By the light of the fire, the men look young and energetic and the women look even more beautiful. Zenobia urges everyone to sit without any pomp or ceremony and enjoy the tea. At the table, the group awkwardly looks around at each other, considering this the first test of their theory of equality and unity. Those belonging to the upper classes consider this a successful first step, but Coverdale knows it’s more difficult for the laborers because they must sense the condescension. All along, many members of the group know that they can return to their fine porcelain and silver whenever they wish. In an aside, Coverdale says he deserved to be cuffed for putting so much weight on social class while he was trying to act like the laboring class’s equal.
The awkwardness at the table is due to the social prejudices that characterize 19th-century America. Ordinarily, it would be unthinkable for a member of the upper classes to sit and dine at the same table as a member of the lower classes. This is why Silas and his family feel condescended to—the group is pretending to be of a class they aren’t, when in reality they could all return to their upper-class lives. This is obviously a privilege that true laborers do not enjoy, and it undermines the sincerity of the experiment immediately. Coverdale will continue to struggle with his own feelings of superiority over comparatively uneducated people like Silas throughout his time in Blithedale, showing how good intentions do not necessarily mean good results.
After an awkward silence, Coverdale comments on how picturesque the farmhouse must look with the fire blazing inside. Zenobia says it’ll undoubtedly attract a wayfarer and just then someone pounds on the door. Everyone hears it, but nobody gets up until they knock a second time and Zenobia says it must be Hollingsworth. Coverdale opens the door and it is, indeed, Hollingsworth, who comments on how long it took someone to let him in. He says he has a visitor and carries in a young girl. Coverdale asks Hollingsworth who she is, and he says he doesn’t know, but that she must be expected. Coverdale notes that nobody is welcoming her, which indicates that she’s not expected. The girl is small and pale, evidently from spending so much time indoors. She stands in the doorway and stares at Zenobia, finally dropping to her knees and looking pleadingly up at her.
The young girl is immediately attracted to Zenobia, which is the first indication that she has some previous knowledge of who Zenobia is and has decided to come to Blithedale for the sole purpose of being close to Zenobia. She clearly hopes and expects that Zenobia will simply accept her, which indicates that the girl already thinks she knows Zenobia, even though they’ve never met face to face before. The group’s hesitation to open the door shows their uneasiness and lack of goodwill. On the first night of their utopian experiment—in a moment of peak optimism and generosity with one another—they hesitate to open the door for a stranger caught in the storm, not opening it until they’re reasonably sure it’s actually their own guest. This shows immediately that this community is not as welcoming as they might hope.
Zenobia sharply asks who the girl is and why she doesn’t talk. Hollingsworth—who is very tall and shaggy—says the girl’s heart will freeze if the women can’t warm it up with whatever kindness is supposed to be in their own. Mortified, Zenobia says she’s very willing to befriend the girl and asks what she can do for her. Hollingsworth asks the girl if she has something to ask Zenobia. She says she wants to always be close to Zenobia. When Zenobia asks, the girl says her name is Priscilla, but she’s unwilling to share her last name. Coverdale repeats this name to himself until he can’t imagine her having any other. Zenobia says they shouldn’t pry into Priscilla’s secrets, but instead they should welcome and care for her. Hollingsworth says an old man asked him to take Priscilla to Blithedale. Silas says she’ll feel better after getting something to eat and drink.
The most striking difference between Priscilla and Zenobia is how open Zenobia is and house mysterious Priscilla is. Even though she adopts a pseudonym, Zenobia gives people the impression that she’s an open book and has nothing to hide. Priscilla, on the other hand, actively tries to obscure her true identity and history. It’s also noteworthy here that Hollingsworth has to remind Zenobia to be kind to Priscilla—another indication that this community will not be automatically welcoming or warm. Finally, when Hollingsworth says that an old man asked him to bring Priscilla, readers should recall that Coverdale told Moodie that Hollingsworth might be willing to do him a favor.