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My Fellow-Traveller Maxim Gorky

Chapter VI

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Our state was growing desperate. It seemed as if the expanse of angry rollers was boundless and limitless. We could see nothing but these immense waves, that came rolling, one after another, out of the gloom, straight on to our boat. With an angry crash a board was torn from my hand, forcing me to throw the other into the boat, and to hold on tight with both hands to the gunwale. Every time the boat was thrown upward, Shakro shrieked wildly. As for me, I felt wretched and helpless, in the darkness, surrounded with angry waves, whose noise deafened me. I stared about me in dull and chilly terror, and saw the awful monotony around us. Waves, nothing but waves, with whitish crests, that broke in showers of salt spray; above us, the thick ragged edged clouds were like waves too.

I became conscious only of one thing: I felt that all that was going on around me might be immeasurably more majestic and more terrible, but that it did not deign to be, and was restraining its strength; and that I resented. Death is inevitable. But that impartial law, reducing all to the same commonplace level, seems to need something beautiful to compensate for its coarseness and cruelty. If I were asked to choose between a death by burning, or being suffocated in a dirty bog, I should choose the former; it is any way, a more seemly death.

"Let us rig up a sail," exclaimed Shakro.

"Where am I to find one?"

"Use my overcoat."

"Chuck it over to me then; but mind you don't drop the rudder into the water!"

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Shakro quietly threw it to me. "Here! Catch hold!"

Crawling along the bottom of the boat, I succeeded in pulling up another board, one end of which I fixed into one of the sleeves of the coat. I then fixed the board against the seat, and held it there with my feet. I was just going to take hold of the other sleeve, when an unexpected thing happened. The boat was tossed suddenly upward, and then overturned. I felt myself in the water, holding the overcoat in one hand, and a rope, that was fastened to the boat, in the other hand. The waves swirled noisily over my head, and I swallowed a mouthful of bitter salt water. My nose, my mouth, and my ears, were full of it.

With all my might I clutched the rope, as the waves threw me backward and forward. Several times I sank, each time, as I rose again, bumping my head against the sides of the boat.

At last I succeeded in throwing the coat over the bottom of the boat, and tried to clamber on it myself. After a dozen efforts I scrambled up and I sat astride it. Then I caught sight of Shakro in the water on the opposite side of the boat, holding with both hands to the same rope of which I had just let go. The boat was apparently encircled by a rope, threaded through iron rings, driven into the outer planks.

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Creatures That Once Were Men
Maxim Gorky

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