“No, I really must leave,” I said firmly.
He picked up her picture and held it before my eyes. “Here,” he said. “Now you tell her to her face that you could have stayed to meet her and you would not.”
Something made me change my mind as I looked at the picture for a second time. I decided to stay.
The man told me his name was Henry.
That night, Henry and I talked about many different things, but mainly about her. The next day passed quietly.
Thursday evening we had a visitor. He was a big, grey-haired miner named Tom. “I just came for a few minutes to ask when she is coming home,” he explained. “Is there any news?”
“Oh yes,” the man replied. “I got a letter. Would you like to hear it? He took a yellowed letter out of his shirt pocket and read it to us. It was full of loving messages to him and to other people – their close friends and neighbors. When the man finished reading it, he looked at his friend. “Oh no, you are doing it again, Tom! You always cry when I read a letter from her. I’m going to tell her this time!”
“No, you must not do that, Henry,” the grey-haired miner said. “I am getting old. And any little sorrow makes me cry. I really was hoping she would be here tonight.”
The next day, Friday, another old miner came to visit. He asked to hear the letter. The message in it made him cry, too. “We all miss her so much,” he said.
Saturday finally came. I found I was looking at my watch very often. Henry noticed this. “You don’t think something has happened to her, do you?” he asked me.
I smiled and said that I was sure she was just fine. But he did not seem satisfied.
I was glad to see his two friends, Tom and Joe, coming down the road as the sun began to set. The old miners were carrying guitars. They also brought flowers and a bottle of whiskey. They put the flowers in vases and began to play some fast and lively songs on their guitars.
Henry’s friends kept giving him glasses of whiskey, which they made him drink. When I reached for one of the two glasses left on the table, Tom stopped my arm. “Drop that glass and take the other one!” he whispered. He gave the remaining glass of whiskey to Henry just as the clock began to strike midnight.
Henry emptied the glass. His face grew whiter and whiter. “Boys,” he said, “I am feeling sick. I want to lie down.”
Henry was asleep almost before the words were out of his mouth.
In a moment, his two friends had picked him up and carried him into the bedroom. They closed the door and came back. They seemed to be getting ready to leave. So I said, “Please don’t go gentlemen. She will not know me. I am a stranger to her.”
They looked at each other. “His wife has been dead for nineteen years,” Tom said.
“Dead?” I whispered.
“Dead or worse,” he said.
“She went to see her parents about six months after she got married. On her way back, on a Saturday evening in June, when she was almost here, the Indians captured her. No one ever saw her again. Henry lost his mind. He thinks she is still alive. When June comes, he thinks she has gone on her trip to see her parents. Then he begins to wait for her to come back. He gets out that old letter. And we come around to visit so he can read it to us.
“On the Saturday night she is supposed to come home, we come here to be with him. We put a sleeping drug in his drink so he will sleep through the night. Then he is all right for another year.”
Joe picked up his hat and his guitar. “We have done this every June for nineteen years,” he said. “The first year there were twenty-seven of us. Now just the two of us are left.” He opened the door of the pretty little house. And the two old men disappeared into the darkness of the Stanislau: