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Creatures That Once Were Men

Chelkash
An Episode
Darkened by the dust of the dock, the blue southern sky is murky; the burning sun looks
duskily into the greenish sea, as though through a thin gray veil. It can find no reflection
in the water, continually cut up by the strokes of oars, the screws of steamers, the deep,
sharp keels of Turkish feluccas and other sailing vessels, that pass in all directions,
ploughing up the crowded harbor, where the free waves of the sea, pent up within granite
walls, and crushed under the vast weights that glide over its crests, beat upon the sides of
the ships and on the bank; beat and complain, churned up into foam and fouled with all
sorts of refuse.
The jingle of the anchor chains, the rattle of the links of the trucks that bring down the
cargoes, the metallic clank of sheets of iron falling on the stone pavement, the dull thud
of wood, the creaking of the carts plying for hire, the whistles of the steamers, piercingly
shrill and hoarsely roaring, the shouts of dock laborers, sailors, and customs officers-- all
these sounds melt into the deafening symphony of the working day, that hovering
uncertainty hangs over the harbor, as though afraid to float upward and be lost.
And fresh waves of sound continually rise up from the earth to join it; deep, grumbling,
sullen reverberations setting all around quaking; shrill, menacing notes that pierce the ear
and the dusty, sultry air.
The granite, the iron, the wood, the harbor pavement, the ships and the men--all swelled
the mighty strains of this frenzied, impassioned hymn to Mercury. But the voices of men,
scarcely audible in it, were weak and ludicrous. And the men, too, themselves, the first
source of all that uproar, were ludicrous and pitiable: their little figures, dusty, tattered,
nimble, bent under the weight of goods that lay on their backs, under the weight of cares
that drove them hither and thither, in the clouds of dust, in the sea of sweltering heat and
din, were so trivial and small in comparison with the colossal iron monsters, the
mountains of bales, the thundering railway trucks and all that they had created. Their own
creation had enslaved them, and stolen away their individual life.
As they lay letting off steam, the heavy giant steamers whistled or hissed, or seemed to
heave deep sighs, and in every sound that came from them could be heard the mocking
note of ironical contempt for the gray, dusty shapes of men, crawling about their decks
and filling their deep holds with the fruits of their slavish toil. Ludicrous and pitiable
were the long strings of dock laborers bearing on their backs thousands of tons of bread,
and casting it into the iron bellies of the ships to gain a few pounds of that same bread to
fill their own bellies--for their worse luck not made of iron, but alive to the pangs of
hunger.
The men, tattered, drenched with sweat, made dull by weariness, and din and heat; and
the mighty machines, created by those men, shining, well-fed, serene, in the sunshine;
 
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