Edmund returns to Warings, where he must spend his time in bed. Helena tells Charles that he should spend time with Edmund, but Charles refuses. Helena tells herself that Charles is just going through a phase and that “that was the way boys behaved.”
Helena again fails to understand what’s going on with her son. She can’t recognize how frightened Charles is of Edmund, and how desperately he wants to be free of Edmund’s psychological bullying.
In the following days, Edmund tells Charles that the doctors told him he could have died from the fall. He also brags about the gifts that Helena gave him during his time in the hospital. Charles is jealous. This surprises Charles, since “in truth [Charles] did not care very much about [his mother].”
Charles suddenly seems interested in competing with Edmund for his mother’s attention, even though he doesn’t particularly like his mother (something he hasn’t said directly until now). As Charles becomes more competitive with Edmund, it would seem, he becomes more and more like Edmund.
Edmund tells Charles that he blames him for the fall. They argue about Edmund’s fall many times. Edmund tells Charles, “Something will happen to you. Because it was your fault and I told them, it’s what they believe.” Charles tries to remember Fielding’s advice, but in spite of himself he waits for punishment, dreading what might happen to him.
Charles knows that he should ignore Edmund’s bullying, but he can’t help himself: his fears of Edmund have a life of their own, and in a sense they’re uncontrollable. And so, even when Edmund says something as open-ended as “something will happen to you,” Charles becomes terrified.
Charles remembers the time a boy named Crawford beat him up. He can remember the feeling of Crawford’s fists hitting his face and belly. Edmund is even more frightening than Crawford, because he controls Charles through terror, not violence.
Charles tries to sneak out of the house to find Fielding, but Helena catches him. Charles claims he’s going to buy ice cream, and she sighs and tells him to go—in the meantime, she claims, she’s going to check on Edmund.
By sneaking away from his prison-like existence at Warings, Charles tries to free himself from the psychological prison in which Edmund has trapped him.
Feeling caught in his lie, Charles goes to buy ice cream. As he buys the ice cream, he remembers the previous night, when Edmund told him that Joseph would be paying for Charles’s school uniform. Charles remembers Helena telling him that she’s made great sacrifices to send him to school. So he knows that Edmund is right: he could only afford to go back to school with Joseph’s help.
Another reason that Charles finds it so hard to ignore Edmund’s psychological torments is that he senses that Edmund is right: for example, Edmund is correct to say that Charles is dependent on Joseph’s generosity. In this way, Edmund’s power over Charles stems from his family’s wealth, and, moreover, from Edmund’s ability to use this wealth to make Charles aware of his weakness and subservience.
Suddenly, Charles sees Fielding, sitting in a big van. Fielding explains that he and his father are driving the newborn calves to the market. His father explains, dispassionately, that the calves will be made into veal. Charles wants to learn about the calves, but he’s also frightened of the “sounds and fears and smells.” And so the van drives away, and he goes back to Warings.
Charles’s fear of Edmund poisons his relationship with Fielding. Before, he witnessed some disgusting and unnerving things (a calf being born, for example) but didn’t feel afraid. Now that Edmund is back, however, Charles allows himself to become consumed by fear to a greater degree, and declines Fielding’s invitation as a result.
Back at Warings, Edmund tells Charles that he knows about Fielding—Helena told him. He adds, “Your mother tells me lots of things about you.” Charles begins to cry—he’s lost his only secret.
Edmund uses his close relationship with Helena to learn more about Charles, reinforcing the frightening illusion that he’s all-knowing and all-powerful.
Downstairs, Helena shortens the hems on her clothes, thinking, “I am going to look younger.”
Helena is totally unaware of the psychological warfare between Charles and Edmund—she’s so wrapped up in her own plans that she neglects her son.
A short while later, Joseph takes Charles and Edmund by train into London to pick up school uniforms. As they sit together, Joseph thinks that Charles is much easier to deal with than his own son—there’s nothing strange about him. He thinks of Helena and remembers, “life had taught him not to make impetuous decisions.”
Ironically, Joseph seems to like Charles a lot more than he likes his own son. But Charles is completely and tragically unaware of this fact. He thinks that he’s outnumbered at Warings, when in reality he has an ally in Joseph.
In London, Joseph points out the various sights, and Charles privately thinks that he doesn’t like being here with Joseph. In the department store, while he’s waiting to get his uniform, he contemplates running out of the store and disappearing into London. But then he decides that “there was no more hope for him.”
Here again, Charles digs his own grave. Instead of building up a relationship with Joseph, who secretly likes him, he gives up and surrenders to the hopelessness that Edmund’s bullying has engendered in him. Whereas before he had the courage to run away, he now seems to have lost such hope for a different life.
Back at Warings, Edmund plays with the model fort that Charles built. Furious, Charles complains that Joseph gave his model to Edmund. As Charles yells, Joseph strikes him on the cheek. Helena sends Charles upstairs to his room. The passage ends, “He did not look at her.”
As in previous chapters, Charles acts childishly in response to Edmund’s bad behavior, and is punished for it, while Edmund gets off scot free. The deliberately ambiguous words “He did not look at her” could refer either to Joseph refusing to look at Helena after striking her child, or Charles refusing to make eye contact with his mother—similar to the way he’s previously become angry with her after she refuses to stand up for him.
Upstairs, Charles kicks open Edmund’s room and demands that Edmund give back the model. Instead, Edmund laughs and throws the model across the room, breaking it. As Charles bends over the model, he hears Helena tell him, “I think that you should be very, very ashamed of yourself.”
As before, Helena takes Edmund’s side and punishes her own son rather than making an effort to learn the full truth about what happened. She claims she’s trying to be fair but in reality she’s playing favorites with Edmund, adding to Charles’s feeling of isolation.