This story follows a single evening in the life of the Bates family, who live in an English mining town. The father, Walter, works at the mine—and he ends up being, er, quite late to dinner that night.
But let's back up. When the story opens, Elizabeth Bates, the story's central character, is trying to get dinner ready while waiting for her husband and daughter to get home (her five-year-old, John, is there with her as well). Her father, who drives an engine for the mine, comes by and hits her up for some tea. It seems he's a widower and is considering remarrying, a prospect that doesn't seem to thrill Elizabeth.
After her dad leaves, Elizabeth continues with dinner prep. Once her daughter Annie gets home, they sit down to dinner. Elizabeth is super not pleased that Walter isn't home yet, and she is open with the kids about her suspicion that he's out boozing (apparently that's a regular thing for him). She claims he's going to have to sleep on the floor when they finally carry him home from the pub. She doesn't yet know how right she is . . .
Eventually Elizabeth puts the kids to bed and goes looking for her husband. She talks to the neighbors, the Rigleys, but she's not able to track him down. Mr. Rigley offers to go looking for him, and Elizabeth heads home.
Then, Elizabeth's mother-in-law (i.e., Walt's mom) shows up in a tizzy. It seems that Rigley came by and told her Walt had had an accident. He had asked her to come sit with Elizabeth until they could bring Walt home. As far as the MIL knows at that point, Walt is still alive.
However, that intel turns out to be incorrect. Another man comes by a little bit later and says that Walter is dead—and has been for some time. Three men (the pit manager, another collier, and the doctor) bring Walter's body into the house, and the women lay out/bathe his body on the floor of the parlor. So, as you see, Elizabeth was right about him being carried home and sleeping on the floor . . . just not about the circumstances.
The story ends with Elizabeth's reflections about marriage, death, and family. She is pretty terrified of what will happen to her from this point on. Oh, and did we mention that she's pregnant with their third child? Talk about an unhappy ending…