Mr. Preble was a plump middle-aged lawyer in Scarsdale. He used to kid with his stenographer about running away with him. “Let’s run away together,” he would say, during a pause in dictation. “All righty,” she would say.
One rainy Monday afternoon, Mr. Preble was more serious about it than usual.
“Let’s run away together,” said Mr. Preble.
“All righty,” said his stenographer. Mr. Preble jingled the keys in his pocket and looked out the window.
“My wife would be glad to get rid of me,” he said.
“Would she give you a divorce?” asked the stenographer.
“I don’t suppose so,” he said. The stenographer laughed.
“You’d have to get rid of your wife,” she said.
Mr. Preble was unusually silent at dinner that night. About half an hour after coffee, he spoke without looking up from his paper.
“Let’s go down in the cellar,” Mr. Preble said to his wife.
“What for?” she said, not looking up from her book.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “We never go down in the cellar any more. The way we used to.”
“We never did go down in the cellar that I remember,” said Mrs. Preble. “I could rest easy the balance of my life if I never went down in the cellar.” Mr. Preble was silent for several minutes.
“Supposing I said it meant a whole lot to me,” began Mr. Preble.
“What’s come over you?” his wife demanded. “It’s cold down there and there is absolutely nothing to do.”
“We could pick up pieces of coal,” said Mr. Preble. “We might get up some kind of a game with pieces of coal.”
“I don’t want to,” said his wife. “Anyway, I’m reading.”
“Listen,” said Mr. Preble, rising and walking up and down. “Why won’t you come down in the cellar? You can read down there, as far as that goes.”
“There isn’t a good enough light down there,” she said, “and anyway, I’m not going to go down in the cellar. You may as well make up your mind to that.”
“Gee whiz!” said Mr. Preble, kicking at the edge of a rug. “Other people’s wives go down in the cellar. Why is it you never want to do anything? I come home worn out from the office and you won’t even go down in the cellar with me. God knows it isn’t very far—it isn’t as if I was asking you to go to the movies or some place.”
“I don’t want to go!” shouted Mrs. Preble. Mr. Preble sat down on the edge of a davenport.
“All right, all right,” he said. He picked up the newspaper again. “I wish you’d let me tell you more about it. It’s—kind of a surprise.”
“Will you quit harping on that subject?” asked Mrs. Preble.
“Listen,” said Mr. Preble, leaping to his feet. “I might as well tell you the truth instead of beating around the bush. I want to get rid of you so I can marry my stenographer. Is there anything especially wrong about that? People do it every day. Love is something you can’t control——”
“We’ve been all over that,” said Mrs. Preble. “I’m not going to go all over that again.”
“I just wanted you to know how things are,” said Mr. Preble. “But you have to take everything so literally. Good Lord, do you suppose I really wanted to go down in the cellar and make up some silly game with pieces of coal?”
“I never believed that for a minute,” said Mrs. Preble. “I knew all along you wanted to get me down there and bury me.”
“You can say that now—after I told you,” said Mr. Preble. “But it would never have occurred to you if I hadn’t.”
“You didn’t tell me; I got it out of you,” said Mrs. Preble. “Anyway, I’m always two steps ahead of what you’re thinking.”
“You’re never within a mile of what I’m thinking,” said Mr. Preble.
“Is that so? I knew you wanted to bury me the minute you set foot in this house tonight.” Mrs. Preble held him with a glare.
“Now that’s just plain damn exaggeration,” said Mr. Preble, considerably annoyed. “You knew nothing of the sort. As a matter of fact, I never thought of it till just a few minutes ago.”
“It was in the back of your mind,” said Mrs. Preble. “I suppose this filing woman put you up to it.”
“You needn’t get sarcastic,” said Mr. Preble. “I have plenty of people to file without having her file. She doesn’t know anything about this. She isn’t in on it. I was going to tell her you had gone to visit some friends and fell over a cliff. She wants me to get a divorce.”
“That’s a laugh,” said Mrs. Preble. “That’s a laugh. You may bury me, but you’ll never get a divorce.”
“She knows that! I told her that,” said Mr. Preble. “I mean—I told her I’d never get a divorce.”
“Oh, you probably told her about burying me, too,” said Mrs. Preble.
“That’s not true,” said Mr. Preble, with dignity. “That’s between you and me. I was never going to tell a soul.”
“You’d blab it to the whole world; don’t tell me,” said Mrs. Preble. “I know you.” Mr. Preble puffed at his cigar.
“I wish you were buried now and it was all over with,” he said.
“Don’t you suppose you would get caught, you crazy thing?” she said. “They always get caught. Why don’t you go to bed? You’re just getting yourself all worked up over nothing.”
“I’m not going to bed,” said Mr. Preble. “I’m going to bury you in the cellar. I’ve got my mind made up to it. I don’t know how I could make it any plainer.”
“Listen,” cried Mrs. Preble, throwing her book down, “will you be satisfied and shut up if I go down in the cellar? Can I have a little peace if I go down in the cellar? Will you let me alone then?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Preble. “But you spoil it by taking that attitude.”
“Sure, sure, I always spoil everything. I stop reading right in the middle of a chapter. I’ll never know how the story comes out—but that’s nothing to you.”
“Did I make you start reading the book?” asked Mr. Preble. He opened the cellar door. “Here, you go first.”
“Brrr,” said Mrs. Preble, starting down the steps. “It’s cold down here! You would think of this, at this time of year! Any other husband would have buried his wife in the summer.”
“You can’t arrange those things just whenever you want to,” said Mr. Preble. “I didn’t fall in love with this girl till late fall.”
“Anybody else would have fallen in love with her long before that. She’s been around for years. Why is it you always let other men get in ahead of you? Mercy, but it’s dirty down here! What have you got there?”
“I was going to hit you over the head with this shovel,” said Mr. Preble.
“You were, huh?” said Mrs. Preble. “Well, get that out of your mind. Do you want to leave a great big clue right here in the middle of everything where the first detective that comes snooping around will find it? Go out in the street and find some piece of iron or something—something that doesn’t belong to you.”
“Oh, all right,” said Mr. Preble. “But there won’t be any piece of iron in the street. Women always expect to pick up a piece of iron anywhere.”
“If you look in the right place you’ll find it,” said Mrs. Preble. “And don’t be gone long. Don’t you dare stop in at the cigarstore. I’m not going to stand down here in this cold cellar all night and freeze.”
“All right,” said Mr. Preble. “I’ll hurry.”
“And shut that door behind you!” she screamed after him. “Where were you born—in a barn?”