The story is told in first person by a nameless English soldier. He is recovering from his wounds in a Spanish hospital, where his doctor suggests he take up temporary residence with a local family, but with their stipulation that he remain a stranger to them. The once-noble family consists of a mother, a son (Felipe), and a daughter (Olalla). The Englishman is welcomed by the son and begins to develop a casual friendliness with the mother. Both are described as "stupid" and "slothful" but the narrator emphasizes the simple pleasure of their company.
Some time passes without sight of Olalla and when she finally appears, our hero falls desperately in love with her, and she with him. He recognizes an extraordinary intellect in the girl and expresses a desire to take her away from the decaying home of her kinsmen. They profess their love for each other, but Olalla urges the man to leave at once, keeping her always in his memory. He refuses, and during the night, he breaks his window trying distractedly to open it. The shattering glass cuts his wrist and he applies to Olalla's mother for help. At the sight of his wound, she leaps upon him and bites into his arm. Felipe arrives in time to wrestle his mother away from our hero and Olalla tends to his injuries.
He leaves the residencia very shortly thereafter, but lingers in the nearby town. He is sitting on a hill beside an effigy of the crucified Christ when he meets Olalla for the last time. She tells him, "We are all such as He," and states that there is a "sparkle of the divine" in all human beings. "Like Him," she says, "we must endure for a little while, until morning returns bringing peace." At this, the narrator departs, looking back but once to see Olalla leaning on the crucifix.
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