In contrast to the brightness outside, the interior of the House is so shadowy that Phoebe cannot tell at first who has opened the door. A warm, gentle hand draws her into an open, sunny reception room, and she now sees that it’s Holgrave, smiling at her more joyfully than she has seen before. He tells her, however, that she has arrived at a strange time. He does not know what has become of Hepzibah and Clifford.
The warmth, light, and joy which receive Phoebe inside the house overturn the dark expectations that have been stirred up in the preceding chapter, suggesting that the Pyncheon family’s curse has finally been lifted.
Holgrave tells Phoebe that she must be strong and help him cope with a terrible thing that has happened. He shows her a daguerreotype of the dead Judge Pyncheon, which he has just finished taking. Upon discovering the body and the missing Pyncheons that morning, he took the photograph in hopes of providing helpful evidence to Clifford in some way. He also has “hereditary reasons” to be concerned about the Judge’s fate.
Holgrave is taking a more personal, less detached approach to helping the Pyncheons than he’s done before, but his motivations are still mysterious.
Phoebe can’t help noticing that Holgrave seems remarkably calm, as if he had expected this to happen. Holgrave conjectures that the Pyncheons have fled in terror, which makes things look very bad for Clifford. Yet it’s long been known that the Pyncheons had a tendency to die of a strange medical complaint around the Judge’s age (indeed, perhaps Matthew Maule knew of this when he pronounced his curse). This death looks very similar to Jaffrey Pyncheon’s death 30 years ago.
Holgrave points out that there is a rational explanation for the Judge’s death, as well as previous deaths of Pyncheon men. Even if this is true, there is a dark justice about the similarity of the Judge’s death to Uncle Jaffrey’s. Further, the rational explanation won’t necessarily help Clifford, whose reputation hasn’t been fully cleared from his alleged association with the previous strange death.
Although Clifford’s flight makes him look guilty, Phoebe says they must entrust the situation to God and call in witnesses. Holgrave agrees, yet he does not hurry to end the secrecy and intimacy he and Phoebe momentarily share. He tells Phoebe how horrified he felt before her arrival—the sight of the dead Judge, with the atmosphere of guilt and retribution, stole his youth. But when Phoebe entered, she brought joy inside with her. He declares his love to Phoebe.
Holgrave seems to be entering into the kind of “second youth” he described to Phoebe earlier—a deeper joy that follows upon an event like falling in love. Phoebe’s innocence casts a light over the dark circumstances inside the House.
Phoebe does not believe that a man like Holgrave could find her interesting, or that she could follow his paths. Holgrave replies that his ways are going to change—“the happy man inevitably confines himself within ancient limits.” Perhaps he will even build a house for future generations. Finally, Phoebe admits that she loves him, too. For a few moments, the two feel surrounded by bliss, no longer conscious of death or sorrow.
Holgrave has undergone a great chance upon falling in love with Phoebe. Much as her love anchored Clifford in reality, it now appears to make Holgrave willing to submit to tradition and conventionality. Their love symbolically triumphs over tragedy in an implied undoing of the House’s curse.
Soon, however, they hear someone at the door, and weary footsteps enter. Clifford and Hepzibah are home. Hepzibah bursts into tears of relief when Phoebe runs to embrace her. Clifford smiles at them. He thought of both of them, he says, when he noticed Alice’s Posies blooming on the roof—like “the flower of Eden” which blooms in the House now.
Clifford and Hepzibah return to the only place they have ever truly belonged, as the young couple’s presence seems to have purified it from its old sorrow.