When I was young, I went looking for gold in California. I never found enough to make me rich. But I did discover a beautiful part of the country. It was called “the Stanislau.” The Stanislau was like Heaven on Earth. It had bright green hills and deep forests where soft winds touched the trees.
Other men, also looking for gold, had reached the Stanislau hills of California many years before I did. They had built a town in the valley with sidewalks and stores, banks and schools. They had also built pretty little houses for their families.
At first, they found a lot of gold in the Stanislau hills. But their good luck did not last. After a few years, the gold disappeared. By the time I reached the Stanislau, all the people were gone, too.
Grass now grew in the streets. And the little houses were covered by wild rose bushes. Only the sound of insects filled the air as I walked through the empty town that summer day so long ago. Then, I realized I was not alone after all.
A man was smiling at me as he stood in front of one of the little houses. This house was not covered by wild rose bushes. A nice little garden in front of the house was full of blue and yellow flowers. White curtains hung from the windows and floated in the soft summer wind.
Still smiling, the man opened the door of his house and motioned to me. I went inside and could not believe my eyes. I had been living for weeks in rough mining camps with other gold miners. We slept on the hard ground, ate canned beans from cold metal plates and spent our days in the difficult search for gold.
Here in this little house, my spirit seemed to come to life again.
I saw a bright rug on the shining wooden floor. Pictures hung all around the room. And on little tables there were seashells, books and china vases full of flowers. A woman had made this house into a home.
The pleasure I felt in my heart must have shown on my face. The man read my thoughts. “Yes,” he smiled, “it is all her work. Everything in this room has felt the touch of her hand.”
One of the pictures on the wall was not hanging straight. He noticed it and went to fix it. He stepped back several times to make sure the picture was really straight. Then he gave it a gentle touch with his hand.
“She always does that,” he explained to me. “It is like the finishing pat a mother gives her child’s hair after she has brushed it. I have seen her fix all these things so often that I can do it just the way she does. I don’t know why I do it. I just do it.”
As he talked, I realized there was something in this room that he wanted me to discover. I looked around. When my eyes reached the corner of the room near the fireplace, he broke into a happy laugh and rubbed his hands together.
“That’s it!” he cried out. “You have found it! I knew you would. It is her picture. I went to a little black shelf that held a small picture of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. There was a sweetness and softness in the woman’s expression that I had never seen before.
The man took the picture from my hands and stared at it. “She was nineteen on her last birthday. That was the day we were married. When you see her…oh, just wait until you meet her!”
“Where is she now?” I asked.
“Oh, she is away,” the man sighed, putting the picture back on the little black shelf. “She went to visit her parents. They live forty or fifty miles from here. She has been gone two weeks today.”
“When will she be back?” I asked. “Well, this is Wednesday,” he said slowly. “She will be back on Saturday, in the evening.”
I felt a sharp sense of regret. “I am sorry, because I will be gone by then,” I said.
“Gone? No! Why should you go? Don’t go. She will be so sorry. You see, she likes to have people come and stay with us.”
“No, I really must leave,” I said firmly.