Zenobia forgets that Coverdale is there, but he decides to stay and witness her grief. He draws an analogy between her situation and his own but doesn’t explain what he means. Coverdale wishes he could comfort Zenobia but he knows he can’t. Finally, Zenobia stands back up and notices Coverdale. She says he must be turning the whole event into a ballad and begs him to recite it. Coverdale tells her there’s an ache in his soul, but she prattles on about the tragedy and her faith in his ability to turn sympathy into ballads. Coverdale asks her what the moral should be and she says it’s either than any stroke meant to land on a man’s steel helmet will inevitably land on a woman’s unprotected heart, which is why it’s best to stay out of battle; or that there’s a united cause against those who deviate from the beaten track.
Coverdale starts to hint at his own secret, which he reveals in the final line of the narrative. He says there’s cause to draw an analogy between his situation and Zenobia’s, which implies that he’s lost someone he loves, too. Coverdale almost opens up to Zenobia about this by mentioning the ache in his soul, but she mistakes his meaning and thinks that Coverdale just has a lot of sympathy and pity for her heartbreak. Zenobia thinks that she’s somehow being punished for not adhering to standards of traditional femininity—she’s too outspoken, passionate, independent, and sexual.
Coverdale says this moral is too stern, but Zenobia changes the subject and says Hollingsworth has thrown away something that would have been better for him. She wonders what Priscilla can do for him and then claims the best Priscilla can do is give him all her love without real sympathy. Zenobia says there will be times when Hollingsworth needs the intellectual sympathy that she could give him, but Priscilla cannot. Coverdale calls Hollingsworth a wretch, which upsets Zenobia. She says that Hollingsworth did nothing wrong, that everything was her fault and she’s happy Hollingsworth separated himself from her. Zenobia goes silent and then tells Coverdale that she’ll leave Blithedale but first asks him to tell Hollingsworth that he’s murdered her and to give Priscilla her jeweled flower, which she rips out of her hair. Coverdale mentally notes that this is like watching a queen throwing away her crown.
Zenobia again mistakes Coverdale’s meaning when he says that Hollingsworth is a wretch—he’s not thinking about what Hollingsworth did to Zenobia, but what Hollingsworth might do to Priscilla. Coverdale still thinks that Priscilla is throwing her heart away on Hollingsworth and the pain of realizing this one day might kill her. He thinks it’s irresponsible for Hollingsworth to lead Priscilla on, knowing how naïve and innocent she is. Without her flower, Zenobia no longer seems like Zenobia. Coverdale has long associated the flower with Zenobia’s character, so taking the flower off, from Coverdale’s perspective, is like erasing her own identity.
While Zenobia talks, Coverdale admires how beautiful she looks. She notices his look and gets pleasure from it. She tells him she should have thought of winning his love instead of Hollingsworth’s—she probably would have succeeded, and most people would think Coverdale is more worth winning. Coverdale asks Zenobia where she’ll go and she says it doesn’t matter, she’s just sick of “playing at philanthropy” and says that they’ve all stumbled into the emptiest form of mockery. Still, she admits they got some happiness from it and bids Coverdale farewell. Coverdale takes her hand and kisses it before she leaves. Once Zenobia is out of sight, Coverdale can’t shake the feeling that she’s still there. Despite this, exhaustion overtakes him, and he falls asleep. When he wakes up, the moon is high in the sky and he’s trembling.
Zenobia says she’s been “playing at philanthropy,” which seems to indicate that she has, to some extent, been playing a part at Blithedale. This leaves Coverdale to continue questioning whether Zenobia was ever being her authentic self at Blithedale and what she really hoped to get out of the experience. Some readers believe that this moment is not literally one of Coverdale falling asleep, but instead it is another example of his unreliability as a narrator: it’s possible that he’s actually repressing his involvement in the tragedy that will soon transpire by convincing himself that he was asleep the whole time.