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Chapter 38 - The Rifle Rangers by Mayne Reid

The Dance of the Tagarota

Night fell, and the blazing fagots threw their glare over the patio, striking upon objects picturesque at all times, but doubly so under the red light of the pine fires. The grouping of guerilleros—their broad, heavy hats, many of them plumed—their long black hair and pointed beards—their dark, flashing eyes—their teeth, fierce and white—the half-savage expression of their features—their costumes, high-coloured and wild-like—all combined in impressing us with strange feelings.

The mules, the mustangs, the dogs, the peons, the slippered wenches, with their coarse trailing tresses, the low roofs, the iron-barred windows, the orange-trees by the fountain, the palms hanging over the wall, the glistening cocuyos, were all strange sights to us.

The sounds that rang in our ears were not more familiar. Even the voices of the men, unlike the Saxon, sounded wild and sharp. It was the Spanish language, spoken in the patois of the Aztec Indians. In this the guerilleros chatted, and sang, and swore. There was a medley of other sounds, not less strange to our ears, as the dogs howled and barked their bloodhound notes—as the mustangs neighed or the mules whinnied—as the heavy sabre clanked or the huge spur tinkled its tiny bells—as the poblanas (peasant-women), sitting by some group, touched the strings of their bandolons, and chanted their half-Indian songs.

By a blazing pile, close to where we sat, a party of guerilleros, with their women, were dancing the tagarota, a species of fandango.

Two men, seated upon raw-hide stools, strummed away upon a pair of bandolons, while a third pinched and pulled at the strings of an old guitar—all three aiding the music with their shrill, disagreeable voices.

The dancers formed the figure of a parallelogram, each standing opposite his partner, or rather moving, for they were never at rest, but kept constantly beating time with feet, head, and hands. The last they struck against their cheeks and thighs, and at intervals clapped them together.

One would suddenly appear as a hunchback, and, dancing out into the centre of the figure, perform various antics to attract his partner. After a while she would dance up—deformed also—and the two, bringing their bodies into contact, and performing various disgusting contortions, would give place to another pair. These would appear without arms or legs, walking on their knees, or sliding along on their hips!

One danced with his head under his arm, and another with one leg around his neck; all eliciting more or less laughter, as the feat was more or less comical. During the dance every species of deformity was imitated and caricatured, for this is the tagarota. It was a series of grotesque and repulsive pictures. Some of the dancers, flinging themselves flat, would roll across the open space without moving hand or foot. This always elicited applause, and we could not help remarking its resemblance to the gymnastics we had lately been practising ourselves.

“Och, be me sowl! we can bate yez at that!” cried Chane, who appeared to be highly amused at the tagarota, making his comments as the dance went on.

I was sick of the scene, and watched it no longer. My eyes turned to the portale, and I looked anxiously through the half-drawn curtains.

“It is strange I have seen nothing of them! Could they have turned off on some other route? No—they must be here. Narcisso’s promise for to-night! He at least is here. And she?—perhaps occupied within—gay, happy, indifferent—oh!”

The pain shot afresh through my heart.

Suddenly the curtain was drawn aside, and a brilliant picture appeared within—brilliant, but to me like the glimpse which some condemned spirit might catch over the walls of Paradise. Officers in bright uniforms, and amongst these I recognised the elegant person of Dubrosc. Ladies in rich dresses, and amongst these—. Her sister, too, was there, and the Dona Joaquiana, and half a dozen other ladies, rustling in silks and blazing with jewels.

Several of the gentlemen—young officers of the band—wore the picturesque costume of the guerilleros.

They were forming for the dance.

“Look, Captain!” cried Clayley; “Don Cosmé and his people, by the living earthquake!”

“Hush! do not touch me—do not speak to me!”

I felt as though my heart would stop beating. It rose in my bosom, and seemed to hang for minutes without moving. My throat felt dry and husky, and a cold perspiration broke out upon my skin.

He approaches her—he asks her to dance—she consents! No: she refuses. Brave girl! She has strayed away from the dancers, and looks over the balustrade. She is sad. Was it a sigh that caused her bosom to rise? Ha! he comes again. She is smiling!—he touches her hand!

“Fiend! false woman!” I shouted at the top of my voice as I sprang up, impelled by passion. I attempted to rush towards them. My feet were bound, and I fell heavily upon my face!

The guards seized me, tying my hands. My comrades, too, were re-bound. We were dragged over the stones into a small room in one corner of the patio.

The door was bolted and locked, and we were left alone.

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