Revenge is sweet - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

Ichthyander had been so shaken at the sudden appearance of the girl that he had just rushed out of Baltasar’s shop and never stopped until he was in the sea swimming away. Now he was dying to see her but he did not know how to go about it. The easiest thing would be to enlist Cristo’s help. But he was afraid that might involve speaking to her in the Indian’s presence. Every morning Ichthyander would swim to where he had first seen her on the beach and stay there till evening, hiding among some boulders, in the hope of seeing her. On coming ashore, he took off his goggles and gloves and donned his white suit lest the girl should get frightened again. Sometimes, his vigil over, he would dine on fish and oysters, spend a restless night in the coastal waters and be back at his post before dawn broke.

One evening he resolved to go to Baltasar’s shop. The door was open. But he could only see the old Indian behind the counter. Ichthyander was making his way back when high on a rocky headland he saw a girl in a light white dress and a straw hat. That was her. Ichthyander halted, not daring to go nearer. The girl was apparently waiting for somebody. She was pacing the rocky platform impatiently, throwing a glance now and then at the road. She didn’t see Ichthyander standing below at the foot.
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Then the girl waved to somebody. Ichthyander turned and saw a tall, broad-shouldered young man, coming briskly along the road. Never before had Ichthyander seen such light hair and eyes as the stranger’s. The young giant walked up to the girl and offered her his broad hand.

“Hullo, Gutierrez, dear,” he said tenderly.

“Hullo, Olsen.”

The stranger gave Gutierrez’s hand a good shake.

Ichthyander eyed him with an ill-feeling tinged with sadness.

“Brought it?” the young man said.

She merely nodded.

“Will your father not notice?” asked Olsen.

“No,” she said. “Anyway the pearls are mine. I can do with them as I please. “

Speaking in undertones Gutierrez and Olsen walked to the very edge of the cliff. Presently Gutierrez unlocked her necklace and held it up by one end.

“Look, how beautifully the pearls play in the setting sun,” she said admiringly. “Here, take it.”

But even as Olsen stretched out his hand the necklace slipped out of Gutier-rez’s hand and plummeted into the sea.

“Oh, what have I done! “ cried the girl.

Both stood rooted to the spot in their dismay.

“Perhaps it can be recovered?” said Olsen.

“No, the water’s far too deep here,” Gutierrez said. “Oh, isn’t that terrible! “

Seeing the girl so upset, Ichthyander forgot all about her having intended to make a present of the necklace to that fair-haired stranger. He just couldn’t remain a mere witness any longer. With a determined step he went up and across to where Gutierrez was standing.

Olsen frowned while Gutierrez looked at Ichthyander with curiosity and surprise-she immediately recognized him as the young man who had left her father’s shop the other day so abruptly.

“I gather you’ve dropped a pearl necklace into the sea?” he said. “I’ll get it for you if you want me to.”

“Even my father couldn’t do it, not here, and he’s one of the best pearl-divers there are,” the girl retorted.

“I can only try,” Ichthyander said modestly and, to their surprise, he dived right from where they stood, fully clothed as he was, and disappeared in the waves.

Olsen didn’t know what to think.

“Who’s that? Where did he spring from?”

A minute passed, then another but there was no sign of the young man.

“He’s killed himself,” Gutierrez said, peering anxiously into the waves.

Ichthyander had not meant the girl, or Olsen for that matter, to know that he could live below the water. But carried away by the search he lost count of time and over-stayed an ordinary diver’s performance. Coming to the surface he smiled and said, “A little patience. The place’s cluttered up with broken rock. But I’ll find it,” and dived back.

Gutierrez knew enough of pearl-diving to be surprised at seeing a man, just back from a two-minute deep dive, breathing evenly and looking so fresh.

In another two minutes his head popped into sight again. He was beaming all over his face as he lifted up a hand to show the necklace.

“It was caught on a crag,” he shouted and his breathing was as even as if it had been the next room he had fetched the necklace from. “Wouldn’t have been half as easy had it fallen into a crevice.”

He scrambled quickly up the rocks, went to Gutierrez and handed her the necklace. Water sluiced down his clothes-unheeded.

“Here you are.”

“Thank you very much,” Gutierrez said and looked at Ichthyander with renewed curiosity.

A pause ensued. None of them knew what to do next. Gutierrez seemed hesitant to pass the necklace to Olsen in Ichthyander’s presence.

“I gather you wanted to give the pearls to him,” Ichthyander said, pointing at Olsen.

Olsen reddened.

“Oh yes, — yes,” Gutierrez said in embarrassment and held out her hand to Olsen who took the necklace and slipped it into his pocket without saying a word.

Ichthyander was pleased with his little revenge. Olsen had received the lost necklace from Gutierrez’s hand, yes, but it was he, Ichthyander, who had got it for him.

And, bowing to the girl, Ichthyander strode quickly away along the road.

But his pleasant feeling was short-lived. New puzzling questions were battering for answer in his brain. Who was that fair-haired giant of a man? Why should Gutierrez make him a present of her necklace? What was it they spoke about up there on the cliff-top?

That night again Ichthyander raced astride his dolphin through the waves, striking terror into the fishermen by his weird cries.

The whole of the next day Ichthyander spent below the water, goggled but gloveless, crawling along the sandy bottom in search of pearl-shells. In the evening he came back, to the grumbling of Cristo. Early the next morning he was at the rock where Gutierrez and Olsen had had their rendezvous. Gutierrez came in the evening, when the sun was already setting.

Ichthyander left his shelter to meet her. On seeing him Gutierrez nodded by way of greeting.

“You are following me, aren’t you?” she said with a smile.

“Yes,” Ichthyander said simply, “ever since I first saw you,” and, flushing with embarrassment, he went on, “You gave your necklace away to that… to Olsen. But you’d looked at it in an admiring way before you gave it to him. Do you like pearls?”

“Yes.”

“Well then, take this… from me,” and he held out a pearl.

Gutierrez knew a first-rate pearl when she saw one. But the pearl that was glowing in Ichthyander’s palm far excelled any pearl she had seen or heard her father speak about; enormous, exquisitely shaped, of the purest white, it must have weighed at least two hundred carats and been worth every bit of a million gold pesos. Astounded, Gutierrez shifted her glance from the superb gem to the good-looking young man who was holding it out to her. Strong and lithe but somewhat shy, wearing a crumpled white suit, he did not look like one of the wealthy young portenos. And here he was offering her, a girl he hardly knew at all, such a present.

“Do take it-please,” Ichthyander insisted.

“No,” Gutierrez said, shaking her head. “I cannot accept from you such a valuable present.”

“Valuable! “ Ichthyander rejoined body. “Why, there are thousands of pearls like this on the sea-bottom.”

Gutierrez smiled. Ichthyander once more felt embarrassed and was silent for a moment.

“Please,” he said.

“No.”

Ichthyander frowned. Now he felt offended.

“If you don’t want to take it for yourself, then take it for Olsen. He won’t refuse.”

Gutierrez was angry.

“It wasn’t for himself he took it,” she said in a severe tone of voice. “You don’t know anything.”

“So it’s no, is it?”

“No.”

Then Ichthyander threw the pearl far out into the sea, and with a curt nod turned round on his heels and went down to the road.

What he had done left Gutierrez dumbstruck. To throw a million-worth fortune into the sea, just like a pebble picked up from the beach! She felt ashamed too, and scolded herself for being so heartless as to hurt that strange young man’s feelings.

“Wait, where’re you going?”

But Ichthyander was going away, his head bowed. Then Gutierrez caught up with him, took him by his hand and looked into his face. Tears were running down the young man’s cheeks. He had never wept before and was wondering why everything round looked blurred as if he were swimming underwater with no goggles on.

“Please forgive me. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” the girl said and took him by both his hands.