In reality, Fermina Daza knew very little about this taciturn suitor who had appeared in herlife like a winter swallow and whose name she would not even have known if it had not been forhis signature on the letter. She had learned that he was the fatherless son of an unmarried womanwho was hardworking and serious but forever marked by the fiery stigma of her single youthfulmistake. She had learned that he was not a messenger, as she had supposed, but a well-qualifiedassistant with a promising future, and she thought that he had delivered the telegram to her fatheronly as a pretext for seeing her. This idea moved her. She also knew that he was one of themusicians in the choir, and although she never dared raise her eyes to look at him during Mass,she had the revelation one Sunday that while the other instruments played for everyone, the violinplayed for her alone. He was not the kind of man she would have chosen. His foundling'seyeglasses, his clerical garb, his mysterious resources had awakened in her a curiosity that wasdifficult to resist, but she had never imagined that curiosity was one of the many masks of love.

She herself could not explain why she had accepted the letter. She did not reproach herselffor doing so, but the ever-increasing pressure to respond complicated her life. Her father's everyword, his casual glances, his most trivial gestures, seemed set with traps to uncover her secret. Herstate of alarm was such that she avoided speaking at the table for fear some slip might betray her,and she became evasive even with her Aunt Escol tica, who nonetheless shared her repressedanxiety as if it were her own. She would lock herself in the bathroom at odd hours and for noreason other than to reread the letter, attempting to discover a secret code, a magic formula hiddenin one of the three hundred fourteen letters of its fifty-eight words, in the hope they would tell hermore than they said. But all she found was what she had understood on first reading, when she ranto lock herself in the bathroom, her heart in a frenzy, and tore open the envelope hoping for a long,feverish letter, and found only a perfumed note whose determination frightened her.

At first she had not even thought seriously that she was obliged to respond, but the letter wasso explicit that there was no way to avoid it. Meanwhile, in the torment of her doubts, she wassurprised to find herself thinking about Florentino Ariza with more frequency and interest than shecared to allow, and she even asked herself in great distress why he was not in the little park at theusual hour, forgetting that it was she who had asked him not to return while she was preparing herreply. And so she thought about him as she never could have imagined thinking about anyone,having premonitions that he would be where he was not, wanting him to be where he could not be,awaking with a start, with the physical sensation that he was looking at her in the darkness whileshe slept, so that on the afternoon when she heard his resolute steps on the yellow leaves in thelittle park it was difficult for her not to think this was yet another trick of her imagination. Butwhen he demanded her answer with an authority that was so different from his languor, shemanaged to overcome her fear and tried to dodge the issue with the truth: she did not know how toanswer him. But Florentino Ariza had not leapt across an abyss only to be shooed away with suchexcuses.

"If you accepted the letter," he said to her, "it shows a lack of courtesy not to answer it."That was the end of the labyrinth. Fermina Daza regained her self-control, begged his pardonfor the delay, and gave him her solemn word that he would have an answer before the end of thevacation. And he did. On the last Friday in February, three days before school reopened, AuntEscol tica went to the telegraph office to ask how much it cost to send a telegram to Piedras deMoler, a village that did not even appear on the list of places served by the telegraph, and sheallowed Florentino Ariza to attend her as if she had never seen him before, but when she left shepretended to forget a breviary covered in lizard skin, leaving it on the counter, and in it there wasan envelope made of linen paper with golden vignettes. Delirious with joy, Florentino Ariza spentthe rest of the afternoon eating roses and reading the note letter by letter, over and over again, andthe more he read the more roses he ate, and by midnight he had read it so many times and hadeaten so many roses that his mother had to hold his head as if he were a calf and force him toswallow a dose of castor oil.