The book “The Gleam of Gold” by Dipavali Sen is a mystery thriller.
Alvarez Gomez of Benaulim in South Goa climbs down a disused well outside an ancient mansion by the beach. Is that a gleam of gold at the bottom of the well? His search leads him to a mystery that involves two families, the Pintos originally from Portugal and the Chaudhuris from Bandel in Bengal. It spans several centuries, and is intertwined with colonial history, romance, greed and violence.
Where is the treasure from the shipwreck that brought Diego Pinto to India? Does Alvarez find the gold or the love beckoning to him?
Read an excerpt from the book below.
Alvarez could hear voices and sense torchlight but he was just then beyond their reach. There were some steps zigzagging down its side just as in the well outside – and Alvarez took them.
He landed –on a golden dream.
The circular floor as well as the cylindrical wall was paved with gold bricks. He stepped gingerly along the glistening floor. It was damp. He touched the wall –they were also damp. Well, it was underground all right, and near groundwater level. The sea was not too far off.
For the time being Mr Tacitus Pinto and Mr Chaudhuri went clean out of his head.
He tried to pull out a brick. No, they were too firmly packed to be pulled out by bare hands. He passed his hands over the golden wall surface– what a feeling that was! He felt like a king! He felt like an emperor! He looked up and gave a whoop of joy. Corresponding shouts came down from the people above.
He no longer stepped gingerly along the floor. He ran across its diameter, danced along its circumference. He danced. He turned somersaults. It was in course of one of those somersaults that he noticed that one gold brick on the floor to be much bigger and a bit loose or wobbly. Was it another panel? Another trapdoor? Leading to further treasures? Gems and jewelry as in Aladdin’s cave?
It moved as he fiddled with it, cautiously at first, then forcefully. It yanked open and revealed a dark pit below.
He could see no steps but he was in the grip of temptation. He took a mighty leap down.
He found himself in another room- again circular – but made of lava-rocks fitted together. The room was dark and dank. Water was seeping from the narrow spaces in between the rocks.
The floor like the walls were wet as through the room had contained a lot of water a while ago. The others must have got down to the golden room above and were trying to look down through the opening above. A big torch was being shined down the panel he had jumped through. ”Come up!””Is there anyone or anything there?”
There were many cries from above. Alvarez heard them but he was in a daze.
The torchlight, moving along the wet and glistening rocks that formed the wall, fell upon a white mark running around the cylindrical wall surface, very near the low ceiling, beyond neck-level. What could it be? He touched it with a finger and found it wet, and salty to taste. There was also an opening above it that looked like a duct.
Then the torch moved to the floor. Alvarez saw –
No treasure – no gold or gem but –
Mr Chaudhuri and Mr Tacitus, lying face down, sopping wet “Mr Tacitus! Mr Chaudhuri!”cried Alvarez, “Come on, Get up!” Quick to take it in, Rumi began to scream from above. “Baba! Ki hoyeche? Ottho (Get up, father, what’s wrong)?”
Alvarez moved up and tried to raise the two men physically. He could not. The two were no longer men. They were bodies. Not stiffened totally but wet, heavy and difficult to lift. Had they killed each other?
He turned them over. The heads were a little tilted back, their mouths were open, and they had hair over their forehead and eyes.
They had obviously drowned, but how? In what?
These two men who had not even seen each other a week ago had died together – been killed together – by some terrible force. What was it?
Next to them there were two wooden barrels – their curved planks covered with some white substance. Salt ? Bones and rags were peeping out of them – also covered in white layers collected over untold years. Why, there was a skull peeping out from the broken planks of a barrel, with salt covering the hollows of the cheeks and eyes.
By their side, there was a hole on the floor – not big enough for the barrels or the bodies to pass but only let water come and go. But from where and to what ? Which unfathomable origin and destination?
As if in answer, water suddenly started to gush out of the opening in the wall that looked like a duct. It came at an astounding force making the level of the water rise waist-high in seconds. It splashed on Alvarez’s face and he found it salty. What water was it? Sea-water?
Alvarez found himself unsteady on his feet, almost falling gown and knocking himself against the stone walls. He raised his head and screamed. In a few seconds he would be choking to death in a well of salt water. Why was it coming so fast? Earlier it had been only a very gradual seepage then, almost imperceptible, and through bricks on the walls .But now it was a massive waterfall from the duct near the ceiling.
Was it the evening tide pouring in? Was it sea-water rising in a sea-storm and finding it way here through some subterranean passage?
“Come up!” “Catch hold!”Screams floated down, and Alvarez looked up and saw hands thrust out through the gap through which he had come down.
He tried madly to haul himself up. But the walls were steep –he had to hold on to something or the other in order to climb. What? The two barrels – as well as the two bodies were now rising with the water, floating on the water, knocking against each other. Alvarez was now losing his own footing. The rushing water was knocking him off his feet. It was coming up to his chin. It was almost coming up to his nostrils.
His shout came out only as a gurgle.
The torch slipped out of the hands of whoever was shining it down. It fell down into the ever-rising waters. Alvarez was in pitch dark now with the sound of water pouring relentlessly down. Was this the end?
Excerpted with permission from The Gleam of Gold, Dipavali Sen, Invincible Publishers. Read more about the book and buy it here.