The next day, as Silas warned, the call to wake up comes early. From his bed, Coverdale listens to everyone get up and get ready, including Hollingsworth saying his prayers (Coverdale is impressed by this). For his own part, Coverdale says that his pampered life in cozy city apartments has contributed to the severity of his cold. He questions why he decided to take on this project that would involve uncomfortably hard work when he was perfectly content living in his apartment where everything is comfortable and familiar. Coverdale shivers in his bed through breakfast until Hollingsworth knocks on his door to ask what’s wrong. Coverdale says he’s sick and wants to go back to the city, but Hollingsworth insists that he can take care of Coverdale. Coverdale is sick for a long time, but he says he has fond memories of this period nonetheless.
Coverdale’s dedication to Blithedale’s cause is shaken as soon as he gets sick, which indicates that he might not have been as invested in it as he now claims he was. Because Coverdale is telling this story years later, he is a somewhat unreliable narrator—he might paint a prettier picture of himself than he deserves, obscuring his negative qualities. This passage is also important because it proves Silas right; just as Silas predicted the night before, Coverdale wants to return to his upper-class life at the first sign of discomfort. This paints Silas and the laboring classes as having a wisdom and foresight that these upper-class intellectuals do not, an ominous sign for their project.
Coverdale says that, even though most men are indifferent towards people who are seriously ill, Hollingsworth patiently takes care of him—perhaps because there is “something of the woman” within Hollingsworth that, unlike most men, he isn’t ashamed of. Hollingsworth is so kind and gentle that during the worst part of his illness, Coverdale insists on having Hollingsworth always with him. From the present, Coverdale remarks that he sometimes wishes he could have died then with Hollingsworth with him—now, however, Hollingsworth probably wouldn’t come at Coverdale’s request, nor would Coverdale be comforted by his presence. While sick at Blithedale, Coverdale says he should be allowed to die while he’s in the mood to and Hollingsworth asks if he has nothing to live for. Coverdale says he has nothing but to “play a part” at Blithedale. He says Hollingsworth is so tender he should be a priest, but Hollingsworth completely disagrees.
Coverdale attributes some feminine qualities to Hollingsworth (saying there’s “something of the woman” in him), which might explain why Coverdale is so drawn to him. Coverdale’s friendship with Hollingsworth soon borders on attraction as he focuses on all of Hollingsworth’s feminine qualities. However, he indicates that the friendship between himself and Hollingsworth has since gone sour—he knows Hollingsworth would no longer be willing to help him. Coverdale describes his presence at Blithedale as him “play[ing] a part,” which further indicates that Coverdale isn’t as genuinely concerned with Blithedale’s aims as he previously claimed.
Even though Hollingsworth tells Coverdale that he’s not dangerously ill, Coverdale is mortified to realize that he’s getting better instead of dying. Everyone is unfailingly kind to Coverdale during his illness. Zenobia brings him gruel she made herself and talks to him whenever she has time. Coverdale thinks Zenobia is truly wonderful—not even the simplicity of her outfits and ornaments can conceal how beautiful her body is. Coverdale notices that, somehow, Zenobia gets a new flower for her hair every day. The flowers are all so exotic and beautiful that it seems like they were made to adorn Zenobia in particular. In his fever, Coverdale becomes convinced that Zenobia is an enchantress, probably the Veiled Lady’s sister, and her flower has magical properties. Zenobia laughs at this, but Coverdale never quite loses the feeling that Zenobia’s flowers are enchanted. This might be because the flowers subtly reflect Zenobia’s character.
Even though Coverdale repeatedly says he admires Zenobia’s mind, it’s clear that he’s fixated on her sexuality more than her ideas. He pays close attention to her body, believing that he knows what it looks like beneath her clothes. It’s a bitter irony that Zenobia, an accomplished writer and activist for women’s equality, would be reduced to her appearance, especially at a utopian community that is trying to create gender equality. What’s worse is that Coverdale seems to slightly blame Zenobia for her effect on him. He convinces himself that Zenobia’s flower has the power to enchant him, which seems to be an attempt to deny his own lust by attributing to her slightly sinister powers of enchantment. In his mind, it seems that she’s willfully choosing to wear enchanted flowers that will captivate him, even against his will or better judgment.
Coverdale obsesses over the thought that Zenobia has been married. She is young, wealthy, and beautiful, but if she has ever been married then nobody in the world seems to know. Then again, Coverdale remembers, her hometown in far away and any rumors of her marriage might not reach Boston. Coverdale asserts that there is no hard evidence for his beliefs. Still, few “girl[s]” laugh or talk like Zenobia. Although Coverdale tries to shame himself out of his preoccupation with Zenobia’s past, he can’t shake the thought that she has been married and has had sex. Zenobia asks why he stares at her and Coverdale says he wants to solve the mystery of her life, though she’ll never tell him about it. According to Coverdale, bachelors feel cheated when women they know have given themselves away. Coverdale isn’t in love with Zenobia, but he still wants to satisfy his curiosity.
Coverdale is obsessed with Zenobia’s sexuality, but he doesn’t want to be. He reveals his own shame for having these feelings but emphasizes that he can’t help it (possibly due to her enchanted flowers). In Coverdale’s mind (and in the language throughout the book) the difference between a “girl” and a woman isn’t age, but experience. A girl is sexually innocent and pure, but a woman has real sex appeal and probably some sexual experience. This is why Coverdale thinks of Zenobia as a woman and Priscilla as a girl, even though there’s no justifiable reason to believe Zenobia has any more sexual experience than Priscilla, or that Priscilla has any less.