Johnny Tremain: Chapter 11
Chapter XI. Yankee Doodle
The next morning, Dr. Warren awakens Johnny. In the street below Warren’s house, they hear the sound of many soldiers, and Warren notes that it is time for him to leave. When Johnny asks if the fighting has begun, Warren informs him that fighting broke out and that the British killed a small number of men in Lexington. Warren refers to the clash as “target practice” for the British.
Johnny is stunned by the news, but Warren notes that Paul Revere managed to spread the word and shortly many patriots would join the fight. The next encounter would be a true battle. Johnny asks if Warren learned the names of those who were killed. Warren senses that Johnny fears for Rab but offers no words of comfort.
Warren repeats that it is time for him to leave, adding that doctors will undoubtedly be needed to attend to the wounded. Johnny offers to go along, but Warren tells Johnny that he still has work to do in Boston. Warren wants Johnny to gather information on which regiments are being mobilized and to note the names of any patriots who are jailed. Johnny is then to slip out of Boston and find him.
Outside the town is abuzz. Everyone knows that something significant has happened, but no one knows that the war has already begun. Johnny goes to the Common and observes some twelve hundred restless soldiers hanging about; he learns that they are awaiting the arrival of a detachment of marines. As Johnny moves about the town, he notes that the shops and schools are all closed. In the crowd he sees Madge; she is crying. When she sees Johnny, she throws herself into his arms, bemoaning the fact that her husband, Sergeant Gale, must leave for battle. Nearby, Gale organizes his troops.
As Johnny watches the British soldiers prepare, for a moment he is again an Englishman. He considers that everyone in attendance, both British soldiers and patriots, is an Englishman—the difference is that in America the notion of “liberty” has taken a broader meaning. For the fist time in a long while, as the British flag approaches Johnny begins to remove his hat. However, he stops when he realizes that the war has already begun. Johnny feels a sense of magnificence as the British army moves out, but his stomach begins to turn as he realizes what is about to happen. He wonders how the ill-equipped and poorly trained Minute Men could possibly stand up to the British army. As the soldiers march, the drum and fife players attempt to insult the locals by playing “Yankee Doodle.”
As the British brigade departs, the remaining locals believe that the British won’t seem so proud by the end of the day. As the day progresses, news that the British had fired on the Minute Men in Lexington begins to spread. General Gage orders that all leaders of the opposition be jailed, but the order comes too late; they have already left Boston. Johnny sends word of the arresting parties to Uncle Lorne. He then goes to the Lornes’ home and sees that the sign above the Boston Observer has been torn down and the shop has been ransacked. Inside, Aunt Jenifer appears to be repairing an old mattress. She confirms that the British soldiers have been there, and when Johnny tells her that no soldiers are about, Uncle Lorne emerges from inside the mattress. Johnny asks Aunt Jenifer if the soldiers were rough, and she replies that they were “furious.” This pleases Johnny, as it means that the British are scared.
When Aunt Jenifer asks if the British are losing, Johnny says that he believes this to be the case, as he observed one of the British officers returning from Charlestown, looking rather tattered and forlorn. Johnny informs the Lornes that he is going to Beacon Hill to watch the returning British soldiers.
In the street the British officers attempt to get the soldiers back to their barracks. As he watches, Johnny realizes that in a single day everything about Boston has changed.
When he arrives on Beacon Hill, Johnny sees that many people have lined the pastures and hills, all looking toward Charlestown. In the distance, they observe a long line of Redcoats rapidly retreating. A night falls, the locals begin to return to their houses, but in the distance the flash of musket fire can bee seen.
Confusion ensues as the British attempt to get their “well chewed” soldiers back to Boston. Johnny decides to wait until midnight to attempt to cross the river and find Dr. Warren. He sees the Lytes’ house and remembers Pumpkin’s uniform. As he approaches the Lytes’ house, he sees men loading wagons and carts with furniture and realizes that the Lytes are moving under cover of night. Though most of the servants are moving feverishly, in the kitchen Mrs. Bessie and Cilla are simply sitting around. Mrs. Bessie informs Johnny that the Lytes are sailing for London tomorrow, until the “insurrection” blows over. Johnny pleads with Cilla not to go, and Cilla responds that neither she nor Mrs. Bessie is going, as they are staunch Whigs. When Johnny asks what will happen to Isannah, Mrs. Bessie responds that she will accompany the Lytes. But Cilla insists that this won’t happen. Lavinia suddenly appears and asserts that Izzy will go to London because Mrs. Lapham signed a paper allowing her to go. Cilla begs her sister not to go, and Lavinia quips that she will let Isannah decide whether she wants to remain in Boston, a “poor working girl,” or go to London to become “a great lady.” Isannah cannot make the decision, and when she is pressed by Lavinia she begins to cry. Lavinia reveals that she is to be married to a wealthy Englishman and promises that Izzy will lead a fine life and will be “trained” to be an actress. While Johnny is upset by the events, Cilla seems to come to terms with her sister’s departure. Lavinia instructs Cilla and Mrs. Bessie to go help Isannah pack so that she might have a private word with Johnny.
Lavinia calls him “Jonathan Lyte Tremain” and reveals his true history. She begins by noting that there were actually five silver cups, and his mother did take one with her when she left Boston. Johnny notes that in court Mr. Lyte swore there were only four cups, in essence perjuring himself, but Lavinia dismisses the point. She insists that Mr. Lyte never knew that his niece, Vinny Lyte, as Johnny’s mother was called, had a child. Johnny’s father was a French naval surgeon and a prisoner of war while in Boston. His mother fell in love with him and though the family disapproved, she ran off to France and married him. His father’s family also disapproved of the marriage, and when Johnny’s father unexpectedly died his family sent word to Mr. Lyte that both had died. Unbeknownst to the Lytes, the pregnant Vinny was sent to a convent to live and have her child. Lavinia adds that when she first saw Johnny she noticed something about him that made her curious, his widow’s peak, so she had one of Mr. Lyte’s captains do some investigating for her in France. Apparently, Johnny’s father was ashamed at being a prisoner of war, so he told the Lytes that his name was really Latour. Lavinia states that his is why the name Tremain didn’t mean anything to them. Lavinia informs Johnny that Mr. Lyte has promised to write down the true story of Johnny’s heritage so that he might have a claim to property when the war is over. Johnny asks what he should call Lavinia; she laughs and suggests that he call her “Aunt Lavinia.” She touches Johnny’s widow’s peak and then departs.
Johnny informs Cilla and Mrs. Bessie that he needs Pumpkin’s old uniform. Mrs. Bessie tells Johnny that he should do no such thing, but Johnny asserts himself. Mrs. Bessie reminds Johnny that someone needs to look after the Lytes’ horses in their absence. Johnny tells Cilla to bring Goblin to the Lytes’ pasture; he also decides that the Lornes would be the perfect choice to take care of the house. Mrs. Bessie agrees.
Before Johnny puts on Pumpkin’s uniform, Mrs. Bessie asks him how old he is. He replies “sixteen,” and when Mrs. Bessie asks if that makes him a boy or a man, Johnny responds: “A boy in time of peace and a man in time of war.” Johnny puts on Pumpkin’s uniform and when Cilla asks why he must go out, he tells her that he has to report his observations to Dr. Warren. He also notes that he has to find Rab, since Rab was in Lexington when the initial fighting broke out. Thinking of Rab brings a flood of emotion to Johnny. He shakes hands with Mrs. Bessie, kisses Cilla, and heads off into the night. As he walks the streets in Pumpkin’s uniform, he wonders what has become of Sergeant Gale.
The British soldiers’ attempt to insult the locals by playing “Yankee Doodle” as they march out of town is quite ironic, since, as the crowd senses, the British are about to receive a sound defeat at the hands of the ill-equipped “yokels.”
Johnny’s reaction to Lavinia Lyte’s revelation that he is indeed a member of the Lyte family is complex. Johnny is interested in the story she tells him, for it answers the questions he has harbored for so long. However, Johnny’s anger is evident as he stresses the fact that in court Mr. Lyte lied about the number of cups. But even after all he has been through, part of him still longs for a connection with the Lytes, as is evidenced by the fact that he asks what he should call Lavinia.
When Lavinia comments that Johnny should have seen how beautiful his mother was in her youth. Johnny’s reply, “But I did . . .,” causes him to recall how loving and devoted his mother was to him. It is also an indication that the Lytes never saw her true beauty, since they were willing to disown her.
Johnny’s reply to Mrs. Bessie’s question of whether he is a boy or a man indicates that he understands that he is growing up.