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The nearer we draw to Tiflis, the gloomier and the surlier grew Shakro. His thinner, but still stolid face wore a new expression. Just before we reached Vladikavkas we passed through a Circassian village, where we obtained work in some maize fields.

The Circassians spoke very little Russian, and as they constantly laughed at us, and scolded us in their own language, we resolved to leave the village two days after our arrival; their increasing enmity had begun to alarm us.

We had left the village about ten miles behind, when Shakro produced from his shirt a roll of home-spun muslin, and handing it to me, exclaimed triumphantly:

"You need not work any more now. We can sell this, and buy all we want till we get to Tiflis! Do you see?"

I was moved to fury, and tearing the bundle from his hands, I flung it away, glancing back.

The Circassians are not to be trifled with! Only a short time before, the Cossacks had told us the following story:

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A tramp, who had been working for some time in a Circassian village, stole an iron spoon, and carried it away with him. The Circassians followed him, searched him, and found the iron spoon. They ripped open his body with a dagger, and after pushing the iron spoon into the wound, went off quietly, leaving him to his fate on the steppes. He was found by some Cossacks at the point of death. He told them this story, and died on the way to their village. The Cossacks had more than once warned us against the Circassians, relating many other edifying tales of the same sort. I had no reason to doubt the accuracy of these stories. I reminded Shakro of these facts. For some time he listened in silence to what I was saying; then, suddenly, showing his teeth and screwing up his eyes, he flew at me like a wild cat. We struggled for five minutes or so, till Shakro exclaimed angrily: "Enough! Enough!"

Exhausted with the struggle, we sat in silence for some time, facing each other. Shakro glanced covetously toward the spot, where I had flung the red muslin, and said:

"What were we fighting about? Fa--Fa--Fa! It's very stupid. I did not steal it from you did I? Why should you care? I was sorry for you that is why I took the linen. You have to work so hard, and I cannot help you in that way, so I thought I would help you by stealing. Tse'! Tse'!

I made an attempt to explain to him how wrong it was to steal.

"Hold your tongue, please! You're a blockhead!" he exclaimed contemptuously; then added: "When one is dying of hunger, there is nothing for it but to steal; what sort of a life is this?"

I was silent, afraid of rousing his anger again. This was the second time he had committed a theft. Some time before, when we were tramping along the shores of the Black Sea, he stole a watch belonging to a fisherman. We had nearly come to blows then.

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Creatures That Once Were Men
Maxim Gorky

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