Chapter II. The Pride of Your Power
Johnny and Mr. Lapham, with Johnny’s prompting, work hard all week on Hancock’s sugar basin. Mr. Lapham produces a fine basin, and he is satisfied with Johnny’s work on the handles. However, Johnny is displeased with his own work. One evening he takes his work to the shop of Paul Revere. Too timid to enter the shop, Johnny waits until Revere exits at closing time. To Johnny’s surprise, Revere recognizes him and invites him into the shop so that they might talk man to man. Johnny mentions that although Mr. Lapham approved of his work, he doesn’t feel that it’s right. Revere comments that Johnny’s work is flawed and shows him how he can correct the problem. He also tells Johnny that he’d be willing to buy out his remaining time with Mr. Lapham. Johnny is flattered by the offer but replies that he can’t leave because the Laphams need him.
Johnny follows Paul Revere’s advice and is able to perfect the design for the sugar basin’s handles. It is now Saturday, and Johnny has little time to cast the handles and complete the piece, since Mr. Lapham, and local law, will not permit any work to be done on Sunday. Johnny attempts to push Dove and Dusty into working harder, but when he sends Dove out for more coal, Dove amusingly informs him that there isn’t any left. Johnny sends Dove to gather more charcoal, and when Dove returns with an inferior quality charcoal, Johnny yells at him. This awakens Mr. Lapham, who, displeased by the boys’ argument, sends Dove and Dusty off so that he can speak to Johnny alone. Lapham tells Johnny that he is being too hard on the other two. He asserts that Johnny is “getting above himself” and that God is going to punish him for his pride. Lapham states that there is no real rush to complete Hancock’s basin. He then informs Johnny that there will be no more work this evening. When Johnny attempts to argue that they must complete the work tonight, Lapham counters that God doesn’t care about Hancock’s order. Feeling defeated, Johnny enters the house and informs Mrs. Lapham about her father-in-law’s command. Mrs. Lapham asks how many hours it will take to complete the project and then assures Johnny that he will have the time tomorrow, when Mr. Lapham is busy with church-related activities. Johnny knows that this is against the law, but he also understands the importance of completing the piece on time.
While Mr. Lapham is away, the rest of the residents work to finish the basin. The girls are sent outside to see if any smoke from the furnace can be seen. Inside the shop Johnny and the others prepare for the casting. Johnny works excitedly and a bit carelessly, allowing some wax melt onto the floor. When Johnny asks Dove to get a crucible to melt down the silver, Dove deliberately gives him one that is cracked. As Johnny pours the molten silver into the mold, it begins to spill across the top of the furnace. Johnny slips in the melted wax and his right hand is coated in molten silver. Johnny passes out from the pain and is attended to by the Lapham women. When Cilla asks her mother if she should get a doctor, Mrs. Lapham decides that it would be better to take Johnny to Gran Hopper, a local midwife.
Gran Hopper arrives and attends to Johnny in a small room off the kitchen, referred to as the “birth and death room.” Hopper cleans and wraps Johnny’s wounded hand but doesn’t bind it flat, which causes a problem later. Over the next few days an infection sets in, which Gran Hopper addresses by supplying Johnny with liberal doses of a narcotic medicine. When the bandage is finally removed Johnny’s learns that his hand is seriously crippled. Mrs. Lapham laments that Johnny’s once bright future is now lost, and the girls openly pity him, which angers Johnny. When Johnny eventually visits the shop, Dove is working at Johnny’s bench with Johnny’s tools. Johnny attempts to reassert himself by criticizing Dove’s work, but when Dove challenges Johnny to show him how it should be done, Johnny falls silent and leaves the shop. He realizes that becoming a master silversmith is no longer an option for him.
As Johnny strolls about the wharf area, he sees John Hancock and reflects on the fact that following his accident Mr. Lapham had destroyed the basin—out of a belief that God had punished Johnny for his actions. Johnny continues to wander about the wharf, convinced that everyone is looking upon him with pity. He suddenly feels like a complete stranger in a once-familiar world. When he reaches the end of the wharf, he strips off his clothes and dives into the water. To his delight, he realizes that swimming is one activity that doesn’t require the use of two good hands.
Initially, Mrs. Lapham has sympathy for Johnny, but as time passes she begins to jokingly refer to him as a “lazy good-for-nothing.” His demotion is laid plain by the fact that Johnny now has to perform menial tasks, such as gathering water and charcoal.
One day Mr. Lapham has a private discussion with Johnny concerning his future. Lapham explains how he was always pleased with Johnny’s work and learning, but that it would now be impossible for Johnny to become a master silversmith. He tells Johnny that he may stay at the Lapham house as long as he wants, but he should spend time finding another trade, one that doesn’t require the use of two good hands. Johnny agrees. Lapham then tells Johnny that he must do one other thing: forgive Dove. When Johnny seems puzzled, Lapham reveals that Dove purposely gave Johnny the cracked crucible, though Lapham insists Dove did it to teach Johnny a lesson about dishonoring the Sabbath. Johnny becomes infuriated and vows to get even with Dove.
As Johnny passes the shop, Dove asks Johnny to fetch some water, since he and Dusty are too valuable to leave their benches. Silently, Johnny heads off to gather the water.
In this chapter the negative effect of pride is literally presented. Mr. Lapham attributes the accident to God’s vengeance for Johnny’s prideful actions. Johnny, however, sees a more earthly cause: Dove’s jealousy. Regardless of whether the act was caused by God or man, it cannot be denied that Johnny’s pride was behind it.
The chapter also demonstrates how easily a single event, in this case Johnny’s accident, can radically alter one’s life. As Mrs. Lapham so clearly points out, Johnny’s once bright future is forever altered. However, in contrast Mrs. Lapham’s assertion that Johnny’s future is “ruined” by the accident, the opposite is actually true. Johnny’s accident is sends his life in a different, but very significant, direction. As such Johnny’s accident precedes another event much later in the novel—the opening volley of the American Revolution—an event that also involves considerable pain and suffering, but which also ultimately enhances the lives of all those living in the colonies.
Johnny’s solitary dive into the water symbolizes his feeling of being completely alone in the world, in essence having to keep himself afloat. Though it would be tempting to see this as an act of cleansing, it doesn’t appear to be so. It does, however, offer hope to Johnny, since he realizes that there are things in life that don’t require the use of two functioning hands.