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 on the rotation of the spit, or

ebullition of the pot. Her zeal over the fire, therefore, was quite an

heroic test of sentiment. It was touching, and positively worthy of

tears (if Phoebe, the only spectator, except the rats and ghosts

aforesaid, had not been better employed than in shedding them), to see

her rake out a bed of fresh and glowing coals, and proceed to broil the

mackerel. Her usually pale cheeks were all ablaze with heat and hurry.

She watched the fish with as much tender care and minuteness of

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attention as if,--we know not how to express it otherwise,--as if her

own heart were on the gridiron, and her immortal happiness were

involved in its being done precisely to a turn!

Life, within doors, has few pleasanter prospects than a neatly arranged

and well-provisioned breakfast-table. We come to it freshly, in the

dewy youth of the day, and when our spiritual and sensual elements are

in better accord than at a later period; so that the material delights

of the morning meal are capable of being fully enjoyed, without any

very grievous reproaches, whether gastric or conscientious, for

yielding even a trifle overmuch to the animal department of our nature.

The thoughts, too, that run around the ring of familiar guests have a

piquancy and mirthfulness, and oftentimes a vivid truth, which more

rarely find their way into the elaborate intercourse of dinner.

Hepzibah's small and ancient table, supported on its slender and

graceful legs, and covered with a cloth of the richest damask, looked

worthy to be the scene and centre of one of the cheerfullest of

parties. The vapor of the broiled fish arose like incense from the

shrine of a barbarian idol, while the fragrance of the Mocha might have

gratified the nostrils of a tutelary Lar, or whatever power has scope

over a modern breakfast-table. Phoebe's Indian cakes were the sweetest

offering of all,--in their hue befitting the rustic altars of the

innocent and golden age,--or, so brightly yellow were they, resembling

some of the bread which was changed to glistening gold when Midas tried

to eat it. The butter must not be forgotten,--butter which Phoebe

herself had churned, in her own rural home, and brought it to her

cousin as a propitiatory gift,--smelling of clover-blossoms, and

diffusing the charm of pastoral scenery through the dark-panelled

parlor. All this, with the quaint gorgeousness of the old china cups

and saucers, and the crested spoons, and a silver cream-jug (Hepzibah's

only other article of plate, and shaped like the rudest porringer), set

out a board at which the stateliest of old Colonel Pyncheon's guests

need not have scorned to take his place. But the Puritan's face

scowled down out of the picture, as if nothing on the table pleased his

appetite.