpected degree of affection for his sister, refusing to believe that she was below so long as the bosses made no authoritative statement.

“The names! the names! For pity’s sake, the names!”

Négrel, who was exhausted, shouted to the overseers:

“Can’t you make them be still? It’s enough to kill one with vexation! We don’t know the names!”

Two hours passed away in this manner. In the first terror no one had thought of the other shaft at the old Réquillart mine, M. Hennebeau was about to announce that the rescue would be attempted from that side, when a rumour ran round: five men had just escaped the inundation by climbing up the rotten ladders of the old unused passage, and Father Mouque was named. This caused surprise, for no one knew he was below. But the narrative of the five who had escaped increased the weeping; fifteen mates had not been able to follow them, having gone astray, and been walled up by falls. And it was no longer possible to assist them, for there were already ten metres of water in Réquillart. All the names were known, and the air was filled with the groans of a slaughtered multitude.

“Will you make them be still?” Négrel repeated furiously. “Make them draw back! Yes, yes, to a hundred metres! There is danger; push them back, push them back!”

It was necessary to struggle against these poor people. They were imagining all sorts of misfortunes, and they had to be driven away so that the deaths might be concealed; the captains explained to them that the shaft would destroy the whole mine. This idea rendered them mute with terror, and they at last allowed themselves to be driven back step by step; the guards, however, who kept them back had to be doubled, for they were fascinated by the spot and continually returned. Thousands of people were hustling each other along the road; they were running up from all the settlements, and even from Montsou. And the man above, on the pit-bank, the fair man with the girlish face, smoked cigarettes to occupy himself, keeping his clear eyes fixed on the pit.

Then the wait began. It was midday; no one had eaten, but no one moved away. In the misty sky, of a dirty grey colour, rusty clouds were slowly passing by. A big dog, behind Rasseneur’s hedge, was barking furiously without cessation, irritated by the living breath of the crowd. And the crowd had gradually spread over the neighbouring ground, forming a circle at a hundred metres round the pit. The Voreux arose in the centre of the great space. There was not a soul there, not a sound; it was a desert. The windows and the doors, left open, showed the abandonment within; a forgotten ginger cat, divining the peril in this solitude, jumped from a staircase and disappeared. No doubt the stoves of the boilers were scarcely extinguished, for the tall brick chimney gave out a light smoke beneath the dark clouds; while the weathercock on the steeple creaked in the wind with a short, shrill cry, the only melancholy voice of these vast buildings which were about to die.

At two o’clock nothing had moved, M. Hennebeau, Négrel, and other engineers who had hastened up, formed a group in black coats and hats standing in front of the crowd; and they, too, did not move away, though their legs were aching with fatigue, and they were feverish and ill at their impotence in the face of such a disaster, only whispering occasional words as though at a dying person’s bedside. The upper tubbing must nearly all have fallen in, for sudden echoing sounds could be heard as of deep broken falls, succeeded by silence. The wound was constantly enlarging; the landslip which had begun below was rising and approaching the surface. Négrel was seized by nervous impatience; he wanted to see, and he was already advancing alone into this awful void when he was seized by the shoulders. What was the good? he could prevent nothing. An old miner, however, circumventing the overseers, rushed into the shed; but he quietly reappeared, he had gone for his sabots.

Three o’clock struck. Still nothing. A falling shower had soaked the crowd, but they had not withdrawn a step. Rasseneur’s dog had begun to bark again. And it was at twenty minutes past three only that the first shock was felt. The Voreux trembled, but continued solid and upright. Then a second shock followed immediately, and a long cry came from open mouths; the tarred screening-shed, after having tottered twice, had fallen down with a terrible crash. Beneath the enormous pressure the structures broke and jarred each other so powerfully that sparks leapt out. From this moment the earth continued to tremble, the shocks succeeded one another, subterranean downfalls, the rumbling of a volcano in eruption. Afar the dog was no longer barking, but he howled plaintively as though announcing the oscillations which he felt coming; and the women, the children, all these people who were looking on, could not keep back a clamour of distress at each of these blows which shook them. In less than ten minutes the slate roof of the steeple fell in, the receiving-room and the engine-rooms were split open, leaving a considerable breach. Then the sounds ceased, the downfall stopped, and there was again deep silence.

For an hour the Voreux remained thus, broken into, as though bombarded by an army of barbarians. There was no more crying out; the enlarged circle of spectators merely looked on. Beneath the piled-up beams of the sifting-shed, fractured tipping cradles could be made out with broken and twisted hoppers. But the rubbish had especially accumulated at the receiving-room, where there had been a rain of bricks, and large portions of wall and masses of plaster had fallen in. The iron scaffold which bore the pulleys had bent, half-buried in the pit; a cage was still suspended, a torn cable-end was hanging; then there was a hash of trains, metal plates, and ladders. By some chance the lamp cabin remained standing, exhibiting on the left its bright rows of little lamps. And at the end of its disembowelled chamber, the engine could be seen seated squarely on its massive foundation of masonry; its copper was shining and its huge steel limbs seemed to possess indestructible muscles. The enormous crank, bent in the air, looked like the powerful knee of some giant quietly reposing in his strength.

After this hour of respite, M. Hennebeau’s hopes began to rise. The movement of the soil must have come to an end, and there would be some chance of saving the engine and the remainder of the buildings. But he would not yet allow any one to approach, considering another half-hour’s patience desirable. This waiting became unbearable; the hope increased the anguish and all hearts were beating quickly. A dark cloud, growing large at the horizon, hastened the twilight, a sinister nightfall over this wreck of earth’s tempests. Since seven o’clock they had been there without moving or eating.

And suddenly, as the engineers were cautiously advancing, a supreme convulsion of the soil put them to flight. Subterranean detonations broke out; a whole monstrous artillery was cannonading in the gulf. At the surface, the last buildings were tipped over and crushed. At first a sort of whirlpool carried away the rubbish from the sifting-shed and the receiving-room. Next, the boiler building burst and disappeared. Then it was the low square tower, where the pumping-engine was groaning, which fell on its face like a man mown down by a bullet. And then a terrible thing was seen; the engine, dislocated from its massive foundation, with broken limbs was struggling against death; it moved, it straightened its crank, its giant’s knee, as though to rise; but, crushed and swallowed up, it was dying. The chimney alone, thirty metres high, still remained standing, though shaken, like a mast in the tempest. It was thought that it would be crushed to fragments and fly to powder, when suddenly it sank in one block, drunk down by the earth, melted like a colossal candle; and nothing was left, not even the point of the lightning conductor. It was done for; the evil beast crouching in this hole, gorged with human flesh, was no longer breathing with its thick, long respiration. The Voreux had been swallowed whole by the abyss.

The crowd rushed away yelling. The women hid their eyes as they ran. Terror drove the men along like a pile of dry leaves. They wished not to shout and they shouted, with swollen breasts, and arms in the air, before the immense hole which had been hollowed out. This crater, as of an extinct volcano, fifteen metres deep, extended from the road to the canal for a space of at least forty metres. The whole square of the mine had followed the buildings, the gigantic platforms, the footbridges with their rails, a complete train of trams, three wagons; without counting the wood supply, a forest of cut timber, gulped down like straw. At the bottom it was only possible to distinguish a confused mass of beams, bricks, iron, plaster, frightful remains, piled up, entangled, soiled in the fury of the catastrophe. And the hole became larger, cracks started from the edges, reaching afar, across the fields. A fissure ascended as far as Rasseneur’s bar, and his front wall had cracked. Would the settlement itself pass into it? How far ought they to flee to reach shelter at the end of this abominable day, beneath this leaden cloud which also seemed about to crush the earth?

A cry of pain escaped Négrel. M. Hennebeau, who had drawn back, was in tears. The disaster was not complete; one bank of the canal gave way, and the canal emptied itself like one bubbling sheet through one of the cracks. It disappeared there, falling like a cataract down a deep valley. The mine drank down this river; the galleries would now be submerged for years. Soon the crater was filled and a lake of muddy water occupied the place where once stood the Voreux, like one of those lakes beneath which sleep accursed towns. There was a terrified silence, and nothing now could be heard but the fall of this water rumbling in the bowels of the earth.

Then on the shaken pit-bank Souvarine rose up. He had recognized Maheude and Zacharie sobbing before this downfall, the weight of which was so heavy on the heads of the wretches who were in agony beneath. And he threw down his last cigarette; he went away, without looking back, into the now dark night. Afar his shadow diminished and mingled with the darkness. He was going over there, to the unknown. He was going tranquilly to extermination, wherever there might be dynamite to blow up towns and men. He will be there, without doubt, when the middle class in agony shall hear the pavement of the streets bursting up beneath their feet.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 15:06