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Creatures That Once Were Men Maxim Gorky

Part II

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"Ah! You have a courageous tongue!" jeered Abyedok.

"Yes . . . You miser!" And Kuvalda looked at him contemptuously. "What do you understand? What do you know? Are you able to think? But I have thought and I have read . . . books of which you could not have understood one word."

"Of course! One cannot eat soup out of one's hand . . . But though you have read and thought, and I have not done that or anything else, we both seem to have got into pretty much the same condition, don't we?"

"Go to the Devil!" shouted Kuvalda. His conversations with Abyedok always ended thus. When the teacher was absent his speeches, as a rule, fell on the empty air, and received no attention, and he knew this, but still he could not help speaking. And now, having quarrelled with his companion, he felt rather deserted; but, still longing for conversation, he turned to Simtsoff with the following question:

"And you, Aleksei Maksimovitch, where will you lay your gray head?"

The old man smiled good-humoredly, rubbed his hands, and replied, "I do not know . . . I will see. One does not require much, just a little drink."

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"Plain but honorable fare!" the Captain said. Simtsoff was silent, only adding that he would find a place sooner than any of them, because women loved him. This was true. The old man had, as a rule, two or three prostitutes, who kept him on their very scant earnings. They very often beat him, but he took this stoically. They somehow never beat him too much, probably because they pitied him. He was a great lover of women, and said they were the cause of all his misfortunes. The character of his relations toward them was confirmed by the appearance of his clothes, which, as a rule, were tidy, and cleaner than those of his companions. And now, sitting at the door of the dosshouse, he boastingly related that for a long time past Redka had been asking him to go and live with her, but he had not gone because he did not want to part with the company. They heard this with jealous interest. They all knew Redka. She lived very near the town, almost below the mountain. Not long ago, she had been in prison for theft. She was a retired nurse; a tall, stout peasant woman with a face marked by smallpox, but with very pretty, though always drunken, eyes.

"Just look at the old devil!" swore Abyedok, looking at Simtsoff, who was smiling in a self-satisfied way.

"And do you know why they love me? Because I know how to cheer up their souls."

"Do you?" inquired Kuvalda.

"And I can make them pity me . . . And a woman, when she pities! Go and weep to her, and ask her to kill you . . . she will pity you--and she will kill you."

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Creatures That Once Were Men
Maxim Gorky

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