Mr. Shuan is another plot-propelling character. The first mate of the Covenant, he is a violent drunkard who winds up lashing out too severely one night and accidentally killing Ransome, the cabin boy. Ransome's death is the catalyst that gets Davie the job of cabin boy, which leads to his meeting Alan Breck. Ransome's murder also convinces Davie to join forces with Alan to defend him against Captain Hoseason's plan to steal his money.
But Davie can't let even this terrible guy – who abuses a developmentally disabled young man to his death – go without some redeeming commentary. Davie points out that Shuan feels guilty about 's Ransome's death. He appears haunted by Ransome even though he apparently has no clear memory of what he has done. Davie writes:
You may think it strange, but for all the horror I had, I was still sorry for him. He was a married man, with a wife in Leith; but whether or no he had a family, I have now forgotten. I hope not. (8.26)
Davie's effort to humanize even the worst of the evildoers in the novel is an indication that, although this book may be for "young folks," it's no stiff, proper morality tale. It focuses first and foremost on why people do the things they do, not strictly on whether those things are right or wrong. Stevenson portrays characters who are not necessarily paragons of virtue (remember, Alan Breck is an outlaw!) with enough sympathy to make us want to know more about them.