15. The Dream Room
Long ago, when Stephen was a boy of fourteen or fifteen, he had gone with his father to a
distant town to spend the night. After an early breakfast next morning his father had
driven off for a business interview, and left the boy to walk about during his absence. He
wandered aimlessly along a quiet side street, and threw himself down on the grass outside
a pretty garden to amuse himself as best he could.
After a few minutes he heard voices, and, turning, peeped through the bars of the gate in
idle, boyish curiosity. It was a small brown house; the kitchen door was open, and a table
spread with a white cloth was set in the middle of the room. There was a cradle in a far
corner, and a man was seated at the table as though he might be waiting for his breakfast.
There is a kind of sentiment about the kitchen in New England, a kind of sentiment not
provoked by other rooms. Here the farmer drops in to spend a few minutes when he
comes back from the barn or field on an errand. Here, in the great, clean, sweet,
comfortable place, the busy housewife lives, sometimes rocking the cradle, sometimes
opening and shutting the oven door, sometimes stirring the pot, darning stockings, paring
vegetables, or mixing goodies in a yellow bowl. The children sit on the steps, stringing
beans, shelling peas, or hulling berries; the cat sleeps on the floor near the wood-box; and
the visitor feels exiled if he stays in sitting-room or parlor, for here, where the mother is
always busy, is the heart of the farmhouse.
There was an open back door to this kitchen, a door framed in morning-glories, and the
woman (or was she only girl?) standing at the stove was pretty,--oh, so pretty in Stephen's
eyes! His boyish heart went out to her on the instant. She poured a cup of coffee and
walked with it to the table; then an unexpected, interesting thing happened--something
the boy ought not to have seen, and never forgot. The man, putting out his hand to take
the cup, looked up at the pretty woman with a smile, and she stooped and kissed him.
Stephen was fifteen. As he looked, on the instant he became a man, with a man's hopes,
desires, ambitions. He looked eagerly, hungrily, and the scene burned itself on the
sensitive plate of his young heart, so that, as he grew older, he could take the picture out
in the dark, from time to time, and look at it again. When he first met Rose, he did not
know precisely what she was to mean to him; but before long, when he closed his eyes
and the old familiar picture swam into his field of vision, behold, by some spiritual
chemistry, the pretty woman's face had given place to that of Rose!
All such teasing visions had been sternly banished during this sorrowful summer, and it
was a thoughtful, sober Stephen who drove along the road on this mellow August
morning. The dust was deep; the goldenrod waved its imperial plumes, making the
humble waysides gorgeous; the river chattered and sparkled till it met the logs at the