In the end, Charlie explains, he doesn’t leave Corrigan. However, his mother leaves the night after Charlie discovered her infidelity. Ruth yells at Wesley, rips his manuscript to pieces, and hits him. In response, Wesley does nothing. Ruth storms into Charlie’s room, finds Charlie’s suitcase, and fills it with her clothes and jewelry. Before she leaves, she tells Wesley “what she’d been meaning to say.” Charlie notes that Wesley is unsurprised by the things Ruth tells him. He already knew about her secrets, though Charlie isn’t sure how long he knew. It’s possible, Charlie thinks, that Wesley was trying to protect Charlie from the pain of learning that Ruth was unfaithful. In any event, Ruth has destroyed her own reputation in Corrigan—only a few hours after she leaves, the neighbors have already begun to gossip, inventing stories about her.
Coming after the events of the previous chapter, it’s not a surprise that Charlie decides to stay behind in Corrigan. Indeed, the entire principle of “leaving” is shown to be a little childish and escapist. Charlie’s mother, for example, leaves her home in Corrigan instead of dealing with her problems and responsibilities head-on. For many pages now, Silvey has shown that Charlie is far more mature than his mother. The scene in which Ruth leaves, yelling like a little girl, is the culmination of this point, and another example of how “the truth wins out.” Ruth’s attempts to seem “normal” have fallen into shambles in only a few minutes.
It has been two weeks since Ruth left, Charlie reports. She has gone to live with her family, who provide her with a luxurious house. She calls Wesley only once, to tell him that she isn’t returning. Wesley doesn’t protest, but tells her to talk to Charlie to set things right. Ruth refuses to do so.
Ruth refuses to honor her duties as a mother. In a sense, she is Charlie’s opposite, as Charlie is a child who wants to be a man as soon as possible, while Ruth is a woman who wishes she could be a child again, without any responsibilities or duties.
Wesley takes care of Charlie without Ruth’s help. In Ruth’s absence, he’s grown out his beard, and Charlie notes that he looks quite “stately.” He had kept another copy of his manuscript in his desk, so Ruth didn’t destroy his novel at all. He has sent the novel to various publishers, though he hasn’t heard back yet. In the meantime, however, Charlie has read the book. He finds it so beautiful and brilliant that he isn’t jealous at all.
Wesley’s beard might symbolize his own growing maturity in Ruth’s absence, for he now has to take on new duties because Ruth refuses to perform them. It’s no coincidence that this “maturation” coincides with the completion of his novel. Writing is itself a way of growing up—as we saw in the last chapter, it’s a way of making sense of the horrible or nonsensical, and reaching an inner state of peace.
Charlie reports that Eliza did not say anything to the police when they brought her into the station—she just sat in silence for hours until they let her go. A few weeks later, when her father is out of the house for work, she gives her mother Laura’s letter and tells her that Laura’s “trouble” was real. Instead of telling her mother where Laura died, she told her that she blamed her for Laura’s death—if her mother had believed Laura’s story, Laura wouldn’t have killed herself. If Eliza’s mother goes to the police with what she knows, Eliza explains, Eliza will take her mother to the place where Laura died. So far, however, there has been no word in public of Pete Wishart’s abusiveness. Charlie asks Eliza if she wants her father to be punished. In response she simply says that he’ll “get his.”
It’s both impressive and cowardly that Eliza puts the responsibility for revealing the truth in another person’s hands, even if that person is her own mother. On one hand, Eliza is brave—and morally correct—to tell her mother about Laura. At the same time, Eliza passes off responsibility to someone else because she’s not strong enough to deal with it on her own. Of course, Eliza is still basically a child, and should never have been shouldered with such a horrific burden in the first place. Charlie has already hinted that there are major consequences for concealing the truth, and here Eliza echoes his thoughts, suggesting that Pete will pay, whether legally or not.
Lately, Charlie has spent much time with Eliza. Often, they go to the glade together, and Eliza brings her sister small gifts, which she places in the hollow where Jasper sleeps. Sometimes, they sleep in the hollow themselves and kiss. Charlie isn’t nervous or awkward about kissing anymore—on the contrary, he enjoys the secret he shares with Eliza. One day, he thinks, he will tell Eliza exactly how he feels about her, and perhaps she’ll say the same words back to him.
Charlie has grown considerably in the course of the novel. One might be tempted to conclude that he has fully become an adult, but Silvey refutes this here. Charlie is still not fully formed—he lacks the ability and insight to express his thoughts and feelings to other people, and he still isn’t entirely sure what to make of Eliza herself. In the final chapter of the novel, Silvey will show the consequences of Charlie’s uncertainty.