Table of Content

An unpleasant encounter - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

Ichthyander was in a very poor state indeed. His wound was still giving him pain, he was running a high temperature and was finding it hard to breathe with his lungs.

But despite all this he had come to the rocks in the morning to meet Gutierrez. She came at noon, when the heat was overpowering. What with hot air and fine white dust, Ichthyander was breathing in gasps. He wanted Gutierrez to stay with him on the sea-shore, but she was in a hurry to go back.

“Father’s going away on business, so he wants me to stay in the shop,” she said.

“I will see you off then,” he said and they set out townward along the hot dusty road.

Coming towards them, his head bent, was Olsen. Apparently preoccupied with something he drew level and would have gone past them, had not the girl hailed him.

“I must have a few words with him,” Gutierrez said to Ichthyander and then joined Olsen. They
spoke in rapid undertones. The girl seemed to be trying to talk him into something.

Ichthyander stood waiting a few paces away.

“Well then, see you round midnight,” he heard Olsen’s voice. He shook the girl’s hand and quickly went his way.

When Gutierrez came back to Ichthyander’s side his face was flushed. He was on the point of speaking to her about Olsen but still could not find words.

“I can’t bear it,” he began, gasping for air, “I must know… Olsen… you’re hiding something from me. You’re going to meet him tonight, aren’t you? Do you love him?”

Gutierrez took Ichthyander by his hand and looked at him gently.

“Do you trust me?” she said.

“I do… you know I love you,” he had found the word at last, “but I… but I’m suffereing…”

And he was too. He was suffering because of uncertainty and because at that moment a cruel pain was racking his sides. He was struggling for breath. The colour had drained from his cheeks.

“You look quite ill,” the girl said in an anxious tone. “Do try and take yourself in hand. My dear boy, I didn’t want to tell you everything but to set your heart at rest I will. Listen to me.”

A man on horseback rushed past, then veered sharply round and rode up to the young couple. Ichthyander looked up and saw a swarthy man no longer in his youth with a pointed moustache and goatee.

He was sure he had seen the man some time, somewhere. In town? No. Yes, that time on the shore!

The horseman was tapping his shiny boot with the riding crop as he gave Ichthyander a vile look and then held his hand out to Gutierrez.

Grasping her hand, he suddenly lifted it up to kiss.

“Caught you! “ he guffawed and releasing the hand of the frowning Gutierrez, he went on in a bantering voice edged with truculence. “Now is it at all seemly for a young bride to be walking about with a young man just on the eve of her wedding?”

Gutierrez flushed in anger but he did not give her time to speak.

“Father’s been waiting for you. Ill be back there in an hour’s time.”

Ichthyander did not hear the last words. All of a sudden everything had gone dark in front of his eyes, there was a lump in his throat, his breathing had nearly stopped. He felt he could no longer stay on land.

“So you… after all… were deceiving me,” he managed to utter with lips that had turned blue. He wanted to speak, to voice his indignation, to find out the whole truth, but the pain in his sides was so unbearably acute that he suddenly knew he was going to lose consciousness.

Ichthyander tore away towards the sea and dropped into the water from the cliff-top.

Gutierrez cried out and staggered. Then she rushed to Pedro Zurita.

“Quick, save him! “

But Zurita did not budge.

“It’s not in my habit to interfere with someone who wants to drown himself,” he said smugly.

Gutierrez ran seawards. It looked as if she, too, wanted to throw herself into the sea. Zurita dug his heels into his horse, caught up with the girl, seized her by the shoulders, lifted her up onto the saddle and galloped off along the road.

“It’s not my habit to interfere with those who do not interfere with me. It’s better that way. Try and be sensible, Gutierrez.”

Gutierrez never said a word. She had fainted. It was only at her father’s shop that she at last came to.

“Who was that young man?” Pedro asked.

Gutierrez looked at Zurita with a loathing she did not want to disguise.

“Let me go,” she said.

Zurita frowned. Well, nothing in it, probably, he thought. And then her hero has jumped into the sea. Couldn’t do better. And turning to the shop he shouted, “Hey, Baltasar! “

Baltasar ran out.

“Here, take your daughter. And thank me that you’re seeing her at all. I saved her — she nearly jumped into the sea after a young man with plenty of good looks. This is the second time I’ve saved your daughter’s life and she’s still shy in my company. Well, I’m going to see it stops soon.” He guffawed. “Be back in an hour. Remember our deal! “

Baltasar was bowing servilely.

Zurita spurred his horse on and galloped away.

Father and daughter entered the shop. Gutierrez sank onto a chair and buried her face in her hands.

Baltasar shut the door and, pacing the floor, began speaking in an agitated manner. But nobody was listening to him. He might just as well have been speaking to the dried-up crabs and half-moons lying on the shelves”

He’s jumped into the sea, the poor boy, the girl thought, Ichthyander’s face floating in front of her mind’s eye. First Olsen, then that stupid encounter with Zurita. How dared he call me a bride. Everything is lost…

Gutierrez wept. She was sorry for Ichthyander. Simple and shy, he was a cut above all those vain and arrogant young men she had seen in the city.

What shall I do? she thought. Throw myself into the sea like Ichthyander? Put an end to it all?

Baltasar was saying

–”Do you understand what it means, Gutierrez? It means ruin. Everything f you see in this shop belongs to Zurita. What belongs to me won’t make up one-tenth of it. All my pearls I receive from Zurita on commission. He’s got me where he wants me. If you turn him down this time he’ll take away what’s his and stop doing business with me. And that means ruin. Complete ruin. Be a good girl, pity your old father.”

“Go on, why don’t you say, ‘and marry him’. But I won’t! “ Gutierrez said sharply.

“To hell with it! “ cried Baltasar, his blood up. “In that case I… Zurita himself will make you do it! “ And the old Indian went into his laboratory, slamming the door shut behind him.

 Table of Content