Context: David Balfour, a Scots lad, is sent by a rascally uncle to enforced service in the American colonies. While aboard the ship bound to America, he becomes the cabin-boy for the "Covenant." Shortly afterward the ship runs down a small boat; one man is saved after the accident, a Jacobite adventurer named Alan Breck, a Highlander with a price on his head. Alan Breck demands that the "Covenant's" master set him ashore in Scotland; the captain agrees to put the new passenger on land, but plots to deliver the man to the authorities so he may receive the bounty for turning Breck in. David Balfour overhears the captain and the second officer plotting against the Highlander and warns the man of his peril. Breck and the lad take refuge in the ship's roundhouse, where they hold off the ship's crew, who endeavor to capture them by force. Breck with his sword, and David Balfour with pistols, drive off the crew, killing the second officer and three other men, as well as wounding the captain and several others. Having driven the survivors below decks, Breck returns to the roundhouse, now described by young Balfour:
The roundhouse was like a shambles; three were dead inside, another lay in his death agony across the threshold; and there were Alan and I victorious and unhurt.He came to me with open arms. "Come to my arms!" he cried, and embraced and kissed me upon both cheeks. "David," said he, "I love you like a brother. And O, man," he cried in a kind of ecstasy, "am I no a bonny fighter?"Thereupon he turned to the four enemies, passed his sword clean through each of them, and tumbled them out of doors one after the other. As he did so, he kept humming and singing and whistling to himself, like a man trying to recall an air; only what he was trying to do was to make one. All the while the flush was on his face, and his eyes were as bright as a five-year-old child's with a new toy. . . .