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Chelkash Maxim Gorky

Chapter I

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"Eh, mate, you've been on the spree, one can see!" he said to Chelkash, pulling at his trousers.

"That's so, suckling, that's so indeed!" Chelkash admitted frankly; he took at once to this healthy, simple-hearted youth, with his childish clear eyes. "Been off mowing, eh?"

"To be sure! You've to mow a verst to earn ten kopecks! It's a poor business! Folks--in masses! Men had come tramping from the famine parts. They've knocked down the prices, go where you will. Sixty kopecks they paid in Kuban. And in years gone by, they do say, it was three, and four, and five roubles."

"In years gone by! Why, in years gone by, for the mere sight of a Russian they paid three roubles out that way. Ten years ago I used to make a regular trade of it. One would go to a settlement--'I'm a Russian,' one said--and they'd come and gaze at you at once, touch you, wonder at you, and--you'd get three roubles. And they'd give you food and drink--stay as long as you like!"

As the youth listened to Chelkash, at first his mouth dropped open, his round face expressing bewildered rapture; then, grasping the fact that this tattered fellow was romancing, he closed his lips with a smack and guffawed. Chelkash kept a serious face, hiding a smile in his mustache.

"You funny chap, you chaff away as though it were the truth, and I listen as if it were a bit of news! No, upon my soul, in years gone by----"

"Why, and didn't I say so? To be sure, I'm telling you how in years gone by----"

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"Go on!" the lad waved his hand. "A cobbler, eh? or a tailor? or what are you?"

"I?" Chelkash queried, and after a moment's thought he said: "I'm a fisherman."

"A fisherman! Really? You catch fish?"

"Why fish? Fishermen about here don't catch fish only. They fish more for drowned men, old anchors, sunk ships--everything! There are hooks on purpose for all that."

"Go on! That sort of fishermen, maybe, that sing of themselves:

    "We cast our nets
    Over banks that are dry,
    Over storerooms and pantries!"

"Why, have you seen any of that sort?" inquired Chelkash, looking scoffingly at him and thinking that this nice youth was very stupid.

"No, seen them I haven't! I've heard tell."

"Do you like them?"

"Like them? May be. They're all right, fine bold chaps--free."

"And what's freedom to you? Do you care for freedom?"

"Well, I should think so! Be your own master, go where you please, do as you like. To be sure! If you know how to behave yourself, and you've nothing weighing upon you--it's first rate. Enjoy yourself all you can, only be mindful of God."

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Creatures That Once Were Men
Maxim Gorky

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