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Florentino Ariza suffers in physical and emotional anguish while he waits for Fermina Daza's reply to his love letter. Transito Ariza, concerned for her son, calls on his godfather, a homeopath, who initially diagnoses Florentino with cholera , but concludes he suffers only from lovesickness. Florentino becomes so lost in his romantic woes, he nearly loses his job with the Postal Agency.
Lotario Thugut spends his nights at taverns around the port, and often ends a night out with visit to a shabby hotel to sleep with a "little bird" (a prostitute). Lotario encourages Florentino to do the same, but he refuses, and vows to lose his virg inity only for love. Florentino is so in love with Fermina that he eats gardenias and drinks cologne so that he can know her taste. He becomes drunk on the cologne, and his mother finds him the next morning, in a puddle of his vomit, in a cove of the bay where drowning victims are known to wash ashore. After a month without a reply from Fermina, Florentino returns to her house. Fermina and her Aunt Escolástica sit in the same spot as before, and Florentino approaches, requesting that Escolástica give them privacy. Initially, Escolástica refuses, but capitulates when Florentino threatens to say nothing at all.
Fermina knows very little about Florentino, but believes that he had delivered the telegram to her father merely as an excuse to see her, which is not accurate. Athough he is not a man she would have chosen herself, she is taken with Florentino, though sh e does not express it outwardly. The determination of his letter had frightened her, and she had not known how to reply. She had thought of him often since receiving the letter, and was sometimes startled awake by the vision of his figure at the foot of h er bed. Florentino tells her that it had been discourteous of her not to reply, and she vows that he will have her answer by the end of her school vacation. He recieves her answer shortly before the vacation's end, when Aunt Escolástica visits the telegra ph office and pretends to forget an envelope on the counter. Overjoyed, Florentino makes himself ill eating rose petals.
Not once during the year after Fermina's reply to Florentino's letter do the feverish lovers get to speak to one another. They do, however, write daily letters. His are passionate professions of love, and hers are a basic recounting of routine events. In each of their letters, one informs the other of where he or she will find the reply. Aunt Escolástica does not have the heart to forbid Fermina's affair, though Fermina's father, Lorenzo Daza, would surely forbid it, and would punish her severely if h e were to find out. Escolástica's risk is especially brazen because she relies on Lorenzo for financial support.
One night, Fermina is awakened by the music of a lone violin playing the same waltz over and over again. The following morning, Lorenzo Daza expresses curiosity about the violin music; he could not tell for which house it had been intended, nor what the s ame piece repeated symbolizes. Aunt Escolástica explains that she had seen a solo violinist standing on the opposite side of the park, and that a single piece repeated indicates severed relations. Florentino explains in that day's letter that he had in fa ct been the musician, and that he had written the waltz, which he titled Crowned Goddess, for Fermina. He and Fermina arrange for him to play in other locations where she can hear him without fear of exposure. On one occasion, Florentino is arreste d after he is accused of being a spy who sends messages via his serenades. He spends three nights in jail, and feels martyred because he has suffered for love.
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