At every moment, new dismal objects met the view. Sometimes carts passed along, filled with coffins, symmetrically piled; they stopped before every house. Men in black and gray garments were in waiting before the door; they held out their hands, and to some, one coffin was thrown, to some two, frequently three or four, from the same house. It sometimes happened that the store was quickly exhausted, and the cart, which had arrived full, went away empty, whilst many of the dead in the street were still unserved. In nearly every dwelling, upstairs and down, from the roof to the cellar, there was a stunning tapping of hammers: coffins were being nailed down, and so many, so very many were nailed, that sometimes those who worked stopped from sheer fatigue. Then broke forth laments, heart-rending moans, despairing imprecations. They were uttered by those from whom the men in black and gray had taken some one to fill the coffins.
Unceasingly were the coffins filled, and day and night did those men work, but by day more than by night, for, as soon as it was dusk, came a gloomy file of vehicles of all kinds—the usual hearses were not sufficient; but cars, carts, drays, hackney-coaches, and such like, swelled the funeral procession; different to the other conveyances, which entered the streets full and went away empty—these came empty but soon returned full. During that period, the windows of many houses were illuminated, and often the lights remained burning till the morning. It was “the season.” These illuminations resembled the gleaming rays which shine in the gay haunts of pleasure; but there were tapers instead of wax candles, and the chanting of prayers for the dead replaced the murmur of the ball-room. In the streets, instead of the facetious transparencies which indicate the costumers, there swung at intervals huge lanterns of a blood-red color, with these words in black letters: “Assistance for those attacked with the cholera.” The true places for revelry, during the night, were the churchyards; they ran riot—they, usually so desolate and silent, during the dark, quiet hours, when the cypress trees rustle in the breeze, so lonely, that no human step dared to disturb the solemn silence which reigned there at night, became on a sudden, animated, noisy, riotous, and resplendent with light. By the smoky flames of torches, which threw a red glare upon the dark fir-trees, and the white tombstones, many grave-diggers worked merrily, humming snatches of some favorite tune. Their laborious and hazardous industry then commanded a very high price; they were in such request that it was necessary to humor them. They drank often and much; they sang long and loud; and this to keep up their strength and spirits good, absolute requisites in such an employment. If, by chance, any did not finish the grave they had begun, some obliging comrade finished it for them (fitting expression!), and placed them in it with friendly care.