Helena has been lonely ever since she’s gotten to Warings. But she hasn’t allowed herself to acknowledge her loneliness; instead, she tells herself that Joseph has been “so very kind” to let her stay there.
Helena is clearly eager to remarry Joseph, and for this reason she overlooks any problems with her time at Warings.
One day, Helena gets a call from an old friend, Enid Tyson. As she talks with Enid, Helena remembers the world “outside this house and this village,” a world in which she was quite happy, and had nothing to do with Joseph Hooper. Joseph listens to Helena talk on the phone with Enid, and feels resentful: Helena’s been here for two months, and he doesn’t know anything about her past or her old friends.
Helena’s conversation with Enid is reminiscent of Charles’s friendship with Fielding—both serve as reminders that Warings, and the people who live there, are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Joseph seems to enjoy asserting his power over Helena (even if he does so to a lesser degree than his son does over Charles). He likes the feeling that he controls every aspect of Helena’s life, and therefore resents it when Helena shows him she has a life outside of Warings.
As Helena talks on the phone, she says, in order that Joseph will hear her, “I have not quite made up my mind about the future.” By saying this, Helena hopes to make it clear that she has “retained her pride”—and that Joseph, not she, must be the one to make the decision.
This is the rare scene in which Helena seems to assert her own (limited) kind of power over Joseph. She presents herself as being self-sufficient and proud, meaning that she’d never beg Joseph to marry her—Joseph will have to be the one to ask. Of course, Helena is financially dependent on Joseph. However, unlike her son, Helena doesn’t allow herself to become overly intimidated by this fact.
Charles hears his mother on the phone. He’s not quite sure what she means by “the future.” He wonders if he and his mother will live somewhere else. He remembers living in a hotel for a brief time in London. Broughton-Smith found out about the hotel and teased him for living there.
Charles doesn’t really grasp what Helena is trying to do: he’s so desperate to escape Warings that he wants to believe that he and his mother will move away, even if this could mean more hotel-living—and more bullying and mockery.
Charles remembers Miss Mellitt, an old woman who lived in the hotel. Late at night, he often feared that Mellitt would come into his room. He had nightmares about her, too. Suddenly, Charles realizes something—the smell of the dolls in the cabinet of the upstairs room is very similar to the smell of Miss Mellitt.
As the novel moves on, Charles continues to develop new fears. Edmund’s manipulation is so subtle and powerful that Charles becomes less and less confortable at Warings, the opposite of what one might expect to happen. Even the dolls in the room upstairs—the only place in Warings Charles felt safe—begin to remind him of his fears.
Meanwhile, Joseph listens to Helena telling her friend, “I have not quite made up my mind about the future.” He decides that something is wrong: Helena doesn’t like living at Warings. He thinks about all the times he’s looked at Helena in her skirts and felt “disturbed.” This reminds him of his marriage. He and his wife slept in separate beds. Afterwards, he would go to London and stare at young women walking down the street and feel tempted. His new marriage, he decides, will be very different: this time, Helena will “answer to him, without the niceties and the restraints.” Joseph goes to bed, telling himself, “Tomorrow.”
Even though he’s supposed to be the mature adult in the story, Joseph seems naïve and peculiarly childish when it comes to women, and in particular what to do about Helena. Joseph seems to want to marry Helena because he wants a sexual partner, but Hill also suggests that Joseph takes a kind of pleasure simply in asserting his power over Helena. Just as Edmund despises Charles most when he tries to be kind and helpful, Joseph seems to resent Helena in the moments he finds her most attractive.
A few days later, Charles feels anxious. Joseph is driving Charles and Edmund away from Warings, and Helena assures them that they’re in for a “lovely treat.” Charles thinks that he already knows what the secret is—he’s always known.
Charles senses that his mother is about to announce her engagement to Joseph, just as Edmund has told him weeks before.
A few days earlier, Edmund announced that he knew something Charles didn’t know. Gleefully, he told Charles that Joseph was going to be Charles’s stepfather, since he was going to marry Helena very soon. Charles told Edmund to go away. Edmund said that he didn’t want Helena or Charles at Warings. Charles realizes that Edmund is genuinely angry—he doesn’t want other people in his house. This makes Charles feel calm, since it reminds him that Edmund doesn’t have any control over what happens.
Charles gets a sudden reminder that Edmund, for all his apparent confidence, is just as powerless as Charles is. Neither one of them can do anything to control their parents’ behavior. Indeed, Edmund’s only real advantage over Charles is his access to information—his superior knowledge of Warings, for example, or his prediction that his father will remarry.
Joseph drives Helena and the boys out to a “muddy field.” Charles, sensing what the surprise will be, becomes very afraid. Helena merrily says that Charles “used to be a bit frightened. But of course all that is quite forgotten.”
Helena is so clueless that she doesn’t realize her son is living in a near-constant state of fear.
Charles can see that Joseph has driven them to a circus. They sit very close to the front of the ring, so that Charles can see the enormous captive animals and hear their terrible “braying.” He thinks, “I can’t get out.” Privately, Joseph is bored by the circus, and thinks, “It is just for the sake of the boys.” He notices the female acrobats, and touches Helena’s “silken knees.” Just then, Charles vomits.
Charles isn’t nauseated with the animals themselves so much as their captivity. Indeed, he seems to think of himself as one of the animals: trapped in an enclosed space and forced to do other people’s bidding. Ironically, Joseph thinks that the circus would be a pleasant treat for Charles, when really it’s just the opposite.
A few days later, Helena tells Charles that she’s spoken to Fielding’s mother and invited her son, whose full name is Anthony Fielding, to tea. Charles doesn’t want this to happen, saying, “He’s my friend.” Helena insists that tea with Anthony will be fun for everyone.
Charles’s relationship with Fielding has already been described as oddly possessive: he thinks of Fielding as “belonging” to him. Now, he’s being forced to share Fielding with Edmund—so, naturally, he resents having to do so.
Charles wonders what tea with Fielding will be like. He decides that Edmund won’t be able to frighten or embarrass Fielding, since Fielding is “invulnerable.”
Charles correctly assumes that Edmund is going to try to intimidate Fielding, just as he intimidated Charles.
Joseph and Helena talk about their wedding—they plan to marry in September, just before Charles and Edmund go off to school together.
Joseph and Helena are, indeed, getting married, just as Edmund predicted they would.
During Fielding’s visit to Warings, Edmund offers to show Fielding inside the Red Room, and adds that Charles is very scared of what’s inside. In the Red Room, Fielding is delighted by the moths. Edmund says, “Dare you touch one?” and Fielding replies, “Yes. They’re only dead things. They can’t hurt you.” But Edmund doesn’t make Fielding touch a moth. Charles realizes that Edmund is treating Fielding differently, because Edmund can sense that Fielding will never be afraid. In the same instant, Charles realizes that Edmund will always be able to make him afraid. He begins to weep.
Charles had hoped that Fielding’s visit to Warings would strengthen their friendship. But because of Edmund’s skillful manipulation, Charles begins to feel as alienated from Fielding as he does from Edmund. He wants to be like Fielding (and has tried to be), but knows that he can’t—Edmund will always be able to frighten him.
A few days ago, Joseph and Helena were talking about what to do with the moth collection. Joseph suggested selling the collection, but Helena argued, within earshot of Charles, that they should keep the moths, since the boys might one day want them. In this moment, Charles thought that his mother’s behavior had “less to do with him than with anyone in the whole world.” He wished that his mother could be “his” once again.
Helena continues to behave obliviously, since she’s unaware that Charles would like nothing better than to be rid of the moths. Charles feels isolated from his mother, but his young mind takes this emotion to its extreme. Notice, once again, that Charles doesn’t seem to feel love for his mother, but only a strong possessiveness, modeled off of Edmund’s.
Back in the Red Room, Edmund suggests that Fielding come look at his “battle plans.” Fielding asks Charles if he wants to. Then, Edmund suggests that they all go into the attic, adding that Charles is frightened. Charles threatens to punch Edmund, and Fielding seems surprised with Charles. Charles doesn’t go to the attic, and so Fielding refuses to go, too.
For the time being, Fielding remains loyal to Charles, refusing to do anything Charles doesn’t agree to do. And yet there are signs that he’s moving further away from Charles—he can’t seem to understand why Charles reacts so violently to Edmund’s offer to explore the attic.
Edmund tells Fielding not to pay attention to Charles. He tells Fielding that he wants to show Fielding something private. Fielding hesitates and then suggests that they go to his house, where there’s a new tractor. Charles and Edmund follow Fielding out of the house. Charles walks slowly, thinking that he just wants to be alone, and that he doesn’t care about Fielding anymore. Fielding is confused by Charles’s behavior—he’s only used to be people who act like him, calm and easy-going. Edmund assures Fielding that Charles is only “sulking.” Reluctantly, Fielding walks ahead, leading Edmund after him.
Here, Charles again makes the mistake of giving up too early. Because of Edmund’s bullying, Charles feels alienated from everyone, even Fielding and Helena. He just wants to be by himself, and his means that he pushes Fielding away. This in turn causes Fielding to become closer with Edmund. In short, Charles believes that Edmund has emerged victorious already, and this belief causes Edmund to emerge victorious.
Charles goes into Edmund’s bedroom, where a battle chart is mounted on an easel. The chart shows different battle regiments. Charles rolls up the chart and carries it downstairs. Outside, he tears up the paper into tiny pieces. Then, he produces a match, which he first packed for his journey into Hang Wood, and burns the chart.
Charles at first responds to Edmund’s cruelty with a small but disturbing act of aggression. He won’t hurt Edmund, but instead he attacks Edmund’s property, burning the chart with a match. At first the match represented a means of escaping from Warings—now, it has become a tool of pointless destruction. The message is clear: Charles has given up on escaping from Warings, or Edmund, for good.
In five days, Charles thinks, he and Edmund will go to their new school. But this, he decides, isn’t worth thinking about.
The future looks dark for Charles. He’s terrified of going to school with Edmund, since he’s convinced that Edmund will only torment him there further.