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Chelkash Maxim Gorky

Chapter II

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A sharp oath rang out in the air. Gavrilo swung the oars. The boat moved with rapid, irregular jerks, noisily cutting the water.


Chelkash got up from the stern, still holding the oars in his hands, and peering with his cold eyes into the pale and twitching face of Gavrilo. Crouching forward Chelkash was like a cat on the point of springing. There was the sound of angry gnashing of teeth.

"Who's calling?" rang out a surly shout from the sea.

"Now, you devil, row! quietly with the oars! I'll kill you, you cur. Come, row! One, two! There! you only make a sound! I'll cut your throat!" hissed Chelkash.

"Mother of God--Holy Virgin--" muttered Gavrilo, shaking and numb with terror and exertion.

The boat turned smoothly and went back toward the harbor, where the lights gathered more closely into a group of many colors and the straight stems of masts could be seen.

"Hi! Who's shouting?" floated across again. The voice was farther off this time. Chelkash grew calm again.

"It's yourself, friend, that's shouting!" he said in the direction of the shouts, and then he turned to Gavrilo, who was muttering a prayer.

"Well, mate, you're in luck! If those devils had overtaken us, it would have been all over with you. D'you see? I'd have you over in a trice--to the fishes!"

Now, when Chelkash was speaking quietly and even good-humoredly, Gavrilo, still shaking with terror, besought him!

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"Listen, forgive me! For Christ's sake, I beg you, let me go! Put me on shore somewhere! Aie-aie-aie! I'm done for entirely! Come, think of God, let me go! What am I to you? I can't do it! I've never been used to such things. It's the first time. Lord! Why, I shall be lost! How did you get round me, mate? eh? It's a shame of you! Why, you're ruining a man's life! Such doings."

"What doings?" Chelkash asked grimly. "Eh? Well, what doings?"

He was amused by the youth's terror, and he enjoyed it and the sense that he, Chelkash, was a terrible person.

"Shady doings, mate. Let me go, for God's sake! What am I to you? eh? Good--dear--!"

"Hold your tongue, do! If you weren't wanted, I shouldn't have taken you. Do you understand? So, shut up!"

"Lord!" Gavrilo sighed, sobbing.

"Come, come! you'd better mind!" Chelkash cut him short.

But Gavrilo by now could not restrain himself, and quietly sobbing, he wept, sniffed, and writhed in his seat, yet rowed vigorously, desperately. The boat shot on like an arrow. Again dark hulks of ships rose up on their way and the boat was again lost among them, winding like a wolf in the narrow lanes of water between them.

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Creatures That Once Were Men
Maxim Gorky

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