Dorothy phones to say that she’s taking a break from helping Sarah and Harriet for a few weeks because she’s tired. Harriet is beside herself at this news and Dorothy breaks down and agrees to come help. When Dorothy arrives, she knows right away that Harriet is pregnant again. She reprimands them for their lack of responsibility, complaining that they are selfish and think of her as a servant. Harriet rushes from the room, upset, and David tells Dorothy that he doesn’t believe Harriet has been herself lately. Dorothy says she’ll provide childcare again but that she can’t do it alone. David joins Harriet in bed that night and Harriet asks David to feel her stomach. He feels an immediate jolt from the three-month-old fetus. They wonder if the pregnancy is further along than they thought.
Even when Dorothy tries to step away from the significant demands being placed on her time, she is unable to because of her empathy for her daughter’s situation. Harriet is unable to prioritize her own mother’s well-being over her own, an idea that will echo through the rest of the novel in other permutations. David refuses to agree with Harriet that the baby’s activity at this stage is abnormal, instead looking for a more logical reason for the behavior. This begins a long series of people refusing to recognize this fifth child as being a special case of some sort.
Harriet visits Dr. Brett who admits he might be off by a month in estimating the date of conception, but if so, he says Harriet’s carelessness is to blame. Harriet hopes for an explanation, but Dr. Brett insists there’s nothing unusual about the child’s movement. He recommends Harriet take it easy. The family arrives to celebrate Christmas and wait on Harriet, but each time David or Harriet enters a room, it’s clear people have been talking about them. Paul, the youngest child, seems hungry for attention, but Harriet doesn’t have the strength or energy to provide it for him. A fourth girl arrives to help with housework, but she isn’t useful. The holiday ends more quickly because of the change in the atmosphere.
Dr. Brett blames Harriet for any mistake made in determining how far along her pregnancy might be and he minimizes Harriet’s complaints by recommending only rest. Harriet remains agitated by both her physical discomfort and the lack of sympathy she receives from others. This carries through to the family when they visit for Christmas, judging Harriet and David for continuing on with what they see as careless pregnancies. Already the fetus’s activity is pulling Harriet away from nurturing young Paul in the way he needs.
David and Harriet look for a trained nanny in London, but their search is unsuccessful. Instead, Frederick’s widow cousin Alice, who is down on her luck, comes to help Dorothy, who struggles with having to share her authority. Harriet returns to Dr. Brett at five months. She feels as though the fetus is “trying to tear its way out of her stomach.” Dr. Brett says the fetus is large and active and he prescribes Harriet a sedative for her nerves. Harriet also begs her friends for tranquilizers, keeping this dependency secret, even from David. David, too, seems overwhelmed by the fetus’s strength, but he believes Harriet is overreacting. Harriet paces to distract herself from the intense sensations prompted by the fetus.
Harriet and David, having rejected all help from outside the family until this point, finally find a workable solution in a distant family member. Alice, who isn’t a blood relative, is still tenuously family, which shows how this child is already redefining Harriet and David’s ideas about family. Harriet continues her streak of seeing the fetus as malevolent, making no effort to hide this belief from the doctor, in an attempt to appeal to his sympathies. This effort backfires, and Harriet is treated as though she is simply a hysterical woman for not being content with her pregnancy as she has been before. David reinforces this point in refusing to take Harriet’s complaints seriously. Harriet, because of this response, takes matters into her own hands, and communication between Harriet and David begins to break down.
Though Harriet says they can’t host Easter in her current state, the rest of the family insists. However, when the rest of the family arrives, it’s clear the atmosphere has become hostile because of the stress of Harriet’s pregnancy. Harriet begins to refer to the fetus as an enemy. Time passes slowly for the sixth month of the pregnancy. Harriet thinks of the being inside her as a hybrid creature: a lion and a dog or a tiger and a goat. She imagines the fetus clawing her from the inside. In the seventh month, Harriet increases the amount of drugs she takes, hoping to quiet the fetus, and she speaks mentally to the fetus insisting he remain docile.
The family environment that Harriet and David have worked hard to establish is increasingly affected by Harriet’s ill temper. Her attempt to control the child inside of her is a refusal of its otherness even before he is born. She begins to detach from her notion of it as her human child, imagining it as a fantastic beast, distancing herself from the idea that her own genetics are at all to blame for its behavior.
Luke begs David for a story one night during dinner. David tells the story of two children, a boy and girl who set out in the forest for an adventure. Jane watches her siblings to see how they react and copies them. Harriet hears a television broadcast about murders in a London suburb and flips it off. The children in the story find various sweets, including a pool of orange juice, to sate themselves and they nap under a bush. Suddenly, the little girl discovers she is alone and tries to find her way out, but cannot. When she comes upon the pool again, she finds it is water instead of orange juice. When she looks into the pool for a fish she might ask for help, she sees only the face of a girl staring back at her, but it’s a nasty girl she has never seen before.
The story David tells clearly mirrors David and Harriet’s marriage. The sweets represent all that is going well in the early years, and the reflection the girl finds in the pond is clearly a metaphor for the irritable turn Harriet’s personality has taken. The way Jane watches the other children and learns how to behave is an important touchstone for the way children are socialized by their environment, which will come back later in the novel. The slowly changing environment of the suburbs around the house also positions the house as a safe haven, even when the outside world threatens to intrude.
The children beg to learn what happened. Harriet wants to tell David to stop because she believes the story is actually about her. Dorothy cuts David off and says that the little girl left the nasty girl in the water and ran until she found her brother, who was also looking for her, and they ran to safety out of the forest. David confirms this to be the end of the story. The children want to know who the girl in the water was, and David says he doesn’t know, that she just materialized. David explains the word to the children saying, “It is when something that wasn’t there suddenly is there.” The children are ushered up to bed.
Harriet’s ability to recognize herself in the story matches the way she believes she’s being misunderstood, but she stops short of saying so in order not to frighten the children. Dorothy also seeks to protect the children by pasting a happy ending onto the story, even if it rings false in real life. David’s definition of “materialized” is important in the way it suggests that the changes in Harriet’s behavior are unprecedented.
On his way up to bed, Luke asks if everyone is coming for the summer holidays. Dorothy and David look to Harriet for the answer because she’ll have given birth just before, but Harriet says yes. David compliments Dorothy again, thanking her, but Dorothy appears immune to the rote thanks. David encourages Harriet to put off a gathering until Christmas, but she suggests perhaps the baby will be born early, so it won’t be trouble to have people for the summer holiday.
Harriet’s refusal to acknowledge that family life is changing and her willful optimism that the child will be born sooner rather than later show her insistence on idealistic hope rather than setting more realistic expectations. Selfishly, Harriet also wants people around so that she might have help with the children.
At eight months pregnant, Harriet asks Dr. Brett to induce the baby. Dr. Brett is skeptical, not seeing why this pregnancy is different from the ones before. Harriet stops herself short of calling the fetus a monster, but she asks the doctor if he thinks she’s an unreasonable woman. Dr. Brett won’t go that far, but he says he believes Harriet is worn out and that she’s never dealt well with pregnancy. Harriet begs him to see that the baby moving visibly in her stomach is a different case. The doctor prescribes more sedatives in response. Harriet believes the doctor refuses to see the difference in this pregnancy, just as the rest of her family also refuses to acknowledge the hardship of her situation. On the walk home from the doctor, Harriet fantasizes about cutting the child out of her. She can’t imagine what she’ll see emerge from her.
Dr. Brett continues his refusal to comply with Harriet’s requests, expecting a consistency between prior pregnancies and this one, rather than recognizing an exception. The solution he suggests is a mere band-aid: more sedatives, an option that places the blame firmly on Harriet’s state of mind rather than on any action of the fetus itself. Harriet’s vision of removing the child from her is a metaphor for the distance she wishes to put between her and the child and the violence of the way she would do it is the first indication that she wishes harm on her it. She continues to see the fetus as an unimaginable other.
Soon after, Harriet goes into labor and insists on being taken to the hospital. The child fights its way violently out of her as she exclaims, “Thank God, thank God, it’s over at last!” The nurses comment on the toughness of the baby and tell Harriet that she’s given birth to a healthy boy. Dr. Brett says, “He came out fighting the whole world.” The 11-pound child is placed in her arms and immediately it seems as though he is trying to stand up. David looks on with some alarm, calling the baby a “funny little chap.” The child is strange-looking, with a sloped forehead and a wedge of yellow hair, thick hands and green-yellow eyes. Harriet does not recognize the child as her own and immediately pities him for this fact. She calls him a troll or goblin, and then tries to make up for it by cuddling him.
Harriet’s joy at finally being separated from the fetus is a strange response for a mother giving birth. While the nurses and doctor recognize the unusual strength and temperament of the boy, they don’t go so far as to identify him as abnormal. David, too, is stricken by the unusual appearance of the child, minimizing his surprise with a forced term of endearment. Harriet, however, is immediately conflicted about the child, feeling no connection to him, but already feeling bad about this response. She relegates him to the status of some other type of being and then tries to take it back by showing him affection.
Harriet tries to breastfeed the child, as everyone in the hospital room looks on, strained, but the child bites down hard. Harriet removes him and refuses to attempt to feed him again. The nurse reluctantly takes the child, who has not cried since he was born. The other children are brought in to meet their brother. Harriet notes David holding Paul and mourns the way she hasn’t spent enough time with her last baby, one that seems rightly small and sweet. Harriet notes that the new baby seems of a different substance than her other children and states that they will name him Ben. Ben refuses the touch of his siblings and Harriet wonders “what the mother would look like, the one who would welcome this—alien.” After a week, when Harriet feels herself up to the struggle of looking after Ben, they head home.
The idea of the child doing harm to Harriet continues outside the womb as he attempts breastfeeding for the first time. Harriet insists the child be taken from her despite the refusal of the staff, putting physical distance between her and the newborn. The baby’s strength is reinforced in his lack of crying, and Paul provides a foil to the newborn in how comparatively easily Paul fits into the role of sweet little baby. Ben instinctively rejects the touch of his biological family, and Harriet fails to identify with the child so much that she can’t even imagine what mother could be content with such a strange child. Harriet must bolster her strength for the reality of caring for this child on her own.
That night, at home, Harriet nurses Ben who empties the first breast in under a minute, biting down hard near the end. David watches, astonished, and Harriet bitterly quotes the hospital, calling ben a “normal healthy, fine baby.” David bristles at Harriet’s anger. Ben bellows, practically standing as Harriet tries to burp him. She lays Ben down on his cot and crawls into bed, worried David might sense the ugly thoughts in her head.
Harriet, despite her conviction that there is something wrong (or at least different) about Ben, begins a habit of quoting the words of others in defining how normal they insist he is. Ben shows an unnatural strength, and Harriet waits for David to acknowledge the issue rather than her having to be the one to call it out, but when David says nothing she fears that she is in fact alone in her point of view.
Harriet quickly grows intolerant of the constant, violent feedings and she tells Dorothy, who’s been watching with some degree of fascination if not fear, that she plans to transition Ben to bottle-feeding. Dorothy, who Harriet believes would normally object, agrees at once that it’s a good idea. Dorothy reminds Harriet that the family will be coming for the summer soon, and Harriet identifies with the change in Dorothy’s voice: “So do people speak whose thoughts are running along secretly in channels they would rather other people did not know about.”
Harriet continues detaching herself from this child at a more accelerated pace than with her other children by calling breastfeeding quits with the support of her mother who clearly identifies the pain and threat of continuing to feed Ben in this way. When Dorothy mentions the family visiting over the summer, it’s as though she’s waiting for Harriet to say that it might not be a good idea, unwilling to be the one to voice unjustified qualms about the child being in the company of others.
Dorothy buys the bottles and David agrees it’s a good idea. Ben empties a bottle almost instantaneously and roars for another. He empties that one, too, holding it himself. Harriet calls him a Neanderthal baby and David pities the child. Harriet requests that he pity her instead. Someone tries to settle her, saying, “The genes have come up with something special this time,” but Harriet questions what that something is. No one knows how to answer this.
The decision not to breastfeed is confirmed as a good choice though Harriet feels justified in criticizing the child, and David is not willing to go so far, trying to sympathize with the child. Harriet sees herself, not Ben, as the one who needs care, and she feels that she’s been deprived all this time of appropriate concern. Ben’s difference is again acknowledged but diminished in referring to his attributes as simply “special.”
Ben eats twice the amount recommended for his age and comes down with an infection. When Harriet takes him to see Dr. Brett, he admonishes Harriet for discontinuing breastfeeding, but Harriet shows him her bruised breasts and asks for a prescription for diarrhea, saying “After all, I don’t want to kill the nasty little brute.” Dr. Brett responds that it’s not unnatural to dislike one of your children. Despite Ben raising himself onto all-fours (at two months old), Dr. Brett insists there’s nothing wrong with the child, but his tone contains a note of bafflement.
Dr. Brett continues to criticize Harriet’s choices, minimizing her distress. Harriet proves her point, but takes on a nasty tone with the doctor, making light of wanting only to help Ben back to health rather than eradicating him entirely. Dr. Brett’s words insist that Harriet’s interpretation of Ben’s behaviors rests more on Harriet’s dislike of Ben than on his actual actions, but his actions seem to bolster Harriet’s belief that Ben’s strength is unnatural and unnerving.
The extended family descends on the Lovatt house for the summer holidays. Harriet notes the cheery way Paul behaves when held and entertained by everyone, and how this nature is often obscured by Ben’s demands. Ben’s cot is moved into the children’s room to try to socialize him, but it doesn’t work because of Ben’s constant bellowing and refusal to be treated sweetly. The family seems flummoxed by Ben’s odd appearance and behavior, and one day Harriet hears her sister Sarah say, “That Ben gives me the creeps. He’s like a goblin or a dwarf or something.” Harriet feels bad about this comment, but she can’t help but agree.
The extended family’s meeting of Ben is important in showing both the way people refuse to meet Ben’s differences head-on and the fact that at least one of them is willing to relegate Ben to the status of other in the same way Harriet has. Harriet is affirmed in finally hearing someone else echo her thoughts, but she is also conflicted about the cruelty of such sentiments, especially when coming from another person. Ben continues to fail at being socialized and all of those efforts to nurture Ben begin to chip away at the care and attention owed to baby Paul.
Harriet tries to spend some time each day petting and playing with Ben, but he resists all tenderness. At four-months-old he pulls himself up to standing. Soon after, he bites into Harriet’s thumb and she feels the bone bend. Ben smiles triumphantly. Harriet says, “You aren’t going to do me in. I won’t let you.” Harriet tries to make Ben “ordinary,” incorporating him into family life in the same way she has the other children, but the family scatters when Ben is in the room, since they’re afraid of him. Eventually Harriet begins to shut Ben into his room alone, but he doesn’t seem to mind. James stops through to drop off a check to pay for all the hosting needs.
Harriet tries to give Ben the nurturing the other children have needed, convinced she might change his nature. She sees him as innately set on harming her, though, and sees that Ben has the ability to threaten her well-being. Because Ben’s presence is so unnerving and the family can’t stand to acknowledge it, Harriet sequesters Ben, refusing him further opportunities to socialize. The Lovatts are clearly still experiencing financial hardship, as shown by James’s appearance with a check in his hand.
Lying in bed one night, Harriet says to David that she believes people come to their house for a good time and nothing more. David, surprised, asks what else it would be they came for. It is revealed that they have not resumed lovemaking since Ben was born, as they both fear the possibility of producing another child like him, even if they were extremely careful. It’s as though Ben had willed himself into existence. Just after the summer holidays, as the school year commences, Paul puts his arm through the bars of Ben’s crib and Ben grabs Paul’s hand, bending his arm backwards and badly spraining it. Dorothy and Alice free Paul from Ben’s grasp, and Ben crows with pleasure. The children become fearful of Ben after this, and Dorothy and Alice remark on what a shame it is. Harriet feels this is an attack on her.
Harriet’s distress at the way the family has treated Ben is revealed in the way she begins to resent their once-treasured visits, and David can’t understand her change of heart. Despite Harriet being the only one to acknowledge Ben’s concerning behavior verbally, the fact of their suspended intimacy shows that David, too, is not pleased with the outcome of their last pregnancy. Ben is seen not as a product of a natural process, but as some self-determined miracle. Paul is the first victim of Ben’s brute strength and lack of empathy, and the children identify immediately the threat their brother poses to them, too. Harriet’s belief that others blame her for Ben’s behavior shows her growing paranoia and persecution.
The day after, Alice excuses herself from the house, saying she’s no longer needed because Jane is being sent to school (a full year ahead of schedule, because of Ben’s presence in the house, though no one will admit it). Privately Alice has told Dorothy that she believes Ben might be a changeling. David and Harriet wonder, to each other, if this six-month-old child might destroy their family life. At nine months, Harriet catches Ben just as he is climbing over the bars of his crib. He walks easily and breaks every toy they give him to pieces. One morning, Harriet wakes suddenly and runs to Ben’s room, finding him balanced on the open windowsill. She rescues him, but thinks to herself, “What a pity I came in,” and finds herself unsurprised by this sentiment. They install heavy bars on the window.
Alice, not tied to the family by blood, immediately separates herself after registering the threat of Ben. She makes excuses so as not to offend anyone, though she is willing to share her real thoughts with Dorothy. David, too, acknowledges that Ben has the potential to destroy everything good about the family. Ben’s growing strength threatens not only his own life but also the condition of the world around him, symbolized in his inability to play gently with his toys. Harriet’s mothering instincts are still strong, even though she wishes it weren’t so. She believes it is still her job to protect him even if he is altering the idyllic family life they had before.
At the Christmas holidays, Ben is kept in his room. The family politely asks about his well-being, but doesn’t press for details. The atmosphere is constrained by the specter of the child locked away upstairs. Harriet feels that the family looks at her as if she is a criminal for having given birth to such a “freak.” David insists that Harriet exaggerates everything and hopes that they might align themselves again. Cousin Bridget visits at Easter and inquires as to what it is that’s wrong with Ben, and Harriet, following others’ suit, says nothing is wrong with him. Bridget leaves and never returns to the house. At the 1975 summer holidays, fewer guests visit, saying they haven’t the funds to make the trip. Dorothy notes that people hadn’t found it difficult to visit before for weeks at a time at the expense of the Lovatts.
The quick succession of family gatherings makes it clear that Ben’s presence in the family is changing the once-merry atmosphere of the Lovatt house. Harriet feels blamed for this, though it’s unclear if that’s truly the case or if she’s misinterpreting others’ treatment of her. While Cousin Bridget had once been Harriet and David’s ideal audience in their performance of ideal family life, Bridget is the first to question Ben’s condition and then absents herself when Harriet continues her ruse of parroting that nothing is wrong with him. While family members make excuses for why they can’t visit, and Harriet tries to force herself into believing them, Dorothy insists on a more realistic point of view.
Ben, over a year old and yet to speak a word, can’t be kept in his room any longer. He observes how the children talk and behave, seemingly aware that he should be like them. The other children turn away from him, unnerved by his gaze. A summer guest brings along a dog that Ben obsessively follows around. One morning Harriet finds the dog dead and believes Ben is to blame. She locks Ben in his room again, fearing he might do the same to a child. The family, horrified, also assumes that Ben killed the dog, and a vet says the dog was strangled. Guests return home early. Three months later, the Lovatts’ old grey cat is killed in the same way.
Ben, despite his attempts to assimilate, and his awareness that that is what’s expected of him, can’t control his violent nature. Though the family doesn’t have proof that Ben is to blame for the death of the dog, their understanding of what he is capable of is understood if unspoken. Despite Harriet’s locking Ben away, the few remaining guests are disturbed by this event and retreat from the house. A second occurrence of the same sort, though similarly unproven, reinforces these assumptions.
At Christmas, the house is half empty. Harriet reflects on the worst year of her life. Ben has taken to trying to escape the house, running down the street. Harriet has had to run as much as a mile, chasing him through traffic, desperate to save him, but also thinking, “Oh, do run him over, do, yes, please.” Eventually she catches him and wrestles him into a taxi. Harriet takes Ben to Dr. Brett who says he’s hyperactive. He asks what Harriet expects him to do: “Drug him silly? Well, I am against it.” Harriet would appreciate this outcome, but keeps it to herself.
Harriet is unable to find joy in the introduction of Ben into the Lovatt family. Though she wishes him gone, she can’t help but try to keep him safe by chasing after him when he runs away, while simultaneously hoping for the worst. This conflict is essential to understanding Harriet’s psyche. Ben’s running away seems to indicate that the baby is also not happy with his family life. Dr. Brett offers no solutions to Ben’s behavior, reducing his misbehavior to minor issues.
Dorothy suggests she might stay alone with Ben for a week in August so the rest of the family can have a vacation together. None of the regular extended family has asked to visit this summer. Harriet, David, and the four oldest children go to France and marvel at their happiness sans-Ben. When they return home, Dorothy is tired and bruised. She sits David and Harriet down in the kitchen to tell them that Ben must be put in an institution. Harriet says that no institution will take him because the doctor says he is normal.
The family gatherings have truly come to a close here, signaling the end of the era. Dorothy’s offer to care for Ben on her own indicates her understanding that Ben’s presence is negatively affecting family life. Harriet feels guilty for enjoying her time away from Ben so deeply, but is snapped quickly back to reality when Dorothy’s time alone with Ben (when Harriet had previously been his sole caregiver) prompts Dorothy to recommend they permanently remove Ben from family life. Harriet’s imagination can’t accommodate such a possibility because Ben’s otherness has been so consistently denied by everyone else.
Harriet and David resume making love, but it’s not the same because of the apprehension they bring to the possibility of accidentally conceiving again. At night, they discuss what can be done about Ben. Harriet regrets that she became so consumed with looking after Ben that she forgot to feed the other children one night, and Helen stepped in to make dinner.
Harriet and David, even when physically close again, remain distanced from one another because of Ben’s presence in the family. Harriet regrets her neglect of the children, but is unable to see what other option they have when Ben demands such devoted care. Harriet is blinded by her devotion to Ben, despite her dislike of him.
Harriet invites the family, determined to have a regular Christmas. Sarah asks if Amy will be safe in the house, and Harriet says yes, as long as they never leave her alone with Ben. Sarah comments that they’ve both been dealt a bad hand, but Harriet doesn’t believe fate is to blame for Amy’s Down Syndrome. At Christmas, the house is festive and noisy, but Harriet is eager for it to end, strained by watching Ben monitor Amy’s every move. Amy, adored by all now, tries to show Ben affection, but she, too, can tell that something is off about Ben.
Harriet’s competing idealism and fatalism are still vying for the spotlight. While she wants to pretend that the family can still have a pleasant holiday together, when her sister tries to commiserate with her about having children who require special attention, Harriet refuses to identify with her. Harriet registers the differences in behavior between Ben and Amy, surprised that even Amy can recognize something wrong with Ben.
Just after Ben turns two years old, Paul is sent to a nursery school to get away from Ben. Paul has begun having violent tantrums to try to get Harriet’s attention away from Ben. Dorothy departs to help with Sarah’s family for a while and Harriet is alone with Ben during the daytimes. She plays with him and he is able to mimic her actions, but he can’t seem to understand why he would want to. Harriet sees him stalk a bird in the yard and nearly catch it.
Harriet sends Paul to nursery school in an attempt to protect him, but this gesture has also had the negative effect of making Paul feel further distanced from his mother. Harriet spends time trying to connect with Ben, but she notes in him an inability to connect the what with the why. He has a fundamental desire to conform, but it lacks reasoning. His predatory instincts are confirmed in his hunting of the bird in the garden.
One day, Ben begins to talk, surprisingly in full sentences, saying, “I want cake.” The children encourage him and Ben watches them closely, studying how they act and react. Harriet notes that Ben is easier now, but Dorothy, returning to the Lovatt home, says that that is just Harriet’s point of view. Dorothy tells Harriet that she leaves the mothering of the other children to Dorothy, focusing all her attention on Ben, and that it’s not right. After Ben turns three, the house is only partly filled for Christmas. Amy brings along a large companion dog that all the children love, but one morning Harriet sees Ben approaching the dog with his hands out and calling to him. The dog runs away and everyone sees this interaction.
Ben’s ability to talk in full sentences shows that he is taking in more information than the rest of the family can tell, suggesting that they might be underestimating his intelligence. Harriet’s credibility as a protagonist is called into question when Dorothy says that Harriet’s belief that Ben is better behaved now is only her point of view. Dorothy criticizes Harriet’s distribution of her attention. Harriet continues, uncertain of what other option there might be, remaining devoted to Ben, perhaps even more-so, when he nearly attacks Amy’s pet dog at the holidays. Ben’s predatory nature is spotlighted to the family.
After seeing this, Frederick tells Harriet that Ben must be put into an institution and Harriet says they’ll have to find a doctor willing to diagnose Ben as abnormal. David asks who will pay for such a thing, and Frederick answers that James will have to pay the majority, but that Frederick and Molly will chip in (the first time they have offered financial help), though everyone knows their chipping in won’t be significant. James says he’ll do what he can, but that business has not been especially good lately. The family acknowledges that they’ll need to find a place that exists purely to take on children that families want to be rid of, because the alternative is catastrophe. David agrees firmly and Harriet agrees reluctantly.
Despite Dorothy having recommended such a drastic measure before, it’s a man who is not related to the family by blood who is finally listened to when he recommends Ben be removed from the house. The necessity of this action is so clear, that even Molly and Frederick, who have been previously stingy in their support, offer to pay some of the cost of an institution. While it’s assumed James will cover the rest of the cost, even James pulls back, claiming his business isn’t currently flourishing, but doubt is cast on this idea, suggesting that, in fact, his reason for not wanting to pay could be that he doesn’t want any responsibility in this matter.