Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 84.djvu/317

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THE

 

POPULAR SCIENCE

 

MONTHLY



APRIL, 1914



FRESH AIR
By FREDERIC S. LEE
DALTON PROFESSOR OF PHYSIOLOGY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

ON one of the hottest of the hot nights of British India, a little more than one hundred and fifty years ago, Siraj-Uddaula, a youthful merciless ruler of Bengal, caused to be confined within a small cell in Fort William, one hundred and forty-six Englishmen whom he had that day captured in a siege of the city of Calcutta. The room was large enough to house comfortably but two persons. Its heavy door was bolted; its walls were pierced by two windows barred with iron, through which little air could enter. The night slowly passed away, and with the advent of the morning death had come to all but a score of the luckless company. A survivor has left an account of horrible happenings within the dungeon, of terrible stragglings of a steaming mass of sentient human bodies for the insufficient air. Within a few minutes after entrance every man was bathed in a wet perspiration and was searching for ways to escape from the stifling heat. Clothing was soon stripped off. Breathing became difficult. There were vain onslaughts on the windows; there were vain efforts to force the door. Thirst grew intolerable, and there were ravings for the water which the guards passed in between the bars, not from feelings of mercy, but only to witness in ghoulish glee the added struggles for impossible relief. Ungovernable confusion and turmoil and riot soon reigned. Men became delirious. If any found sufficient room to fall to the floor, it was only to fall to their death, for they were trampled upon, crushed and buried beneath the fiercely desperate wave of frenzied humanity above. The strongest sought death—some by praying for the hastening of the end; some by heaping insults upon the guards to try to induce them to shoot. But all efforts for relief were in vain, until at last bodily and mental agony was followed by stupor. This tragedy of the Black Hole of Calcutta will