Chapter IX. The Scarlet Deluge
By fall, Paul Revere has organized an effective system to spy on the British. The men now meet at the Green Dragon, a less conspicuous site. Any information Johnny uncovers he divulges to Revere, and Revere reminds him to keep a sharp eye on Dove, for Dove is in a position to know important information.
One day Lydia, a laundress at the Afric Queen, informs Johnny that she believes the British are about to begin a campaign against the colonists. One of the British officers had been composing a letter to Lavinia Lyte, and Lydia managed to obtain several torn-up drafts of the letter. Johnny shows the portions of the letter to Rab and Mr. Lorne and the three piece the letters together. The letters suggest that on December 15th the author will be sixty miles away, in the midst of “danger.” They conclude that a raid will take place on Portsmouth. Johnny heads to Paul Revere to tell him the news. Revere hastily rides to Portsmouth to warn them of the possible operation, and because of the warning, the rebels are able to seize the British fort and military supplies.
As Johnny works to befriend Dove, he realizes that his feelings toward Dove have changed. Johnny takes pity on Dove and defends him from a group of mean-spirited British boys. As a result, Dove clings to Johnny and begins hanging about the Observer. Dove has become pro-British and informs Johnny that he has told the British officers that Johnny is a rebel. When Dove hints that he knows an important military secret, Johnny and Rab try to ply him with alcohol to learn the information. Unfortunately, they only succeed in getting Dove drunk. They realize that Dove, who was supposed to prepare Colonel Smith’s horses, can’t return to work, so Johnny decides to take Dove’s place. Lieutenant Stranger sees Johnny preparing Smith’s horses and tells Johnny that he wants to teach him how to jump with a horse. Johnny performs well on Goblin, and he realizes that although both he and Stranger are unequal in social status, they are equal on a horse. Though this notion bothers Johnny, it does not seem to bother Stranger.
While attempting to deliver the Observer, Johnny heads through a British encampment. A British officer is angered by Johnny’s presence in the camp and threatens to whip him for trying to deliver the seditious paper. British soldiers surround Johnny, but Pumpkin, a solider who knows Johnny, quietly tells Johnny to dig his spurs into Goblin. Johnny does so, and the horse takes off, dumping the newspapers in the dirt. Johnny races through the countryside and eventually arrives at the Lyte’s house. To his surprise, Johnny sees Pumpkin, who makes a joke about Johnny’s hasty departure and rough ride on Goblin. Pumpkin tells Johnny not to worry about the newspapers because they fell into good hands, for many of the British soldiers are actually pro-Whig. As they discuss deserters, Johnny learns the Pumpkin would desert if he had the opportunity. Johnny vows to help Pumpkin by getting some farmer’s clothes for him and leaving them in the Lyte’s barn—if Pumpkin will agree to leave his musket. Pumpkin agrees.
Johnny decides to give Pumpkin one of the smocks his mother made for him. Johnny becomes wistful as he reflects on the great care his mother had put into the garment. He also obtains an old hat, wig, and pants, and he leaves the clothes in the Lyte’s barn, as promised. Johnny tells Rab about Pumpkin’s planned desertion and gets Rab to convince an uncle, who routinely hides copies of the Observer in his wagon, to smuggle Pumpkin out of town.
Ten days later Cilla informs Johnny that the clothes have been taken and a musket and British uniform were left in the barn. Rab’s uncle smuggles the musket out to Lexington, but Pumpkin does not show up. Johnny assumes that Pumpkin must have found another way out of town.
Rab doesn’t openly thank Johnny for the musket; however, Johnny knows that Rab appreciates it. Johnny makes a bullet mold, and he and Rab spend the evenings casting bullets. Rab’s Aunt Jennifer even gives Rab her pewter set so that the boys might make more bullets. Rab relishes the notion that now when he drills with the Minute Men he will have a decent weapon and ammunition with him.
In April, tensions grow in Boston, as the colonists expect General Gage to move his troops into the countryside. The locals hear that King George is displeased with Gage’s inability to put down the rebels and is sending three new generals to replace Gage. They anticipate that Gage will begin a campaign before the new generals arrive. Johnny continues to listen for valuable information at the stables of the Afric Queen.
As Johnny leads the colonel’s horses to pasture, he comes upon a small group of British soldiers working in the marsh. Johnny hears a drum roll and suddenly a whole squadron of Redcoats march into the same area. He realizes that the soldiers in the marsh are part of a firing squad, and that a man, who is bound and blindfolded, is about to be shot for desertion. To his surprise, Johnny recognizes that the deserter is Pumpkin. Johnny is distraught over the execution. As the solders from the firing squad file past him, Johnny thinks of each musket as having a “wicked, round eye.” To him looking at the guns is like “looking into the face of death.” He cannot comprehend how any man could stand up in an actual military conflict, and he is actually glad that his hand is crippled. He wonders if Rab has ever felt this way.
Johnny’s recognition that his feelings toward Dove are changing is evidence that he is maturing emotionally. When Johnny first learns that Dove purposely gave him the cracked crucible, he vows to get revenge, yet when he has matured, he takes pity upon Dove and even attempts to protect him from the mean-spirited British stable boys.
Pumpkin’s desire to desert, so that he might purchase some land and livestock of his own, illustrates James Otis’s assertion that a war with England must not be fought for trivial reasons, but for higher ideals, such as the ability of every man to stand on his own.
Aunt Jenifer’s willingness to give Johnny and Rab her set of pewter, to be smelted for bullets, is an example of how much many of the patriots are willing to sacrifice for their cause.
Johnny’s accidental viewing of the firing squad is his introduction to the brutal realities of war, and his relief that he can’t go into battle because of his hand shows that he in some ways he is still childlike.