After his mother’s death Joseph Hooper moved to Warings to care for his dying father. It took quite some time to arrange old Hooper’s affairs. These were left in disarray and Joseph felt uneasy handling the paraphernalia of death. For the time being the house was kept as it was, until he could decide which furniture to get rid of, which of his own to bring. It was six years since the death of Ellen, his wife. Their only child. Edmund, had her ways of not bothering to explain, of making secrets, the same hardness and cool way of looking.
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Young Edmund takes his time to explore Warings. The Red Room has his special interest. It contains his grandfather’s collection of stuffed moths – some of them really rare – and lots of (unread) books. One moonlit night Edmund commits a forbidden act: he opens the showcase of the largest moth in the multitude and touches it. It is a symbolic performance, used by the writer to demonstrate that Edmund Hooper commands certain destructive powers. For the whole moth, already dead for years, immediately disintegrates and collapses into a soft, formless heap of dark dust.
Mrs Helena Kingshaw and Charles arrive at Warings. There is already a Mrs Boland for the cleaning and some cooking.
Edmund hates the idea that there will always be someone about the house to notice him. He decides to not to give anything of himself away, the other boy can be evaded, or warned off.
The afternoon they arrive he locks himself away in his room. He watches them, tilting the mirror. He refuses to come down, embarrassing his father. He drops a lump of plasticine wrapped in a piece of paper saying: ”I DON’T WANT YOU TO COME HERE.”
Their first meeting is a head-on argument, ending in Kingshaw having a bleeding nose as he is not used to this sort of hostility at all. He supposes he can reach some kind of truce with Hooper. But Hooper has won the firs round and he is determined to keep Kingshaw off-balance. He makes it perfectly clear that Kingshaw in unwanted: ”You still needn’t think you’re wanted here. This isn’t your place.”
Hooper grasps each opportunity to humiliate his new companion.
He shows him around in the house, running, so this red-haired city boy can’t keep up with him. He finds out Kingshaw is afraid of moths and bullies him into touching one. He tells him that Grandfather Hooper died in Kingshaw’s bed, just to make him afraid. He locks him in one of the sheds.
Exploring the vicinity of Warings Kingshaw is suddenly attacked by a crow. It’s not just a bird’s manoeuvring to chase the boy away; these are fierce, violent charges over and over again to hurt Kingshaw. Of course Hooper watches the scene from his window and that evening he goes out to find a stuffed crow in one of the attics. He silently slinks into Kingshaw’s room and puts it beside the sleeping boy’s pillow. But unexpectedly, Kingshaw reacts with self-control. He understands that Hooper is not used to being a bully, he is just learning. But unlike the usual bullies at school he is unpredictable, clever, inventive, ominous.
He finds an unused room with lots of cupboards and drawers, where dolls and toys are stored. Hooper doesn’t seem to be aware of the room. So Kingshaw works there quietly on his silver carton model of a helter-skelter fort. You can launch a marble from its top and it will roll down all the way.
Then, after Hooper challenges him in the Red Room to touch the moths and after being locked up again in a shed, Kingshaw decides to run away from it all.
He prepares the expedition very well: he hides a satchel, rope, matches and his penknife in the ”secret room” and waits for his opportunity.
In the distance is Hang Wood, a place where even Hooper daren’t go.
When his mother announces she will be away for a whole day, in London with Joseph Hooper, he knows the time has come. He knows Mrs Boland goes home at four each day and she will expect him to be out, playing somewhere.
He sets out at the break of dawn and reaches the wood unseen. Being afraid at first he gets to like the atmosphere. He likes the smell, and the sense of being completely hidden. The sounds of the birds, the wind in the trees, all forest sounds are not at all alarming. They give him the same welcome feelings as in his school.
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Then he notices the sound of breaking twigs: Hooper has followed him after all! Kingshaw it not angry, he only feels a dull sense of inevitability. His luck had not held, it has all been an illusion of freedom. To Kingshaw’s surprise the roles are slowly reversed! Hooper is afraid in the dark, becomes completely terrified in a thunderstorm, he cries out for his mummy in his dreams, he can’t even disembowel a fish! Had Kingshaw been a vindictive sort of person, this would have been his chance. But his feeling of triumph are only short-lived.
Hooper drops into a small river and bashes his head against a large stone. Kingshaw draws him on the bank. And so they are found, and Hooper puts the blame on Kingshaw completely. Again Kingshaw is shocked: he has saved Hooper drowning!
He finally realises Hooper is bad and that there is no escape.
His attitude towards his mother changes, he frequently talks back now. Helena is so embarrassed, as she and Joseph Hooper get to like each other more every day. She tucks him in his bed and promises to tell him an exciting bit of good news tomorrow. Kingshaw senses some terrible new secrets. If they get married he will never lose Hooper at all.
It’s worse. Joseph Hooper announces that next term, after the summer holidays he will not go back to his old school. Instead he will be going off to school with… Hooper! He is numb with fear. In his room he starts to whisper and chant: ”I will kill you, Hooper…”
A day before the wedding Mr Hooper takes ”his new family” out on a trip. Kingshaw climbs a tall ruin. Hooper, though afraid, follows him. He slips and falls down thirty feeth. Kingshaw thinks he is dead and he is convinced it has happened because he wished Hooper dead. But Hooper has only broken a leg and is hospitalised a few days. Helena Kingshaw spends most of her time at his bedside.
Then Kingshaw finds a new friend: Fielding, a kind, open-minded village boy.
But as soon as Hooper is back home again he steals Fielding away from him. It is clear that Helena has also betrayed him by closing ranks with both Hoopers. Kingshaw takes another walk to Hang Wood. The next day he is found, drowned, on the same spot where Hooper struck his head against a stone.
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