With trepidation, Hepzibah makes her way toward Clifford’s chamber, the House feeling ghostlier than ever. The stories of Pyncheon history run through her mind, seeming like one catastrophe after another, and she has the foreboding sense that she, Clifford, and the Judge are about to add to it. She pauses by the arched window and watches life on Pyncheon Street carrying on as normal; she longs for just a moment of human companionship.
The weight of centuries of the Pyncheon curse seems to hover over Hepzibah, and she feels helplessly caught up in its unfolding. She is so subservient to fate that she feels cut off from ordinary society, much as her brother has always felt.
Hepzibah believes that the coming encounter between the Judge and Clifford will lead to the latter’s ruin, due to his delicate nature. Men with the Judge’s iron character can only with tremendous difficulty be persuaded out of false opinions; Clifford will unavoidably die. If he ever claimed to have knowledge of some great fortune, she is certain it was mere fantasy.
Hepzibah knows her brother’s innocent nature can’t withstand the force of horror or the power of the Judge’s view of the world. Because Clifford has nothing of the Pyncheon greed in his character, he is vulnerable to the worst of the Judge’s character.
Hepzibah thinks how strange it is to feel so helpless with a bustling world around her. Yet if she cried for help, people would run to help the stronger party—Judge Pyncheon has a magnetic attraction, causing even Hepzibah to momentarily question her doubts about his integrity. Clifford, by contrast, is just a vaguely-remembered figure of shame to most people.
Hepzibah considers the corrupting nature of status and power. Because Judge Pyncheon is so prominent and respected, people will naturally assume he is right and flock to his defense. But she and Clifford have little status, so they will be disregarded at best.
Hepzibah decides to seek out Holgrave for help, but he is in his public studio, not in his chambers. She glances at one of the daguerreotypes lying on the table, and “fate [stares] her in the face”: it’s Judge Pyncheon. Hepzibah has never felt more alone. She tries to pray but fears she is unheard.
Holgrave’s daguerreotype plainly displays the truth of Hepzibah’s and Clifford’s seemingly hopeless fate at the hands of Judge Pyncheon.
At last, Hepzibah creeps to Clifford’s chamber door and knocks. There is no reply. She knocks several more times, calling his name. Thinking that he’s sound asleep, Hepzibah finally enters and discovers that the chamber is empty. Neither is Clifford in the garden below—there’s only a strange-looking cat, at which Hepzibah feels compelled to throw a stick.
The cat is described in the novel as a “grimalkin,” an archaic term for a cat. Grimalkins were traditionally associated with witchcraft, or with the devil seeking a soul. Thus, the appearance of this animal could be interpreted as a kind of dark omen.
Hepzibah is terrified. She pictures Clifford wandering the streets of town, subject to ridicule—or worse, wandering down to the docks and deciding to end his misery by jumping into the sea. She runs downstairs, calling to the Judge for help. But when she enters the darkened parlor, she finds the Judge sitting in the same position she left him in. She screams at him again.
Hepzibah is so desperate to find Clifford that she’s even willing to ask for the Judge’s help, but he is strangely unmoved by the situation.
Suddenly, Clifford himself appears on the threshold. He is deadly pale and wears a wild, scornful expression. He is pointing at something, and Hepzibah fears he has already gone mad. She urges him to be still. Clifford begins to laugh—“we can dance now,” he tells her, “sing, laugh […] The weight is gone, Hepzibah!” Hepzibah pushes past him and looks at the Judge, then gives a cry of horror. “What is to become of us?” she asks.
Clifford appears in a frighteningly lucid, purposeful mood compared to his previous appearance. Hepzibah realizes that Judge Pyncheon is dead. Clifford sees this as a joyful liberation, whereas Hepzibah senses that it could be their undoing.
Clifford tells Hepzibah that they must leave. Hepzibah sees that Clifford is wearing a cloak. Hepzibah is so frightened and baffled that any purpose is a relief to her, so she yields to Clifford’s newfound resolve. At Clifford’s urging, she gathers a cloak and purse, feeling as if she is in a dream and will surely wake up at any moment. She follows Clifford out of the House of the Seven Gables.
A reversal has occurred; Hepzibah, until now Clifford’s caretaker for even the most basic of things, now helplessly follows him. Clifford uncharacteristically appears to have a plan. Judge Pyncheon’s death seems to have been the sudden shock Clifford needs.