“I see that some of you look at me as though I had used a strange word. Silt is the deposit of mud, sand, or earth of any kind carried up and down streams by the tide or other current. But the river engineers here are constantly removing it; the course is kept open, and the Hoogly pilots are very skilful. The river has also a bore, though not a great bore, like some people I know.
“We know the book-agent better than this one,” said Scott.
“Some of our rivers in England have bores, though not book-agents; so have the Seine, the Amazon, and others with broad estuaries. High tides drive a vast body of water into the wide mouth; and, as the stream is not large enough to take it in, it piles it up into a ridge, which rolls up the river. It forms a wall of water in the Hoogly seven feet high, which is sometimes dangerous to small craft. Enough of the Hoogly.
“Calcutta, by the last census, 1891, had a population of 861,764; but it is not so large as New York, Philadelphia, or Chicago; and London is the only larger city in the United Kingdom. It became a town in 1686. After it had attained considerable importance, in 1756, it was attacked by the Nawab of Bengal, the king or rajah; and after a siege of two days the place yielded. The tragedy of the ‘Black Hole’ followed.”
“I have heard of that, but I don’t know what it means,” said Mrs. Belgrave.
“You observe the large open enclosure at the right of your map of the city, the esplanade. Within it is Fort William, which has existed nearly two hundred years. It had a military prison, which has since been called the ‘Black Hole.’ The nawab caused one hundred and forty-six prisoners, all he had taken, to be shut up in a room only eighteen feet square, with only two small windows, both of them obstructed by a veranda. This was but a little more than two square feet on the floor for each person, so that they could not stand up without crowding each other. They spent the night there, pressing together, the heat terrible, enduring the pangs of suffocation. In the morning all were dead but twenty-three.
“The nawab held the fort for seven months, when it was recaptured by Lord Clive. Calcutta extends about five miles on the bank of the river, being about two in breadth. I shall not follow out its history, for you will hear enough of that as you visit the various localities.”
“I used to think Calicut and Calcutta were the same city,” said Louis.
“Not at all, though the names of the two may have been derived from the same source. The name of the great city is from Kali, a Hindu goddess of whom you heard in Bombay, and cuttah, a temple; and doubtless there was such a building here. Calicut is on the south-west coast of India, and was a very rich and populous city when it was visited by Vasco da Gama, who was the first to double the Cape of Good Hope, in 1498. The cotton cloth, calico, generally called print, gets its name from this city.”