Study Guide

Kidnapped Chapter 1

By Robert Louis Stevenson

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Chapter 1

I Set Off Upon My Journey to the House of Shaws

  • The year is 1751, the month is June, and David (Davie) Balfour is leaving his home at Essendean, in southeast Scotland (the Lowlands), to make his fortune. He's seventeen.
  • He's accompanied for a little way by Mr. Campbell, the Minister of Essendean.
  • Davie's mother is dead and his father has also just passed away.
  • Campbell tells Davie of "an inheritance" that Davie's father has left him: a letter of introduction to the house of Shaws.
  • Davie is amazed: how on earth is his dad related to this house of Shaws?
  • Campbell tells Davie that the Balfour family is a part of the greater Shaw line, an old name that's fallen somewhat on hard times.
  • Campbell hands over the letter, which is addressed to "Ebenezer Balfour, Esquire, of Shaws" (1.9). (Esquire, by the way, means he's a high-ranking dude.) Davie is absolutely thrilled to find out he has somewhere to go now that he is all alone in the world.
  • Campbell tells Davie that it's a two-day walk to Cramond (near Edinburgh, in the Central Belt of Scotland), where his relations live. He's got nothing to lose: even if the Shaws boot Davie out again, he can just walk the two days back to Campbell's manse (a churchman's house), and Campbell will help him out.
  • Campbell then decides to give Davie some advice: he warns him against "a considerable number of heresies" (1.12) (beliefs not accepted by the church), then tells Davie how he should behave in the Shaw household.
  • Campbell asks Davie to be "soople" – or supple, meaning flexible and adaptable – in "yon great muckle house" (1.13). ("Muckle" is Scots for large or grand. Scots, by the way, is the language of the Scottish Lowlands and is related to English – unlike Scottish Gaelic, which is a Celtic language like Irish Gaelic or Welsh.) Campbell reminds Davie that, though he's got "gentle" (noble) blood, he is a country lad and should obey the "laird." Laird is a Scots title for a landowner; it comes from the same root as the English word "lord," but the meaning is more specific.
  • Campbell then passes David four things: a little cash from the sale of Davie's father's stuff; a Bible; a shilling (which is 1/20th of a pound, or 12 pence in old English currency); and a recipe for "lily of the valley water" (1.19) written in red ink on yellow paper.
  • Davie watches Campbell leave. Campbell is so moved by their parting that he shouts goodbye and runs away. Davie wants to laugh, but he also feels guilty: Campbell is clearly going to miss him, but Davie is psyched to start a new adventure with his highborn relations, the Shaws.
  • Davie reads the lily of the valley water recipe. It is supposed to be good for restoring speech, curing gout, and improving memory, among other things. Davie laughs about this, but "tremulously" (his laugh is shaking or quivering) (1.20).
  • Davie sets off. He looks back at his small town and the churchyard where his father and mother are buried.

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