Johnny Tremain: Chapter 8
Chapter VIII. A World to Come
Johnny happens to see the Lytes as they depart for their country home. Johnny and Isannah make eye contact, but neither responds.
In August rumors begin spreading that Merchant Lyte is going to be driven from his country home. British military now guard the gates of Boston, and one evening Johnny waits at the gate for the Lytes’ return. At dusk, a carriage rapidly approaches, chased by an angry mob. The British officer at the gate informs his men that no muskets are to be used, only torches. The carriage is admitted and the mob does not follow. Inside the carriage are Mr. Lyte, Lavinia, Isannah, and Cilla. It is apparent that Mr. Lyte is gravely ill, and Lavinia insists that they send for Dr. Warren. Cilla informs Lavinia that she wasn’t able to bring along the family silver, but Lavinia is too concerned with her father’s health to care.
Johnny reveals himself to Cilla, and Cilla tells him that Mrs. Bessie informed them of the raid just before it took place. Though he knows others would disagree with him, Johnny respects Mrs. Bessie for the compassionate act. Cilla then tells Johnny that she must return to the country house to retrieve the silver, believing that it was her fault it was left behind. Johnny agrees to accompany her. When Dr. Warren arrives, Johnny gets Warren’s permission to use his carriage. Warren gives Johnny a note to show any inquiring Whigs, and Cilla gets a similar note from a British soldier.
When they arrive at the Lytes’ country house, they see that the coat of arms on the gate has been smashed and the windows have been shattered. While Cilla packs up the silver, Johnny goes upstairs into Mr. Lyte’s private room. He finds a hollowed-out book containing a number of papers, documents Johnny believes Sam Adams will want to see. Johnny also finds a family Bible in which a family history is inscribed. As Johnny reads the history, he sees that the name “Lavinia Lyte” has been scratched out. According to the Lytes’ book, Lavinia Lyte married a doctor, Charles Latour, and both died of plague just prior to their child’s birth. He remembers that his mother informed him that he was born in France and that his father had died before his birth, but he can’t make sense of Latour’s last name or the fact that his mother’s name had been scratched out. Nevertheless, he understands that his grandfather, who actually built the Lytes’ country house, was Merchant Lyte’s younger brother. Thus, Johnny was Merchant Lyte’s grandnephew. Johnny cuts out the pages containing the family history and heads downstairs to help Cilla finish packing the silver. Johnny sees the four silver cups, and though Cilla urges him to take the one that is his, Johnny refuses, noting that he is “better off without it.” He informs Cilla that he wants nothing from the Lytes.
Before they leave, Johnny looks around the house and contemplates how his grandfather built this home and his mother grew up there. He wonders if his mother met his father there, why his father’s last name isn’t listed as Tremain, and why both of his parents apparently died three months before Johnny was born. He concludes that it doesn’t really matter and then he shreds and burns the pages he removed from Lyte’s Bible.
Cilla asks Johnny to close all of the shutters, and as he does so he continues to marvel over the revelation. When Cilla feels satisfied that the house is ready for the Lytes’ return, Johnny informs her that the Lytes will never return to this house, for there is bound to be a civil war, a war that will make it impossible for them to return. As Johnny continues to close the house’s shutter, he considers how the house is more rightfully his than Merchant’s Lyte’s. As they depart, Cilla remarks that it’s like a “funeral.”
As Johnny and Cilla return to town, the sun begins to rise and they see Minute Men performing their drills for upcoming battles. Johnny realizes that they aren’t very polished or very well-equipped soldiers, and comments: “Oh, God help them.”
Rab still desperately desires a modern musket. He has heard of a local farmer who buys muskets from British soldiers and resells them to Minute Men, and he makes a contract with the man. Rab hesitates to ask his aunt for any money, but she notes that right now weapons are more important than food. On the morning when Rab is to get his gun, Johnny hears a great clamor in the streets.
Johnny is certain it’s related to Rab’s purchase, and when he rushes to the scene he is told that three men were apprehended for the attempted sale of a British musket. When Johnny catches up with the prisoners, he sees that the British soldier is grinning; he surmises that the solider must have been part of a trap to ensnare patriots. Johnny sees Rab and fears what they might do to him. Johnny patiently waits to discover Rab’s fate, but his wait is suddenly broken by considerable laughter from a group of British soldiers. A tarred and feathered figure is brought out in a cart and wheeled about the town. At each stop, a British officer reads a proclamation announcing the man’s crime and denouncing his rebellious actions. Johnny is relieved that the man in the cart isn’t Rab, but he is also concerned about what has become of his friend. Johnny follows the cart and realizes that it will soon stop in front of the Boston Observer. He rushes to the Observer and is amazed to see that Rab is already back at the shop. When Johnny inquires, Rab tells him that a British officer let him go because he was “just a child.”
Rab’s feelings are obviously hurt, but Johnny can’t help but tease him. Rab notes that the soldiers won’t dare do anything more than stop and read the proclamation—he then comments on how the silver crosses worn by the British officers will make good aiming points. Johnny is troubled by the thought of such violence.
Johnny visits Cilla at the Lyte’s Boston house and learns that Madge ran off and got married, and to keep Mr. Tweedie around, Mrs. Lapham decided that she should marry him. Johnny and Cilla begin to discuss relationships. Cilla remarks that Rab has visited her and has even brought her some small presents. However, she notes that she could never marry Rab because her name would be Priscilla Silsbee. She then admits that Priscilla Tremain would be a fine name. As they talk, Johnny begins to realize that he loves her and he replies that he too thinks Priscilla Tremain would be a fine name. Cilla doesn’t reply but offers Johnny a little green apple, which he puts in his pocket.
Johnny places the apple on a windowsill at the Observer, but Rab eats it. Johnny tries to be angry with Rab, mainly for his clandestine visits to Cilla, but Rab mentions that the apple was wormy. Johnny thinks himself foolish for considering the apple to be “a symbol of himself and Cilla.”
Sam Adams has Johnny call the Boston Observers together for a final meeting. As he makes his rounds, Johnny wonders how they will make the punch, since fresh fruit was difficult to come by after the closing of the harbor. He remembers that Lavinia has plenty of friends among the British officers and believes that he should be able to get fruit at the Lyte house. When Johnny asks Mrs. Bessie for the fruit, she asks who it is for. Johnny only needs to mention Sam Adams and Bessie readily consents. Bessie informs Johnny that Isannah has been made to act like a fool and that Cousin Sewall has joined the Minute Men.
The meeting of the Observers is smaller than normal, as many of the men have left Boston to avoid arrest. This time the meeting starts with the punch. The men discuss how General Gage sent a group of soldiers to seize the Minute Men’s cannon and gunpowder. No shots were fired, but Sam Adams suggested that Gage had been frightened by the thousands of armed locals who had turned out to face the British. Paul Revere notes that the Minute Men need a better system of observing the British. When one of the members asks if the Adamses, who are soon departing for the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, will still work towards peace with England, Sam Adams proclaims that it is time for war.
James Otis, who was not invited to the meeting because of his mental state,
shows up. Though Otis is no longer highly respected by the other members, he speaks eloquently about the need for the patriots to understand exactly what they are fighting for. Otis insists that it is not enough to fight for the specific rights of Americans. He reminds the men of all they may have to sacrifice in a war with England, including property, health, and—looking directly at Rab—even life. Otis argues that they must fight this war but it’s for a very basic concept, simply “’That a man can stand up.’” When Otis finishes his speech, he leaves. Sam Adams wants to discuss the spy system Revere envisioned, but Revere is still captivated by Otis’s words.
That evening, as Johnny and Rab lie in bed, the boys reflect on Otis’s words.
This chapter says much about the value of a name. Johnny becomes confused over the fact that his father’s name is apparently Latour, but his name is Tremain. In essence, he wonders about his true identity. When Mr. Lyte scratches out the name “Lavinia Lyte” from his bible, he is effectively banishing Johnny’s mother from the family. The fact that Johnny initially removes the family history pages from Mr. Lyte’s bible can be seen as an attempt to possess something that directly links him to the Lytes. However, his refusal to take back the silver cup and his destruction of the pages from Mr. Lyte’s bible shows that he is prepared to relinquish his claim to the Lytes. Finally, Cilla jokes that she couldn’t marry Rab because her name would be silly; however, we sense that she is more serious when she suggests that she would approve of taking Johnny’s last name.
Cilla’s comparison of the Lytes’ shuttered house to a “funeral’ is appropriate. In essence, the Lytes’ entire way of operating in Boston is about to die. While Cilla mourns for all that may be lost, Johnny doesn’t seem to care. He understands that his future does not depend on all that the Lytes may have been able to offer him. Of course, Johnny is not the only one to “desert” the Lytes; Cousin Sewall essentially divorces himself from the family by joining the Minute Men.