Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 11

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the embassadors' hall, without reserve, for their inspection. It is a beautiful place, containing life-size paintings of Washington, Juarez, Hidalgo and other illustrious men. The chandeliers, hung with brilliant cut-glass pendants, terra cotta and alabaster vases and handsome clocks, were once the property of Maximilian. At either end of the long hall are crimson velvet and gold-hung thrones, where the president receives his guests. Some trophy fiend, most probably some girl with the thought of a crazy patch, cut a large piece out of one of these damask curtains; consequently the governor has issued orders that no visitors shall be admitted, and the Yankees have gone down one notch further in the scale where they already, by their own conduct, hold a low position. It is to be hoped that those who come in the future may act so that no more shame will fall on us.

 

 

CHAPTER XI.

 

CUPID'S WORK IN SUNNYLAND.

 

Love! That wonderful something—the source of bliss, the cause of maddened anguish! Love and marriage form the basis of every plot, play, comedy, tragedy, story, and, let it be whispered, swell the lawyer's purse with breach of promise and divorce case fees. Yet it blooms with a new-found beauty in every clime, and as there is no land in all the world more suitable for romance than Mexico, it is pertinent to show how love is planted, cultivated and reaped in this paradise, so as to let our single readers in the States compare the system here with home customs and benefit thereby, whether by making good use of their own free style or cultivating a new, those interested must decide.

Mexicans may be slow in many things, but not slow in love. The laws of Mexico claim girls at twelve, and boys at thirteen years are eligible to marriage, and it is not an unusual sight to see a woman, who looks no more than thirty-five, a great-grandmother. As children, the Mexicans are rather pretty; but when a girl passes twenty she gets "mucho-mucho" avoirdupois, and at thirty she sports a mustache and "galways" that would cause young bachelors in the States to turn green with envy. The men, on the contrary, are slim and wiry, and do not boast of their hirsute charms, especially when in company with women, as they have little desire to call attention to the contrast, and the diamond-ring finds other means of display than stroking and twisting an imaginary mustache. Yet this exchange of charms interferes in no way with love-making, and the young man wafts sweet kisses from his finger-tips to the fair—no, dark—damsel, and enjoys it as much as if that black, silky down on her lip were fringing the gateway to his stomach.

Boys and girls, even in babyhood, are not permitted to be together. Before very long they compel their eyes to speak the love their lips dare not tell, and with a little practice it is surprising how much they can say, and how cold and insipid sound words of the same meaning in comparison.

All the courting is done on the street. When evening kindly lends its sheltering cloak, even though the moon smiles full-faced at the many love-scenes she is witnessing, the girl opens her casement window and, with guitar in her hand or dreamily watching the stars, she awaits her lover. If her room is on the ground floor she is in paradise, for then they can converse—he can even touch her hand through the bars. But if she is consigned to a room above she steps out on the balcony. If the distance is not too great, they can still converse; but otherwise, with the aid of pencil, paper, and tiny cord, they manage to spend the evening blissfully without burning papa's coal and gas, and staying up until unseemly hours.

The lovers are unmindful of the people who pass and repass, and the kind-hearted policeman never even thinks of telling the young man to "move on." If the house is secluded the lover tells his devotion in musical strains. Night is not only devoted to love-making, but in the broad light of day the young man will stand across the street and from the partly opened casement of the fair one are visible a hand and a nose—of course she has full view, but that is all that can be seen of her. With the hand they converse in deaf and dumb language, which, added to their own signs, makes a large dictionary. It is not likely there exists a Mexican who is not an adept in the sign language. Courting is too vulgar a word for them, so they call it—translated in English—playing the bear.
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You would naturally wonder how a girl who never leaves her mother's or chaperon's side, who never goes to parties, who is watched like a condemned murderess, would ever get a lover; but notwithstanding all this strictness they number less old maids and more admirers than their sisters in the States. Perhaps while out driving, at the theater or bull-fights, they see a man they think they will like. He is similarly impressed. He follows his new-found one home, and she knows enough to be on the balcony awaiting his arrival with the shades of night. He may play the bear with her for a year and she not know his name. He has the advantage, for he can find out everything about her family, and thereby determine whether she is a desirable bride or not.

Sometimes they play the bear for from seven to fifteen years—that is, if the parents are very wealthy—and even then not get the girl, for with all their passionate love they number many flirts. Often one girl will have two or more playing the bear at the same time. If they chance to meet they inquire, fiercely, "Whom are you after?" If the answer demonstrates the same girl, one will request the other to step aside. If he refuses a duel follows. After that the girl is bound, by the custom of her country, to relinquish both. If a brother or father discovers a "bear," the latter must submit to a thrashing from their hands if he still desires to retain the girl's love. If a father notices the attention of a "bear" and looks with favor upon him, he does not disturb his "playing." When he concludes he has served long enough he is invited into the house. This means the same as if he had asked her hand in marriage and has been accepted. He is the intended husband, but never for a moment is he alone with his fiancee. He may aspire to take the driver's place sometimes, or to take the entire family to the theater.

A young American had been received in great favor by a Spanish family; probably the old man thought he would like an American for a son-in-law. However, young America was not going to waste any time sitting in the house with the old folks, so he politely requested the object of his admiration to go to the Italian opera. She graciously accepted. When he went to the house he found not only his lady love but the entire family prepared to accompany him. The deed was done; he could not back out, and for the privilege of talking to the mother, with the daughter sitting on the other side casting love-lit glances from her splendid eyes, he paid forty-three dollars. He was disgusted, and accordingly gave up his chance of being a member of a Mexican family.

If a man gets impatient and feels like becoming responsible for the price of his sweetheart's bonnets, he asks the father. If he is rejected he can go to a public official, swear out a notice to the effect that his and the girl's happiness is ruined by the father's heartlessness. He then secures a warrant, which gives him the privilege of taking the girl away bodily from the home of her parents. This is a Mexican elopement. If, on the other hand, he is accepted, the wedding-day is named, and agreements are drawn up as to how much will be the daughter's portion at the death of her parents. Before that period she receives nothing. The intended husband furnishes the wedding outfit, and all the wearing apparel she has been using is returned to her parents. She has absolutely nothing. The groom buys the customary outfit—white satin boots, white dress and veil. A Mexican wedding is different from any other in the world. First a civil marriage is performed by a public official. This by law makes the children of that couple legitimate and lawful inheritors of their parents' property. This is recorded, and in a few days—the day following or a month after, just as desired—the marriage is consummated in the church. Before this ceremony the bride and groom are no more allowed alone together than when playing the bear. At a wedding the other day the church was decorated with five hundred dollars' worth of white roses. The amount can be estimated when it is stated roses cost but four reals (fifty cents) per thousand. Their delicate perfume filled the grand, gloomy old edifice, which was lighted by thousands of large and small wax candles. Carpet was laid from the gate into the church, and when the bridal party marched in, the pipe organ and band burst forth in one joyous strain. The priest, clad entirely in white vestments, advanced to the door to meet them, followed by two men in black robes carrying different articles, a small boy in red skirt and lace overdress carrying a long pole topped off with a cross.

The bride was clad in white silk, trimmed with beaded with train about four yards long, dark hair and waist dressed with orange blossoms. Over this, falling down to her feet in front and reaching the end of the train back, was a point lace veil. Magnificent diamonds were the ornaments, and in the gloved hands was a pearl-bound prayer-book. She entered a pew near the door with her mother—who was dressed in black lace—on one side and her father on the other. After answering some questions they stepped out, and the groom stood beside the bride, with groomsman and bridemaid on either side, the latter dressed in dark green velvet, lace, and bonnet. The priest read a long while, and then, addressing the girl first, asked her many questions, to which she replied, "Si, senor." Then he questioned the groom likewise. Afterward he handed the groom a diamond ring, which the latter placed on the little finger of the left hand of the bride. The priest put a similar ring on the ring-finger of the right hand of the groom, and a plain wedding ring on the ring-finger of the bride's right hand. Then, folding the two ringed hands together, he sprinkled them with holy water and crossed them repeatedly. The band played "Yankee Doodle," and the bride, holding on to an embroidered band on the priest's arm, the groom doing likewise on the other side, they proceeded up to the altar, where they knelt down. The priest blessed them, sprinkled them with holy water, and said mass for them, the band playing the variations of "Yankee Doodle." A man in black robes put a lace scarf over the head of the bride and around the shoulders of the groom; over this again he placed a silver chain, symbolic of the fact that they were bound together forever nothing could separate them.

After the priest finished mass he blessed and sprinkled them once more. Then from a plate he took seventeen gold dollars the groom had furnished and emptied them into his hands. The groom in turn emptied them into the hand of his bride, and she gave them to the priest as a gift to the Church and a token that they will always sustain, protect, and uphold it. Now the ceremony, which always lasts two to four hours, is ended, and the newly married pair go into an adjoining room to receive the congratulations of their friends.

The marriage festivities are often kept up for a week. After that the husband claims his bride, and right jealously does he guard her. Her life is spent in seclusion eating, drinking, sleeping, smoking. The husband is desperately jealous and the wife is never allowed to be in the company of another man. Life to a Mexican lady in an American's view is not worthsliving.

When death takes one away the dust remains buried for ten years, if the husband is wealthy. At the end of that time the bones, all that remains in this country, are lifted, placed in a jar and taken home and the tombstone used as an ornament. "See that case?" said a Mexican. "My first wife is in that, even to her fingernails, and that is her grave-stone." So it was, there in the parlor, a dismal ornament and memento.

Mexican carelessness does not extend to the saying of mass. A man had three daughters, and each was to inherit $3,000,000. For this reason he would not allow them to marry. One died, and the anniversary of her death was celebrated in fine style. High mass was said, and a coffin arranged on a catafalque forty-four feet high

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