Hollingsworth is wearing his usual clothes, but Zenobia and Priscilla are both in costume. Zenobia is wearing a jeweled flower in her hair still and looks like a queen, but one who’s been dethroned or is on trial for her life. Coverdale realizes that the three have reached some kind of crisis and immediately wishes he was far away from them. He tries to excuse himself, but Hollingsworth and Zenobia say he’s free to stay there. Zenobia says that if Coverdale had come in sooner he might have seen the darkest corners of the human heart exposed and she explains that she’s been on trial. Looking around, Coverdale notes that Hollingsworth does look like a Puritan judge, Zenobia resembles a sorceress, and Priscilla looks like the pale victim. All that’s missing is a pile of wood.
Zenobia is still wearing a fake flower, which indicates that she’s still playing a part and her pride in herself is false. Interestingly, even though Coverdale has looked forward to witnessing the crisis in Zenobia, Priscilla, and Hollingsworth’s love triangle, when he has the chance to do so he tries to run away. Instead, Zenobia and Hollingsworth insist that she should stay, thus forcing him to finally take a part in the drama he spent so long trying and failing to be more of a part of. The description of Zenobia, Hollingsworth, and Priscilla as players in a witch trial reflects Hawthorne’s interest in the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, in which one of his ancestors was a judge.
Zenobia tells Hollingsworth that it was unfair that one man has been her judge, jury, and accuser. She suggests that they should both plead their cases to Coverdale and let him judge them. Hollingsworth says he never meant to judge Zenobia except that he has a right to determine how he should treat her. Zenobia smiles and notes that it’s so easy for men to hold a secret tribunal during which they judge and condemn a woman but set her free without a sentence. Unfortunately, it’s also the only tribunal a woman really stands in awe of because anything short of acquittal is essentially a death sentence. Coverdale believes this confirms that he’s walked in on the final moments of a crisis and realizes they must have discussed Zenobia’s past, her connection with Westervelt, her and Hollingsworth’s intentions towards each other, and how much Zenobia knew about Priscilla’s victimization.
Zenobia resents that she’s the only one who’s being found guilty of doing something wrong. She wants Coverdale to hear both her and Hollingsworth’s sides of the story because she knows Coverdale will validate her feelings that Hollingsworth is at fault, too. Coverdale knows that if the three of them are discussing Zenobia’s past then they’ve discussed her sexual history, which means Priscilla and Hollingsworth now both know whether Zenobia has been a wife. This is something Coverdale obsessively thought about in his earliest days in Blithedale.
Hollingsworth starts to leave but Zenobia stops him and says it’s only fair for him to answer her questions after she answered so many of his. Hollingsworth says he has nothing to hide. Zenobia asks if he ever thought of her as wealthy and Hollingsworth replies that he has the same opinion on that as the rest of the world. Zenobia says that three days earlier she learned about something that might make her poor, but she changes the subject and says that Hollingsworth knows what she was going to do with her wealth and asks if she ever demanded a promise in return for the money. Hollingsworth says she didn’t. Zenobia accepts this and asks if he’s in love with Priscilla. Hollingsworth says that he always felt like an older brother to her, but now he does love her.
Zenobia suspects that Hollingsworth only pretended to love her to get his hands on her money for his project. She did, indeed, freely promise to give him money without making demands in return. However, this calls into question whether Hollingsworth really does love Priscilla because they have all recently discovered that Moodie has a better claim to Zenobia’s inheritance and can take it to give it to Priscilla instead. Hollingsworth might be claiming to love Priscilla because he wants the money, which would mean he has no honor, integrity, honesty, or any other good qualities they used to believe he had.
Zenobia lashes out and declares that she, at least, is a real woman—she might have faults and use cunning to achieve her ends, but she’s still a real woman that might have become a better person if God had been kinder to her. Hollingsworth, on the other hand, is not a man, but a monster eaten up with conceit. Zenobia tells him that he’s all self and disguises his conceit with self-deception. She accuses him of throwing Coverdale away for not joining his project and doing the same to her now that she’s no longer “available.” Hollingsworth says this is all a woman’s limited view. Zenobia tells him to be silent because he doesn’t know anything about men or women. She tells him to leave, but before walking away, Hollingsworth tells Priscilla to come with him. Zenobia smiles, sensing that Hollingsworth’s faith in himself has been injured.
When Zenobia says she might not be “available,” this could indicate that she’s still married or it might have something to do with how flimsy her claim to her uncle’s inheritance is. In a way, Hollingsworth needs Priscilla to choose to go with him because then he knows at least one person believes in him and thinks he’s a good person. Zenobia’s assault on his character has made him second guess himself and has confronted him with how much of his humanity he’s lost because he devoted too much of himself to philanthropy.
Priscilla shakily stands up, totters over to Zenobia, and collapses at her feet. Zenobia tells Priscilla that she has won, and Hollingsworth is waiting for her. Priscilla gasps out that they’re sisters. Coverdale understands this as Priscilla offering herself to Zenobia, but Zenobia takes it another way and says she’s right. Zenobia explains that she only just found out about their relationship and that she just wanted a clear path before her. She asks Priscilla’s forgiveness, but Priscilla is sobbing and says she feels like she’s the guilty one. Zenobia assures her that she’s not guilty and asks what she’ll do when the love in Hollingsworth’s heart burns out. Priscilla says she’ll die when that happens, which makes Zenobia smile. As Priscilla leaves with Hollingsworth, Coverdale realizes she’ll never believe Hollingsworth was guilty of anything because of her all-consuming love. Zenobia drops to her knees and cries against the rocks.
Zenobia tried to clear her path to Hollingsworth by essentially giving Priscilla to Westervelt. This is why she asks forgiveness in the end. Although she doesn’t clearly admit it, Zenobia is ashamed of herself. She’s not a villainous person by nature, and her decision to hand Priscilla over to Westervelt was uncharacteristic of her. Priscilla’s love makes her blind to Hollingsworth’s faults, but she notably doesn’t deny that his love for her might soon burn out. On some level, Priscilla knows Hollingsworth doesn’t love her like she loves him.