De Mortuis Summary
by John Collier

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De Mortuis Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As mild-mannered Dr. Rankin puts the finishing touches to a patch of wet cement on his cellar floor, he is startled by sounds, signaling the entrance of Bud and Buck, who call out, “Hi, Doc! They’re biting!” Not wanting to be disturbed, he remains silent, but his friends figure out where he is and come down the stairs.

When the friends ask Rankin about the wet cement patch, he explains that he has repaired a spot where water has been seeping in from an underground spring. Bud—the realtor who sold him the property—refuses to believe that such a spring exists, and both men are skeptical about Rankin’s explanation that his wife, Irene, is visiting friends. After asking several more questions, they announce that he has buried his wife’s body under the cement. When Rankin reacts indignantly to this suggestion, his friends reassure him that they are on his side and will help cover up his murder. After telling him that they do not blame him for wanting to kill Irene, they reveal everything they know about her character, calling her “the town floozy.” Both men admit to having had sexual relations with her themselves, but they hasten to assure Rankin that these incidents occurred before he married her.

All these revelations shock the unworldly Rankin, who has doted on his young wife. His love for her turns to hatred as he learns about her moral depravity and realizes how he has been deceived by her beauty and surface innocence. He concludes that she never loved him, that she married him only for financial security, and that she has been making a fool of him since the moment that they met. Rankin honestly believes the story that he has told Buck and Bud about his wife’s visiting old friends named Slater in Watertown; however, his friends assure him that no such people exist. Rankin now believes...

(The entire section is 507 words.)