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  • Margarita's Shirt*
  • Ricardo Palma

It is likely that some of you have heard of the older women of Lima haggling over the high prices of clothing in the market place.

"What! This is more expensive than Margarita Pareja's shirt," they would say.

Upon hearing this, I became curious about who is this Margarita and why did her shirt travel from America to Madrid. During my search I stumbled upon an article of clothing signed by Don Illdefonso Antonio Bermejo, notable author of a book on Paraguay, who briefly mentions the story of Margarita. This little mention set me on my quest to unravel the mystery of this Liman girl, and this is what I found of the importance of her shirt.

Margarita Pareja was born in 1765, the spoiled daughter of Don Raimundo Pareja, a Santiago cowboy and Collector General of Callao. The girl was one of those Limans whose beauty called upon the devil to follow her around and throw stones. She had a pair of eyes so black that they were like charged torpedoes with dynamite that exploded into the very souls of the Liman gentlemen. When Margarita was eighteen years old, she became the focus of Don Luis Alcazar's interest.

Don Luis Alcazar was a young, arrogant man from the celebrated Spanish village of the bear and strawberry tree. He moved to Lima to live with his uncle, who was a very affluent bachelor. Luis's uncle had a very sour disposition, and had more pride than the sons of King Fruela. Of course, while he had an inheritance coming, Don Luis lived bald as a rat and walked around with an aura of sadness surrounding him like a black cloud. As for improving his fortune, I don't think I am overstating when I say that even his charisma was in hoc.

During the Santa Rosa procession Luis met the pretty Margarita. The girl filled both his eyes and made his heart flutter. He tossed flowers at her, and although she didn't answer his advances, she made it seem with a smile and with her arsenal of feminine weapons that the gentleman was to her liking. In truth, he confessed that they fell in love right down to the roots of their hair.

Like lovers who often forget that mathematics exists, Don Luis believed that to achieve his love, his present poverty wouldn't be an obstacle. He went to Margarita's father and without much reckoning he asked for his daughter's hand in marriage.

This petition didn't fall in Don Raimundo's favor, and he courteously dismissed Luis's proposal, telling him that Margarita was too young to be married and that even though she was eighteen years old, she still played with dolls. But this wasn't the truth about why he didn't want his daughter to marry Luis. Don Raimundo's disapproval came from [End Page 279] the fact that he didn't want to be the father-in-law to a poor man. This is what he said in confidence to his friends, one of which went to gossip to Don Honorato, which was the name of Luis's uncle.

Don Honorato trilled with rage and said, "How can this be! To dismiss my nephew! Most would give themselves with a song on their breast to be with that boy, there isn't a more gallant gentleman in all of Lima. Such insolence! But where is this awful collector?"

Margarita, like a nervous damsel of the day, ripped out her hair, kicked, and threatened to poison herself even though phosphates had yet to be invented.

Margarita lost color and she lost weight, she lost vision in her eyes, spoke of putting herself in a convent, and didn't do anything with anyone. "Luis or God!" she would shout for hours each time her nerves overcame her. She worried the Santiago cowboy. He called physicists and witch doctors, and all declared that the girl was consumed with grief, and the only medicine that could save her was not sold as a remedy: either let her marry the vagrant of her choice, or enclose her in a...


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