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Upon learning that Fermina is to marry a prestigious physician, Florentino is destroyed. His mother pleads with his uncle, Don Leo XII Loayza, to give her son a job. Loayza finds Florentino a job as a telegraph operator in Villa de Leyva, a faraway city, but before he departs, Florentino serenades Fermina with his violin love waltz, as he had years before, one final time. She does not acknowledge him, and he suddenly feels as though he has already left; he vows never to return.
Florentino surrenders his ship cabin to a British politician, complying with the request of the Captain. A cholera outbreak on another vessel is reported, and the passengers are forbidden to leave the ship. Florentino can think only of Fermina, until one night he is dragged into the cabin of a mysterious woman who takes his virginity. As he leaves, she tells him to forget about the incident. He is never certain of the woman's identity, though he believes it to be a young mother, Rosalba, who keeps her child in a bird cage, and who travels with two other women. At the height of his pleasure, he realizes that his love for Fermina is replaceable by mortal passion.
When Rosalba and her party depart the ship, he waves goodbye; their cordial, familiar response pains him, for he feels he has acted too late. After Rosalba disembarks, Florentino is drowned in jealousy, for he thinks that Fermina should be either his bride or no one's. He resolves that he does not care about the job that awaits him and returns home. In a symbolic act, Florentino tosses his petate (a portable, woven mattress) into the water, certain he will never need it again. Upon his return, he learns that Fermina and her husband are on their honeymoon in Europe, and believes that she will never return. He thinks more of Rosalba, and gradually, his thoughts of Fermina dissipate.
Transito tries to spark a romance between her son and the Widow Nazaret when she invites her to stay in Florentino's room after the widow's house is destroyed by cannon fire. Florentino intends to offer his bed to the Widow and sleep on the floor, but before he can do so, the twenty-eight-year-old widow crawls into his bed, strips, and seduces him. She has never slept with any man but her husband, and talks about him incessantly. After that night, the widow no longer dresses in mourning; Florentino continues to sleep with her, and she proceeds to sleep with any man who will have her. She often expresses to Florentino her gratitude for 'making her a whore.'
After his first encounter with the Widow, Florentino convinces himself that he has survived his torturous romance with Fermina. He proceeds to sleep with many women and keeps a notebook of his encounters. In fifty years, he fills twenty- five notebooks with descriptions of 622 serious relationships, not including countless fleeting liaisons with others. Despite these many lovers, when Fermina, who is six months pregnant, returns from her two-year honeymoon, Florentino finds her more beautiful — but more distant — than ever.
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