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0105_001E Chelkash Maxim Gorky

Chapter I

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From behind a pile of goods emerged a customs-house officer, a dark green, dusty figure, of military erectness. He barred the way for Chelkash, standing before him in a challenging attitude, his left hand clutching the hilt of his dirk, while with his right he tried to seize Chelkash by the collar.

"Stop! Where are you going?"

Chelkash drew back a step, raised his eyes, looked at the official, and smiled dryly.

The red, good-humoredly crafty face of the official, in its attempt to assume a menacing air, puffed and grew round and purple, while the brows scowled, the eyes rolled, and the effect was very comic.

"You've been told--don't you dare come into the dock, or I'll break your ribs! And you're here again!" the man roared threateningly.

"How d'ye do, Semyonitch! It's a long while since we've seen each other," Chelkash greeted him calmly, holding out his hand.

"Thankful never to see you again! Get along, get along!"

But yet Semyonitch took the outstretched hand.

"You tell me this," Chelkash went on, his gripping fingers still keeping their hold of Semyonitch's hand, and shaking it with friendly familiarity, "haven't you seen Mishka?"

"Mishka, indeed, who's Mishka? I don't know any Mishka. Get along, mate! or the inspector'll see you, he'll----"

"The red-haired fellow that I worked with last time on the 'Kostroma'?" Chelkash persisted.

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"That you steal with, you'd better say. He's been taken to the hospital, your Mishka; his foot was crushed by an iron bar. Go away, mate, while you're asked to civilly, go away, or I'll chuck you out by the scruff of your neck."

"A-ha, that's like you! And you say-you don't know Mishka! But I say, why are you so cross, Semyonitch?"

"I tell you, Grishka, don't give me any of your jaw. Go---o!"

The official began to get angry and, looking from side to side, tried to pull his hand away from Chelkash's firm grip. Chelkash looked calmly at him from under his thick eyebrows, smiled behind his mustache and not letting go of his hand, went on talking.

"Don't hurry me. I'll just have my chat out with you, and then I'll go. Come, tell us how you're getting on; wife and children quite well?" And with a spiteful gleam in his eyes, he added, showing his teeth in a mocking grin: "I've been meaning to pay you a call for ever so long, but I've not had the time, I'm always drinking, you see."

"Now--now then-you drop that! You--none of your jokes, you bony devil. I'm in earnest, my man. So you mean you're coming stealing in the houses and the streets?"

"What for? Why there's goods enough here to last our time--for you and me. By God, there's enough, Semyonitch! So you've been filching two cases of goods, eh? Mind, Semyonitch, you'd better look out? You'll get caught one day!"

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Creatures That Once Were Men
Maxim Gorky

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