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The girl and the stranger - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

Once Ichthyander was out in the ocean after a storm.

Surfacing, he spotted what looked to him like a piece of white sail torn by the storm off some fishing smack. Coming nearer he realized to his surprise that it was a woman, or rather a young girl, tied to a board of wood. Was she dead? The thought so upset him that for the first time in his life a feeling of hostility towards the ocean stirred within him.

Or perhaps she was only unconscious? Holding up the girl’s pretty head that was lolling to one side, Ichthyander grasped the board and pushed shorewards.

He swam for all he was worth, as he had never swum before, stopping only to see to the girl’s head, which kept slipping off the board. And he kept whispering to her as he used to whisper to fish in trouble, “Wait a little, it’ll soon be over.” He wanted the girl to open her eyes and yet was afraid of it. He wanted her to come to life and yet was afraid she would get frightened. Had he not better take off his goggles and gloves? But that would take time and then he would not be able to make half as much progress with his gloves off. And so he pressed on, pushing the board with the girl closer and closer inshore.

At last he reached the heavy surf. Caution was needed. The waves were propelling him shorewards. Ichthyander kept feeling with his foot for a shallow place. Finally He struck bottom, safely steered his burden ashore, untied the girl and, laying her in the shade of a bush-grown dune, began administering artificial respiration.

He thought he saw her eyelids quiver, and putting his ear against the girl’s heart he detected a faint beating. She was alive! He very nearly cried out with joy.

Then the girl half-opened her eyes, caught sight of Ichthyander and shuddered and shut her eyes again. Ichthyander was at once gladdened and chagrined. Well, anyway, I’ve saved the girl, he thought. Now he ought to be going away-to avoid frightening her. But could he leave her as she was now — all alone too? Even as he thought this he heard somebody’s heavy footfalls. This was no time for indecision. Ichthyander ducked into a wave, swam underwater to the nearest reef, broke surface in its shelter and watched developments.

From behind the dune a swarthy man with a moustache and goatee showing from under a wide-brimmed hat swung into view. At the sight of the girl he exclaimed: “Gracias a Jesus у Maria! “, started to run towards her, then suddenly veered to the water’s edge and into the oncoming wave. Thoroughly drenched he ran back towards the girl, started artificial respiration (whatever for, Ichthyander wondered); then bent low over the girl’s face and kissed her. Presently he began speaking to her, rapidly and agitatedly. Snatches of phrases floated to Ichthyander: “I warned you… it was sheer madness… Good thing I thought of tying you to a board.”

The girl opened her eyes and raised her head a little. Her face expressed fear, followed by surprise, then indignation and displeasure. The goated man kept up a voluble flow of talk as he helped her up. But she was evidently still too weak and he eased her back onto the sand. Nor was it until about half an hour later that she could stand up again and walk. On their way they passed quite close to where Ichthyander was hiding. The girl was saying:

“So it was you who saved my life? Thank you. May God reward you for this.”

“You alone can reward me,” said the swarthy-skinned man.

The girl seemed not to hear the man’s words.

“It’s strange,” she said after a pause. “I thought I saw a monster at my side.”

“That was your imagination,” the man said. “Or again it might have been the wicked one come to claim your soul. Say a prayer and lean on my arm — with me around you needn’t be afraid of any devil.”

And they were gone, the wonder girl and the evil man who was trying to make her believe it was he who had rescued her from the sea. But Ichthyander was in no position to give him the lie. Let him do as he liked; Ichthyander had done what he could.

The girl and her companion had disappeared behind the dunes but Ichthyander was still looking their way. Then he turned round and faced the ocean. How big it was-and how empty.

> A wave had tossed a silver-bellied blue-backed fish on the sand. Ichthyander looked round him: not a soul in sight. He left his cover, retrieved the fish and threw it into the water. The fish swam away but Ichthyander felt sad without knowing why. For some time he wandered about the deserted beach, picking up fish and restoring them to their element. Gradually he was carried away by his work. Soon his usual high spirits were restored and, forgetting all about time, he pressed on, only breaking for an occasional plunge to cool his gills. It wasn’t until quite dark that he finally turned for home.

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