Edmund and Charles, together in the wood, decide that they’ll have to seek shelter from the impending storm. Charles notices that Edmund has become quiet and shaky, and he senses that Edmund is scared. Charles doesn’t feel sorry for Edmund, but he doesn’t want to leave Edmund either. This means that he’ll have to “take charge.”
As a storm begins, Charles feels more secure than Edmund. He seems poised to assert his power over Edmund, forcing Edmund for the first time to obey him.
Charles removes his anorak (i.e., parka) from his bag and calmly tells Edmund to follow. He finds a thick patch of bushes and crawls underneath, telling Edmund that they’ll be safe and dry here. The boys crouch under the bushes for what feels like a long time. Eventually, the rain subsides, and the sun comes out. Charles emerges from the bushes and hears the sound of rushing water—it must be a stream. He thinks that Edmund will follow him from now on because of their experience with the storm. But then, Edmund orders Charles to follow him to the stream, adding, “I’m leader.” Charles follows.
Even after Charles asserts his authority, Edmund is able to snatch the role of leader back from him, without a second’s thought. Edmund refuses to play by the rules: instead of submitting to Charles, he just waits for the next opportunity to take control. Charles instinctively obeys Edmund, even though he could easily leave Edmund behind (which, it had seemed, is what he wanted to do all along). Therefore, on some level it seems Edmund bullies Charles because Charles allows Edmund to bully him.
As the boys walk, Charles notices a dead rabbit. Edmund asks Charles if he’s ever seen a dead animal or person before, and Charles says he hasn’t. Edmund says he saw his grandfather dead, and orders Charles to ignore the rabbit, saying “dead things … don’t matter.” Charles insists that dead things do matter, but doesn’t know how to prove it. He notices a horrible, red wound on the rabbit, and throws it away, into the distance. Edmund sneers, and Charles senses that Edmund has “paid [him] back for his own terror during the storm.”
Charles, who has been strongly associated with nature imagery, is more sympathetic to dead creatures—and therefore more frightened of them—than the cold, callous Edmund. Charles feels that Edmund has “gotten even” with him. Charles seems unable to protect himself against Edmund’s careful exploitation of his fears and weaknesses.
The boys walk toward the stream, and Edmund slips on the wet ground, sliding downhill. Charles walks after him. Edmund gets up, claiming that he’s found the stream and that he isn’t hurt at all. He says that they should follow the stream, since streams always lead out of woods—something Charles doesn’t really believe. Charles realizes that he doesn’t have to follow Edmund at all: eventually, Edmund is going to go home, but Charles is determined not to go back to Warings. Edmund threatens to leave Charles alone in the wood unless he comes along. Charles knows that Edmund would never do this, because he was frightened in the storm. But he follows Edmund, anyway.
Charles remembers, after having forgotten for a while, that he doesn’t have to do whatever Edmund says. However, Charles immediately falls back into the pattern of obeying Edmund. It seems Charles has to remind himself constantly that Edmund isn’t his boss. Again and again, his first instinct is to follow Edmund and follow Edmund’s orders.
As the boys walk by the stream, the wood gets darker. Eventually, Edmund stops and, his voice shaking, says that he’s tired of walking, and that he doesn’t like the dark wood. Charles calls Edmund a baby. He doesn’t like the dark wood either, but he refuses to admit it.
Charles tries to bully Edmund in the same way that Edmund has bullied him. He recognizes an opportunity to create an advantage for himself, since the boys are in mutually unfamiliar terrain for the first time.
Abruptly, Edmund removes his clothes and announces that he’s going to swim in the stream. Charles realizes, once again, that Edmund treats the expedition through the woods as a game, nothing more. Charles begins to feel strong and grown-up, as if he can do anything. He removes his clothes and jumps into the water.
Even though Charles is sometimes overly obedient and subservient, he’s more mature than Edmund in many ways. Whereas Edmund feels uncomfortable while he’s away from home, Charles seems to savor the independence that comes with leaving Warings: he feels invincible.
After a long while, the boys are still swimming, but the sun is going down. Edmund cries out that he has hurt his toenail. Charles offers to get an adhesive bandage from his satchel, and Edmund accepts. As Charles leaves the water, Edmund says that Charles looks like a puppet.
Even when Edmund finds himself in a subservient position to Charles—and Charles offers his help—Edmund continues bullying Charles, as if he’s afraid of losing his power.
Charles rummages through his bag and suggests that he and Edmund build a fire. He explains how to gather stones to build a hearth, and as he talks he begins to enjoy explaining things to Edmund, who suddenly seems like a “stupid baby.”
Here, Charles is at the height of his power over Edmund: alone in the woods, he’s more confident and capable than his pale, cloistered tormentor—whose wealth has made him helpless in such an environment.
Edmund walks toward Charles and tells Charles not to get cocky, since he can tell that Charles is still frightened of him. Edmund whispers that moths will come out at night. In spite of himself, Charles becomes afraid. He tells himself that Edmund “can’t do anything. It’s only things he says,” but nonetheless remains frightened. Charles wishes he could use Edmund’s fear against him, just as Edmund is using Charles’s fear against him. But he doesn’t know how; he just knows “he was the loser.”
Edmund senses that Charles is feeling confident, and so he tries his best to cut Charles down to size, reminding Charles of his secret fears. Charles is put in a frustrating position: he understands what Edmund is doing, but can’t stop Edmund from doing it. Again, Charles can’t seem to recognize that his sense of inferiority has given rise to a self-perpetuating drama in which he’s the loser because he feels like the loser.
Edmund asks where they are, and Charles replies that they must still be in Hang Wood. Edmund denies this—they’ve probably walked into Barnard’s Forest, which is much larger and harder to navigate. Edmund realizes that “they’ll never find us” and begins to scream and pound his fists on the ground. He begins to cry, even after Charles yells, “Shut up!” Eventually, Charles resumes building the hearth out of stones.
Edmund is a frightening character because he alternates between moments of deep cruelty and moments of utter immaturity. At times, he seems more like a wicked grown-up than an eleven-year-old boy, but at other times, he’s clearly still a little kid.
Charles remembers the string he packed, and tells Edmund that he’s leaving to see how far they are from the edge of the forest. He explains that he’ll tie string to a tree and unwind it, adding, “Someone did that once in history and they got away from a bull.” Edmund tells him not to leave, but then says, “You needn’t think I care if you get lost.”
Edmund clearly does care about Charles getting lost, since he’s terrified of being alone in the wood. When he mentions “a bull,” Charles is alluding to the legend of Theseus, who, with the help of a thread, was able to find his way through a vast labyrinth and kill the Minotaur, a half-human, half-bull creature. The allusion suggests that Charles himself is imprisoned in a psychological labyrinth that Edmund has created.
Charles unravels the string, walking into the distance. He notices a rabbit and wonders if he could kill it with his penknife. He catches the animal, but when he sees its small, bloodshot eyes, he realizes that he can’t kill it, adding, “It would have been easier for him to kill Hooper.”
Even when Hill depicts Charles behaving in a peaceful manner (i.e., choosing not to kill a rabbit), she does so in a way that suggests Charles’s capacity for a much deadlier act of violence (killing Edmund Hooper, a human being).
Charles considers walking away from Edmund for good, without even using the string. He’s confident that he could survive on his own in the wood, using his penknife. Yet he feels responsible for Edmund. He begins to retrace his path, getting closer to Edmund. By the time he returns, Edmund appears to be fishing in the stream. But as Charles approaches, he sees that Edmund is lying face down in the water. Charles pulls Edmund out of the water and drags him ashore. He tries rubbing Edmund’s back. Eventually Edmund regains consciousness, and begins to vomit and spew water out of his nostrils. While Edmund recovers, Charles builds a fire. Edmund moans, “My head hurts,” and Charles replies, “Well, you bashed it on a stone that’s why.”
Charles despises Edmund, but he instinctively refuses to leave Edmund alone and vulnerable in the forest. One could argue that Charles does so because he feels an innate sense of compassion for Edmund. However, it’s possible that he stays with Edmund out of a learned sense of obedience to his abuser. In either case, one thing is clear: Charles saves Edmund’s life in this scene.
Charles rummages through Edmund’s satchel and finds a cup and three white tablets, which he assumes must be aspirins. He fills the cup with water from the stream and then balances it over the fire. Meanwhile, Edmund asks Charles what he found, and Charles, not wanting to cause Edmund to panic again, claims that he’s not sure. Edmund insist that Charles is lying—he must have found the way out of the forest. He tells Charles not to sneak away—“If you do, I’ll kill you.” Charles calmly replies, “You won’t. I haven’t found a way out, if you want to know, I’ve got no idea where we are, so.”
Even though Charles has just done Edmund the greatest favor he could possibly do—saving Edmund’s life—Edmund continues to be nasty to Charles. Charles has become oddly calm as a result of his heroic deed, however: he feels mature and independent, as if he is an adult and Edmund is just an annoying child.