Page images

at the mercy of the guards, and the guards determined to secure them for the night in the prison of the garrison, a chamber known by the fearful name of the “Black Hole." Even for a single European malefactor,' that dungeon would, in such a climate, have been too close and narrow.

The space was only twenty feet square. The air-holes were small and obstructed. 10

It was the summer solstice, the season when the fierce heat of Bengal can scarcely be borne by natives of England even by lofty halls and the constant waving of fans.

6. The number of the prisoners was one hundred and forty-six. When they were ordered to enter the cell, they imagined that the soldiers were joking; and being in high spirits on account of the promise of the Nabob to spare their lives, they laughed and jested at the absurdity of the notion. They soon discovered their mistake. They expostulated; they entreated; but in vain. threatened to cut down all who hesitated. The captives were driven into the cell at the point of the sword, and the door was instantly shut and locked upon them.

7. Nothing in history or in fiction, not even the story which Ugolino told in the sea of everlasting ice, after he had wiped his bleeding lips on the scalp of his murderer, approaches the horrors which were recounted by the few survivors of that night. They cried for mercy.



The guards They strove to burst the door. Holwell, who, even in that extremity, retained some presence of mind, offered large bribes to the jailers. But the answer was, that nothing could be done without the Nabob's orders; that the Nabob was asleep, and that he would be angry if anybody woke him.

8. Then the prisoners went mad with despair. They trampled each other down, fought for the places at the windows, fought for the pittance of water with which the cruel mercy of the murderers mocked their agonies, raved, prayed, blasphemed, implored the guards to fire among them. The jailers in the meantime held lights to the bars, and shouted with laughter at the fantastic struggles of their victims. At length the tumult died


in low gaspings and moanings.

9. The day broke. The Nabob had slept off his debauch, and permitted the door to be opened. When a passage was made, twentythree ghastly figures, such as their own mothers would not have known, staggered one by one out of the charnel-house. A pit was instantly dug. The dead bodies, a hundred and twentythree in number, were flung into it and covered up.

10. But these things, which, after the lapse of more than eighty years, cannot be told or read without horror, awakened neither remorse nor pity in the bosom of the savage Nabob. He inflicted no punishment on the mur

derers. He showed no tenderness to the survivors.

11. Holwell, unable to walk, was carried before the tyrant, who reproached him, threatened him, and sent him up the country in irons, together with some other gentlemen who were suspected of knowing more than they chose to tell about the treasures of the Company. These persons, still bowed down by the sufferings of that great agony, were lodged in miserable sheds, and fed only with grain and water, till at length the prayer of the female relations of the Nabob procured their release.


1 Surajah Dowlah, the prince or

Nabob of Bengal. 2 Compensate, make up to. 3 Fort William, the citadel of Cal.

cutta. 4 The Company (The East India Com

pany), an English trading com

pany. 5 Dupleix, the French governor in


6 Insolence, rudeness, impudence. 7 Atrocity, fierce cruelty. 8 Retribution, punishment. 9 Malefactor, ill-doer, criminal. 10 Obstructed, almost stopped up. 11 Expostulated, reasoned, remon

strated. 12 Survivors, persons that outlived. 13 Charnel-house, house where dead

bodies are kept


THE Monarch ? rode along the van,
The foe's approaching force to scan,
His line to marshal and to range,
And rauks to square, and fronts to change.
Alone he rode from head to heel
Sheathed in his ready arms of steel ;
Nor mounted yet on war-horse wight,


[ocr errors]





But, till more near the shock of fight,
Reining a palfrey low and light.
A diadem of gold was set
Above his bright steel basinet;
And clasped within its glittering twine
Was seen the glove of Argentine ;
Truncheon or leading staff he lacks,
Bearing, instead, a battle-axe.

He ranged his soldiers for the fight
Accoutred thus, in open sight
Of either host.— Three bow-shots far,
Paused the deep front of England's war,
And rested on their arms a while,
To close and rank their warlike file,
And hold high council, if that night
Should view the strife, or dawning light.
Oh, gay, yet fearful to behold,
Flashing with steel and rough with gold,

And bristled o'er with bills and spears,
With plumes and pennons waving fair,
Was that bright battle-front! for there

Rode England's King and Peers :
And who, that saw that Monarch ride,
His kingdom battled by his side,
Could then his direful doom foretell ?-
Fair was his seat in knightly selle,"
And in his sprightly eye was set
Some spark of the Plantagenet.
Though light and wandering was his glance,
It flashed at sight of shield and lance.
“Know'st thou,” he said, "De Argentine,
Yon knight who marshals thus their line ?'




[graphic][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »