in his ordinary working-dress.
Priscilla wore a pretty and simple gown, with a
kerchief about her neck, and a calash, which she
had flung back from her head, leaving it suspended
by the strings. But Zenobia (whose part among the
masquers, as may be supposed, was no inferior one)
appeared in a costume of fanciful magnificence,
with her jewelled flower as the central ornament
of what resembled a leafy crown, or coronet. She
represented the Oriental princess, by whose name
we were accustomed to know her. Her attitude was
free and noble, yet, if a queen's, it was not that
of a queen triumphant, but dethroned, on trial for
her life, or perchance condemned, already. The
spirit of the conflict seemed, nevertheless, to be
alive in her. Her eyes were on fire; her cheeks
had each a crimson spot, so exceedingly vivid, and
marked with so definite an outline, that I at
first doubted whether it were not artificial. In
a very brief space, however, this idea was shamed
by the paleness that ensued, as the blood sank
suddenly away. Zenobia now looked like marble.
feels the fact, in an instant, when he
has intruded on those who love, or those who hate,
at some acme of their passion that puts them into
a sphere of their own, where no other spirit can
pretend to stand on equal ground with them. I was
confused--affected even with a species of
terror--and wished myself away. The intentness of
their feelings gave them the exclusive property of
the soil and atmosphere, and left me no right to
be or breathe there.
just returned to
Blithedale," said I, "and had no thought of
finding you here. We shall meet again at the
house. I will retire."
is free to you," answered
as to ourselves," added Zenobia. "This
long while past, you have been following up your
game, groping for human emotions in the dark
corners of the heart. Had you been here a little
sooner, you might have seen them dragged into the
daylight. I could even wish to have my trial over
again, with you standing by, to see fair-play! Do
you know, Mr. Coverdale, I have been on trial for
while speaking thus. But, in truth,
as my eyes wandered from one of the group to
another, I saw in Hollingsworth all that an artist
could desire for the grim portrait of a Puritan
magistrate, holding inquest of life and death in a
case of witchcraft;--in Zenobia, the sorceress
herself, not aged, wrinkled, and decrepit, but
fair enough to tempt Satan with a force reciprocal
to his own;--and, in Priscilla, the pale victim,
whose soul and body had been wasted by her spells.
Had a pile of faggots been heaped against the
rock, this hint of impending doom would have
completed the suggestive picture.
too hard upon me," continued Zenobia,
addressing Hollingsworth, "that judge, jury, and
accuser, should all be comprehended in one man! I
demur, as I think the lawyers say, to the
jurisdiction. But let the learned Judge Coverdale
seat himself on the top of the rock, and you and
me stand at its base, side by side, pleading our
cause before him! There might, at least, be two
criminals, instead of one."
this on me," replied Hollingsworth,
looking her sternly in the face. "Did I call you
hither from among the masqueraders yonder? Do I
assume to be your judge? No; except so far as I
have an unquestionable right of judgment, in order
to settle my own line of behavior towards those,
with whom the events of life bring me in contact.
True; I have already judged you, but not on the
world's part--neither do I pretend to pass a
is very good!" said Zenobia, with a
smile. "What strange beings you men are, Mr.
Coverdale!--is it not so, It is the simplest thing
in the world, with you, to bring a woman before
your secret tribunals, and judge and condemn her,
unheard, and then tell her to go free without a
sentence. The misfortune is, that this same
secret tribunal chances to be the only
judgment-seat that a true woman stands in awe of,
and that any verdict short of acquittal is
equivalent to a death-sentence!"
I looked at them, and the more I heard,
the stronger grew my impression that a crisis had
just come and gone. On Hollingsworth's brow, it
had left a stamp like that of irrevocable doom, of
which his own will was the instrument. In
Zenobia's whole person, beholding her more
closely, I saw a riotous agitation; the almost
delirious disquietude of a great struggle, at the
close of which, the vanquished one felt her
strength and courage still mighty within her, and
longed to renew the contest. My sensations were
as if I had come upon a battle-field, before the
smoke was as yet cleared away.
subjects had been discussed here? All,
no doubt, that, for so many months past, had kept
my heart and my imagination idly feverish.
Zenobia's whole character and history; the true
nature of her mysterious connection with
Westervelt; her later purposes towards
Hollingsworth, and, reciprocally, his in reference
to her; and, finally, the degree in which Zenobia
had been cognizant of the plot against Priscilla,
and what, at last, had been the real object of
that scheme. On these points, as before, I was
left to my own conjectures. One thing, only, was
certain. Zenobia and Hollingsworth were friends
no longer. If their heart-strings were ever
intertwined, the knot had been adjudged an
entanglement, and was now violently broken.
seemed unable to rest content with the
matter, in the posture which it had assumed.
we part so?" exclaimed she, seeing
Hollingsworth about to retire.
not?" said he, with almost rude
abruptness. "What is there further to be said
nothing!" answered Zenobia, looking
him in the face, and smiling. "But we have come,
many times before, to this gray rock, and we have
talked very softly, among the whisperings of the
birch-trees. They were pleasant hours! I love to
make the latest of them, though not altogether so
delightful, loiter away as slowly as may be. And,
besides, you have put many queries to me, at this,
which you design to be our last interview; and
being driven, as I must acknowledge, into a
corner, I have responded with reasonable
frankness. But, now, with your free consent, I
desire the privilege of asking a few questions in
no concealments," said Hollingsworth.
see!" answered Zenobia. "I would first
inquire, whether you have supposed me to be
point," observed Hollingsworth, "I have
had the opinion which the world holds."
held it, likewise," said Zenobia. "Had I
not, Heaven is my witness, the knowledge should
have been as free to you as me. It is only three
days since I knew the strange fact that threatens
to make me poor; and your own acquaintance with
it, I suspect, is of at least as old a date. I
fancied myself affluent. You are aware, too, of
the disposition which I purposed making of the
larger portion of my imaginary opulence;--nay,
were it all, I had not hesitated. Let me ask you
further, did I ever propose or intimate any terms
of compact, on which depended this--as the world
would consider it--so important sacrifice?"
spoke of none," said Hollingsworth.
any," she responded. "I was willing to
realize your dream, freely--generously, as some
might think--but, at all events, fully--and
heedless though it should prove the ruin of my
fortune. If, in your own thoughts, you have
imposed any conditions of this expenditure, it is
you that must be held responsible for whatever is
sordid and unworthy in them. And, now, one other
question! Do you love this girl?"
exclaimed Priscilla, shrinking
back, as if longing for the rock to topple over,
and hide her.
love her?" repeated Zenobia.
asked me that question, a short time
since," replied Hollingsworth, after a pause,
during which, it seemed to me, even the
birch-trees held their whispering breath, "I
should have told you--'No!' My feelings for
Priscilla differed little from those of an elder
brother, watching tenderly over the gentle sister
whom God has given him to protect."
is your answer, now?" persisted Zenobia.
love her!" said Hollingsworth, uttering the
words with a deep, inward breath, instead of
speaking them outright. "As well declare it thus,
as in any other way. I do love her!"
be judge between us," cried Zenobia,
breaking into sudden passion, "which of us two has
most mortally offended Him! At least, I am a
woman--with every fault, it may be, that a woman
ever had, weak, vain, unprincipled, (like most of
my sex; for our virtues, when we have any, are
merely impulsive and intuitive,) passionate, too,
and pursuing my foolish and unattainable ends, by
indirect and cunning, though absurdly chosen
means, as an hereditary bond-slave must--false,
moreover, to the whole circle of good, in my
reckless truth to the little good I saw before
me--but still a woman! A creature, whom only a
little change of earthly fortune, a little kinder
smile of Him who sent me hither, and one true
heart to encourage and direct me, might have made
all that a woman can be! But how is it with you?
Are you a man? No; but a monster! A cold,
heartless, self-beginning and self-ending piece of
then, do you charge me?" asked
Hollingsworth, aghast, and greatly disturbed at
this attack. "Show me one selfish end in all I
ever aimed at, and you may cut it out of my bosom
with a knife!"
all self!" answered Zenobia, with still
intenser bitterness. "Nothing else; nothing but
self, self, self! The fiend, I doubt not, has
made his choicest mirth of you, these seven years
past, and especially in the mad summer which we
have spent together. I see it now! I am awake,
disenchanted, disenthralled! Self, self, self!
You have embodied yourself in a project. You are
a better masquerader than the witches and gipsies
yonder; for your disguise is a self-deception.
See whither it has brought you! First, you aimed
a death-blow, and a treacherous one, at this
scheme of a purer and higher life, which so many
noble spirits had wrought out. Then, because
Coverdale could not be quite your slave, you threw
him ruthlessly away. And you took me, too, into
your plan, as long as there was hope of my being
available, and now fling me aside again, a broken
tool! But, foremost, and blackest of your sins,
you stilled down your inmost consciousness!--you
did a deadly wrong to your own heart!--you were
ready to sacrifice this girl, whom, if God ever
visibly showed a purpose, He put into your charge,
and through whom He was striving to redeem you!"
a woman's view," said Hollingsworth,
growing deadly pale--"a woman's, whose whole
sphere of action is in the heart, and who can
conceive of no higher nor wider one!"
cried Zenobia, imperiously. "You
know neither man nor woman! The utmost that can
be said in your behalf--and because I would not be
wholly despicable in my own eyes, but would fain
excuse my wasted feelings, nor own it wholly a
delusion, therefore I say it--is, that a great and
rich heart has been ruined in your breast. Leave
me, now! You have done with me, and I with you.
possibly, I did so too. Not
often, in human life, has a gnawing sense of
injury found a sweeter morsel of revenge, than was
conveyed in the tone with which Hollingsworth
spoke those two words. It was the abased and
tremulous tone of a man, whose faith in himself
was shaken, and who sought, at last, to lean on an
affection. Yes; the strong man bowed himself, and
rested on this poor Priscilla. Oh, could she have
failed him, what a triumph for the lookers-on!
first, I half imagined that she was about
to fail him. She rose up, stood shivering, like
the birch-leaves that trembled over her head, and
then slowly tottered, rather than walked, towards
Zenobia. Arriving at her feet, she sank down
there, in the very same attitude which she had
assumed on their first meeting, in the kitchen of
the old farm-house. Zenobia remembered it.
said she, shaking her head, "how
much is changed since then! You kneel to a
dethroned princess. You, the victorious one! But
he is waiting for you. Say what you wish, and
sisters!" gasped Priscilla.
that I understood the word and action;
it meant the offering of herself, and all she had,
to be at Zenobia's disposal. But the latter would
not take it thus.
are sisters!" she replied; and, moved by
the sweet word, she stooped down and kissed
Priscilla--but not lovingly; for a sense of fatal
harm, received through her, seemed to be lurking
in Zenobia's heart--"We had one father! You knew
it from the first; I, but a little while--else
some things, that have chanced, might have been
spared you. But I never wished you harm. You
stood between me and an end which I desired. I
wanted a clear path. No matter what I meant. It
is over now. Do you forgive me?"
sobbed Priscilla, "it is I that
feel like the guilty one!"
poor little thing!" said Zenobia, with a
sort of contempt. "You have been my evil fate;
but there never was a babe with less strength or
will to do an injury. Poor child! Methinks you
have but a melancholy lot before you, sitting all
alone in that wide, cheerless heart, where, for
aught you know--and as I, alas! believe--the fire
which you have kindled may soon go out. Ah, the
thought makes me shiver for you! What will you
do, Priscilla, when you find no spark among the
well said!" responded Zenobia, with an
approving smile. "There is all a woman in your
little compass, my poor sister. Meanwhile, go
with him, and live!"
her away, with a queenly gesture, and
turned her own face to the rock. I watched
Priscilla, wondering what judgment she would pass,
between Zenobia and Hollingsworth; how interpret
his behavior, so as to reconcile it with true
faith both towards her sister and herself; how
compel her love for him to keep any terms whatever
with her sisterly affection! But, in truth, there
was no such difficulty as I imagined. Her
engrossing love made it all clear. Hollingsworth
could have no fault. That was the one principle
at the centre of the universe. And the doubtful
guilt or possible integrity of other people,
appearances, self-evident facts, the testimony of
her own senses--even Hollingsworth's
self-accusation, had he volunteered it--would have
weighed not the value of a mote of thistle-down,
on the other side. So secure was she of his
right, that she never thought of comparing it with
another's wrong, but left the latter to itself.
her arm within his, and soon
disappeared with her among the trees. I cannot
imagine how Zenobia knew when they were out of
sight; she never glanced again towards them. But,
retaining a proud attitude, so long as they might
have thrown back a retiring look, they were no
sooner departed--utterly departed--than she began
slowly to sink down. It was as if a great,
invisible, irresistible weight were pressing her
to the earth. Settling upon her knees, she leaned
her forehead against the rock, and sobbed
convulsively; dry sobs, they seemed to be, such as
have nothing to do with tears.
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