Johnny Tremain: Chapter 4
Chapter IV. The Rising Eye
Johnny wakes refreshed. He fantasizes that he might be fully welcomed into the Lyte family, but realizes that he might just as easily be turned away.
Johnny enters Merchant Lyte’s office and notifies one of the clerks that he has a “personal matter” he must discuss with Mr. Lyte. The clerk laughs and accuses Johnny of being another poor boy seeking Lavinia’s hand in marriage. Johnny waits until two men emerge from Lyte’s office then slips into the office. Lyte harshly greets Johnny, and when Johnny attempts to tell him his story, Lyte rejects it, telling Johnny that it’s “a very old story—a very old trick” he has heard before. Lyte calls to have Johnny thrown out, but before he can do so, Johnny notes that he can prove his claim by a cup he possesses. Johnny describes the cup, and Lyte, intrigued by the description, invites Johnny to bring the cup to his home that evening, feigning pleasure that his “long-lost cup” will be returned by a “long-lost what-ever-you are.”
Johnny returns to the Lapham house to retrieve his cup. Mrs. Lapham pulls him aside for a private conversation and informs him, in front of the girls, that he will be permitted to remain in the Laphams’ home but will have to return to the attic, as the birth and death room will be given to Percival Tweedie. She instructs Johnny that he is no longer permitted to tease Mr. Tweedie; additionally, Johnny is to forget about any possible marriage between himself and Cilla. Johnny becomes angry and says some harsh words to Mrs. Lapham. He retrieves his cup and departs.
Before going to the Lyte house, Johnny stops to visit Rab at the Boston Observer. Rab greets Johnny in a friendly manner, but when he learns Johnny’s story, Rab informs him that Lyte is “crooked.” He notes that although Lyte was the first to sign an agreement with the other merchants not to import English goods until the Stamp Act was repealed, Lyte didn’t abide by the agreement and imported goods under another name. In essence, Lyte pretended to be a Whig but actually behaved like a Tory. Lyte was confronted by Sam Adams, and Lyte agreed not to do it again. Rab notes that he can put up with men who are Tories because they truly believe that it’s better for the colonies if they keep their ties with England, but he despises men like Lyte, who care only for their own fortunes and attempt “playing both ends against the middle.” Rab gives Johnny a clean shirt and jacket, as well as a small meal. He wishes Johnny good luck and adds that Johnny can sleep at the Observer if he is rejected by the Lytes.
When Johnny arrives at the Lyte home, he decides to knock on the front door. He is admitted by a servant and is brought before Mr. Lyte, Lavinia, Cousin Talbot, Aunt Bess, and Cousin Sewall. (Apparently, Mr. Lyte has been expecting someone like Johnny to come along, ever since his cup was stolen last August, though he had tried to “keep certain things dark.”) Mr. Lyte asks if Johnny has brought the cup. When Johnny says yes, Lyte ushers the group into the dining room. In the sideboard are three cups identical to Johnny’s. Johnny places his cup next to the others, and Lyte picks it up, studies it, and silently hands it to an unnamed gentleman. Lyte proclaims that all must agree that the cup is identical to the others. Lyte then announces to Johnny that the very same cup was stolen last August and orders the unnamed man, actually the local sheriff, to arrest Johnny. Though Johnny proclaims his innocence, the sheriff promises to take him to jail.
Lyte asks where Johnny got the coat he is wearing, Johnny responds that a printer’s apprentice, whose last name he does not know, lent it to him. Lyte commands the sheriff to look into the mater, and the sheriff agrees to do so. Lyte comments how he sent Sewall to the Laphams to enquire about Johnny and learned that Johnny’s indenture papers did not name him as “Jonathan Lyte Tremain” but as “Johnny Tremain.” Mrs. Lapham told Lyte how she believes Johnny has taken to “evil ways,” and swore that Johnny never owned a cup.
Johnny is lead away to jail.
At the jail, the sheriff asks Johnny if there is anyone he would like him to inform about his arrest. Johnny names Rab.
Johnny actually sleeps well at the jail, believing that he has hit bottom and things can only improve. Rab visits him, bringing food, clothes, and books. Johnny notices that Rab wears a medallion marked with the Tree of Liberty, identifying him as a member of the Sons of Liberty, a semi-secret society dedicated to freeing the colonies from England’s rule. Rab speaks to the jailor and the turnkey, who are also members of the Sons of Liberty, and is able to secure better quarters for Johnny.
Johnny tells his entire story to Rab. Rab already knows that Johnny’s case will come before Mr. Justice Dana and asks if Johnny showed the cup to anyone prior to August 23rd. Johnny recalls that he showed it to Cilla on July 2nd. When Johnny asks Rab what he believes Mr. Lyte meant when he said that he expected someone like Johnny to turn up after his cup was stolen, Rab replies that perhaps Lyte thinks Johnny is an imposter. When Rab asks if Cilla will testify on Johnny’s behalf, Johnny notes that she will if her mother permits it, but he adds that Mrs. Lapham isn’t likely to give him a good character reference.
The next day Rab returns and informs Johnny that Mr. Lyte visited the Laphams and placed a large order with Mr. Lapham. Johnny asks if it was a bribe, and Rab responds that Mrs. Lapham agreed to keep Cilla under “lock and key” the day of the trial. Rab notes that Mr. Tweedie is very angry with Johnny for his earlier remarks and threatened to return to Baltimore if Mrs. Lapham permits Cilla to testify. Rab then informs Johnny that Josiah Quincy, a noted local lawyer, has agreed to take up Johnny’s case. When Johnny comments that he can’t afford a lawyer, Rab replies that Quincy is willing to represent him for free. Rab then notes that he is planning to meet with Cilla in private. When Johnny expresses doubt that Rab will be able to get her to the courtroom, Rab proclaims that it will surely be happen.
The morning of the trial Johnny nervously awaits the arrival of Rab and Cilla. Josiah Quincy, Johnny’s lawyer, comments that Rab has never failed in his duties. Merchant Lyte arrives, acting as if his “owned the court.” To everyone’s surprise Lavinia Lyte also enters the courtroom.
As promised, Rab brings Cilla to the courtroom. She wears a hood that conceals her face.
Merchant Lyte tells the story of the family cups—how six identical cups were made by his great-grandfather, four of which Lyte brought to Boston—and how one came to be stolen last August. Lyte asserts that Johnny’s cup is the one which was taken from his home. When Justice Dana asks if it might be possible for Johnny to be related to him, Lyte insists that it is an impossibility and points to the name on Johnny’s indenture papers, which makes no mention of “Lyte.” Merchant Lyte finishes by asking the court to sentence Johnny to death, as there is too much thievery in Boston these days.
Quincy leads Johnny through his story, getting Johnny to state that he only once disobeyed his mother’s request by showing the cup to Cilla. Next, Cilla is called to the stand, and she corroborates Johnny’s testimony. Immediately after Cilla finishes, Isannah bursts into the courtroom and repeats Cilla’s story in an emotional outpouring. Justice Dana is so moved by Isannah’s tale that he dismisses the case, noting that Mr. Lyte is now illegally possessing the cup.
Johnny takes back his cup, and Quincy suggests that they all go to a local tavern to celebrate the victory. As they exit the courtroom, Isannah is seen holding the hand of Lavinia, who is captivated by Isannah’s beauty. When Isannah asks Rab if she did a god job, Rab replies that she performed flawlessly. Isannah tries to kiss Johnny, and when he resists, she kisses his burned hand.
As the chapter title suggests, this chapter marks a turning point for Johnny. His victory over Merchant Lyte suggests that his life is about to take a turn for the better.
Merchant Lyte’s entrapment and jailing of Johnny reflects the unjust treatment the colonists are receiving at the hands of the crown. It is also Johnny’s first taste of subjugation. Of course, the fact that Rab, the jailor, and turnkey are all Sons of Liberty and easily procure a better cell for Johnny illustrates how pervasive the patriot movement has become.
All of the help Johnny receives from relative strangers, including the food, clothing, and shelter offered by Rab, the free legal representation from Josiah Quincy, and help of the jailer and turnkey are all indications of the Patriots’ unselfishness and care for the common man. These men stand in stark contrast to the men like Merchant Lyte, who think only of themselves.
Rab’s willingness to tolerate true Tories—who, unlike Merchant Lyte, deeply believe that remaining under England’s rule is best for those in New England—shows that Rab has a more adult understanding of politics than Johnny. Johnny’s recognition of Rab as a Son of Liberty shows that he is developing and awareness of Boston’s political climate. However, his sense that being in the organization might be “fun” reflects his immaturity.