Angel Guerra, thirty years old and a widower, father of an adored daughter Encarnacion, had spent an unhappy childhood. An idealist, he had turned to the revolutionists, thinking that if everything were overthrown life could be improved in the rebuilding. His mother, Dona Sales, disapproved of him and treated him like a child, even after he was married. An extremely rich woman, she tried to starve her liberal-minded son into submission to her wishes, but she managed only to drive him into the company of advocates of violence, the Babels.
The Babel household contained an unsavory group. Babel lived with his brother, Captain Agapito, a former slaver, and his children, drunken Matias and slippery Policarpo. Babel’s family was as bad. Aristides, an embezzler, had fled from Cuba; Fausto had been dismissed from the post office for speculation; and Dulcenombre had love affairs from which the whole family profited. She became attracted to Angel and lived with him for a year in order to escape her family, but he was too poor to marry her.
At last, the crimes of the Babels sent Angel also into hiding, with a wounded hand that Dulce bandaged. After a month of skulking, he went home to find his mother dying. Lere, the twenty-year-old tutor of “Cion,” was nursing her. At first, she and Dr. Maquis refused to let Angel see the sick woman, but finally he was allowed to be with her during her dying moments. She left him a comfortable fortune, but when Angel tried to use it selfishly the convent-trained Lere shamed him into carrying out his mother’s desires with it.
Troubles mounted for Angel. Dulce, his mistress, became ill. Cion died. Lere announced she was entering a convent in Toledo. In his loneliness, Angel followed her. When Dulce came looking for him, he had already gone. Following the advice of her uncle, Captain Agapito, she sought solace in alcohol.
Angel had both rich and poor relatives in Toledo. He became a boarder at the home of Teresa Pantoja, along with two priests. Lere was already working for one of the nursing orders. Discussing life with her and moved by his loneliness, his affection for her, and the religious atmosphere of Toledo, Angel also found himself seeking the comfort of the Church.
The appointment of one Babel to a government post in Toledo brought the whole family, including Dulce, to that city. To escape them, Angel went to live with wealthy relatives in the outskirts of Toledo. Lere demanded that Angel marry Dulce or never see her again. When Angel went to discuss the situation with Dulce, he found her disgustingly drunk. In the violent quarrel that followed, he almost killed Aristides. Again, at Lere’s bidding, he returned to Aristides to ask forgiveness. He learned that Dulce’s illness had cured her of her liking for alcohol and that she was planning to enter a convent.
Angel’s many conversations with Lere caused considerable gossip, with the result that the Mother Superior called the girl in for questioning. Although she was declared innocent, the lack of trust so angered Angel that he declared his intention of founding a convent to be put in Lere’s charge. She declared that she would accept his plan only if he became a priest. Angel agreed.
Padre Casado, a clear-sighted priest, whose preference for farming instead of books had prevented his advance in the Church, prepared Angel for taking holy orders. One night, while he and Lere were nursing an ailing priest, Angel felt desire for the girl. Later, he confessed his carnal thoughts to Padre Casado, who could not understand any sexual attraction to a woman in plain nun’s clothing. They also discussed Angel’s plans for the convent and his philosophy for improving mankind by a Christian revolution.
Angel tried to prove his theories when Aristides, again caught in crime, and Fausto, also fleeing justice, begged him for help, and he hid them. Joined by Policarpo, they demanded money for a flight to Portugal. Angel was stabbed during a quarrel over his refusal. Although badly wounded, he would not give the police the name of his assailant.
Lere came to nurse Angel. The dying man had no regrets. Like Don Quixote, he felt that the approach of death restored his reason and also solved his problems. He would not have made a good priest, he declared. He apportioned his wealth, designating most for Lere’s project, some for relatives and servants, before he died. Stifling her sorrow, Lere returned to the convent where she was assigned to nurse another patient.
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