On a mule, the priest flees from the police, who are rapidly closing in on him. Although he did not intend to head in the direction of his hometown, the police are moving in such a way that he is headed in that direction. When he reaches the town, the priest first encounters a woman named Maria who seems less than thrilled to see him again. The priest, who had been feeling somewhat lighthearted, is saddened by the chilly reception given to him by the villagers, until he learns the reason for it: they have heard that the police are taking hostages from villages in which he is reported to have stayed. Maria leads him to a hut where he is to rest for the night and, after the priest asks after her, calls in a young girl named Brigida. The priest is overwhelmed with feeling, especially with a feeling of responsibility because, we soon discover, Maria is a woman with whom he has had a brief, but significant affair, and Brigida is his illegitimate daughter. Not much is said between father and daughter, but he feels an overwhelming need to protect her.
The priest awakes before dawn to say mass for the villagers and is about halfway through the service when a report comes in that the police are approaching the town. He continues with the ceremony as the authorities close in, and by the time he is finished, they have the town surrounded. In the center of the village, the lieutenant calls everyone from their houses, and the priest, who is aware that he now faces recognition and capture but who sees no way out, obeys. One by one, the lieutenant calls up the townsfolk and asks them to introduce themselves to him. When the priest approaches, the lieutenant asks him questions, and then asks to see his hands. Calloused and hard from his weeks of evading the police, the priest's hands are no longer the soft and delicate hands of a clergyman, and the lieutenant passes him by. The lieutenant then announces that he will take hostages if no one comes forward to give him information and the priest waits, with eyes cast downward, for someone to turn him in. No one steps forward, however, and the lieutenant selects a hostage. The priest then steps forward and offers to go in the man's place, but the lieutenant refuses him and the police detail moves out of town.
The priest says a rather strained goodbye to Maria, who feels ashamed of him, and goes to the town rubbish heap to look for his traveling case, which Maria has thrown away. There he meets his daughter Brigida again. She tells him that the other children mock her because of him, and he is again overwhelmed with the feeling that he wishes to protect her from the decay, the pain, and the cruelty of the world. He sees, however, that it is too late, that she has grown up in a culture of violence and intolerance and that there is nothing he can do to change that. He tells her how deeply he cares for her and takes his leave of her and the town.
The priest moves south and after six hours of travel he reaches the town of La Candelaria. He talks to the mestizo, and asks him how far it is to Carmen. He leaves the man and travels out of the town, fording a river on his mule. Not long after he has reached the other side he hears someone calling for him—it is the mestizo, who catches up with him, claiming that he too wants to go to Carmen. The mestizo is a shifty and seemingly untrustworthy fellow who immediately begins baiting the priest, trying to get him to admit his true identity. Suspicious of each other, the two men get along uneasily and spar verbally. They stop at a hut to sleep, and the mestizo continues to tell the priest that he knows who he is. The priest realizes that he is in the presence of Judas, the betrayer, and tries to remain awake, on guard against the machinations of his wily sidekick. He sleeps some, dreaming about his life as an indulgent parish priest, and then wakes and meditates on his unworthiness, and the uncertainty of his future. He steps outside the hut, over the mestizo who is lying on the floor in a feverish condition, weeping over the state of his soul. After finding the mule in the dark, the priest attempts to ride off in silence, but the mestizo comes out of the hut and follows him, begging the priest not to abandon him.
Continuing his journey, the priest begins to repent over the way he has treated the mestizo. Despicable as the man might be, the priest thinks, he is still a child of God, and therefore the priest has as much a duty to him as he does to anyone else. He switches places with the ailing man, letting the mestizo ride the mule while he walks beside it. After some time the mestizo asks him directly whether he is a priest and the priest, unwilling to evade and deny any longer, tells him the truth. When they approach Carmen he sends the mestizo and the mule down one road while he takes another. The mestizo, angered that he will not get his reward money, shouts in protest, but he is too weak from the fever to do anything about it. The priest, unable to go to Carmen and afraid to go to any other town for fear that by doing so he will put its residents at risk, meditates upon what he will do next.
Chapter One of Part II is the longest chapter in the book, and it introduces the rest of the novel's significant characters. Brigida will be a continual presence in the priest's thoughts, and the mestizo will appear again at crucial points in his journey. This is also our first extended encounter with the priest's broodings about himself—about his unworthiness, his confused sense of purpose, his inability to forgive himself.