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HOME > Classical Novels > The Boy Travellers in Mexico > CHAPTER XIII.
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One day while Frank and Fred were strolling along the streets, observing the people and their ways, studying the architecture, and making other observations, according to their custom, their attention was drawn to a young man who was walking slowly up and down in front of a house. His movements were so peculiar that Frank asked their guide what the man was about.
"Oh, he's playing the bear!" was the reply.
"And what is 'playing the bear?' I would like to know," the youth responded.
"He's making love," the guide explained; "that's the Mexican way of courtship."
This was a subject of special interest to the youths, as they knew their sisters and all the other young ladies at home would wish to know about it. Accordingly, they proceeded to inform themselves concerning the Mexican form of wooing, and here is the result of their inquiries:
"Courtship in this country," wrote Frank, "is a serious matter, and requires a great deal of patience. Young ladies are carefully secluded from anything more than the most formal acquaintance with young men, and there is no such thing here as the freedom of social manners that we have at home. When a young man has fixed his thoughts upon a fair damsel whom he has met at a party, or to whom he
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 has been introduced in the Zocalo, he begins his courtship by walking up and down the street in front of her house and keeping his eyes fixed on one of the balconies, which he has somehow ascertained is the proper one for his gaze. A hint has been conveyed to the young lady that he will be there, and also to her parents and sisters. This hint may be given by the priest, who frequently serves as an intermediary; by some relative of the young man; or by means of a note sent to the young lady herself through the medium of the portero, or door-keeper, whose trouble must be paid for with cash in advance.
"This promenading in front of the house is kept up for hours at a time day after day, and also at night, and is what is called 'playing the bear.' It is generally done on foot, but sometimes the lover appears on horseback, the lady having been notified, through the subsidized portero, at what hour he may be expected.
"The lover is observed by the lady and her mother and the other feminine members of the family, who sit inside the window and are partially, if not wholly, screened from sight. If the match is favored by the
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 parents the 'bear business' lasts only a month, or perhaps two or three months; but if it is not so favored the lover may keep it up for a long time, or until he gets discouraged and withdraws his suit. Of course it happens here as in other countries that parental opposition occasionally develops the young lady's affection, and then the young couple resort to all sorts of stratagems to exchange billets-doux. Letters are raised or lowered by means of strings, or transmitted through the hands of the portero already mentioned. In the case of parental opposition the portero runs a great risk, and consequently must be highly paid. Courtship under such circumstances is a luxury that only the affluent can afford.
"When the proper time arrives, provided everything is running smoothly, the young man, accompanied by a gentleman friend older than himself, calls on the father of the girl,
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 and makes a proposal for her hand. The father says he will see about it, and the visitors take their leave.
"The father asks the girl if she desires to marry the young man. However much she may desire to do so she must profess indifference and say she cannot tell until she has met him. Then he is invited to call, and when he responds he is met by the entire family, including the servants. After he becomes the novio oficial, or accepted lover, he has the privilege of calling without a friend; but at no time is he ever left for a moment alone with the young lady. All interviews must be in the presence of a member of the family or of a duenna, no matter how long the courtship may continue after the formal acceptance.
"As the time for the marriage ceremony approaches the groom has a serious matter to contemplate—the 'matter o' money' connected with matrimony. He must furnish the house and home, and also buy the bridal outfit. Not infrequently the parents of the bride relieve him of a part of the expense, though they allow him to buy the jewels and bridal dresses. One thing that he must provide, according to a long-established
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 custom, is an ivory-covered prayer-book; whatever else he fails in he must not be negligent in this. Eight or ten weeks before the ceremony, the pair must register at church, giving their names, ages, etc., very much as they do in some of the American States. A similar registry is made at the civil office. The banns must be published for five Sundays, and the bride must state before the priest and a notary that she marries 'of her own free-will.' The civil marriage takes place a few days before the ceremony in the church, and when the matter is ended the young couple are fairly launched into wedded life."
"Hadn't you better say something," Fred remarked, "about the ceremony itself?"
"That's hardly necessary," replied Frank, "as it is not much unlike the ceremony in all Catholic countries, and has been described over and over again. There are some local customs, however, that may be worth noting; for instance, a lady describes a wedding that she saw here in a church, where the groom passed several gold coins into the bride's hands, as an indication that she was to manage their financial affairs. But the chances are more than even that he did not permit her to do anything of the kind. When they knelt at the altar a silken scarf was put around their shoulders and a silver cord around their necks, to indicate their complete union."
"A cynical commentator might say," observed Fred, "that the silver cord indicated that the couple was united by financial considerations."
"That's something I've nothing to do with," answered Frank, quietly; "we'll go on with our description. But it is said that marriages in Mexico depend more on social, family, or business matters than upon sentiment."
"After the church ceremony," he continued, "there is a festival to which intimate friends are invited. Then the pair send cards to all friends and reasonably intimate acquaintances announcing their marriage, and the notice winds up with an equivalent for the 'at home' card of married couples in the United States and England.
"And one thing more," added Frank, "while we are on this subject. A woman who never marries is not stigmatized as an 'old maid,' as is often the case in the Northern States. Nobody ever thinks of suggesting that she has never had an offer of marriage; the remark about her always is
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 that 'she is difficult to suit' even though no man may ever have thought of showing her any attention.
"Of course, you understand that in the marriage just described I had the upper classes in mind. Among the common people there is much less ceremony and formality; marriages are generally arranged by the parish priest, who conducts the principal part of the negotiations, and he has also a great deal to say on the subject among the middle, or tradesman, class. There is as much feasting and revelry as the parties can afford, and generally more than is prudent for them. Sometimes matches are made up by the parents of the young couple, without any consultation with them; but as children in this country are obedient to their parents, they are very unlikely to make any opposition to matches thus arranged."
Frank invested a real in a pamphlet called "El Secretario de los Amantes," or, to translate somewhat freely, "the hand-book of lovers." It is probably the most widely circulated book in the Mexican republic, and is as popular among young people as is "The Complete Letter-Writer," among those whose education has not been all they could wish, and who have occasion for epistolary correspondence.
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The earnest attention which was given to this little work as soon as it fell into the hands of the youths led to a suspicion on the part of the Doctor that Frank and Fred meditated a little love-making on their own account, by way of experiment. But so far as we have been informed, nothing of the kind occurred; should any later information on the subject come to hand, it will be duly set forth in the second edition of "The Boy Travellers in Mexico."
The "Secretario" contains a code of cipher writing, forms for using numerals in place of the letters of the alphabet, symbols for each of the twenty-four hours of the day and night or the fractions thereof, and the one-hand alphabet for deaf-mutes. The necessity for this alphabet in love-making, and the practice that comes from it, may probably be the reason why many Spanish-Americans occasionally make signs in conversation, instead of speaking in words. There are chapters of advice to lovers, and there is a full signal code for the use of the fan, the handkerchief, the sombrero, and the glove. Spanish women have long been famed for their skill with the fan, and for the conversations they can conduct with its aid, and it has a very important place in the language of love.
In most editions of the book there is a separate chapter on the language of flowers and their various meanings accordingly as they are arranged or combined with others. A love-story can be told in the skilful construction of a bouquet—at least enough of it to form the opening chapter. There is also a language of fruits, and Fred suggested that there should be one of tortillas, frijoles, tamals, and other articles of the Mexican cuisine.
"Here is a wide range," said he, "for the author of 'El Secretario.' Provide each of the lovers with a thermometer, and then the temperature of a tortilla, as it is tossed into or out of a window, can be made to express a great deal. Forty degrees Fahrenheit might mean, 'My love is cold,' and one hundred and twenty degrees would say, 'I'm sighing like the furnace.' Ninety degrees signifies, 'Look out for the old gentleman,' and one hundred
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 would literally say, 'I'm up to par.' The new edition of the book, with the tortilla annex, ought to sell like—"
"Like hot cakes," Frank remarked, and then the subject of matrimony was dropped.
The youths next considered the subject of the funeral, a ceremony with which the Church has quite as m............
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