The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

7. The Guest
WHEN Phoebe awoke,--which she did with the early twittering of the conjugal couple of
robins in the pear-tree,--she heard movements below stairs, and, hastening down, found
Hepzibah already in the kitchen. She stood by a window, holding a book in close
contiguity to her nose, as if with the hope of gaining an olfactory acquaintance with its
contents, since her imperfect vision made it not very easy to read them. If any volume
could have manifested its essential wisdom in the mode suggested, it would certainly
have been the one now in Hepzibah's hand; and the kitchen, in such an event, would
forthwith have streamed with the fragrance of venison, turkeys, capons, larded partridges,
puddings, cakes, and Christmas pies, in all manner of elaborate mixture and concoction.
It was a cookery book, full of innumerable old fashions of English dishes, and illustrated
with engravings, which represented the arrangements of the table at such banquets as it
might have befitted a nobleman to give in the great hall of his castle. And, amid these
rich and potent devices of the culinary art (not one of which, probably, had been tested,
within the memory of any man's grandfather), poor Hepzibah was seeking for some
nimble little titbit, which, with what skill she had, and such materials as were at hand, she
might toss up for breakfast.
Soon, with a deep sigh, she put aside the savory volume, and inquired of Phoebe whether
old Speckle, as she called one of the hens, had laid an egg the preceding day. Phoebe ran
to see, but returned without the expected treasure in her hand. At that instant, however,
the blast of a fish-dealer's conch was heard, announcing his approach along the street.
With energetic raps at the shop-window, Hepzibah summoned the man in, and made
purchase of what he warranted as the finest mackerel in his cart, and as fat a one as ever
he felt with his finger so early in the season. Requesting Phoebe to roast some coffee,--
which she casually observed was the real Mocha, and so long kept that each of the small
berries ought to be worth its weight in gold,--the maiden lady heaped fuel into the vast
receptacle of the ancient fireplace in such quantity as soon to drive the lingering dusk out
of the kitchen. The country-girl, willing to give her utmost assistance, proposed to make
an Indian cake, after her mother's peculiar method, of easy manufacture, and which she
could vouch for as possessing a richness, and, if rightly prepared, a delicacy, unequalled
by any other mode of breakfast-cake. Hepzibah gladly assenting, the kitchen was soon
the scene of savory preparation. Perchance, amid their proper element of smoke, which
eddied forth from the ill-constructed chimney, the ghosts of departed cook-maids looked
wonderingly on, or peeped down the great breadth of the flue, despising the simplicity of
the projected meal, yet ineffectually pining to thrust their shadowy hands into each
inchoate dish. The half-starved rats, at any rate, stole visibly out of their hiding-places,
and sat on their hind-legs, snuffing the fumy atmosphere, and wistfully awaiting an
opportunity to nibble.
Hepzibah had no natural turn for cookery, and, to say the truth, had fairly incurred her
present meagreness by often choosing to go without her dinner rather than be attendant