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A new friend - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

Olsen was on board a big launch, looking over the rail into the water. The sun had just risen but it was already high enough for its slanting rays to pierce like blue-tinted search-lights to the very bottom of the shallow cove. A few Indians were crawling over the white-sand sea-floor. Every now and then they came up for a good breath of air and then plunged back. Olsen kept an eye on them. It was hot, in spite of the early hour. By and by he felt he could do with a dip or two, undressed quickly and dived overboard. Olsen had never done any pearl-diving before but he soon found that he could stay underwater longer than the professionals. So he joined the divers, thrilled to be doing something that was quite new to him.

Back at the bottom for a third time Olsen saw two Indians, working side by side, suddenly jump up and swim desperately to the surface as if a pack of sharks or sawfish were after them. Olsen fronted round. Swiftly coming to him with strong frog-wise thrusts was a queer silver-scaled creature, half-man, half-frog, with enormous bulging eyes and webbed paws.

Before Olsen had time to rise from his knees the monster was near him and holding him by his arms with its frog-like paw. Scared as he was Olsen realized that the creature had a human face, whose good looks were only marred by a pair of bulging glittering eyes. The queer creature, apparently forgetting all about being underwater, began speaking to him. Olsen could not hear a word. He only saw lips moving in speech. With its two front paws the creature had a tight grip on Olsen’s arm. Olsen pushed against the bottom and went up, using his free arm. The monster trailed behind, not letting go of his other arm. On surfacing Olsen dung to the gunwale with his free hand, hooked it with his leg, clambered into the boat and, with one strong push, sent the half-man, half-frog, splashing into the water. The Indians in the boat had jumped into the water and were swimming shorewards for all they were worth.

Ichthyander swam back to the boat.

“Listen, Olsen,” he said in Spanish, “I must speak to you about Gutierrez.”

Fantastic as it all seemed at the moment Olsen had enough good judgement to realize that it was a human being and not a monster he was dealing with.

“Well, I’m listening,” he said.

Ichthyander scrambled into the boat, sat down cross-legged in the bows and crossed his paws on his chest.

Why, it’s goggles he’s got on, Olsen thought, after a good look at the stranger’s face.

“My name’s Ichthyander. I got a necklace for you from the sea-bottom once.”

“But then you had a man’s eyes and hands.”

Ichthyander smiled and shook his frog-like paws.

“Gloves,” he said briefly.

“That’s what I thought.”

From the shelter of some rocks on the shore the curious Indians watched them speak, though no words carried across to them.

“Do you love Gutierrez?” Ichthyander asked after a short pause.

“Yes,” Olsen said simply.

Ichthyander heaved a deep sigh.

“Does she love you?”

“She loves me too.”

“But doesn’t she love me?”

“That’s her business,” Olsen shrugged his shoulders.

“How do you mean? Why, she’s your bride.”

Though Olsen looked surprised he still retained his calm.

“No, she’s not.”

“You’re lying! “ Ichthyander flared up. “I myself heard a swarthy man on horseback call her a bride.”

“My bride?”

Ichthyander was confused. No, the swarthy man had not said that Gutierrez was Olsen’s bride. But surely a young girl like Gutierrez could not be the bride of that dark-faced ugly old man? Surely that could not be so? The swarthy man must be her relative. Ichthyander decided to try another tack.

“What were you doing here? Pearl-diving?”

“I must confess I don’t like your questions,” Olsen said morosely. “Had I not known a little about you from Gutierrez I should’ve pushed you off the boat and that’s that. And keep your hand from your knife. I can smash your head with an oar before you so much as raise your hand. But I don’t see why I shouldn’t tell you that I was indeed looking for a pearl.”

“The big pearl that I threw into the sea? Gutierrez told you about it?”

Olsen nodded.

Ichthyander exulted.

“There you are. Why, I told her you wouldn’t refuse it. I said she should take it and give it to you. She refused point-blank and now you’re looking for it.”

“Yes, because now it belongs to the ocean, not you. If I find it I’ll owe it only to myself.”

“Do you love pearls that much?”

“I’m no woman to love trinkets,” retorted Olsen.

“But you can-what’s the word now-yes, sell it, get lots of money for it.”

Olsen nodded again.

“So you love money?”

“What are you tryi
ng to get at?” Olsen asked, somewhat annoyed.

“I must know what Gutierrez made you a present of her pearls for. You were going to marry her, weren’t you?”

“No, I wasn’t,” said Olsen. “Even if I was it’s too late anyway. She is already married.”

The blood drained from Ichthyander’s face.

“Surely not to that swarthy one,” was all he could say.

“Yes. She has married Pedro Zurita.”

“But she… I thought she loved me,” Ichthyander said softly.

Olsen was looking at him sympathetically as he lighted up his short pipe.

“Yes, I think she loved you. But you jumped into the sea before her very eyes and drowned, or at least that was what she thought.”

Ichthyander looked up at Olsen in amazement. It was true he had never told Gutierrez he could live underwater. But it had never entered his head that she could take his leap for suicide.

“I saw her last night,” went on Olsen. “Your death has upset her terribly. She was to blame for it, she said.”

“But why did she have to marry another one so soon? She — 1 saved her life. Yes, I did! For a long time I thought she looked like the girl I had pulled out of the sea once. I brought her ashore and hid myself behind some rocks. Then that dark-skinned fellow came — I knew him at the first glance-and tried to convince her it was he who had saved her life.”

“Gutierrez spoke to me about it,” Olsen said. “She couldn’t quite make her mind up who it was had saved her-Zurita or a strange creature that she had seen for a fleeting moment when coming to. Why didn’t you tell her it was you?”

“It’s embarrasing to speak about oneself. Besides I wasn’t sure at first, in fact until I saw Zurita. But how could she agree?” Ichthyander asked.

“That I don’t know myself,” Olsen said slowly.

“Please tell me all you know, will you?”

“I work at a button factory, as a shell examiner. That’s where I got to know Gutierrez. She used to bring shells-her father sent her when he was busy. We got friendly. Sometimes we met in the port and went for walks along the shore. Then she told me about her ill luck: a rich Spaniard wooing her.”

“The same one? Zurita?”

“That’s right, Zurita. Gutierrez’s father-the Indian Baltasar-was all in favour and was doing his best to talk her into marrying him, the princely suitor.”

“What’s so princely about him? Why, he’s so old, ugly, foul-smelling…” Ichthyander could not contain himself.

“For Baltasar, Zurita was about the best son-in-law he could wish for. All the more so because Baltasar was head and ears in Zurita’s debt. Zurita could ruin him just like that, if Gutierrez did not see reason. Just imagine what it was like for her: Zurita’s advances on the one hand, her father’s nagging on the other…”

“Why didn’t Gutierrez send him packing? Why didn’t you give him a hiding, you, so big and strong?”

Olsen smiled at this outburst but it left him wondering. Ichthyander was not a fool yet his questions were strange somehow. Where had he been brought up?

“That’s more easily said than done,” Olsen replied. “Zurita and Baltasar would have had the law and the police and the courts on their side. In short, I couldn’t.”

But that didn’t explain things for Ichthyander.

“Well then, why didn’t she run away?” he asked.

“That would have been easier, of course. Indeed that was what she wanted to do and I promised her my help. As a matter of fact I’d meant to go up to North America for quite some time, so I told her she could join me and welcome.”

“Did you intend to marry her?” Ichthyander asked.

“A queer chap you are,” Olsen said and smiled again. “Didn’t I tell you we were just friends. What could’ve happened afterwards I don’t know.”

“Why didn’t you go then?”

“Because we hadn’t the money for the fare.”

“Is a passage by the Horrocks really so expensive?”

“The Horrocks my foot. The liner’s for the millionaires. Why, man, are you straight from the moon or what?”

Ichthyander flushed in embarrassment and thought he would try and ask no more questions that could show Olsen his ignorance.

“We didn’t have enough money for a freight boat, let alone the Horrocks. And we had to have a little above that to tide us over the first days on arrival. Jobs are not to be got for the asking up there any more than here.”

Ichthyander had another question coming, but he desisted.

“It was then that Gutierrez decided to sell her pearl necklace.”

“If only I had known! “ Ichthyander exclaimed, remembering about the pearls he had stored underwater.

“What about?”

“Never mind. Please go on, Olsen.”

“Everything was ready for the flight — ”

“Wait a minute. And me… I mean, how could that be? Does that mean she wanted to leave me too?”

“All this began before you turned up. But then, as far as I know, she meant to let you into it. Perhaps even to invite you to go away with her. Finally she could have written to you later, if she wasn’t able to speak to you before she went away.”

“But why with you, not with me? It’s always you, speaking to you, going away with you…”

“She had known me for over a year, whereas you…”

“Please go on, don’t mind me.”

“Well, as I said, everything was ready,” Olsen went on. “But then you went and jumped into the sea before her very eyes in Zurita’s presence. Early next morning I dropped in to see Gutierrez before my shift. It wasn’t my first visit. Baltasar didn’t seem to mind. Maybe because he respected the size on my fists, maybe because I looked a good stand-in, in case Zurita cooled off. At any rate Baltasar made no trouble and only begged up to keep well apart in Zurita’s presence. Of course the old Indian had no inkling of our plan. That morning I was there to tell Gutierrez that I had got two fares and that she was to be ready to leave by ten that night. Baltasar met me, in a state of agitation.

“ ‘Gutierrez’s not in. She’s away-for good,’ he told me. ‘Half an hour ago Zurita drove up in a brand-new gleaming car. Fancy that! ‘ he went on. ‘A car’s something we never see in our street, specially pulled up slap in front of your own door. Gutierrez and I ran out. Zurita was already out of the car, inviting Gutierrez for a ride to the market and back. He knows that’s the time she goes there. Gutierrez looked at the flashy thing. You can understand, I suppose, what an attraction it is for a young girl. But Gutierrez’s as sly and distrustful as they make ‘em. She says no politely. Never seen anybody so stubborn as that girl! ‘ he exclaimed in anger, but then began laughing. ‘Zurita was smart though. You’re being shy, he says, let me help you. And he grabbed her and pulled her in and she had only time to shout Father once and they were off.’

“ ‘I don’t think they’ll ever come back. Zurita’s taken her home, if you ask me,’ Baltasar finished his story and I could easily see that he had enjoyed telling it.

“ ‘Your daughter’s been taken away by force under your very eyes and you stand there and tell me it all like a huge joke! ‘ I told Baltasar with indignation.

“ ‘Why should I worry?’ Baltasar looked surprised. ‘Had it been anybody else, yes. But Zurita-I’ve known him for ages. If a skinflint like him could cough up enough money to buy a car, why, he’s dead set on Gutierrez and no mistake. Hell marry her as sure as eggs is eggs. That’ll teach her to be stubborn. Should know a good chance when she sees it. There’s nothing for her to weep about. Zurita owns a hacienda, called ‘Dolores’, just outside the town of Parana. His mother lives up there. Ten to one it’s there he’s taken my Gutierrez to. “

“And you didn’t give Baltasar a thrashing?” asked Ichthyander.

“To hear you I should do nothing else but go about beating people up,” said Olsen. “I did have a mind to give him a good drubbing though. But then I t
hought better of it. I thought things could be remedied yet. I won’t go into all details. Anyhow as I told you, I managed to see Gutierrez.”

“At the Hacienda Dolores?”


“And you didn’t kill Zurita and set Gutierrez free?”

“Now I should be murdering people as well. Who’d think you were so bloodthirsty?”

“I’m not,” Ichthyander exclaimed, tears welling up in his eyes. “But this is enough to make one’s blood boil! “

Olsen was sorry for Ichthyander.

“You’re right,” said Olsen. “Zurita and Baltasar are a pair of rascals. They do deserve a thorough beating. But life’s more complicated than you apparently think it is. You see, Gutierrez refused to run away from Zurita.” “What? Refused?” Ichthyander could not believe his ears.


“But why?”

“For one thing, she’s convinced that you took your own life because of her. She’s taken your death very hard. She must have loved you, poor thing. ‘My life’s over now, Olsen,’ she told me. ‘There’s nothing I want now. I don’t care for anything. I was in a haze when the priest Zurita had invited was performing the wedding ceremony. Nothing is done without God’s will, he said putting the wedding ring on my finger. And what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. I’ll be unhappy with Zurita but I’m afraid of drawing God’s wrath down on me. I won’t leave him.’ “

“What nonsense! God indeed! Father says God is old wives’ tales! “ Ichthyander said hotly. “Surely you could have talked her out of it?”

“Unfortunately it’s an old wives’ tale that Gutierrez believes. The missionaries made a devout Catholic of her; I tried my best to show it up for what it was and couldn’t. She even said she’d never see me again if I went on abusing God and the Holy Catholic Church in her presence. So I had to ease down. And at the hacienda I had no time to go deeper into it anyway. Just enough to exchange a few words. But, there’s something else she told me. When the wedding was over, Zurita said with a guffaw, ‘Well, one thing’s taken care of. The little bird’s caught and locked up, now’s the turn for the little fish.’ He then explained to Gutierrez, and she to me, what little fish he meant. He said he was going to Buenos Aires to catch the ‘sea-devil’, and make Gutierrez a millionaire’s wife. You are not that ‘sea-devil’ by any chance, are you? You stay underwater for hours, you scare pearl-divers…”

Caution prevented Ichthyander from letting Olsen into his secret. Not that he could have explained it anyway. So leaving Olsen’s question unanswered he himself asked:

“What does he want him for?”

“Pedro intends to make the ‘sea-devil’ pearl-dive for him. If you are that ‘sea-devil’, take care! “

“Thanks for the warning,” said the amphibian.

Now Ichthyander had not the slightest idea that on and off he had been headline news in Buenos Aires.

“I can’t…” Ichthyander said passionately. “I must see her. Even if it’s the last time. The town of Parana you said? Yes, I know it. It’s up the River Parana. But how do I find the Hacienda Dolores?”

Olsen explained.

Ichthyander gave Olsen’s hand a firm shake.

“I must apologize. I came to see an enemy and found a friend. Good-bye. I’m off to see Gutierrez.”

“Straightaway?” Olsen was smiling.

“Yes, not losing a minute,” Ichthyander replied, jumping overboard and swimming shorewards. Olsen only shook his head.

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