About two miles west of Warings, there is a large wood, Hang Wood. To the east there’s the small village of Derne. After a week, Charles feels that he knows this area well, because he’s studied it carefully on a map. However, he has never explored it himself.
Charles seems more interested in exploring the natural world surrounding Warings than learning more about Warings itself, which he seems to associate with Edmund’s torments.
One day, Charles walks away from Waring to explore the wood. Walking through the fields is uncomfortable but still better than spending time with Edmund. Though he senses that he should go back, he wants to prove to himself that “he could get by, somehow, alone in this place.”
Charles is desperate to get away from Edmund. More broadly, he wants to show that he’s strong enough to survive on his own—he wants to prove to himself that he can leave Warings (and Edmund) any time he wants.
Charles walks through the field while, high over his head, crows circle. The crows are large, and Charles can see that their mouths are bright red. In spite of himself, he’s frightened of the birds. His foot gets caught in a rut, and he falls over, bleeding and sobbing. A massive crow swoops down and lands on his back. Charles screams, and the bird flies away. Suddenly, Charles looks back at the house and sees Edmund staring at him from his window.
Edmund seems to have an almost supernatural grasp for what torments Charles most: here, for example, he happens to be watching the attack and therefore understands that Charles is afraid of the crows. The passage is also a good example of a trope from Gothic novels, wherein the manor house seems to have a mind of its own: here, Warings almost seems to be pulling Charles back.
Charles hesitates and the turns back to the house. There, he finds Edmund, who tells him, “You were scared. You were running away.” He mocks Charles for being frightened of a crow, and Charles bites his wrist. Edmund recoils, but then becomes calm again. He smiles and dares Charles to go into the wood.
Edmund knows that he has just gotten some valuable information that he can use against Charles at any time: he has found out that crows frighten Charles. But Edmund’s words are ambiguous, suggesting that Charles is also afraid of Warings more generally, and may have been running away from not only the crows, but from Edmund and the manor.
Charles remembers being five years old and going with his father to a swimming pool. At the pool, a boy named Turville made fun of him for being afraid of the water. Charles was frightened by the water’s “glassy, artificial blueness.” Turville dared him to jump in the water, and Charles did so, feeling sick. Even Charles’s father laughed at him for the way he dove into the water, over and over again, never getting any less afraid. Charles realizes that he has no choice but to go into the wood: he has always taken people up on their dares.
Importantly, Charles isn’t scared of the water itself—he’s scared of the artificiality of the pool. In general, Charles is often shown to be frightened of excessive artificiality and control. The memory of the pool also emphasizes Charles’s servility: instead of standing up for himself, he’s willing to endure pain simply to obey others’ commands. Charles has a masochistic streak that only gets stronger throughout the novel.
Edmund walks out of Charles’s room, slamming the door behind him. He’s charmed by “having Kingshaw here, thinking of things to do to him.” He goes up into the attic of the house, where he finds a box. He removes a “thing” from the box, wraps it in an old shirt, and leaves the attic.
Edmund is beginning to enjoy his new position of power over Charles. He’s a sadistic child who takes pleasure in thinking of new ways of tormenting Charles. Hill suggests that this type of behavior may even come naturally to children.
Charles wakes up late at night, still thinking about Edmund. It occurs to him that Edmund isn’t used to being a bully yet—he’s just learning. And yet Edmund is inventive in the ways he tortures Charles. He glances at the clock, and suddenly sees something on his bed. It’s an old, stuffed crow. Charles forces himself not to scream. He knows Edmund wants him to be afraid. He stays still, frightened of touching the ugly bird. Charles wakes up early in the morning, and sees that the crow is still sitting on his bed. He wants to get rid of the crow, but doesn’t want to touch it. He decides that he’ll have to leave it there, night after night, until Mrs. Boland removes it. But that night, when he returns to his room, the crow is gone.
For the time being, Charles has enough self-control to prevent himself from screaming. Even though he knows that Edmund placed the crow there to frighten him, he’s still genuinely frightened—his knowledge of why the crow is there has no impact on his sense of shock. As an aside, it’s worth keeping in mind that Joseph already has a perfectly good housekeeper, Mrs. Boland, which makes it clearer that he has hired Helena to be his girlfriend, not his housekeeper.
Edmund returns the crow to the attic. He knows that Charles must have woken up and seen the crow but didn’t scream. At breakfast, Charles finds a toy in the cereal box, and Edmund makes a show of allowing Charles to use the toy, smiling sweetly. Charles looks at Edmund with hatred, but Joseph believes that the two boys are getting along well.
Even though Charles didn’t cry out in the night, Edmund still manages to get the upper hand—in the sense that, somehow, he’s certain that he has succeeded in frightening Charles, even though he heard no scream. And at the breakfast table, he is completely in control, expertly tricking Joseph into thinking that he and Charles are friends. His own confidence allows him to continue defeating Charles.
Later that day, Edmund offers to show Charles the Red Room. Charles doesn’t want to go into the room, but instead of saying “no” he only shrugs. That evening, Edmund fetches the key to the Red Room, opens the door, and leads Charles inside, telling him that there’s a huge collection of moths within. Charles doesn’t like the sight of dead moths and he hesitates. Edmund makes fun of Charles and calls him a baby. Then, suddenly, he runs out of the room and locks Charles inside.
Charles tries to open a window and sneak out of the room, splitting his thumbnail doing so. He doesn’t dare look around the room at the “stiff, animal bodies.” In the end, he’s unable to open the windows because they’re too old. He tells himself that he must not shout for help, or else Edmund will have won. Sitting by himself, Charles realizes that it’s important for him to stand up to Edmund, even if he doesn’t tell anyone about it. Eventually, he shouts for help, and his mother, along with Joseph Hooper, let him out of the Red Room. Charles just says, “I got locked in,” and runs off to his room, where he feels violently sick. The next day, when Joseph questions Edmund about what happened, Edmund feigns innocence, saying, “He’s stupid. Why didn’t he shout, then? I didn’t know he was in there, I never know what Kingshaw does.”
The passage symbolizes Charles’s overall frustration and claustrophobia at Warings. Charles is a prisoner—literally, since he can’t get out of the Red Room, and figuratively, since he can’t escape Edmund’s torments. But Charles sabotages his own chances of bettering his situation. In this passage, he’s so humbled by his battles with Edmund that he doesn’t complain about Edmund to either Helena or Joseph; he just goes to his room. Again, Edmund is careful to maintain the appearance of innocence, suggesting a knack for careful deception that is well beyond that of most children.
Charles tells himself that his torture will end someday. He remembers going to school at the age of seven. Unlike many of the other new students, he didn’t cry as he said goodbye to his mother. During his time at school, he enjoyed reading books, and the other students accepted him for who he was. He wrote to his mother that he was enjoying school, and prayed that he’d be able to stay at school forever.
Charles becomes nostalgic for his old life at boarding school. Whether or not he was actually as happy at school as he remembers being, he wants to go back—a common response for children who are thrust into new environments. The passage also foreshadows Charles’s conflicted relationship with his mother.