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On A Raft Maxim Gorky

Chapter I

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Heavy clouds drift slowly across the sleepy river and hang every moment lower and thicker. In the distance their ragged gray edges seem almost to touch the surface of the rapid and muddy waters, swollen by the floods of spring, and there, where they touch, an impenetrable wall rises to the skies, barring the flow of the river and the passage of the raft.

The stream, swirling against this wall--washing vainly against it with a wistful wailing swish--seems to be thrown back on itself, and then to hasten away on either side, where lies the moist fog of a dark spring night.

The raft floats onward, and the distance opens out before it into heavy cloud--massed space. The banks of the rivers are invisible; darkness covers them, and the lapping waves of a spring flood seem to have washed them into space.

The river below has spread into a sea; while the heavens above, swatched in cloud masses, hang heavy, humid, and leaden.[1]

There is no atmosphere, no color in this gray blurred picture.

The raft glides down swiftly and noiselessly, while out of the darkness appears, suddenly bearing down on it, a steamer, pouring from its funnels a merry crowd of sparks, and churning up the water with the paddles of its great revolving wheels.

The two red forward lights gleam every moment larger and brighter, and the mast-head lantern sways slowly from side to side, as if winking mysteriously at the night. The distance is filled with the noise of the troubled water, and the heavy thud-thud of the engines.

"Look ahead!" is heard from the raft. The voice is that of a deep-chested man.

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In order to enter into the sociology of this story of Gorkv's it must be explained that among ancient Russian folk-customs, as the young peasants were married at a very early age, the father of the bridegroom considered he had rights over his daughter-in-law. In later times, this custom although occasionally continued, was held in disrepute among the peasantry; but that it has not entirely died out is proved by the little drama sketched in by the hand of a genius in "On a Raft."

Two men are standing aft, grasping each a long pole, which propel the raft and act as rudders; Mitia, the son of the owner, a fair, weak, melancholy-looking lad of twenty-two; and Sergei, a peasant, hired to help in the work on board the raft, a bluff, healthy, red-bearded fellow, whose upper lip, raised with a mocking sneer, discloses a mouth filled with large, strong teeth.

"Starboard!" A second cry vibrates through the darkness ahead of the rafts.

"What are you shouting for; we know our business !" Sergei growls raspingly; pressing his expanded chest against the pole. "Ouch! Pull harder, Mitia!" Mitia pushes with his feet against the damp planks that form the raft, and with his thin hands draws toward him the heavy steering pole, coughing hoarsely the while.

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Creatures That Once Were Men
Maxim Gorky

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