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0105_001E On A Raft Maxim Gorky

Chapter I

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Table Of Contents: Creatures That Once Were Men

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"Harder, to starboard! You cursed loafers!" The master cries again, anger and anxiety in his voice.

"Shout away!" mutters Sergei. "Here's your miserable devil of a son, who couldn't break a straw across his knee, and you put him to steer a raft; and then you yell so that all the river hears you. You were mean enough not to take a second steersman; so now you may tear your throat to pieces shouting!"

These last words were growled out loud enough to be heard forward, and as if Sergei wished they should be heard.

The steamer passed rapidly alongside the raft sweeping the frothing water from under her paddle wheels. The planks tossed up and down in the wash, and the osier branches fastening them together, groaned and scraped with a moist, plaintive sound.

The lit-up portholes of the steamer seem for a moment to rake the raft and the river with fiery eyes, reflected in the seething water, like luminous trembling spots. Then all disappears.

The wash of the steamer sweeps backward and forward, over the raft; the planks dance up and down. Mitia, swaying with the movements of the water, clutches convulsively the steering pole to save himself from falling.

"Well, well," says Sergei, laughing. "So you're beginning to dance! Your father will start yelling again. Or he'll perhaps come and give you one or two in the ribs; then you'll dance to another tune! Port side now! Ouch!"

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And with his muscles strung like steel springs, Sergei gives a powerful push to his pole, forcing it deep down into the water. Energetic, tall, mocking and rather malicious, he stands bare-footed, rigid, as if a part of the planks; looking straight ahead, ready at any moment to change the direction of the raft.

"Just look there at your father kissing Marka! Aren't they a pair of devils? No shame, and no conscience. Why don't you get away from them, Mitia--away from these Pagan pigs? Why? Do you hear?"

"I hear," answered Mitia in a stifled voice, without looking toward the spot which Sergei pointed to through the darkness, where the form of Mitia's father could be seen.

"I hear," mocked Sergei, laughing ironically.

"You poor half-baked creature! A pleasant state of things indeed!" he continued, encouraged by the apathy of Mitia. "And what a devil that old man is! He finds a wife for his son; he takes the son's wife away from him; and all's well! The old brute!"

Mitia is silent, and looks astern up the river, where another wall of mist is formed. Now the clouds close in all round, and the raft hardly appears to move, but to be standing still in the thick, dark water, crushed down by the heavy gray-black vaporous masses, which drift across the heavens, and bar the way.

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Creatures That Once Were Men
Maxim Gorky

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