The Master of Ballantrae Summary
by Robert Louis Stevenson

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The Master of Ballantrae Summary

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

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Stuart Pretender landed in Scotland in 1745 to assert his right to the throne of England by force of arms if necessary. At this time, the Duries of Durrisdeer decided to steer a middle course. One son would fight for the exiled Stuart, and the other would bide at home in loyalty to King George. James, Master of Ballantrae and his father’s heir, won the toss of a coin and elected to join the Stuart cause. The younger son, Henry, stayed at Durrisdeer. By this means, it was hoped by their shrewd old father that either way the struggle went, the family estate would remain intact.

Word of the defeat of the Scottish forces at Culloden and the news of James’s death came soon after. Henry became the Master of Ballantrae. In 1748, he married Alison Graeme, who had been betrothed to James; but even after a daughter and a son had been born to them, their marriage was overshadowed by the spirit of the former Master of Ballantrae. James had been the favorite son. Old Lord Durrisdeer had denied him nothing, and Alison had loved him. This feeling led to domestic difficulties, and later the village gossips idolized James and accused Henry of selling out the Stuart cause.

Colonel Francis Burke, an Irishman, came into this strained situation and announced that he and James had escaped together from the field at Culloden. The old Lord was exceedingly happy with this news; Henry felt frustrated; Alison seemed pleased. Burke’s mission was to get money from the estate to take to James, who was living in France. Henry arranged to send him money through Burke.

Burke described his association with James and their adventures after leaving Scotland. The ship on which they escaped was boarded by pirates, and James and Burke were taken aboard the pirate ship. The pirates, under the leadership of Teach, their captain, were a drunken, incompetent, and ignorant lot.

James bided his time, and when the ship put in for repairs, he escaped with Burke and several members of the crew, after robbing the store chest of money and treasure Teach had accumulated. With their spoils, James and Burke eventually arrived in New York, where they met Chew, an Indian trader. They took off with him into the wilderness. When Chew died, they were left without a guide. James and Burke quarreled and separated. James buried his treasure and set off through the wilderness for Fort St. Frederick. When he arrived at the fort, he again met Burke, who welcomed him as a long-lost brother and paid his fare to France.

In France, James served in the French army and became a man of consequence at the French court because of his adeptness at politics, his unscrupulousness, and the money from his inheritance in Scotland. His demands finally put the estate in financial difficulties; over a period of seven years, he demanded and obtained a sum amounting to more than eight thousand pounds. Because he practiced strict economy to provide funds for his brother, Henry acquired a reputation as a miser and was upbraided by his wife. Then in 1756, Alison learned the true state of affairs from Mackellar, Henry’s factor.

Matters ran more smoothly in the household until James returned suddenly from France aboard a smuggler’s lugger. His father was overjoyed to see his favorite son, who during his stay at Durrisdeer was known as Mr. Bally. James’s hatred for Henry was known only to Henry and Mackellar. In the presence of the household, James seemed to be on the friendliest terms with his brother, but when no one was around, he goaded Henry by subtle innuendoes and insinuations. Henry bore this state of affairs as best he could because James, even in exile, was the true Master of Ballantrae. As a further torment for his patient brother, James paid marked attention to Alison, and it seemed that she preferred his company to Henry’s.

Matters came to a head one night when James casually mentioned to Henry that there never was a woman who did not prefer him when Henry was around. When this assertion was...

(The entire section is 1,464 words.)