Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 29
high and low voices complete the attractions of the beautiful Mexican sala.
LOVE AND COURTSHIP IN MEXICO.
”Why the world are all thinking about it,
And as for myself I can swear,
If I fancied that Heaven here without,
I’d scarce feel a wish to be there.”
Beneath the Mexican skies, where everybody treats life as if it were one long holiday, they love with a passion as fervent as their Sun, but—on one side at least—as brilliant and transient as a shooting star. Yet there is fascination about it which makes the American love very insipid in comparison.
In childhood, boys and girls are never permitted to be together. There is no rather sweet remembrance of when we first began to love, or having to stand with our face in the corner for passing “love letters,” or the fun of playing "Copenhagen” when we didn't run one bit hard. It is only of a dirty little schoolroom filled with dusky ninos, all of the same wearing apparel, who studied “out loud;" a fat little teacher who never wore tight dresses, and who only combed her hair “after the senoritas had gone home." A scolding French master and an equally bad music master completes the memories.
When Mexican damsels reach that "hood" which permits of long dresses and big bustles, they are in feverish expectation until, during a walk or drive, a flash from a pair of soft, black eyes tells its tale and a pair of starry ones sends back a swift reply, and with a tender sigh she realizes she has learned that which comes into the lives of them all. That night she peeps from behind her curtains and watches him promenade the opposite sidewalk back and forth, the gaslight throwing his shadow many feet in advance, which, she vows—next to him—is the most beautiful thing she ever gazed upon. She does not show herself the first time or does he expect it. Modesty or custom prevents. Just as he takes off his hat to breathe a farewell to her balcony, a white handkerchief flutters forth for an instant, he kisses his finger tips, the light goes out, and both retire, longing for manana noche. Time goes on, and she gets bold enough to stand on the balcony, in full glare of the laughing moon, whilst he walks just beneath her. When it rains he will stand there until hat and clothing are ruined, to show his devotion. When she goes for a walk he is sure to follow slowly behind, and if chance offers he touches his hat slightly, and she with upraised hand deftly gives the pretty Mexican salutation. When the novelty wears off all this, she gets a pencil, paper, and cord, with which she transfers to him those sweet, soft little nothings which the love-stricken are so fond of, and the fair fisheress never draws in an empty line; hers are but the repetition of what almost any love-sick maiden would pen—badly written and mis-spelled, it is true; his is something of this style:
"Beautiful, Entrancing Angel,—Your loving slave has been made to feel the bliss of heaven by your gracious and pleasing condescension to notice his maddening devotion for you. I long to touch your exquisite hand that I may be made to realize my happiness is earthly. Life has lost all charms for me except beneath your fortunate balcony which has the honor of your presence. Only bless me with a smile and I am forever your most devoted, who lives only to promote your happiness.
Your Servant who bends to kiss your hand."
Every letter ends with this last, as we end ours "Respectfully." If they do not care to write it out fully they put only the initials for every word. If a girl is inclined to flirt she may have several "bears," but her fingers tell a different hour for each. If two should meet they inquire the other's mission, and their hot blood leads them into a duel—which, however, is less frequent of late years. No difference how much a girl may care for a duelist, she does not see him after he has fought for her.
Winter comes at last, and with it the annual receptions of the different clubs. A mutual understanding and many fond hearts beat in anticipation of the event. Once there they forget the eyes of their chaperons, and in their adorers' arms they dance the Spanish love-dance. It is really the danza. At all receptions it comes in every other dance and is played twice the length of any. It is the one moment of a Mexican's life, and I assure you they improve it. The danza is rather peculiar, and not at all pleasing to an Americana. It is nearly the waltz step reduced to a slow, graceful motion; the high heels and tight boots prevent any swift movement; the gentleman takes the lady in his arms and she does likewise with him—as nearly as possible—and in this way they dance about three minutes, then encircling, as two loving schoolgirls walk along, they advance, and, clasping hands with the nearest couple, the four dance together for a little while and then separate; this repeated by the hour constitutes the Spanish danza. Uninterrupted conversation is held continually as the girl's cheek rests against the gentleman's shoulder. Love is whispered, proposals are made, and arrangements for future actions perfected.
When parents notice a "bear," if they are favorably inclined, they invite him in, where he can see the object of his adoration hemmed in on either side by petticoats of forbidding aspect. When he once enters the house it means that he has been accepted as the girl's husband, and there is no "backing out." The father sets a time for a private interview and when he calls they settle all business points: As to what the daughter receives at the father's death, when the marriage shall take place, where the bride is to live and how much the intended husband has to support her; the lawyer finishes all arrangements and escorts the engaged pair to a magistrate, where a civil marriage is performed—that their children may be legal heirs to their property. Even after this they are not permitted to be alone together; the intended bridegroom buys all the wedding outfit, for the bride is not allowed to take even a collar from what her father bought for her before.
The final ceremony is performed in a church by a padre, who sprinkles the young couple with holy water and hands an engagement ring to the groom, which he puts on the little finger of his bride, then the padre puts a marriage ring on both the bride and groom. After which, holding on to the priest's vestments, they proceed to the altar, where they kneel while he puts a lace scarf around their shoulders and a silver chain over their heads; symbolic that they are bound together irrevocably, as there is no such thing as divorce in Mexico. After mass is said the marriage festivities take place and last as