The impatience of Zurita - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

After this event Ichthyander swam every evening to the shore near the city, walked to the place where he hid his suit, put it on and went to the headland to meet Gutierrez. Together they strolled along the shore, talking animatedly. Who was Gutierrez’s new friend? She wouldn’t have been able to answer that. He was intelligent and witty and knew many things she did not know and yet, sometimes, he did not understand things a schoolboy would not need to think twice about. This she could not explain. Ichthyander did not speak about himself much. He shrank from telling her the whole truth. What the girl gathered was that Ichthyander was the son of a doctor, apparently a man of great means. He had brought up his son away from cities and people and had given him a peculiar one-sided education.

Sometimes they sat for long hours on the beach, close to the soughing sea. The stars would twinkle to them from the sky. By and by their conversation would die down. Ichthyander was happy.

“It’s time I was going back,” the girl would say.

Reluctantly Ichthyander rose, saw her as far as the suburb, returned quickly, threw off his suit and swam all the way home. In the morning, after his breakfast, he would swim out into the gulf, taking along with him a large loaf of bread. Settling down comfortably on the sandy bottom he would start feeding crumbs to the fish. They would come by shoals, swarming about him, slip in and out between his hands and snap up the sodden crumbs greedily. Sometimes bigger fish would gatecrash and chase the small fry. Ichthyander rose and shooed the brutes away while the small fish took shelter behind his back.

He also did some pearl collecting, which he found he liked. He was on top of the job in no time and soon had quite a pile of first-rate pearls in a corner of the underground cave that he used as a store.

He was fast becoming — quite unaware of it-one of the richest men in Argentina, perhaps even in the whole of Latin America. Had he only wanted, he could have easily become the richest man in the world. But this was farthest from his thoughts.

So passed quiet days. The only thing that clouded his happiness was her having to live in that stuffy city, full of dust and noise. What wouldn’t he give to make it possible for her to live underwater, away from people and the noise they make. How wonderful that would have been! He would have shown her a new universe, walked with her through the flower-decked submarine fields. But she could not live underwater. Neither could he on land. As it was he was spending on land much more time than was useful for him. He was already paying for it: the pain in his sides grew with each day spent on the beach. But even when the pain became almost unbearable he never went away first. And then there was another source of worry. Do what he might he could not forget that whispered conversation Gutierrez and the fair-haired stranger had had on the cliff-top. Each time Ichthyander meant to ask her and each time he didn’t, afraid lest he should offend her.

One evening the girl told him that she was not coming the next day.

“Why?” he asked, and frowned.

“101 be busy.”

“What with?”

“You mustn’t be so inquisitive,” the girl said with a smile. “And don’t see me off,” she added and went away.

Ichthyander sank into the sea. All the night through he lay on a bed of moss-grown stones, feeling utterly miserable. At the first streak of day he headed for home.

When he was near the gulf he saw some fishermen dolphin-hunting. Under his very eyes a big dolphin, hit by a bullet, jumped high out of the water and splashed heavily back.

“Leading! “ Ichthyander whispered in horror.

One of the fishermen was already in the sea, treading water, waiting for the wounded beast to surface. But the dolphin came up half a cable away, gasped for air and was down again.

As the fisherman was swiftly swimming to intercept his quarry, Ichthyander rushed to his friend’s rescue. The dolphin came up again. The next moment the fisherman was on it, and dragging it by its fin towards the coming boat.

Spurting on just under the waves, Ichthyander caught up with the fisherman and sunk his teeth into his calf. The fisherman gave a few violent jerks, no doubt sure he was attacked by a shark, and then slashed out blindly with the knife he had in his hand. The knife caught Ichthyander on part of the neck not protected by his mailcoat. He let go of the fisherman’s leg and the latter went frantically for the boat. Ichthyander and the dolphin, both wounded now, headed for the gulf. The amphibian ordered the dolphin to follow him and dived into the underwater cave. It was only half-filled with water. Air got in through the fissured rock. Here he could examine the dolphin’s wound in complete safety. It proved nothing serious. The bullet was lodged in the layer of fat. After working on it a little he was able to extract it with his bare hands. The dolphin had been remarkably patient throughout.

“There, itil heal in no time,” Ichthyander said, patting his friend’s back lovingly.

Now he could look after himself. Ichthyander swam along the underwater tunnel, emerged in the orchard and entered his cottage.

Cristo was alarmed, seeing his ward wounded.

“What’s happened?”

“Some fishermen wounded me when I was rescuing the dolphin,” Ichthyander said. But Cristo did not believe him.

“Been to town again, on your own, haven’t you?” he asked suspiciously, as he bandaged the wound. Ichthyander was silent.

“Pull your scales aside a little,” Cristo said and exposed part of Ichthyander’s shoulder. There was a red spot on it.

That added to Cristo’s alarm.

“Did they strike you with an oar?” he asked, kneading the shoulder. But nothing seemed wrong with it. The spot looked like a birthmark

“No,” said Ichthyander.

Then the young man went to his room to have a rest while the old Indian sat down to do some thinking. After quite a time he got up and went out.

Cristo left for town. By the time he had reached Baltasar’s shop he was quite out of breath. He entered and looked closely at Gutierrez sitting behind the counter.

“Father home?” he asked.

“In there,” the girl said, pointing with her chin at the other room.

Cristo went into Baltasar’s laboratory and shut the door behind him.

He found his brother at work, in a bad mood again.

“It’s enough to drive one mad, all your carryings-on,” Baltasar was grumbling. “Zurita’s as angry as a nest of vipers at you dilly-dallying with that ‘sea-devil’ fellow, Gutierrez’s out somewhere for whole days. And she won’t hear about Zurita. Keeps saying no. And Zurita says he’s had enough of it. ‘Ill carry her off by force,’ he says. ‘Shell weep a bit and then come round,’ he says. And you can expect anything from him, damn his eyes.”

Cristo listened to his brother’s tale of woe in silence.

“Look,” he said at last, “I couldn’t bring Ichthyander here because he wouldn’t come to town with me. He too has been out every day lately. Got quite out of hand. Ill catch it hot from Doctor for not looking after Ichthyander properly-”

“That means we’ve got to get hold of Ichthyander before Salvator arrives, then you can clear out and-”

“Wait a minute, Baltasar. Don’t interrupt me. Listen. We mustn’t rush things with Ichthyander.”


Cristo sighed as if not quite prepared to say what was on his mind.

“You see — ” he began.

But at that very moment somebody entered the shop and they heard Zurita’s loud voice.

“There you are,” Baltasar muttered, dumping a batch of pearls into the bath. “Him again.”

Zurita dashed the door open and strode in.

“Ah, here’s the precious pair. Well, now, when are you going to stop playing your damned tricks on me?” he said, looking from Baltasar to Cristo.

“I’m doing my best,” Cristo said, rising and smiling politely. “Have a little patience, master. The ‘sea-devil’s’ no small fry. You can’t hook him up just like that. I brought him to town once, didn’t I, but you were away, so he had a look round, didn’t like what he saw and there you are-he won’t be coaxed into coming again.”

“Well, he can damn well please himself. I’ve done enough waiting, anyway. I’m pulling off two things at one stroke this week. Salvator still away?”

“He’s expected any day now.”

“That means we must hurry. You’re going to have guests, Cristo, — a hand-picked bunch. You will open the doors for us, I’ll see to the rest. Ill let Baltasar know when everything’s ready,” and, turning to Baltasar, he said, “As for you, we’re going to have a talk tomorrow. Our last, mark you.”

The two brothers bowed to him in silence. But as soon as Zurita turned his back on them to leave, gone were the polite smiles from their faces. Baltasar swore under his breath. Cristo seemed to be pondering something. Out in the shop Zurita was saying something softly to Gutierrez. “No! “ the two brothers heard her answer. Baltasar shook his head in dejection. “Hey, Cristo! “ called Zurita. “Come along, you’ll be needed today.”