Contentment Is a Lovely Thing
By Dorothy S. Romney
Synopsis: Margaret Lansing, whose husband Jed has become a farmer contrary to the wishes of his parents, is worried over the approaching visit of Jed’s father, a prominent brain surgeon, and his wife, whom she has never seen. Just before their arrival Margaret is taken ill, and the young couple find it impossible to get help in the household. Jed takes Kimmy, the baby, with him to the station to meet his parents, and Margaret is left alone.
Margaret sent up a little prayer that Jed’s father and mother would see how contented he was, and be proud that he had strength of character enough to choose the life’s work he was best fitted for … that they would consider that a son was an individual, and not just someone designed to carry out a family wish.
Then she was looking up into the faces of two of the most intelligent and distinguished-looking people she had ever seen. Mrs. Lansing – or rather Mother Lansing, as Jed had instructed her to call his mother, had the air of a queen. Her eyes were serene, her forehead as smooth as a young woman’s, and her blue-white hair beautifully coifed. Jed’s father looked exactly as Margaret thought a famous doctor should look.
She found herself stammering excuses for the condition of the house amid the introductions and Jed’s explanation of their lateness.
“I tried to telephone you from the station to tell you that the train was going to be late. I guess you were asleep,” he said. There was an awkward gap in the conversation which he broke by saying, ‘I guess I’d better go out and get the stock in out of the rain. I noticed the lambs looking hopefully toward the barn as we came in.”
The words filled Margaret with fresh terror. He couldn’t go out and leave them here staring at one another.
Mrs. Lansing was equal to the occasion, however. Margaret was sure that she would be equal to almost any occasion which called for tact and understanding. “If you’ll show us to our room,” she said, “we’ll do some unpacking while you’re busy outside.”
“Of course,” said Jed.
Margaret watched them out of the room, Kimmy jabbering away in his adorable manner, with sounds that said nothing, but meant everything to Margaret.
“I’ll bring in your luggage,” Jed was saying, “and I’ll get the stock in and do a few other necessary chores. Time and calves wait for no man – not very patiently, anyway.”
Why, oh, why, must he go out of his way to point up the inconveniences of farm life! thought Margaret impatiently.
She hadn’t long to consider this, however, before Jed’s father was back with his back physician’s bag in his hand. He took out a thermometer and shook it down.
“Hold this under your tongue while I take your pulse, then we’ll go to work and find out what the trouble is here,” he said.
She held the thermometer lightly between her lips while he took her pulse, and then drew a stethoscope out of the bag. I’ll never be able to call him anything but Dr. Lansing, she thought. He’s so dignified – so much the physician.
“A case of flu – not too bad,” he announced cheerfully when he had finished the check-up. “We’ll have you up and around again in a few days. I’ll give you some medicine that will help hurry things along.”
A few days! thought Margaret in panic. She couldn’t spare even a few hours from her many duties. The care of the baby alone was almost a full-time job. She’d have to get up tomorrow.
Jed came through the kitchen door, the gusty wind strong at his back, just as his father finished the diagnosis. He came into the bedroom and looked questioningly at his father.
“A touch of flu,” Dr. Lansing answered Jed’s unspoken question, as he picked up his bag and went into the kitchen, followed by his son.
Margaret could hear Kimmy making happy sounds, apparently reveling in the attention he was getting from his newly discovered grandparents.
Then Mrs. Lansing’s voice came to her – bewildered, uncertain, “I suppose that I had better start preparing dinner.”
Margaret didn’t blame her for the uncertainty. It wasn’t easy to go into a strange kitchen and begin the preparations for a meal. It was easy to imagine that Mrs. Lansing didn’t spend much time in any kitchen, not even her own.
“Oh, there’s plenty of stuff about,” Jed assured his mother cheerfully. “that’s one thing about a farm. You never lack for something to eat.”
Margaret heard the refrigerator door open and Jed’s triumphant, “You see!”
Margaret groaned inwardly. Oh, to be well again and have a chance to prove to her in-laws that life on a farm could be beautiful and satisfying!
Jed walked into the bedroom, a spoon and bottle in hand. He bent over to give her a spoonful of some thick looking red medicine. She saw the firm curve of his mouth, the gentle understanding look in his eyes, and at once found new peace in his strength. Now that she had met his parents she realized the strength of the bond between them. She must do all she could to win their approval and affection.
“You’re not to worry, everything is going fine,” Jed informed her with his usual optimism.
He went out and her eyes turned towards the window, to the scene that was a never ending source of wonder to her for its beauty and serenity. She looked out beyond the meadows, where the shadows were gathering and lengthening along the slopes of the hills, and watched until she saw the sun dip closer to the faraway mountains before she dropped off to sleep.
When she awakened there was lamplight streaming through the bedroom door, and the house was fragrant with the odors of good food. In a few minutes Mrs. Lansing came in carrying a supper tray. She was wearing one of Margaret’s aprons. Her hair was slightly disarranged from its former sculptured smoothness, and her face was flushed from the heat and unaccustomed work.
“I hope that you can eat something,” she said.
“Thank you so much, it all looks wonderful,” said Margaret appreciatively. “You don’t know how dreadful it makes me feel to put you to all this trouble, when I did so want to make your visit a pleasant one.”
“Don’t worry. It couldn’t be helped,” replied Mrs. Lansing simply.
She turned on the bedside lamp, and Margaret could see in the circle of light how really tired the older woman looked, but not without cause, Margaret reasoned. After a long train trip she should have been able to rest instead of having to take over a household.
Later, when Jed came in, having finished his nightly chores, she heard his mother ask, “Where does Margaret keep her mopstick? I found the bucket on the service porch. Kimmy spilled some of his supper, and it will be tracked all over the kitchen if it isn’t mopped up.”
“But aren’t you doing too much?” Jed asked solicitously.
“Yes, perhaps I am,” his mother replied simply.
Margaret could hear the swish of the mop and the water for quite a while after that.
When Jed came in to see how she was feeling, she asked anxiously, “Isn’t there some way to keep your mother from doing so much, Jed?”
“None that I know of,” he replied seriously, and then added in a lighter tone, “she’s getting into the groove, all right. She enjoys taking care of Kimmy.”
“As long as she considers it a groove, and not a rut,” she murmured, so low that Jed didn’t quite catch what she had said.
“What did you say?” he asked.
“Nothing … nothing at all,” she answered.
He gave her a big grin as he left the bedroom, full of confidence and good cheer on the surface, but Margaret wondered if he could sense, as she did, that his parents were disappointed in what their visit had revealed.
Jed came in a short time later from his last round of the barn, and Margaret could hear the three of them settling down in the kitchen for what was left of the evening before bedtime. As the kitchen was hers and Jed’s favorite spot, they had placed easy chairs facing the large window. There was always a bowl of fresh fruit within reach, and Jed had put a small bookshelf in a convenient corner for easy access to the books they were currently reading.
The day had been a trying one for all of them, but it was nearly over, and to Margaret a new day to look forward to was always a fresh and wonderful experience. A low hum of pleasant conversation came to her from the kitchen, and she was glad that Jed and his parents were at last finding time for the good talk that families always enjoy after a separation. She settled herself comfortably, glad that the day was ending on this happy note.
Then quite distinctly she heard Mrs. Lansing’s voice through the open door, quiet, but determined. “Jed,” she was saying, “it isn’t too late. You could still come back to us and take up your medical training where you left off. You owe it to yourself, to your father – even to Margaret. Surely you don’t want to submit yourselves to the drudgery of a farm for the rest of your lives?”
Margaret wanted to cry out, “Oh, but it isn’t drudgery! It’s wonderful! Apple orchards blossom in May. Larks sing in the meadows. The air is different. The people are different!”
“But there’s no future for you. Look at your father – only forty-five and already famous. Think of your own son. Some day you will be ambitious for him, too.”
Margaret found herself clutching the cover tensely. Mrs. Lansing had not yet given up. Perhaps she would never give up until she had won her point.
Margaret must have slept deeply. She awoke, feeling refreshed, the sunlight of a new day shimmering, gold-gauzed through the big window. Jed never drew the shades at night. He liked to wake in the middle of the night and be able to see the whole valley in the moonlight.
Margaret could hear the distant hum of farm machinery. Jed must have awakened early, fixed his own breakfast, and gone straight to work. After her ears had adjusted to the pleasant murmur of the day’s beginning, she could hear Jed’s mother and father talking in low tones in the kitchen. She was undecided whether to call out a greeting, but then she remembered the last words she had heard spoken by Jed’s mother through the open door last night.
But today was a new day, and Margaret resolved to put all her problems aside. After a time Jed’s father opened the door to the bedroom cautiously lest she be asleep. When he saw that she was awake, he came into the room.
“How’s my patient this morning?” he asked.
“Much better, thank you,” she answered. “How are things going?”
“Very well,” the brief reply came back. “Mother will fix you some breakfast.”
Again she felt an apology rushing to her lips for being such a bother to everyone, but she closed them tight and kept silent.
Dr. Lansing took her temperature and pulse, then told her, “You’ll be fine in a day or two.” He went back into the kitchen and Margaret could hear him telling his wife that she was awake and ready for breakfast.
In a few minutes Mrs. Lansing came in with a breakfast tray and set it down on the bedside table. “I’m glad to hear that you’re feeling better this morning,” she said, with a seemingly determined cheerfulness.
“Yes, I feel much better,” Margaret answered. “I’m sure I’ll be able to get up tomorrow. I have a picnic planned, and it’s such a lovely spot it would be a shame to miss it.”
“The doctor will want you to remain in bed tomorrow, I’m sure. Now eat your breakfast, my dear.”
“I thought it would be a nice change for all of us,” Margaret persisted.
“Perhaps it would,” her mother-in-law answered unsmilingly, “but you are to remain in bed.”
She was gone, and so was the plan for the picnic that was to have been such fun. Margaret and Jed had planned to take his parents to their favorite picnic spot in the nearby greening glen, where they could enjoy the peaceful seclusion and be grateful each time all over again that they were privileged to live in such a lovely place.
There were busy sounds in the kitchen all morning, and Margaret could hear Kimmy crowing happily now and then. The doctor had ordered Kimmy to be kept away from her for fear of his contracting her illness. She was missing him dreadfully, and listened intently for every sound he made.
Soon she heard Mrs. Lansing admonish Kimmy, “You be good now while I go into the living room for a while.” Then she could hear him pounding the tray of his high chair with his toy over the high keening of the vacuum cleaner.
Jed’s mother was doing too much. Just doing the things that were absolutely necessary would have been enough to tire the older woman out. All this extra work and responsibility would not help her to like the place. She will never be satisfied to let Jed stay here and be a farmer, Margaret told herself. She turned her face to the window where the plum tree branches touched the glass.