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The House of Dies Drear

The House of Dies Drear


by Virginia Hamilton

The House of Dies Drear Chapter 2 Summary

  • The Smalls are still in the car. They drive past Pisgah National Forest, out of North Carolina, and into Virginia.
  • Thomas is thinking about the new house and about how it used to be a "station" on the Underground Railroad.
  • It was a place where slaves fleeing to Canada could hide and rest.
  • For a long time it had been Mr. Small's dream to live in such a house. He had gotten a report on the house from the foundation who owned it, and who had put it up for rent.
  • In the report it said that the people who ran the house in Ohio would encourage runaway slaves to go back into slavery after they had escaped.
  • Thomas couldn't understand this. Why would a slave go back?
  • (We were wondering the same thing! Bear with us a moment for the answer.)
  • Mr. Small had explains that slaves who were fleeing had to be very strong, brave, and smart to keep from getting caught.
  • The man who first owned the house that the Smalls are moving to was named Dies Drear.
  • (For more on this funny sounding name, check out "Names" in "Character Clues.")
  • Drear was an abolitionist (person who believed that slavery should be abolished).
  • Of slaves who had escaped, Drear organized the bravest and strongest men and women to go back into slavery to try to free others.
  • Drear was from a family of wealthy shipbuilders and was an unusual person. Most of the other abolitionists in Ohio thought his plan to send slaves back into slavery was crazy.
  • One odd thing he did was hoard antiques. The house was full of them, but he never sold them or displayed them.
  • All those treasures were stolen when the house was "plundered" (robbed), and Dies Drear was murdered.
  • In any case, the dangerous plan to send escaped slaves back into slavery to help others began to work. As a result, both freeman (ex-slaves) and slaves began to really admire him; some were even in "awe" of him. ("Awe" is overwhelming wonder and admiration, and the base of the word "awesome.")
  • Slaves and freeman began to call Drear "Selah" (2.18). This name helped keep Drear's identity secret, which was important because all his abolitionist activities were highly illegal.
  • Selah, Mr. Small explains, "is a musical direction to raise the voice" (2.18).
  • For the people who found hope in Dies Drear and his plans, "Selah" meant "freedom."
  • Thomas is thinking about the report that the foundation in Ohio had sent Mr. Small.
  • The report talked about three slaves who had been hidden by Dies Drear.
  • Everybody thought they were fleeing North to Canada, but they were actually coming from Canada, headed South to help free slaves.
  • They were caught. Two of them were killed by the bounty hunters that captured them.
  • That same week, Dies Drear was murdered in his home.
  • Thomas remembers his dad got very excited while staying up late reading the thick report.
  • When his father went to Ohio for ten days to check out the house, Thomas read the report.
  • In the report, he found out what his father hadn't told him:
  • There's a legend that the house of Dies Drear is haunted by the ghosts of two slaves, and by Dies Drear himself.
  • (Cue the scary, dramatic music.)
  • Thomas thinks that the two slave ghosts must be the ghosts of the two murdered slaves. He thinks that they (as ghosts) killed Dies Drear.
  • In his mind, they wanted revenge on Dies Drear for talking them into trying to go back into slavery, and getting killed as a result.
  • But, Thomas wonders, why, if they killed Dies Drear, would they would stick around to haunt the house with him?
  • Thomas doesn't really believe in ghosts, but at night, in the dark, he's afraid of seeing one.
  • After his first trip to Ohio, Thomas remembers, Mr. Small doesn't tell Thomas anything about the house.
  • But, Thomas can't help asking. When Thomas hints about ghosts, Mr. Small gets mad at him for reading the report, and says he doesn't believe in ghosts.
  • Then they talk about the fact that nobody has stayed long in the house since Dies Drear was murdered.
  • Mr. Small gets really mad when Thomas suggests that the ghosts of the murdered slaves have been scaring people away.
  • He says that the truth is obvious, but that nobody sees it. All old houses like that have a ghost stories attached to them, and none of the stories are true!
  • Soon, Mr. Small goes back to Ohio a second time, and actually rents the house.
  • When he comes back, he tells his family all about the house, except the part about the ghosts.
  • Now, on the way to the new house, Thomas wonders if his mother knows about the ghost legend.
  • Thomas is sure his father is keeping something a secret, something Thomas hasn't been able to put together from what he read in the plans.
  • Hmmm. Thomas thinks that whatever the secret is, it isn't exactly in the plans, but between the lines!
  • All the sudden Thomas asks his father to tell him about Mr. Pluto.
  • (If you don't know who Mr. Pluto is, don't worry. This is the first time he's mentioned.)
  • Mrs. Small says that Thomas doesn't need to know anything more about Mr. Pluto.
  • Thomas understands that talk of Mr. Pluto and the new house makes his mother nervous.
  • He's pretty sure she isn't going to like the house at all.
  • Still, he persists in his questioning. He says he wants to be sure he has a good picture of Mr. Pluto in his mind, so he recognizes him when he sees him.
  • Mr. Small finally gives in and talks about Mr. Pluto.
  • Pluto, Mr. Small tells Thomas, is the caretaker of the house. "Pluto," he explains, is only a nickname. "Pluto […] is another name for Hades, the Lord of the Underworld. […] Hades had cloven hooves" (2.52).
  • (If you've read the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, you've probably met Hades before. He's the God of the Underworld. Hades is his Greek name; Pluto is his Roman name.)
  • Anyhow, the caretaker has one "lame" (2.54) leg.
  • (The people who gave Pluto his nickname have mixed up their Roman gods, with ideas about the devil. The devil has a lame leg or foot, but the Roman god Pluto does not; nor does his Greek counterpart, Hades.)
  • Apparently, nobody knows how old Mr. Pluto is. He's tall, has green eyes, and lots of white hair on his head and in his beard.
  • Thomas gets excited at this point. He tells his family that it was Pluto in the dream he just had! (See the beginning of Chapter 1 for the dream.)
  • Mr. Small tells Thomas that he likes having Pluto as a caretaker, in part because he showed Mr. Small where the secret passages are in the house.
  • He warns Thomas: "I want you to be nice to him, no funny business" (2.59).
  • Pluto, Mr. Small says, has three horses, a bay (a reddish brown horse with a black mane and tale), a roan (a black or brown horse sprinkled with white hairs), and an all black one.
  • These horses, two at a time, pull Mr. Pluto's old fashioned, two-wheel buggy. He doesn't live in the same house the Smalls will be living in, but on the other side of the hill.
  • Thomas asks if Mr. Pluto "really looks like the devil" (2.64). His father says that Mr. Pluto is "no devil" (2.64), just a man.
  • Pluto, Mr. Small says, probably believes in the ghost legend.
  • Thomas wants to know if there are "old people" (2.65) people like his Great-grandmother, people who know lots of things and like to talk.
  • Mr. Small says he wishes Great-grandmother had decided to join them.
  • He says that Thomas has lots of experience with older people; now he needs to get to know some people closer to his own age.
  • Suddenly, Thomas has all kinds of thoughts going through his head. To try to sort them out, he asks his father questions.
  • Soon, what he's looking for him comes to him.
  • Excitedly, he asks his father what happened to the third of the three escaped slaves that were captured by bounty hunters.
  • (Remember, two of them were murdered. You might have noticed that there was no mention of what happened to the third one.)
  • Mr. Small tenses up, holding the steering wheel tight.
  • He orders Thomas not to talk to anybody about the report, or the three slaves!
  • Sitting back in the car, watching the rain, Thomas can tell from his father's strong reaction that the third slave is the key to the puzzle.
  • Even as he's falling asleep in the car, Thomas wonders what the answer could be.

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