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Chapter IV

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A feeling of awe filled my soul, a feeling as if something great were very near to me. My heart throbbed with the joy of life.

Suddenly, Shakro burst into loud laughter, "Ha! ha! ha! How stupid your face does look! You've a regular sheep's head! Ha! ha! ha!"

I started as though it were a sudden clap of thunder. But it was worse. It was laughable, yes, but oh, how mortifying it was!

He, Shakro, laughed till the tears came. I was ready to cry, too, but from quite a different reason. A lump rose in my throat, and I could not speak. I gazed at him with wild eyes, and this only increased his mirth. He rolled on the ground, holding his sides. As for me, I could not get over the insult-- for a bitter insult it was. Those--few, I hope--who will understand it, from having had a similar experience in their lives, will recall all the bitterness it left in their souls.

"Leave off!" I shouted, furiously.

He was startled and frightened, but he could not at once restrain his laughter. His eyes rolled, and his cheeks swelled as if about to burst. All at once he went off into a guffaw again. Then I rose and left him.

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For some time I wandered about, heedless and almost unconscious of all that surrounded me, my whole soul consumed with the bitter pang of loneliness and of humiliation. Mentally, I had been embracing all nature. Silently, with the passionate love any man must feel if he has a little of the poet in him, I was loving and adoring her. And now it was nature that, under the form of Shakro, was mocking me for my passion. I might have gone still further in my accusations against nature, against Shakro, and against the whole of life, had I not been stopped by approaching footsteps.

"Do not be angry," said Shakro in a contrite voice, touching my shoulder lightly. "Were you praying?' I didn't know it, for I never pray myself."

He spoke timidly, like a naughty child. In spite of my excitement, I could not help noticing his pitiful face ludicrously distorted by embarrassment and alarm.

"I will never interfere with you again. Truly! Never!" He shook his head emphatically. "I know you are a quiet fellow. You work hard, and do not force me to do the same. I used to wonder why; but, of course, it's because you are foolish as a sheep!"

That was his way of consoling me! That was his idea of asking for forgiveness! After such consolation, and such excuses, what was there left for me to do but forgive, not only for the past, but for the future!

Half an hour later he was sound asleep, while I sat beside him, watching him. During sleep, every one, be he ever so strong, looks helpless and weak, but Shakro looked a pitiful creature. His thick, half-parted lips, and his arched eyebrows, gave to his face a childish look of timidity and of wonder. His breathing was quiet and regular, though at times he moved restlessly, and muttered rapidly in the Georgian language; the words seemed those of entreaty. All around us reigned that intense calm which always makes one somehow expectant, and which, were it to last long, might drive one mad by its absolute stillness and the absence of sound--the vivid shadow of motion, for sound and motion seem ever allied.

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Creatures That Once Were Men
Maxim Gorky

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