Chapter VII. The Fiddler’s Bill
England officially closes Boston Harbor. Because of the Port Act, in June of 1774 Johnny and Rab find themselves—along with many other Bostonians—out of work. Governor Hutchinson is called back to England and is replaced with General Gage, and more troops begin arriving in Boston.
Rab begins drilling with the local militia. He becomes obsessed with obtaining a decent musket, and one day actually reaches out and touches a British soldier’s gun. The soldier knocks Rab unconscious, but a British medic helps to revive him. Johnny is puzzled by such actions of the British: on one hand they were very oppressive; on the other hand, they could be very compassionate. The medic who attends to Rab notices Johnny’s riding boots and asks if they know a boy who might convey a take a letter to another town. Rab convinces Johnny to say yes. As a result, Johnny begins carrying communications for many British officers, a function Rab believes may be useful to the Whigs. On one occasion, Johnny is taunted by one of Raul Revere’s daughters for apparently helping the British, but Johnny knows the value of his actions and isn’t put off by her comments. When Revere learns of his daughter’s actions, he has her apologize to Johnny.
Johnny makes a good deal of money riding for the British officers, but he turns it all over to Mrs. Lorne. General Gage doesn’t want any confrontations with the locals and so he does not stop the public meetings or work of the printers. Boston learns to adapt to the closing of the harbor; goods are carried in and out of the city, instead of being shipped. Johnny wants to participate in the drills with the Minute Men, but his hand makes it impossible for him to pull a trigger.
One afternoon Johnny finds Cilla in the shop. Rab needed a caricature of a British soldier and Cilla had drawn it. Cilla informs them that Dorcas ran off to get married. When Cilla notes that Tweedie said that he didn’t mind waiting for her, Johnny laughs. Cilla then informs them that she and Isannah are no longer living at the Lapham house. Lavinia Lyte came to the shop to place an order with the Laphams and was once again captivated by Isannah. Lavinia approached Mrs. Lyte about taking Isannah into the Lyte household, and Mrs. Lapham consented as long as Cilla was also allowed to go. As a result, Cilla was given a position working in the Lyte kitchen and as a servant for Lavinia. Johnny reminds Cilla that he leaves a paper at the Lyte’s house and suggests that they can still meet occasionally. Cilla plays coy and further antagonizes Johnny by letting Rab walk her back to the Lyte house.
Johnny continues to run letters for the British officers. Occasionally, he is picked on by the British orderlies and once he gets into a fight with a British stable boy. Johnny bests the boy and is surprised when the other Brits congratulate him, instead of ganging up on him. One day Johnny discovers that Dove is the colonel’s new horse boy, after Tweedie fired him. Johnny rebukes Dove for working for the British, but when Dove discovers that Johnny rides to the British officers he notes: “Looks like you work for them, too.”
On one occasion, a British colonel asks Johnny to take a letter to another town. He confronts Johnny about Goblin, the only horse in the stable not belonging to the British. The colonel sends Lieutenant Stranger, to assess the horse, and Johnny informs him that Goblin is not for sale. Stranger takes Goblin for a ride, but Johnny, sensing that he might lose Goblin, manages to scare the skittish horse so that it bucks the lieutenant off. Stranger laughs at Johnny’s clever action. After that day, Johnny no longer has trouble with the British stable boys; unfortunately, Dove becomes the object of their antagonism. Johnny helps Dove, and Dove begins to become a regular part of life at the Observer. Though Johnny resents this, Rab reminds him that Dove may uncover useful information someday.
Returning from delivering the British colonel’s letter, Johnny realizes that his feelings about his hand, particularly his hatred of Dove, have changed. He looks back fondly on Mr. Lapham, who has died, Mrs. Lapham, and most of the Lapham girls. However, his feelings for Isannah have worsened, for it seems that Isannah has changed since she went to live with the Lytes. Johnny decides to visit the Laphams.
Tweedie, rather rudely, asks why Johnny has come to the shop, and when Johnny informs him that he wants to have a spur repaired, Tweedie immediately treats him with respect. Once inside the Lapham house, Johnny sees the Birth and Death room and realizes how different his life is and how much he has changed. When he goes into the backyard, he sees Madge in the arms of a burly British soldier. She introduces Johnny to the soldier. When Madge comments about Isannah’s good fortune being taken in by the Lytes, Johnny responds that Isannah is no more than a “pet poodle.” Madge notes that Johnny’s outspokenness hasn’t changed one bit. She informs him that Mrs. Lapham is insisting that she marry Tweedie but that she can’t because she’s in love with the British officer. Johnny returns to the shop, pays Tweedie, and realizes that he will never again return to live in the Lapham home.
When Johnny delivers the paper to the Lytes’ house, Bessie, the cook, usually arranges it so that he can have a short visit with Cilla. On this particular occasion, Cilla is busy helping Lavinia entertain a group of British soldiers. Johnny reflects on how the cook doesn’t like Lavinia and how, deep inside, he knows there is something wrong with Lavinia. He believes that the cook knows some secret about Lavinia; he suspects that Cilla also knows the secret, though she won’t reveal it to him.
Mrs. Bessie informs Johnny that Lavinia and the others are planning to attend a masquerade that evening. Mrs. Bessie, referring to Isannah as “Izzy,” notes that Isannah is to attend the function dressed as a teapot. Cilla enters the kitchen, saying that she thought Johnny might be there. She says that the men are trying to fashion a tin scepter for Lavinia’s Queen of Spades costume, and she told Lavinia that Johnny could certainly do it. When Johnny enters the drawing room, he sees Lavinia half dressed in her costume and is captivated by her beauty. Isannah is dressed only in her undergarments, and, without thinking, Johnny blurts out for her to “put some clothes on.” Isannah offers a smart remark to Johnny, and Johnny slaps her. Isannah is upended so that it appears that she is nude. Lavinia and the British officers laugh heartily at the events. Cilla rushes to help Lavinia, who has burst a stay in her dress, but Cilla stumbles and is reprimanded by Lavinia. In the meantime, Isannah rushes to put her head in Lavinia’s lap. Johnny becomes enraged at the treatment of the Lapham girls. He lashes out verbally, but Lavinia says she won’t be treated so by her “servants.” Johnny reminds her that he isn’t one of her servants, and Lavinia yells at Cilla for bringing such “riffraff” into her home. When Cilla replies that Lavinia asked her to bring him, Lavinia responds that she wanted a talented metal worker and not—though she doesn’t use the word—a cripple.
Lavinia sends Cilla to her room and dismisses Johnny. Before he departs, Mrs. Bessie gives him a hot drink. When Johnny comments on how Lavinia treats Isannah like a “monkey,” Mrs. Bessie notes that it’s only possible because Isannah allows it to happen. Johnny inquires if Cilla is happy, and Mrs. Bessie responds that she’s happy enough. Mrs. Bessie notes that the Lytes will be moving to their country home in a week, but they won’t stay long because the Sons of Liberty are “out to get” Mr. Lyte. They plan to tar and feather Lyte and to drive off Lavinia. When Johnny asks if the girls might get hurt, Mrs. Bessie replies that she will watch out for them. She mentions that she has helped Sam Adams for years, and Johnny is surprised that a woman working in a Tory household would support the Whigs.
In this chapter we see that Johnny is maturing. His confusion over the fact that the British soldiers could be both compassionate and brutal demonstrates that he is developing a more adult conception of humanity. He does not yet fully understand this duplicity, but he recognizes that humans are not one-dimensional beings. His decision to turn all of the money he makes over to Mrs. Lorne is very selfless and reflects his strong sense of loyalty. (It also suggests that he sees himself as a member of the Lorne family, further evidence of which is seen in his understanding that he will never again live with the Laphams.) Johnny’s slight jealousy over the fact that Rab walks Cilla home and his willingness to stick up for Dove also show a boy who is moving into adolescence.
Johnny’s surprise that Mrs. Bessie isn’t a Tory is reminiscent of Paul Revere’s comment to his daughter that things aren’t always what then seem.