A black family living in the house of long-dead abolitionist Dies Drear must decide what to do with his stupendous treasure, hidden for one hundred years in a cavern near their home.
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The cool days of October descended upon the region. Thomas Small and his papa had taken to the woods to hunt or hike for hours on the hill above the bleak house of Dies Drear. But then, suddenly, it turned cold. Mr. Small had little free time from teaching at the college. On weekends he cataloged the wealth that had belonged to the long-dead abolitionist Dies Eddington Drear. There was a stupendous treasure hidden for a hundred years in a secret cavern within the hillside. Thomas left his rifle at home. He spent the time playing with his little brothers, or by himself, or with his friend Pesty Darrow.
Today he had on a sweater and his fleece-lined jacket over it. The air was brisk. The Drear house seen from the hilltop reminded him of a giant crow frozen on its nest. He wasn't sure yet whether he liked living in that house. He was usually on his guard. Sometimes he felt something strange was near.
Something unseen but listening behind the Walls, he thought. He wasn't afraid, just wary whenever he was in the house by himself.
Scaring away mean neighbors, Darrow men, before they had the chance to discover the treasure hadn't rid him of the feeling either. But what was the use of worrying? It was his papa's dream to live in a house that had been a station on the Underground Railroad.
Pesty Darrow was with him today. They'd become friends even though she was a Darrow. Darrows had adopted her when she was an infant. Thomas supposed she was loyal to them since they were the only family she'd known.
She's loyal to us, too, hethought, and to Mr. Pluto.
Mr. Pluto had been the caretaker of the Drear house until the Smalls moved in eight months ago. Old Pluto lived in a cave on the other side of the hill. He and Pesty had kept the secret of the great cavern from everyone. Pesty had known about the secret treasure long before Thomas had. She'd kept it from her brothers and her father, even from her youngest brother, Macky, who wasn't as mean or sour as the others.
But how long can she be loyal to two sets of folk who are like day is to night? Thomas wondered. How long before she makes a slip or the older Darrow men figure out there is treasure deep under the hillside?
Darrows had been hunting for hidden treasure in the maze of underground slave escape tunnels of the region's hills for generations.
Papa's worried they will get bold again, Thomas thought, and try some way to get us off Drear lands. He's afraid there might be cave-ins, too.
"Be quicker if we use the backyard of Drear house," Pesty said.
Thomas had to smile. She was talking about the quick way to her home. Whenever they were out tramping together, she would want Thomas to come see her brother. Every now and then she told Macky, "Mr. Thomas wants to see you." Macky snorted and said, "Don't you call no boy mister, Pesty. He's just Thomas, like I am just Macky."
Thomas was careful not to be seen by Darrow men out in the open close to their property. He might overstep their boundary and give them a clear excuse to chase him or to cross the Drear boundary.
Instead of the Drear backyard, he took the longer, out-of-the-way route over the hill because he did want to run into Macky in the woods. He had a vague hope that they might still get to know each other. After school he would see Macky going off in the trees. Lately it seemed that Macky allowed Thomas to catch up with him, almost, before he sauntered away.
Today it had started snowing again. Light snows came now one after the other to the hillside, to the woods and all the land.
"You be glad your grandmom is coming?" Pesty said. "Mr. Pluto told me she was."
"Well, she's not my grandmom," Thomas said as they tramped smartly single file. "She's my great-grand-mother Jeffers. First name is Rhetty. And she's coming to stay. I'm glad of it, too."
"Is she where you used to be?" Pesty asked.
"In North Carolina, yes," he said.
"Do you miss her?"
"Well, it won't feel right here until we're all together again," he said.
"Does she know about the house of Dies Dreat?" Pesty asked.
"Pesty, you haven't told anyone about the you-know-what, have you?" he said, meaning the cavern of treasure.
"No!" she answered.
"Not even Macky. No one?"
"No!" she said. "I haven't told a soul. I wouldn't." But she sounded anxious. Her voice whined uncertainly.
What was it about Pesty lately? Something Thomas couldn't put his finger on. They were together so much, and he thought he knew her well.
On weekends they often helped his father and old Pluto in the great cavern, where they polished the priceless glass. Pesty, who had taken care of the glass from the time she was five or six, suddenly had butterfingers. She'd dropped a glass spoon and a rare nineteenth-century bottle. Both had smashed on the cavern floor.
Now Thomas made a zigzag trail around trees. Snowflakes slapped thinly, like tiny footsteps around them. He was heading east toward the Darrow- and Carr-owned parts of the woods. Carr people had been friendly when Thomas's family first arrived. Their land bordered Darrow's to the south. They bordered Drear lands on Drear's southeast corner. Darrow land was right by Drear lands, bordering them on Darrow's north and west.
Thomas had been thinking so hard he hadn't noticed that Pesty's footsteps had stopped. He recognized an absence suddenly, and he felt lonely for his great-grandmother and the high mountains of home.The Mystery of Drear House. Copyright � by Virginia Hamilton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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