Study Guide

Kidnapped Revenge

By Robert Louis Stevenson

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The woman's face lit up with a malignant anger. "That is the house of Shaws!" she cried. "Blood built it; blood stopped the building of it; blood shall bring it down. See here!" she cried again–"I spit upon the ground, and crack my thumb at it! Black be its fall! If ye see the laird, tell him what ye hear; tell him this makes the twelve hunner and nineteen time that Jennet Clouston has called down the curse on him and his house, byre and stable, man, guest, and master, wife, miss, or bairn–black, black be their fall!" (2.18)

This hissy fit thrown by Jennet Clouston is among the first tangible evidence we get that Ebenezer Balfour is probably not a good guy. This is also one of the only instances in the novel when a character swears revenge that doesn't work. Why doesn't Jennet get her vengeance on Ebenezer? Or does she? After all, she's cursing Ebenezer that "blood shall bring it down" – and it is Ebenezer's blood, in the form of his nephew, who takes over the estate from Ebenezer by the end of the novel. Maybe that furious woman was onto something.

"Man Alan," said I, "ye are neither very wise nor very Christian to blow off so many words of anger. They will do the man ye call the Fox no harm, and yourself no good. Tell me your tale plainly out. What did he next?"

"And that's a good observe, David," said Alan. "Troth and indeed, they will do him no harm; the more's the pity! And barring that about Christianity (of which my opinion is quite otherwise, or I would be nae Christian), I am much of your mind."

"Opinion here or opinion there," said I, "it's a kent thing that Christianity forbids revenge."

"Ay" said he, "it's well seen it was a Campbell taught ye! It would be a convenient world for them and their sort, if there was no such a thing as a lad and a gun behind a heather bush!" (12.43-46)

Alan's morality is clearly pretty flexible here, if he can rewrite Christianity as a get-out-of-jail-free card in regards to revenge. Davie's warning that Alan should not "blow off so many words of anger" proves prophetic, since Alan later regrets being so obvious in his hatred of Colin Roy once the man is dead.

"No they," said [Mr. Henderland]. "And that's the worst part of it. For if Colin Roy can get his business done in Appin, he has it all to begin again in the next country, which they call Mamore, and which is one of the countries of the Camerons. He's King's Factor upon both, and from both he has to drive out the tenants; and indeed, Mr. Balfour (to be open with ye), it's my belief that if he escapes the one lot, he'll get his death by the other." (16.38)

There's an inevitability to revenge in Highland circles, it appears. "It's [Henderland's] belief that if [Colin Roy] escapes the [Stewarts], he'll get his death by the [Camerons]." While revenge may be neither the law of the land nor sanctioned by Christianity, it's still the custom in the Highlands.

"Man, I whiles wonder at ye," said Alan. "This is a Campbell that's been killed. Well, it'll be tried in Inverara, the Campbells' head place; with fifteen Campbells in the jury-box and the biggest Campbell of all (and that's the Duke) sitting cocking on the bench. Justice, David? The same justice, by all the world, as Glenure found awhile ago at the roadside." (18.31-34)

One problem with living by the law of revenge is that it never just stops with one murder. Now that a Campbell has been killed, the Appin Stewarts will have to pay, and Alan doesn't want to be put in front of a Campbell court to take the fall.

Never a word they spoke as they pulled ashore, being stunned with the horror of that screaming; but they had scarce set foot upon the beach when Hoseason woke up, as if out of a muse, and bade them lay hands upon Alan. They hung back indeed, having little taste for the employment; but Hoseason was like a fiend, crying that Alan was alone, that he had a great sum about him, that he had been the means of losing the brig and drowning all their comrades, and that here was both revenge and wealth upon a single cast. It was seven against one; in that part of the shore there was no rock that Alan could set his back to; and the sailors began to spread out and come behind him. (18.57)

Other than drink and money, Hoseason appears to love only two things in this world: his mother and his ship. We never discover exactly what happened in the fistfight between Riach and the rest of the Covenant crew. Did he escape with his life? Does Riach's protection of Alan make up for his complicity in the earlier attack on Alan and Davie aboard the Covenant?

"Ay" said James, "and by my troth, I wish he was alive again! It's all very fine to blow and boast beforehand; but now it's done, Alan; and who's to bear the wyte of it? The accident fell out in Appin–mind ye that, Alan; it's Appin that must pay; and I am a man that has a family." (19.10)

Again, the lesson has been learned about why vengeance is bad news: now "it's Appin that must pay." We know that the real James Stewart was hanged, but should our awareness of that change our reading of him as a character? How badly should we feel that this James Stewart is a "man that has a family"? Maybe, in the world of Kidnapped, James Stewart survives?

"It's a day that sticks in my throat," said James. "O man, man, man–man Alan! you and me have spoken like two fools!" he cried, striking his hand upon the wall so that the house rang again.

"Well, and that's true, too," said Alan; "and my friend from the Lowlands here" (nodding at me) "gave me a good word upon that head, if I would only have listened to him." (19.25-26)

See, now you guys regret talking so much smack about Colin Roy. But it's too late. Still, credit to Stevenson for the continuity: Alan remembers Davie's warning way back in Chapter 12, and he regrets not listening to him then.

"There may be two words to say to that. But I think I will have heard that you are a man of your sword?"

"Unless ye were born deaf, Mr. Macgregor, ye will have heard a good deal more than that," says Alan. "I am not the only man that can draw steel in Appin; and when my kinsman and captain, Ardshiel, had a talk with a gentleman of your name, not so many years back, I could never hear that the Macgregor had the best of it. [. . .] The match was unequal. You and me would make a better pair, sir."

"I was thinking that," said Alan. (25.22-24)

Alan hasn't exactly learned his lesson about revenge: he allows Robin Oig (almost) to persuade him into a duel as a continuation of a fight between Rob Roy (Oig's father) and Ardshiel (Alan's clan chief). They finally settle the matter with music, but it's a close call.

"True," said Mr. Rankeillor. "And yet I imagine it was natural enough. He could not think that he had played a handsome part. Those who knew the story gave him the cold shoulder; those who knew it not, seeing one brother disappear, and the other succeed in the estate, raised a cry of murder; so that upon all sides he found himself evited. Money was all he got by his bargain; well, he came to think the more of money. He was selfish when he was young, he is selfish now that he is old; and the latter end of all these pretty manners and fine feelings you have seen for yourself." (28.9)

Ebenezer suffers social revenge for his misbehavior. He's managed to weasel his brother out of his inheritance, but he is completely isolated by the people around him as a result.

"Come, come, Mr. Ebenezer," said the lawyer, "you must not be down-hearted, for I promise you we shall make easy terms. In the meanwhile give us the cellar key, and Torrance shall draw us a bottle of your father's wine in honour of the event." Then, turning to me and taking me by the hand, "Mr. David," says he, "I wish you all joy in your good fortune, which I believe to be deserved." (29.61)

Davie is taking the high road. Now that he's defeated Ebenezer and recovered his claim to the Shaws estate, Davie (via Rankeillor) is willing to settle on "easy terms." He's probably the only character in the book who is genuinely wronged who does not choose revenge. Way to practice what you preach, there, buddy.

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