"Johnny Tremain" by Esther Forbes, Chapters 3–4

August 8, 2022
The year is 1773, and fourteen-year-old Johnny is an apprentice silversmith in Boston. When a terrible accident threatens his future, Johnny must quickly adapt — just as the American colonists join forces to break free from British rule.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1–2, Chapters 3–4, Chapters 5–6, Chapters 7–9, Chapters 10–12
He did not want to show his hand, but the masters always insisted. He would take it out of the pocket where he always kept it, with a flourish, display it to the sickening curiousity of the master, apprentices, journeymen, lady customers.
A butcher (his sign was a gilded ox skull) would have employed him, but the idea of slaughtering animals sickened him.
The comical little painted man looked so genial, so ready to welcome anyone, that Johnny stepped in.
The boy did not write that down. He lifted his dark face, indolent dark eyes.
He was both friendly and aloof.
Nonchalantly he took out his claspknife, cut hunks of bread from the long loaf.
He took the claspknife in his left hand and stealthily drew forth the maimed hand to steady the loaf.
He told about the burn, but with none of the belligerent arrogance with which he had been answering the questions kind people had put to him.
The coming of Mr. Percival Tweedie, journeyman silversmith of Baltimore, cast a longer and longer shadow over the Lapham household and conversation.
Mr. Tweedie was diffidently standing about in the shop, hoping Mrs. Lapham would ask him to breakfast.
The man said nothing, but he looked at Johnny and the look of bleak hatred amazed the boy. He had not guessed Mr. Tweedie had that much gumption in him.
Although Johnny was now looked upon as something of a black sheep and Mrs. Lapham was no longer telling him he would end up picking rags, but on the gallows, he thought it behooved him to tell her just what he thought of Mr. Tweedie.
Since his accident he had unconsciously taken to wearing his hat at a rakish angle.
One thing he did not look like any more was a smart, industrious Boston apprentice.
She was very tall for a woman, slender and graceful, and moved slowly down the gangplank with the stately self-consciousness which happened to be the fashionable gait for a lady at the moment.
Mathematically, a cipher is the number 0, so it is seen as "a quantity of no importance" or "a person of no influence." This is how Johnny feels when he is turned down for a job in Mr. Hancock's counting house. But this changes when Johnny later connects to another meaning of "cipher": a message written in a secret code.
If your handwriting is as good as your reading and ciphering, I promise you a place right here in my counting house.
He stopped in the kitchen of the Afric Queen. What he saw there made him feel he had swallowed a small live kitten, but he could almost enjoy these pangs, for in his pocket was Mr. Hancock's silver. Any minute he could assuage that kitten.
But when he came to pay, he was chagrined to find so much of his money had gone to fill and overfill his stomach.
You’re going to get whipped for this—set in the stocks. You’re going to jail. You’ll end up on the gallows.
Then he walked off into sparsely settled West Boston.
Then he lay face down, sobbing and saying over and over that God had turned away from him. But his frenzied weeping had given him some release.
Johnny had seen enough of Madge and Dorcas and their suitors to know that the gibe about poor boys aspiring to Miss Lavinia had gone home.
The young man was as kind as his cherubic face suggested.
He really knew they were air castles, for at bottom he was hard-headed, not easily taken in even by his own exuberant imagination.
Cilia was paring apples in that deft, absent-minded way she did such things.
And the tears in Merchant Lyte’s unhealthy, brilliant black eyes—the tremor in his pompous ‘ah-ha-ha’ manner of speech as he clutched his ‘long-lost whatever-you-are’ to his costly waistcoat.
When the merchants agreed not to import any English goods until the Stamp Act was repealed, he was one of the first to sign—then imported secretly.
Johnny’s life with the Laphams had been so limited he knew little of the political strife which was turning Boston into two armed camps.
He had been expecting some such apparition from the past ever since last August. In spite of family efforts to keep certain things dark, he had reason to believe certain things were well known, even among the—ah—lower classes.
‘I think,’ said Mr. Lyte quietly, ‘all of you ladies and gentlemen will agree that this cup our—ah, cousin, is it?—has brought back tonight is one of this set?’
There was a murmur of assent.
A florid woman was flapping a pink feather fan.
‘No,’ someone else was saying, ‘he has a shifty eye.’
As for his name, she showed Sewall the papers of his indenture, signed by his dead mother.
Oddly enough, Johnny slept well on his straw pallet in the jail.
And next day had seen the effigies they had hung, the Tory fences they had torn down or windows broken, and heard that Royal Commissioner So-and-So had been frightened out of Boston.
Or such-and-such a merchant had wept when haled before the Liberty Tree and sworn never to do trade with England until all grievances had been righted.
Rab, enigmatic, dark, capable, looked as always.
Undoubtedly older heads than this boy’s had egged him on to this wretched, scurvy trick, but Mr. Lyte had no wish to go into the matter beyond the recovery of his own property.
He was amazed at the vividness of her jumbled recital and touched by the virtues she attributed to himself.
Miss Lyte stepped up into her high gig. It was a long step, but she was a lithe, long-legged woman.

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