Katherine Ames is plain and unassuming, yet obedient to her husband, an astronomer. She awakes one morning and moves quietly out of bed as he sleeps, and she begins the day's work by completing various house chores. It becomes apparent that she is fulfilled by her housework, making her seem purposeful while her husband ignores her presence. There is some strain within the marriage; Mrs. Ames feels belittled by her husband's constant silence, though she respects his line of work.
She reasons that his silence is perhaps to due to his being preoccupied with profound and mysterious ideas of the universe. Mrs. Ames becomes tired due to the loveless marriage, and loses her sense of youthfulness.
Mrs. Ames becomes lost in her thoughts and is interrupted by her maidservant, who informs her that a plumber has arrived at the house. Mrs. Ames, seemingly distressed by the prospect of company, begins to repeat: "I am Mrs. Ames... I am Mrs. Ames," as practice before she goes to greet him.
Mrs. Ames leads the plumber to the room that has flooded, to which the plumber suspects a damaged soil line. She notes that the plumber is a "tough, hardy man." His manner of speaking and acting is confident, almost severe, which catches Mrs. Ames off guard.
As she leads the plumber to the garden, he notices "a wave of color" in her face. As he talks, Mrs. Ames' thoughts return to her husband. The plumber speaks so surely and often, while her husband's silences plague her: "Desert-like they stretched behind and before the articulation of his scorn."
As she focuses back on the plumber, she sees that he is on his knees in the grass, opening the trap door to the drain. He asks her if her husband would like to "come down and have a look around", and she detects a hint of biterness in his tone.
Mrs. Ames still retains some childlike naivety and is taken aback by the statement. "Down?" She asks, to which the plumber informs her that the job is suited for a man who "knows what's what."
Mrs. Ames tells him that her husband is still sleeping, but that even if he were awake he prefers to go up rather than down. She gestures to the roof and considers that her husband likes to go "up, as the dead go" while others go down "like the corporeal being of the dead."
She waits on the grass as the plumber descends alone. When he returns, he confirms his suspicion that the soil lines are the problem. Mrs. Ames, retrieving some of her youthful innocence, asks "What in the world are we going to do?"
The plumber tells her that the problem can be remedied, though it is unclear whether he is referring to the soil line, or her marriage. Mrs. Ames calls the maid from the house to inform her that she will be going down into the sewer with the plumber. As she speaks, the plumber recalls a story about how one of his cows lost her cud. He tells her that he made another one (a cud) out of flowers.
Mrs. Ames turns back to the plumber and takes his hand. Together, they descend into the earth. After telling his story about the cow, Mrs. Ames states that she knows what he said was true.