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An orchardful of miracles - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

When Cristo turned up again a week later Dr. Salvator greeted him with a searching glance and said:

“Now then, Cristo, pay attention to what I’m going to tell you. I’m taking you on. Youll have good pay and board — ”

Cristo waved his hands.

“I don’t want anything so long as you let me serve you.”

“Be silent and listen,” Salvator cut him short. “You’U have everything as I said you would. But there’s one condition: keep your mouth shut about everything you see here.”

“I’d sooner cut my tongue out with my own hands and throw it to the dogs than breathe a single word to anybody.”

“See you don’t have to do that,” came Salvator’s warning. With that he summoned in the white-smocked Black and ordered him to take Cristo into the orchard and place him in Jim’s charge.

Bowing silently, the Black took the Indian outside and across the courtyard to the iron gate in the inner wall.

In response to the Black’s knock a barking of dogs came from behind the wall, then the gate creaked and opened slowly. The Black gave Cristo a light push, shouted something in throaty tones to the Black who stood inside the gate, and went away.

Cristo backed against the wall in fright. Charging at him were a pack of beasts with tawny black-spotted fur. Had they been in the pampas Cristo would not have hesitated in calling them jaguars. But these barked like dogs. Anyhow there was no time to puzzle it out. Cristo sprinted for the nearest tree and was up it with an agility surprising in a man of his age. The Black hissed at them, for all the world like an angry cobra, at once bringing them to. The beasts stopped their thunderous baying, lay down and put their muzzles on their forepaws, slanting their eyes up at their master.

The Black hissed again, this time to Cristo, and beckoned him to climb down.

“What’re you hissing there like a snake for? Swallowed your tongue,eh?”

The Black only gave an angry inarticulate sound.

He must be dumb, Cristo thought and remembered Salvator’s warning. Does Salvator really cut out the tongues of those who betray his secrets? This poor blighter might be one of them. Sudden fear almost made Cristo lose his grip on the tree-trunk. He wished to God he were on the right side of the great wall again. With his eyes he measured the distance between his tree and the wall but saw he couldn’t make it. Meanwhile the Black had approached the tree, got hold of Cristo’s foot and was tugging at it impatiently. There was nothing for it but to take the hint. Cristo sprang down, grinned his most engaging smile, stretched out his hand and said amiably:


The Black gave a nod.

Cristo pumped his hand. Once in hell, play up to the devils, he thought. Aloud he asked:


There was no answer.

“Got no tongue?”

Still no answer.

Even if he’s got no tongue, Cristo thought, he could at least talk in signs. Instead Jim took the Indian by hand, led him up to the tawny-skinned beasts and hissed something at them. The beasts rose, sniffed at Cristo and went calmly off. Cristo felt more at ease.

Then Jim led him on a round of the orchard.

After the bare stone-flagged yard the orchard looked a paradise of blossom and verdure. Stretching eastwards, it gently sloped down almost to the very shoreline. Narrow alleys strewn with finely crushed bluish-green agaves and yellowish-green flowers criss-crossed it between groves of peach and olive trees. These gave shade to lush grass-its deep green broken here and there by little white-stone ponds and beds of bright many-coloured flowers. A few fountains were sending high their jets of sparkling water to lend freshness to the air.

The orchard vibrated with the singing of birds and the roaring of beasts.

Never in his life had Cristo seen the strange birds and animals that met his eye at every turn.

A six-legged lizard scuttled across the path, its greenish skin coppery in the bright sun. A double-headed snake was hanging from a tree, making Cristo jump as it hissed at him with its two throats. A still louder hiss from the Black, however, silenced it; dropping from the tree it disappeared among a border of rushes. Another long snake hurried away from the path where it had been basking, helping itself along with a pair of legs. In a little enclosure, near the walk, a pig was grunting, its large single eye fixed at Cristo.

Then a pair of large white rats, joined side to side, scuttered towards them along the reddish walk, looking for all the world like a double-headed, eight-legged monster. From time to time this dual creature went through a struggle; each rat tried to pull its way, both squeaking their displeasure. But the right side invariably won. Grazing near the path was another pair of Siamese twins, fine-fleece sheep this time. Unlike the rats they never quarreled; they must have reached a common mind long, long ago. But it was the monster they met next that struck Cristo’s imagination most. It was a big pink dog with not a single hair on it but what looked like a little monkey-or the upper part of one at any rate-sticking out from its back. The dog came up to Cristo and wagged its tail, while the little monkey kept jerking its head right and left, waving its arms, patting the dog on the back and jibbering at Cristo. The Indian dug a hand into his trouser pocket, brought out a piece of sugar and was offering it to the monkey when somebody stopped his hand and hissed. It was Jim, whom Cristo, engrossed by all those queer creatures, had clean forgotten. The old Black explained by signs that he was not to feed the monkey. Cashing in on the interlude a parakeet-headed sparrow swooped down at the piece of sugar which Cristo still had between his fingers and carried it off to safety behind a bush. From farther away, in the middle of a meadow, came the lowing of a horse with a cow’s head.

A pair of llamas swept across the meadow, their horse’s tails spreading out in flight. Strange creatures were crowding on Cristo from all sides: dogs with cat’s heads, cocks waddling on webbed feet, homed boars, eagle-beaked ostriches, puma-bodied sheep.

Cristo thought he was having a nightmare; he rubbed his eyes, sprinkled his head with cool water from a pond but nothing helped. In the ponds he saw snakes with fishes’ heads and gills, fish with frogs’ legs, enormous toads with bodies as long as a lizard’s.

And Cristo again wished himself well outside the walls.

Finally, Jim brought the Indian to a broad sand-strewn stretch in the middle of which stood a white-marble Moorish-style villa, its arches and colonnades half-screened behind the trunks of palm trees. Brass dolphin-shaped fountain spouts sent cascades of water into the pools where goldfishes frisked in the pellucid water. The biggest fountain of them all, opposite the main entrance, had the shape of a youth astride a dolphin — perhaps it was Triton, the marine god of the an-cients-with a winding horn pressed to his mouth. Obviously the work of a master sculptor, the group looked all but alive.

Behind the villa there were a few outhouses and still farther, a jungle of thorny cacti, with a white wall at the far end, showing through at places.

Another wall, thought Cristo.

Jim led him into a small cool room. In his sign language he explained that Cristo was to live there and then left him alone.

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