A young poet is writing a poem on love on a scrap of paper. The time is eleven o’clock at night. Suddenly a violent, protracted rapping sounds on the door. As he goes to answer, he takes with him a piece of bread. Opening the door, he is confronted by the leader of a patrol of armed men in dirty uniforms. The leader states that they have come for him.
At eight o’clock on a warm springlike evening in November, Eugenia Rague comes down the stairs for a final inspection of the setting for her fiesta. English by birth but Argentine by adoption, she dominates her aristocratic surroundings as Cardinal Wolsey, whose portrait adorns her salon, dominated his. There passes through her head the memory of the lack of respect shown her by Lord Burglay and Lady Gower during her visit to London. However, she has to concentrate on her guests about to arrive.
Others in the house react differently to the hot evening. In another room, her husband, George, tries to concentrate on acquiring culture through a phonograph record, but he keeps thinking of how he could persuade Señor Raíces, after dinner, to sign a profitable stock purchase. Should delays result, he might lose everything. Intruding into these thoughts are those of his treadmill life, his wife’s incessant pressure, and his own desire to relax and perhaps to dream. The arrival of the butler with the afternoon mail interrupts and infuriates him. Then it is time for him to prepare for the party. Marta, the older daughter, lies naked on her bed, wondering why she spurned a highborn lover.
At nine, the lights are turned on, the orchestra tunes up, and the first guests arrive, the elite of Argentine society. Their conversation is frivolous: the latest scandalous behavior of some politician, the proposal to exterminate the unimportant lower class. The reception, with its empty conversation and the borrowed phrases from the world of ideas, reveals the waste of these people’s lives.
Meanwhile, Marta makes her entrance, prepared for a boring and perhaps detestable evening among unexciting people she fully comprehended years earlier. Several young men bring her drinks, and her father welcomes her assistance in his social duties. When Raíces appears, Rague gives the signal to proceed to the dining room. In perplexity, the poet questions the armed men, asking what they could possibly want with him.
At the reception the painter Lintas rushes in, late as usual, but in time for the chilled consommé. As he drinks it, he becomes attracted to Marta. Her sudden smile shows her reaction to him, but a pseudophilosophic discussion prevents any words. Lintas notices her distraught expression when her mother mentions the fact that Brenda is not there. Only Marta knows of the appeal from Brenda to come immediately to give her assistance. While dismissing her curiosity about the identity of the man...
(The entire section is 1178 words.)