James’ illustration of the “Dash of the person”

A Norther – Can’t get on board

All foreigners never sit long at table. We were aware of that custom and therefore at a decent time we took our departure, proposing to go on board for the day. Now it had so happened that the Master & self had declined an offer made to us by M.r Ebert of tickets to a Masquerade Ball, and of a bed when it was over. We declined it on the ground that we should be obliged to be on board to night – the Master – to take care of the Ship, and I to take care of the Captain, who was then ill of his old enemy the Gout. Our excuses were very kindly admitted & we had given up all thoughts of the matter. Nor was it till we got down to the pier, saw the sight before us there that we had reason to wish that we had not been so very hasty in our refusal, at least of one of his offers, viz. of a bed. During our absence in the Town, a strong Norther had set in. The sea was all of a foam, and in particular the long rolling waves burst in fury over the jettee, threatening destruction to any boat which should attempt to pass thro’ it. Indeed, no boat could possibly live in it. About a fortnight ago the Captain of a Hamburger, when half slued, had the hardihood in spite of all admonition to endeavour to pull off to his vessel – when the consequence was that his boat was capsized – he himself drowned, and the boats [crew], after escaping the eminent danger of sharks, were thrown on the beach by the waves more dead than alive.

We had been told in the morning that a Norther might be expected, from the peculiar state of the atmosphere – which was very clear – and also because Orizabor was distinctly seen without his usual cap of clouds. This intimation would have prevented us from coming on shore, if our object had been pleasure – but as there was some business to be performed, we took advantage of the weather while it was moderate to land & execute our duty, taking the risk of a Norther. We were indeed very fairly nicked – & I don’t know but that I was very glad to have been where I was on terra firma, than on board our Packet, which was pitching like fury, as if striving to break loose from the chains & cables which confined her. After looking at every thing for some time, it was nem: cont: determined  that it was impossible to get off and that our best plan would be to return to M.r Eberts & let him Ebert know how we were situated. We did so & then the gentleman told us that he had expected such would be the case, & had accordingly prepared rooms & beds for us in his house. To this agreeable communication we could only reply by thanking him sincerely – but not content with this highly acceptable favour – for where could you get accommodation in a large & unknown city – he again pressed as to accept tickets to the Masquerade. For our own parts we were willingly enough to go, but knew not how to get over some difficulties. We pleaded that we had no masquerade dress, nor could we hire, as all were made to order for each individual at his sole expense. M.r Ebert replied that we might go in plain clothes, or in our uniform, as we were. No sooner was this difficulty removed than another was started. When we left the ship we had white Trousers on & having worn them all day, they were but so so & certainly rather unfit for a public ball – & besides M.r Geach had got on a short jacket, & it was impossible to procure a change (no alteration. Oh said M.r Ebert, never mind, your trousers will do – all are not very particular & as to the Master he shall [wear] my blue dress coat & waistcoat – so now you will go. Our inclination Seconding M.r E’s arguments, we agreed to take a view at least of the fun – if we could not join in it. As it wanted some time ere it would be quite the thing to start, & as M.r Eberts was busy, we were conducted into our own particular apartments, where we [found] an abundant supply of Havanas & Cogniac – with newspapers &.c to while away the time. At an hour appointed  a friend of M.r Eberts (for neither he nor E went) called upon us to keep us company. We passed several streets, & I soon recognised the house of the Masquerade by the lights, & two soldiers at the door as sentinels. I was surprised to see as very few people outside, watching the masques – who entered – the number hardly exceeding a dozen or two. We passed the sentries and proceeded up a tolerable staircase, on the first landing place of which was another soldier and a person to receive our tickets, which were merely small pieces of paper, with Baile de Mascara, 15 Febrero, printed on the one side, & on the other the dash of the person who issued [it], as thus [see illustration]

– for as I have told you before, ‘tis not the handhard writing but the peculiar flourish adopted by the individual, which constitutes the authenticity or legality of any written instrument, as Bills, Orders &.c Having delivered our tickets we now ascended another short flight of stairs where we [came] into a square gallery – at one side of which was a bar where you have wine, spirits &.c and at another the large room where the Ball was to be held. Besides these there were other rooms where you could call for (& mind you pay) some supper. This was then you perceive no private Ball, but one got up by Subscription and chiefly thro’ the instrumentality & liberality of the foreigners resident here. The Mexicans would never have thought of it themselves – for heretofore they had passed thro’ this life without once thinking of Balls, Clubs, or Masquerades – now tout cela est change – query is it for the best.

Hardly any masks were to be seen when we arrived, so to pass the time we left our caps in a room where they were put on pegs with a number underneath, & you received a corresponding number, upon presenting which you received the article so numbered – and then wandered into the Ball Room. This was pretty large – but hardly so [large] as I have seen many in England. There were very few ornaments in the room – indeed it was remarkably bare. At one end was a very good military band, and down the sides were chairs  & benches for the accommodation of the ladies and gentlemen. Our curiosity in regard to the saloon was very soon satisfied, and we [were] glad to have our attention called to the arrivals of Masquers. It would be impossible to mention every masque we saw – and it is also unnecessary since they [were] nearly all of them commonplace and tame, dressed it is true in the customs of a particular character or nation, but without making the slightest effort to restrain it with propriety. I shall only make a few brief notices. The greater number were habited a la Turque. Some of them very splendidly – but deuce a word of Turkish [they] did not know, nor did they observe that gravity of demeanour which characterises that singular nation, who consider it an offence against the dignity of man to relax the cachennatry muscles, and as a point of philosophy to preserve their gravity in all circumstances. Now I heard many of the false Turks laughing most obstreperously & moreover making use of their legs with great agility – whereas it is notorious that their original never runs or jumps.

Then there were several Indians, very prettily dressed – I say prettily because I am sure they were not naturally habited. For instance – their bows and arrows, and tomahawks were highly gilt, as was also their quivers – their moccassins were covered with spangles – and their walk any thing but what I conceived of the free independent bearing of an Indian. As David said of Saul armour so might they have said, we have not proved them – they walk as it were in fetters – an attitudes of motion are constrained. But they had this advantage that the colour of the masque & all the tight fittings skin was natural, whereas in every other case the masques were coloured to resemble the natives of Europe, while they were worn by persons who approached nearer the Mulatto than the whites – and hence there was no correspondence whatever between the white face and the brown neck & arms.

I was pleased with one character which struck me as being well sustained. It was apparently one who was supposed to be in the army & to have lately received his commission, of which he was excessively vain. He paraded himself everywhere, with a slow mincing step, holding in his had a gold cord at the end of which was a tassel, which he waved to & fro with the most ridiculous affectation. As he walked he cast frequent glances at the enormously large epaulet on his right shoulder – and altogether this character was an admirable charcuse of the Mexican Officer.

Whilst I was promenading, I was addressed by several masques in Spanish – but I was always ready with my no entiendo – I don’t understand. I shook hands with others, took a good care to to let them know what a gude Scotch gripe was – so that they did not repeat their civility a second time. Some spoke to me in French & received the same answer as also the affected Deutchmen. There were two however who addressed me in English – the one a gran-medico aj adivino de Pares (as a board on his back designated him) & the other in a nondescript dress. I could not find them out – tho’ they knew me very well – but was afterwards told that the one was M.r Welch, & the other M.r Johns his partner.

From some of the characters you might form some judgement of the opinions of the people. There were several caricatures of monks & nuns – who were accused openly of professing to follow after holiness & yet living the practice of sin. This is a very curious sign of the times – Had the Most Holy Inquisition been in operation such audacity & profanity would never have been perpetrated – or would have been most signally punished.

A great many ladies and gentlemen were present in full dress, without masques. Many of the Senoritas were fine figures but could hardly be called pretty. A unusual number of the Senoras were ugly old women, who were more fit to attend to the concerns of the next world, than mixing in the vanities of this subliminary one. There was a good deal of dancing – but the crowd was too great either for comfort or the display of great excellence in that art.

After saying for a few hours, and having fully satisfied my curiosity, the Master, self, & M.r Ebert’s friend, M.r Philip left to return home. There was hardly a person to be seen on the streets – as all decent people keep within their own doors after ten – and here & there we met a few serenos watchmen, at the corners of streets with lanterns in their hands and occasionally calling the hour & the state of the weather. Arrived at M.r Ebert’s we knocked & presently the door was opened by a domestic at the sop of the house, exactly as we do in Gardeners Crescent. As we were all heartily tired we retired to bed. You must not imagine that I mean a bed such as we always use – by no means. We had only a sheet – no matrass, but merely the piece of canvas on which we place the matrass – with mosquito curtains all round. I did not much fancy this mode – but weariness rendered me indifferent at first. The novelty however of my situation prevented me from sleeping for an hour or two – very early in the morning I was awakened by the cold, and obliged to be stirring to warm myself.

Read on …