We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
The House of Dies Drear

The House of Dies Drear


by Virginia Hamilton

The House of Dies Drear Chapter 17 Summary

  • Thomas, Mr. Small, Mayhew and Mr. Pluto are in Mr. Pluto's cave home.
  • Mr. Pluto is very upset. He's telling Mayhew and Mr. Small that he's lived here, in the caves, for the past fifty years.
  • There is no way, he says, that he's going to the hospital, no way he's leaving the cave unprotected.
  • Mayhew asks him to listen, but Mr. Pluto won't. He thinks Mayhew and Mr. Small are trying to steal everything from him.
  • Mr. Small says that the foundation owns the land, and therefore the caves and the treasure, not Mr. Pluto.
  • He knows it's mean to say this to Mr. Pluto. Everything should belong to him.
  • But, Mr. Small knows the Mr. Pluto is living a life of fear. He thinks that by talking to him this way, he might get him to help find a solution that will make things better.
  • Mr. Small insists that they don't want to steal anything from the cavern, but rather to make sure it's protected from now on.
  • He explains to Pluto that if the foundation ever sold the land, and the new owner tried to dig a well, it could cause the cavern to collapse. If that happens, the treasure will be buried.
  • Mr. Pluto can't believe his land could be sold.
  • Mr. Small says it's not his land. He's just a groundskeeper, hired by the foundation. He has no claim on the property.
  • Mayhew says Mr. Small is wrong. His father does in fact have a claim on the treasure.
  • From a bookcase, Mayhew takes out a book.
  • In it is Dies Drear's will.
  • It says that the cavern, and everything in it, belongs to the first son of slaves who finds it.
  • Mr. Pluto says he wasn't even looking for the treasure.
  • He says that Dies Drear had built a wall hiding the treasure.
  • Mr. Pluto used to stare at the wall and "dream" (17.13) of finding something that had belonged to brave slaves.
  • Thomas asks if this is because Mr. Pluto is related to the two slaves who were murdered.
  • Mr. Pluto says he is not related to them. (Don't worry. The conversation will come back around to the wall Dies Drear built in just a few moments.)
  • When Mr. Small mentions that there were three slaves, and that one got away, Thomas gets excited. He asks if Mr. Pluto is related to that third slave.
  • Mayhew says that the third slave made it to Canada and had a very successful life there.
  • Mr. Small guesses that his grandson (Mr. Pluto) heard something about the legend and came to try to figure things out.
  • Apparently, according to Mayhew, when Dies Drear and the two slaves were murdered, another slave was still hidden in the house. When this slave emerged from hiding, he told a story of hidden wealth, and the story was passed down for generations.
  • This slave was probably related to River Swift Darrow.
  • That's probably how the Darrows got involved in trying to find the treasure.
  • (If you were confused when reading this part of the story, you aren't alone! It's hard to tell exactly what's going on.)
  • Mr. Pluto defends River Swift, who was Mr. Pluto's good friend when he was a young man.
  • At first the two of them were searching the caverns together, for something meaningful, something better than money.
  • But, River Swift was always greedy, Pluto says, and the more he thought about Dies Drear's wealth, the more convinced he became that there was gold hidden somewhere.
  • Pluto asks Thomas, his father, and Mayhew not to judge River Swift too harshly. He implies that he and River are both losers because they lost their friendship.
  • Mr. Small asks Mr. Pluto about the Greek cross made from the four triangles found in the house and Mr. Small's office. (See Chapter 9 for more on that.)
  • Pluto explains that the Darrows heard about the Greek cross being used to help slaves escape from slavery.
  • They don't really understand how it was used; they just leave them around to try to scare people out of the house of Dies Drear.
  • Mr. Small asks how the cross was used to help slaves escape.
  • Mr. Pluto says that the triangles were meant to be used individually, not put together.
  • Also, they weren't "fancy" (17.36) like the ones the Darrows made to scare Thomas and his family.
  • Rather, they were made from tree branches, or animal skins.
  • Someone trying to help a slave escape would nail a triangle to a tree.
  • These triangles were used to show the slave which direction to go.
  • The slaves knew never to move a triangle around the way Mr. Small did.
  • To read the triangle, the slave would need to stand right in front of it.
  • Then he/she needed to find the right angle of the triangle.
  • From the direction the right angle is pointing, the escaping slave would be able to tell which way to go!
  • (You'll really want to re-read Chapter 17 of your book for this part. There are pictures that make everything much clearer.)
  • Mr. Pluto says that an escaping slave might find many such triangles in a night of running. Each cross would show him/her the way.
  • These triangles, or Greek crosses would always lead to a single place, "the last hiding place after a slave left the house of Dies Drear" (17.56).
  • Thomas wants to know what place that is.
  • Mr. Small tells him that the last hiding place was "the Negro church" or the "freeman's church" (17.59). A running slave could blend into the congregation and evade capture by bounty hunters.
  • Now Thomas asks Mr. Pluto to finish telling him about the wall that Dies Drear built, the wall that concealed the treasure.
  • He obliges:
  • One day long ago, Mr. Pluto decides to paint the wall white. The next morning, when he wakes up, the wall is grey again, just like it was before!
  • Mr. Pluto realizes that the wall can't be made of limestone, but has to be made of dirt. He knows it's a man-made wall.
  • So, in secret, with much difficulty, he breaks the wall down with a hammer and buries the pieces.
  • Then, he finds another wall, this one with a little piece of rope hanging down. He ties more rope the piece, carefully pulls and then, presto chango, he finds the treasure!
  • Mr. Small asks Pluto if he knows that no court would ever award him the treasure.
  • Mayhew and Mr. Pluto say sadly that they do know. They are quite aware that they would never win in court.
  • All this amazes Thomas, but it seems to sadden Mr. Small. He says that now he doesn't feel so excited about scaring the Darrows.
  • Mayhew tries to convince him that scaring the Darrows is important work.
  • Thomas, feeling awe for Mr. Pluto now, asks if it's really necessary for Mr. Pluto to go to the hospital for them to carry out the plan.
  • Mr. Small thinks it would be a good idea for Pluto to stay as well.
  • Mayhew asks Mr. Pluto if he'd be willing to stay in the cave sleeping until the trick is over and the Darrows have run away.
  • Mr. Pluto wants to know why he can't participate. He doesn't think Mayhew will do a good job pretending to be him.
  • Why use an actor when you have the real thing?
  • Mayhew gives in. He's going to let his dad play himself when they scare the Darrows.
  • But, he makes Mr. Pluto promise he'll get checked out by a doctor when all this is over.
  • OK, he agrees, promising to see a doctor soon, even though he thinks he just needs a little rest.
  • Relieved, Mayhew says he's going to tell Mrs. Small about Mr. Pluto's promise.
  • That way, she can make sure he sees a doctor.
  • Mayhew says that in that case, he'd better play Dies Drear. Mr. Small can be a slave ghost with Thomas.
  • Thomas wants to know what part his mother will get to play now.
  • Mayhew says he hopes she'll be happy helping them get ready, and Mr. Small says he'd rather she do that anyway. He was feeling nervous about her participating in the actual scaring.
  • It's afternoon now, Monday afternoon, and Thomas, Mr. Small and Mayhew leave Mr. Pluto to prepare for the night ahead, the night of scaring the Darrows.
  • Thomas is excited to try out his acting skills. He hopes he has some talent!

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...