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  Chelkash Maxim Gorky

Chapter I

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When the dock laborers, knocking off work, had scattered about the dock in noisy groups, buying various edibles from the women hawking food, and were settling themselves to dinner in shady corners on the pavement, there walked into their midst Grishka Chelkash, an old hunted wolf, well known to all the dock population as a hardened drunkard and a bold and dexterous thief. He was barefoot and bareheaded, clad in old, threadbare, shoddy breeches, in a dirty print shirt, with a torn collar that displayed his mobile, dry, angular bones tightly covered with brown skin. From the ruffled state of his black, slightly grizzled hair and the dazed look on his keen, predatory face, it was evident that he had only just waked up. There was a straw sticking in one brown mustache, another straw clung to the scrubby bristles of his shaved left cheek, and behind his ear he had stuck a little, freshly-picked twig of lime. Long, bony, rather stooping, he paced slowly over the flags, and turning his hooked, rapacious-looking nose from side to side, he cast sharp glances about him, his cold, gray eyes shining, as he scanned one after another among the dock laborers. His thick and long brown mustaches were continually twitching like a cat's whiskers, while he rubbed his hands behind his back, nervously clenching the long, crooked, clutching fingers. Even here, among hundreds of striking-looking, tattered vagabonds like himself, he attracted attention at once from his resemblance to a vulture of the steppes, from his hungry-looking thinness, and from that peculiar gait of his, as though pouncing down on his prey, so smooth and easy in appearance, but inwardly intent and alert, like the flight of the keen, nervous bird he resembled.

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As he reached one of the groups of ragged dockers, reclining in the shade of a stack of coal baskets, there rose to meet him a thick-set young man, with purple blotches on his dull face and scratches on his neck, unmistakable traces of a recent thrashing. He got up and walked beside Chelkash, saying, in an undertone:

"The dock officers have got wind of the two cases of goods. They're on the look-out. D'ye hear, Grishka?"

"What then?" queried Chelkash, cooly measuring him with his eyes.

"How 'what then?' They're on the look-out, I say. That's all."

"Did they ask for me to help them look?"

And with an acrid smile Chelkash looked toward the storehouse of the Volunteer Fleet.

"You go to the devil!"

His companion turned away.

"Ha, wait a bit! Who's been decorating you like that? Why, what a sight they have made of your signboard! Have you seen Mishka here?"

"I've not seen him this long while!" the other shouted, and hastily went back to his companions.

Chelkash went on farther, greeted by everyone as a familiar figure. But he, usually so lively and sarcastic, was unmistakably out of humor to-day, and made short and abrupt replies to all inquiries.

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Creatures That Once Were Men
Maxim Gorky

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