One day, while Edmund is visiting London with Joseph, Charles finds “the room.” This room of the house is small and seems to serve no “particular function of its own.” It contains, among other things, an armless chair, a table with a drawer, and a big glass cabinet containing dozens of old female dolls. Everything in the room seems to have been “dumped here arbitrarily.”
Charles is attracted to the least ordered, most chaotic room in Warings, perhaps because it seems easier to hide there from Edmund. The room symbolizes the arbitrariness of his own presence at Warings.
That day, Charles begins building a model of a ship. He enjoys being alone, since other people can be cruel. He thinks about the postcard he’s received from a boy named Devereux, who lives in Norfolk, explaining that he’s been sailing lately. Charles wishes he could be with his friend—but instead, he and his mother have moved to Warings. He thinks with embarrassment of something his mother told him after his father died: “You are all I have left now.”
Charles appears to have friends from his boarding school, who keep in touch even while they’re far away. Charles clearly longs to be with his friends (note the juxtaposition of his sad little model and Devereux’s mention of an actual sailboat). Charles seems to blame his mother for tearing him away from his old life. This isn’t particularly fair, however, since Helena moved to Warings to find work so she could support her child, not just herself.
Charles has never hated anyone before, but now he realizes that he hates Edmund. He’s frightened of his hatred, and wishes the feeling would disappear. But he knows that the feeling will never go away—not as long as he shares the house with Edmund.
Charles is a young kid, but he’s capable of feeling intense hatred for others. While Charles doesn’t seem as cruel by nature as Edmund, he certainly has some violent instincts—or perhaps Edmund is teaching him how to hate.
Meanwhile, on a train back from London, Joseph asks Edmund about his friendship with Charles. Edmund replies, “I can’t help it if he locks himself up, can I?” Joseph asks Edmund what Charles does alone in his room, and Edmund shrugs.
Edmund continues to keep his father in the dark about what’s really happening between him and Charles—and Joseph, being a weak parent, doesn’t know how to get more information.
The next passage, in quotations, is about a “hulking beast” with a scaly, muddy hide that seeks “blood and death.”
This passage—an excerpt from a comic book Edmund is reading—is presented without any context, showing how the novel swerves back and forth between the characters’ limited perspective and a third-person omniscient perspective. The description of the beast not only fits in with the overall themes of fear and nature in the book, but it also follows immediately after a description of Edmund, as if to create an association between the monstrous child and the bloodthirsty beast.
On the train, Joseph muses that he should talk to Charles’s mother, and posits that Charles is shy. Edmund shrugs again and resumes reading his comic book, about a “Marsh Monster.” Privately, Edmund is angry that Charles has been able to avoid him lately. In spite of himself, he respects Charles for not screaming at the stuffed crow.
Edmund claims that he doesn’t care about Charles at all, but in fact he depends upon Charles: like all bullies, he needs to feel his victim’s fear in order to feel completely secure. Edmund’s consumption of gruesome comic books, alluded to in this passage, might suggest where he gets some of his more sadistic ideas.
Joseph suggests that Edmund take Charles on an “expedition” beyond the house. This makes Joseph think of his own childhood, during which he was almost never allowed beyond the garden. He notices how pale his son is, and realizes that they’re alike in this way.
Whenever this novel depicts things from Joseph’s perspective, the tone is dull and lifeless. Joseph seems so passive: he’s decided that it’s hopeless to try to change Edmund, and instead he just satisfies himself with superficial observations about his son.
Back at Warings, Charles goes to bed early and makes “plans.” He tells himself, “it won’t go on forever.” For the next few days, he continues planning. He retreats to the doll room to prepare “the things,” knowing that what he’s about to do will surprise others and make them take him seriously.
Charles is planning something, but Hill doesn’t reveal what it is right away. Rather than continuing to passively accept Edmund’s abuse, it seems Charles is preparing to stand up for himself.
One morning soon after, Joseph greets Charles and shows him some games that he has found. Joseph suggests that Charles and Edmund should play them together. Helena Kingshaw, who’s listening, exclaims, “What a good idea!” and Joseph feels “more than ever satisfied” with her.
Hill doesn’t say why, exactly, Joseph is “satisfied” with Helena, but she implies that it’s because Helena supports his idea, showing that she’s interested in Charles and Edmund getting along (and, by extension, their two families coming together).
Charles and Edmund sit inside on a rainy day, holding the board games. Charles half-wonders if they’ll become friends, but then he remembers what he has planned to do. As he thinks about this, his mind is “blank with fear.” The two boys begin to play draughts (a popular English board game). At one point, Helena Kingshaw walks into the room and cheerfully offers them milk, which the boys accept, saying “thank you” and nothing else.
The passage emphasizes the divide between what the two boys are actually doing and what their parents think they’re doing. From Helena’s perspective, the boys are having an innocent game, while in reality, there’s a subtle battle of wills taking place between Charles and Edmund.
After lunch, Charles goes upstairs to the doll room, carrying a small bag. He finds Edmund waiting outside. Edmund demands to know where the key to the room is, and adds, “This is my house.” Charles insists that there’s nothing in the room—a statement which makes Edmund even more curious about what’s inside. Charles hesitates, and then pulls out the key to the room. He might as well show Edmund what he’s been working on, he decides.
Edmund’s feelings of ownership over Warings continue to surface in their disagreements, suggesting that the conflict between them is based, at least in part, in their different class backgrounds. Here, Charles again seems too willing to give in to Edmund’s demands rather than stand up to Edmund and conceal his plans for longer.
Inside the room, Edmund looks around. He asks Charles what he has in his bag. He snatches the bag from Charles and finds matches and other “things.” Edmund accuses Charles of being a thief, reminding him that he, Edmund, owns everything in the house. Then, suddenly, Edmund realizes what Charles has been working on. He whistles and says, “Cunning!” and then begins to laugh.
Hill still doesn’t reveal what Charles has been planning. She continues using intentionally vague words like “things,” with the result that, even after Edmund finds out about Charles’s plan, readers are still in the dark.
Edmund threatens to tell his father what Charles has been working on. But Charles points out that, since “I haven’t said anything,” Edmund has no way of telling on him. Edmund realizes that Charles is right. He studies the “things” once more and then says, “I shall come with you.”
Edmund’s parting words to Charles suggest that Charles is trying to go somewhere—and, most likely, he plans to run away from home, since that’s something he has tried to do previously. The fact that Edmund plans to follow Charles wherever he goes further emphasizes the point that Edmund, contrary to what he has said in the past, wants to be around Charles—even is the purpose is so that he can bully Charles. The distinction between Edmund’s desire for companionship and his desire to torture Charles seems not to exist.
For the next week, Charles thinks over his conversation with Edmund. He’s been working on this plan for a while, but now Edmund says that he’ll follow. The idea of Edmund taunting him while he’s enacting his plan is “the worst thing he could imagine. Even worse than going away alone.”
Charles clearly plans on running away from Warings., unable to stand it there any longer because of Edmund. Therefore, running away from Warings with Edmund would defeat the purpose of running away.
Meanwhile, Joseph feels “like a new man.” He plans to host cocktail parties. He also tells Helena Kingshaw, “You have given me new strength. I no longer feel so much alone.” Together, they plan a Sunday morning cocktail party, and they rejoice that their children are getting along.
The chapter ends on an ironic note: while their children are at each other’s throats, Joseph and Helena are getting closer, and perhaps even falling in love. They naively believe that children are innocent and gentle—an idea that could not be more at odds with Hill’s depiction of the boys.