Dr. Salvator - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

Nor did Zurita go back on his word. He had had the mouth of the cave and the waters nearby crossed and recrossed with barbed wire and sturdy nets with ingenious traps guarding the few free passages left. But there was only fish to reward him for his pains. The “sea-devil” had not shown up once. In fact he seemed to have disappeared altogether. His dolphin friend put in a daily appearance in the bay, snorting and gambolling in the waters, apparently eager for an outing. But all in vain. Presently the dolphin would give a final snort and head for the open sea.

Then the weather changed for the worse. The easterner lashed up a big swell; sand whipped from the sea-bed made the water so opaque that nothing could be seen beneath the foamy crests.

Zurita could spend hours on the shore, watching one huge white-headed breaker after another pound the beach. Broken, they hissed their way through the sand, rolling over pebbles and oyster shells, onto his very feet.

“This can’t go on,” Zurita said to himself one day. “Something must be done about it. The creature’s got his den at the bottom of the sea and he won’t stir from it. Very well. So he who wants to catch him must pay him a visit. Plain as the nose on your face.” And turning to Baltasar who was making another trap for the “devil” he said:

“Go straightway to Buenos Aires and get two diving outfits with oxygen sets. Ordinary ones won’t do. The ‘devil’s’ sure to cut the breathing tubes. Besides we might have to make quite a trip underwater. And mind you don’t forget electric torches as well.”

“Thinking of giving the ‘devil’ a look-up?” asked Baltasar.

“In your company, old cock. Yes.”

Baltasar nodded and set off on his errand.

When he returned he showed Zurita besides two diving suits and torches two long elaborately-curved bronze knives.

“They don’t make their kind nowadays,” he said. “These’re ancient knives my forefathers used to slit open the bellies of your forefathers with — if you don’t mind my saying so.”

Zurita didn’t care for the history part of it but he liked the knives.

Early at dawn the next day, despite a choppy sea, Zurita and Baltasar got into their diving suits and went down. It cost them considerable effort to find a way through their own nets to the mouth of the cave. Complete darkness met them. They unsheathed their knives and switched on their torches. Small fish darted away, scared by the sudden glare, then came back, swarming, mosquito-like, in the two bluish beams.

Zurita shooed them away: their silvery scales were fairly blinding him. The divers found themselves in a biggish cave, about twelve feet high and twenty feet wide. It was empty, except for the fish apparently sheltering there from the storm or bigger fish.

Treading cautiously they went deeper into the cave. It gradually narrowed. Suddenly Zurita stopped dead. The beam of his torch had picked out from the darkness a stout iron grille blocking their way.

Zurita could not believe his own eyes. He gripped at the iron bars in an attempt to pull the grille open. It didn’t give. After a closer look Zurita realized that it was securely embedded in the hewn-stone walls of the cave and had a built-in lock.

They were faced with still another riddle.

The “sea-devil” had apparently even greater intelligence than they had ever credited him with. He knew how to forge an iron grille to bar the way to his underwater den. But that was utterly impossible! He couldn’t have forged it actually under the water, could he! That meant he didn’t live underwater at all or at least that he went ashore for long stretches of time.

Zurita felt his blood throb in his temples as though he had used up his store of oxygen in those few minutes under water.

He motioned to Baltasar and they went out of the cave, and came up.

The Araucanians who had been on tenterhooks waiting for them were very glad to see them back.

“What do you make of it, Baltasar?” said Zurita after he had taken off his helmet and recovered his breath.

The Araucanian shrugged his shoulders.

“We’ll be ages waiting for him to come out, unless, of course, we dynamite the grille. We can’t starve him out, all he needs is fish and there’s plenty of that.”

“Do you think, Baltasar, there might be another way out of the cave — inland I mean?”

Baltasar hadn’t thought of that.

“It’s an idea though. Why didn’t we have a look round first,” said Zurita.

So he started on a new search.

On shore Zurita came across a high solid white-stone wall and followed it round. It completely encircled a piece of land, no less than twenty-five acres. There was only one gate, made of solid steel plates. In one corner of it there was a small steel door with a spy-ho
le shut from inside.

A regular fortress, thought Zurita. Very fishy. The farmers round here don’t normally build high walls. And not a chink anywhere to have a peep through.

There was not a sign of another habitation in the immediate neighbourhood, just bald grey rocks, with an occasional patch of thorny bush and cactus, all the way down to the bay.

Zurita’s curiosity was roused. For two days he haunted the rocks round the wall, keeping a specially sharp eye on the steel gate. But nobody went in or out, nor did a single sound come from within.

One evening, on board the Jellyfish, Zurita sought out Baltasar.

“Any idea who lives in the fortress above the bay?” he asked.

“Salvator-so the Indian farm-labourers tell me.”

“And who’s he?”

“God.”

The Spaniard’s bushy black eyebrows invaded his forehead.

“Having your joke, eh?”

A faint smile touched the Indian’s lips.

“I’m telling you what I’ve been told. Many Indians call Salvator a God and their saviour.”

“What does he save them from?”

“Death. He’s all-powerful, they say. He can work miracles. He holds life and death in the hollow of his hand, they say. He makes new, sound legs for the lame, keen eyes for the blind, he can even breathe life into the dead.”

“Carramba! “ muttered Zurita, as he flicked up smartly his bushy moustache. “There’s a ‘sea-devil’ down the bay, and a ‘god’ up it. I wonder if they’re partners.”

“If you take my advice we’ll clear out of here, and mighty quick, before our brains curdle with all these miracles.”

“Have you seen anyone who was treated by Salvator?”

“I have. I was shown a man who had been carried to Salvator with a broken leg. He was running about like a mustang. Then I saw an Indian whom Salvator had brought back to life. The whole village say that he was stone-dead with a split skull. Salvator put him on his feet again. He came back, full of life and laughter. Got married to a nice girl too. And then all those children-”

“So Salvator does receive patients?”

“Indians. They flock to him from everywhere-from as far away as Tierra del Fuego and the Amazon.”

Not satisfied with this information Zurita went up to Buenos Aires.

There too he learned that Salvator treated only Indians with whom he enjoyed the fame of a miracle-worker. Medical men told Zurita that Salvator was an exceptionally gifted surgeon, indeed a man of genius, but very eccentric, as is often the case with men of his calibre. His name was well known in medical circles on both sides of the Atlantic. In America he was famed for his bold imaginative surgery. When surgeons gave up a case as hopeless Salvator was asked to step in. He never refused. During the Great War he was on the French front where he operated almost exclusively on the brain. Thousands of men owed him their lives. After the Armistice he went back home. His practice and real estate operations landed in his lap quite a fortune. He threw up his practice, bought some land near Buenos Aires, had a high wall built round it (another of his eccentricities), and settled down there. He was known to have taken up research. Now he only treated Indians, who called him God descended on earth.

Finally Zurita found out that before the War right where his present vast holding lay Salvator had had a house with an orchard also walled in on all sides. When Salvator had been away in France the house had been closely guarded by a Black and a pack of ferocious bloodhounds.

Of late Salvator had lived a still more cloistered life. He wouldn’t receive even his old university colleagues.

Having gleaned all this information, Zurita decided to take illness so as to get inside the grounds.

Once again he was in front of the stout steel gate guarding Salvator’s property. He rapped on the gate. Nobody answered. He kept rapping on it for some time and still there was not a stir inside. His blood up, Zurita picked up a stone and started battering the gate, raising a din fit to wake the dead.

Dogs barked somewhere well inside and at last the spy-hole was slid open.

“What do you want?” a voice asked in broken Spanish.

“A sick man to see the doctor-hurry up now, open the door.”

“Sick men do not knock in this way,” came the placid rejoinder and an eye peeped through at Zurita. “Doctor’s not receiving.”

“He can’t refuse help to a sick man,” insisted Zurita.

The spy-hole shut; the footsteps died away. Only the dogs kept up their furious barking.

Venting some of his anger in choice invective, the Spaniard set out for the schooner.

Should he lodge a complaint against Salvator in Buenos Aires, he asked himself once he was aboard. But what was the use? Zurita shook in futile rage. His bushy black moustache was in real danger now as he kept tugging at it in his agitation, making it fall like a barometer showing the doldrums.

Little by little, however, he quietened down and set to thinking what he should do next.

As he went on thinking his sunburnt fingers would travel up more and more often to give a flip to his drooping moustache. The barometer was rising.

At last he emerged on deck, and to everybody’s surprise, ordered the crew to weigh anchor.

The Jellyfish stood for Buenos Aires.

“And about time too,” Baltasar commented. “So much time and effort wasted. A curse on that ‘devil’ with a ‘god’ for a crony!”