As Luc Froment walked on at random after emerging from Beauclair, he went up the Brias road, following the gorge in which the Mionne torrent flows between the two promontories of the Bleuse Mountains. And when he found himself before the Abyss, as the Qurignon steel-works are called in the region, he perceived two dark and puny creatures shrinking timidly against the parapet at the corner of the wooden bridge. His heart contracted. One was a woman looking very young, poorly clad, her head half hidden by some ragged woollen stuff; and the other, nestling amidst her skirts, was a white-faced child, about six years old, and scarcely clothed at all. Both had their eyes fixed on the door of the works, and were waiting, motionless, with the mournful patience of despairing beings.
Luc paused and also looked. It would soon be six o'clock, and the light of that wretched, muggy, mid-September evening was already waning. It was a Saturday, and since Thursday the rain had scarcely ceased to fall. It was no longer coming down at present, but across the sky an impetuous wind was still driving a number of clouds, sooty ragged clouds, athwart which filtered a dirty, yellowish twilight, full of mortal sadness. Along the road over which stretched lines of rails, and where big paving-stones were disjointed by continuous traffic, there flowed a river of black mud, all the gathered moistened dust of the neighbouring coal-works of Brias, whose tumbrels were for ever going by. And that coal-dust had cast a blackness as of mourning over the entire gorge; it fell in patches over the leprous pile of factory buildings, and seemed even to besmirch those dark clouds which passed on interminably like smoke. An ominous melancholy swept by with the wind; one might have thought that the murky quivering twilight was bringing the end of the world in its train.