Chapter X. “Disperse, Ye Rebels!”
On April 14th, 1775, spies sent out by General Gage return. It is not known what the spies report, but the British soldiers are all given general orders to train in new tactics. Johnny notices that this seems to excite Lieutenant Stranger.
On Saturday, April 15th many in Boston sense that something is about to happen. There seems to be a heightened activity among the British soldiers. Johnny visits Dr. Warren and listens as Warren and Paul Revere discuss the situation late into the night. Johnny falls asleep and dreams that he is on Hancock’s Wharf, boiling lobsters, with John Hancock and Sam Adams. The lobsters have human eyes, and while Hancock looks away from their suffering, Adams seems to enjoy it. Johnny awakens to find Warren and Revere discussing Hancock and Adams, who left Boston to attend the Provincial Congress in Concord. Johnny overhears Revere note that the people in other towns need to be warned; Revere volunteers to row across the river to Charlestown and then ride by horseback to Lexington and Concord. In the event that he can’t make it across the river, Revere devises a plan to warn the people of Charlestown by hanging a light in the spire of Christ’s Church. The signal will be one light if the troops travel by land and two if they travel by sea. In addition, Billy Dawes, a local patriot, is picked to be a second man ready to flee Boston to get the word out; he is to bring a horse for Paul to ride. As Revere and Johnny leave Dr. Warren’s home, Revere is approached by Dr. Church. When Church asks Revere if the British are planning to march, Revere tells Church nothing. Johnny is surprised by Revere’s hesitation to reveal anything to Church, but Revere notes that he can’t afford to trust the man.
On Sunday, April 16th, the British soldiers began their day by attending church and then going about their business, as if it were an ordinary day. Everything seems so normal that Johnny wonders if they might have made a mistake; perhaps no military action is imminent. However, Rab is so certain that fighting will begin soon that he informs Johnny he is leaving for Lexington as soon as possible. Johnny is upset by Rab’s disclosure; in a way, he feels that Rab is abandoning him. Johnny tells Rab that it might be best if he went too, but Rab notes that Johnny has important work to do in Boston. The two briefly argue about Rab’s decision, but Johnny realizes that Rab’s mind is set on leaving. Johnny wonders how Rab can so eagerly head off to fight and possibly face death. Rab tells Johnny goodbye, and Johnny watches as he shakes hands with Uncle Lorne and hugs Aunt Jenifer goodbye. Realizing that he might never see Rab again, Johnny longs to run after him to wish him luck and to offer one final goodbye. However, he is overcome with emotion and simply flings himself upon his bed. As Johnny lies upon his bed, he hears the distant ringing of many church bells. He thinks of the many different meanings of the bells. In sharp contrast, he hears the roll of British soldiers’ drums.
The next day is uneventful. Johnny notices that Lieutenant Stranger seems very solemn, and he thinks that perhaps there might not be a fight after all.
On April 18th, word spreads among the British soldiers that a large military expedition will depart that evening. Johnny hangs about the Afric Queen, watching Colonel Smith. Johnny tries to read into the various things he sees, but he can’t be sure if they really foreshadow imminent conflict. Before reporting to Paul Revere, Johnny decides to visit Dove. He finds that Dove has just been beaten by Colonel Smith for polishing the wrong saddle. As Johnny carefully questions Dove, he is able to piece together that Smith will lead an expedition that very evening against Lexington and Concord. The colonel expects it to be a very short campaign.
Johnny visits Dr. Warren’s house and tells a group of men there what he has learned from Dove. Outside Warren’s house, British troops begin to gather. When a man comes in and informs them that he has seen British soldiers getting into boats and heading across the river to Cambridge, Dr. Warren tells Johnny to summon Billy Dawes and Paul Revere. Johnny finds Dawes at home; his wife is helping him to dress the part for a drunken farmer. Dawes and his wife seem to take it all very lightly, but when Dawes departs for Dr. Warren’s house, Johnny sees that his wife is very concerned for her husband’s safety. When Johnny arrives at Paul Revere’s home, Revere asks him to check to see if more than one ship has moved into the mouth of the river, which would make it very difficult for Revere to row across the river. He also asks Johnny to visit Robert Newman, the Christ’s Church sexton. Johnny is to tell Newman to hang two lanterns in the church’s spire.
From Copp’s Hill, Johnny sees that only one British warship guards the mouth of the river. On his way to Newman’s, Johnny whines and fakes an injury to get past a group of British soldiers. An officer tells his men to let the child pass, and Johnny’s ability to act the part of a child pleases him. Johnny delivers his message to Newman and returns to Dr. Warren’s home in time to hear Revere urge Warren to cross the river with him into Charlestown. Revere fears that when the fighting begins General Gage may hang Warren for treason, but Warren insists on remaining in Boston. Revere departs, and Johnny sneaks outside to watch the remaining British soldiers board their boats. Hundreds of other Bostonians are watching too, but only Johnny knows that Paul Revere is making his way across the river, heading for Charlestown and his horse. Johnny catches a glimpse of Lieutenant Stranger and his horse, as well as the horse of a British marine officer, boarding a boat. Johnny wonders if the marines are also taking part in the expedition and believes that he should share his observation with Dr. Warren.
At Dr. Warren’s home, several people come to report observations: Paul Revere successfully rowed past the British warship, and Billy Dawes and his horse successfully made it past the British guards.
Dr. Warren orders Johnny to get some sleep. Johnny lies down and immediately falls asleep. At dawn on April 19th, Johnny awakens alone. In Lexington, shots are fired—the war has begun.
Johnny’s dream about the lobsters with men’s eye reflects his growing understanding that armed conflict is inevitable. The lobsters (which turn bright red when boiled) obviously symbolize the British Redcoats. The fact that Hancock turns away from the boiling lobsters, while Adams seems to enjoy it, shows that Johnny understands there are still those who want to avoid conflict—as well as those who welcome it.
Johnny’s deep concern over Rab’s departure illustrates how close the boys have become. However, Johnny’s response to Rab’s departure is clearly contrasted with that of Uncle Lorne and Aunt Jenifer. Whereas the adults shake Rab’s hand and hug him, allowing Rab to depart “like a man,” Johnny runs upstairs and throws himself on his bed. Similarly, the actions of the Dawes, who laugh and joke about Billy Dawes’ comical costume, illustrate an adult response to unspoken fears. In essence, Mrs. Dawes feigns happiness in the face of sorrow.