Mrs. Small says there is something "sinister" (threatening, evil) about the house.
They didn't know she was awake and listening to them.
Thomas tells her he knows she's just as eager to come to a new place as Thomas and his dad are.
She smiles, even though she's nervous about living in a house that used to be a station on the Underground Railroad.
(As you probably know, the Underground Railroad was the name given to a network of people who helped slaves runaway to freedom. Read more about it in "Setting" and check out lots of great links in "Best of the Web." For even more, check out Shmoop's guide to "Abolitionism.")
Anyhow, Thomas wants to hear all about the Underground Railroad and the house.
His dad says the new town has a good college in it, but that the house isn't in town. (1.51).
Continuing, his dad says that he never got complete copies of the floor plan of the house. Apparently, it's full of "hidden rooms" (1.52) and nobody knows how many.
His dad thinks it's weird that the plans came up missing.
Mrs. Small says that she knows there's something strange about the house.
Mr. Small gives his wife a look, and she drops the subject.
Mr. Small tells Thomas that the new house is in a pine forest, like their old house.
Then he tells Thomas that the house has an "air of desolation" (1.60). ("Desolation" means extreme sadness.)
It's near the town, but there are no other houses close by.
Thomas says he wishes they would get there. He really hopes he likes the new house. That would be the best birthday present.
For his birthday, he'd gotten a book about the US Civil War, the Underground Railroad, and slavery. He skims the book now, not noticing his brothers sleeping against him.
The book says that some forty thousand slaves had passed through Ohio on their way to freedom in Canada.
Thomas already knows lots of things about slavery. His father is teaches history and specializes in the Civil War. He taught it back in their home in North Carolina and will teach it now in Ohio.
Thomas thinks that some of those forty thousand slaves probably stayed in Ohio, for whatever reason, instead of going all the way to Kentucky.
He asks his dad if he thinks any slaves from North Carolina passed through Ohio.
His father is a bit surprised by the question, and can tell Thomas has been reading the book.
He says that definitely some of the slaves from North Carolina (which is part of the South) must have gone to Ohio.
Thomas is excited to read the rest of the book.
He even considers waking up the twins, Billy and Buster, and reading it to them. They can only understand a little, but they love it when Thomas reads to them.
They also love pine, but they can't carve yet, the way Thomas can.
Thomas is so good at wood carving that people often showed up at their North Carolina home to buy carvings from him.
Most of his stuff he kept for himself.
When he carved something for Billy or Buster, they always knew which one it was for, without him having to tell them.
Thomas knows that they are truly excellent brothers.
He also knows that if the new house is haunted, his brothers will know it and tell him.