Kidnapped – Robert Louis Stevenson


The central character and narrator is a young man named David Balfour. Balfour is young and naive but resourceful; his parents have recently died, and he is out to make his way in the world. He is given a letter by the local minister to be delivered to the House of Shaws in Cramond, where David’s uncle, Ebenezer Balfour, lives.

David arrives at the ominous House of Shaws and is confronted by his paranoid Uncle Ebenezer, who is armed with a blunderbuss. His uncle is also miserly and the House of Shaws itself is partially unfinished and somewhat ruinous. David is allowed to stay, and soon discovers evidence that his father may have been older than his uncle, thus making himself the rightful heir to the estate. Ebenezer asks David to get a chest from the top of a tower in the house but refuses to provide a lamp or candle. David is forced to scale the stairs in the dark and realizes that not only is the tower unfinished in some places, but the steps simply end abruptly and fall into an abyss. David concludes that his uncle intended for him to have an “accident” so as not to have to give over his inheritance.

David confronts his uncle, who promises to tell David the whole story of his father the next morning. A ship’s cabin boy, Ransome, arrives the next day and tells Ebenezer that Captain Hoseason of the brig Covenant needs to meet him to discuss business. Hoseason later offers to take them on board the brig briefly, and David complies, only to see his uncle returning to shore alone in a skiff. David is then immediately struck senseless.

David awakens, bound hand and foot, in the hold of the ship. David is repulsed at the crew’s behaviour and learns that the captain plans to sell him into servitude in the Carolinas.

David replaces a slain cabin boy, and the ship encounters contrary winds which drive her back toward Scotland. Fog-bound near the Hebrides, they strike a small boat. All of the small boat’s crew are killed except one man, Alan Breck {Stewart}, who is brought on board and offers Hoseason a large sum of money to drop him off on the mainland. David later overhears the crew plotting to kill Breck and take all his money. David and Breck barricade themselves in the round house, where Breck kills the murderous Shuan and David wounds Hoseason. Five of the crew members are killed outright, and the rest refuse to continue fighting.

Hoseason has no choice but to give Breck and David passage back to the mainland. David tells his tale to Breck, who in turn states that his birthplace, Appin, is under the tyrannical administration of Colin Roy of Glenure, a government agent and a Campbell. Breck vows that should he find the “Red Fox” he will kill him.

The Covenant tries to negotiate a difficult channel without a proper chart or pilot and is soon driven aground on the notorious Torran Rocks. David and Breck are separated in the confusion, with David being washed ashore on the isle of Erraid near Mull,

David learns that his new friend has survived, and soon reaches Torosay, where he is ferried across the Sound Of Mull to Loch Aline. As he continues his journey, David encounters none other than the Red Fox (Colin Roy) himself, who is accompanied by a lawyer, servant, and sheriff’s officer. When David stops the Campbell man to ask him for directions, a hidden sniper kills the hated King’s agent. David is denounced as a conspirator and flees for his life but by chance reunites with Breck. The youth believes Breck is the assassin, but Breck denies responsibility. The pair flee from redcoat search parties until they reach James (Stewart) of the Glens, whose family is burying their hidden store of weapons and burning papers that could incriminate them.

Breck and David then begin their flight through the heather, hiding from government soldiers by day. As the two continue their journey, David’s health rapidly deteriorates, and by the time they are set upon by wild Highlanders who serve a chief in hiding, Cluny Macpherson. David is tended by Cluny’s people and soon recovers, though in the meantime Breck loses all of their money playing cards with Cluny, only for Cluny to give it back.

As David and Breck continue their flight, David becomes progressively more ill, and he nurses anger against Breck for several days over the loss of his money. The pair nearly comes to blows but eventually reaches the house of Duncan Dhu, who is a skilled piper.

While staying there, Breck meets a foe of his, Robin Oig—son of Rob Roy MacGregor, who is a murderer and renegade. Breck and Robin nearly fight a duel, but Duncan persuades them to leave the contest to bagpipes. Both play brilliantly, but Breck admits Robin is the better piper, so the quarrel is resolved. Breck and David prepare to leave the Highlands and return to David’s country.

In one of the most humorous passages in the book, Alan convinces an innkeeper’s daughter from Limekilns that David is a dying young Jacobite nobleman, despite David’s objections, and she ferries them across the Firth of Forth. There they meet a lawyer of David’s uncle, Mr. Rankeillor, who agrees to help David receive his inheritance. Rankeillor explains that David’s father and uncle had once quarreled over a woman, David’s mother, and the older Balfour had married her, informally giving the estate to his brother while living as an impoverished school teacher with his wife. This agreement had lapsed with his death.

David and the lawyer hide in bushes outside Ebenezer’s house while Breck speaks to him, claiming to be a man who found David nearly dead after the wreck of the Covenant and is representing folk holding him captive in the Hebrides. He asks David’s uncle whether to kill him or keep him. The uncle flatly denies Alan’s statement that David had been kidnapped, but eventually admits that he paid Hoseason “twenty pound” to take David to “Caroliny”. David and Rankeillor then emerge from their hiding places and speak with Ebenezer in the kitchen, eventually agreeing that David will be provided two-thirds of the estate’s income for as long as his uncle lives.

The novel ends with David and Breck’s parting ways, Breck’s returning to France, and David’s going to a bank to settle his money.