Hoseason appears at the round-house door and tells Alan and David that the ship has sailed into an area with reefs, off the Scottish island of Earraid, and there is danger that it may run into them. David sees that Alan is afraid, though he will not admit it. Just as everyone thinks the ship is safely past the reefs, it strikes one. Many men are wounded. Hoseason seems struck dumb. Alan tells David that this is the worst possible place for him to go ashore, as it is the land of the Campbells.
Just as the crew is trying to launch a boat in which they can escape, a great wave upends the ship, and David is thrown into the sea. David is able to get to dry land by holding onto a piece of wood from the wreckage.
David finds that he is stranded on a small barren island, separated from the mainland by a creek that is too deep to wade across. He cannot swim and the piece of wood he used to bring him to the shore has drifted away, so he cannot use it to float across. The only food he can find is shellfish, which sometimes make him very sick and at other times seem to agree with him. David is miserable, lonely, and increasingly weak. He has lost most of his money in the shipwreck. He can see a distant church and houses on the mainland, but cannot see a way of reaching them.
On David’s third day on the island, some fishermen sail their boat near him. He calls to them, but they only shout in Gaelic, laugh, and pass on. David cannot believe their cruelty. The next day, he sees the same boat again, but this time, it sails directly to the island. One of the men tells him in broken English that when the tide is out, he can wade across the creek to the mainland. David feels embarrassed that he did not realize this. He recognizes that the fishermen were not being cruel when they previously laughed at him, as they could not know that he did not understand how to get to the mainland.
David wades across the creek to the mainland, called the Ross of Mull, and aims for a house from which he had seen smoke rising during his time on the island. An old man is sitting outside the house, and tells David that his shipmates have come safely ashore and eaten a meal in his house the day before. Alan is one of them, and he has told the old man to expect “the lad with the silver button” – David. Alan has left a message for David to follow him to his own country, near Torosay.
The old man and his wife feed David well and give him a bed for the night. Next day, David leaves with a good impression of these “wild Highlanders.” As he walks through the countryside, he is struck by the poverty of the Highlanders. As they have been forbidden by law since the Jacobite rebellion to wear their Highland dress of tartan, they have improvised with whatever clothes they can lay hands on.
That evening, David has to give a householder five shillings in return for a bed for the night and to be guided to Torosay the next day. The following morning, the man takes David to a “rich” man in order to get change for one of David’s guineas. The first man, David’s guide, gets drunk and refuses to start out until the next day. Along the road, the man refuses to go any further unless David gives him more money. Not two miles further, the man again wants more money before he will go further. David gets angry and moves to strike the man, who pulls a knife on him. David deflects the knife, knocks the man down, and continues on his way alone.
David overtakes a blind man who claims to be a catechist, or religious instructor. David notices that he is illegally carrying a pistol in his coat. He keeps edging closer to David, who is suspicious of him. David tells him (falsely) that he is carrying a pistol, too, and threatens to shoot him if he does not leave him alone. The man walks off.
David reaches Torosay and speaks to an innkeeper, who tells him that the blind man is a well-known robber and murderer.
David crosses from Torosay to the Scottish mainland on the ferry. On the way, he sees an emigrant ship bound for the American colonies. Those left on the shore are crying at the loss of their loved ones.
David speaks to the skipper of the ferry, a fellow clansman of Alan’s, who has orders from Alan to keep David safe. David is able to show him Alan’s silver button to prove who he is. David is to sleep that night in an inn, and the next night at a house of a man called John of the Claymore. He is then to make for the house of James of the Glens.
The next day, David overtakes a catechist called Henderland. They fall into conversation. Henderland has some respect for the Highlanders and for Alan. He says that Colin Campbell is about to evict Stewart tenants. Henderland invites David to stay the night at his house, and David accepts. Before they retire to bed, Henderland catechizes David.
The next day, Henderland finds a man to take David across the Linnhe Loch to Appin in his boat. On the way, David sees a group of red-coated soldiers of King George. The boatman says that he thinks they are coming to evict the poor Stewart tenants.
The boatman sets David ashore near the wood of Lettermore, in Alan’s country of Appin. David wonders why he is taking the risk of joining up with Alan (a hunted man) when he could head home alone.
As David walks through the wood, four men on horseback appear. David asks them for directions to Aucharn. One of the travelers turns out to be Colin Campbell, the “Red Fox”; another is his lawyer, and a third is a sheriff’s officer. Campbell guesses that David is seeking out James of the Glens. David tells him that he is an honest subject of King George, and takes neither the side of the King’s army or of James of the Glens. Suddenly, a shot rings out, and Campbell falls dead on the road. David runs after the murderer, a big man in a black coat, but he escapes. The lawyer and sheriff’s officer shout at David to come back. The lawyer accuses David of being an accomplice to the murder, posted in the wood to hold Campbell in conversation. They tell a group of soldiers to pursue David. As David stands terrified, he hears a voice telling him to hide in the trees. It is Alan. Alan tells David to follow him, and sets off at a run; when not under cover of trees, they crawl on all fours. Thus begins David and Alan’s flight through the “heather,” the Scottish wilderness. From time to time, Alan straightens up to ensure that the soldiers see him. Then he doubles back the same way they came, this time keeping out of sight. Finally, the two men collapse, exhausted, in the wood of Lettermore.
When David and Alan awake next morning, David is angry with Alan and wants to part from him. He believes that Alan is responsible for the murder of Campbell, whether by pulling the trigger himself or ordering someone else to do it. But Alan insists that he had nothing to do with it: if he had planned to kill Campbell, he would not be without a sword and gun, with only a fishing rod. Alan swears upon his dagger (“dirk”) that he had no hand in the murder. Believing that Alan may have been a conspirator in the killing, David asks Alan if he knows the man in the black coat, whom David saw running away. Alan tries to confuse David’s memory of the man, suggesting that his coat may have been blue. He says that he would rather forget anything that he did see.
David then accuses Alan of deliberately showing himself to the soldiers in order to draw them away from the real killer. Alan agrees that this is “likely,” as he considers it the job of a “gentleman” to do so. David cannot understand why an innocent man should expose himself to suspicion. Alan reasons that the innocent have a chance of clearing their name in court, whereas the man who shot Campbell should be given a chance to escape. “And that,” says Alan, “is the good Christianity.” David says nothing, but respects Alan’s readiness to sacrifice himself, albeit he thinks his morals are “tail-first.”
David forgives Alan, and they shake hands. Alan says they must flee, as he is a wanted deserter, and David is a suspected accomplice to the murder. David protests that he has faith in the justice system, but Alan points out that the case would be tried in Campbell country, with a jury stacked with Campbells, presided over by a Campbell judge. Alan suggests going to the Lowlands, and David agrees, as he wants to go home and confront Ebenezer. Alan warns David that their life on the run will be hard, but the alternative is to be hanged.
Alan tells David what happened after they fell overboard from the Covenant. He, Hoseason, and Riach were among the sailors who made it to shore. Hoseason ordered his men to capture Alan and take his money, but Riach refused, allowing Alan to escape.
Analysis of Chapters XIII-XVIII
The reference to the emigrant ship highlights the historical process known as the Highland Clearances, the forced displacement of the Highland peoples that took place during the eighteenth century. The clearances were carried out on the orders of clan chiefs, who had become landlords after the English fashion, reliant on income from their land. However, the actual evictions were frequently performed by Lowland or English factors (agents) in order to turn the land over to more profitable sheep and cattle farming. Because the Highland inhabitants no longer had land on which they could grow food crops, they had to leave in search of a better life. Some moved to the Scottish Lowlands, and thousands emigrated to America, Canada, and Australia. The Clearances played a major role in the demolition of the clan system after King George II’s forces put down the Jacobite Risings.
Many critics comment on the unrealistic quality of David’s turning up in Lettermore wood just at the moment of the Appin murder. It is true that it is a coincidence that is hard to credit, though Stevenson has to some extent set his hero up for this moment by making him a somewhat naïve young man who has a talent for wandering into dangerous situations.
The unlikeliness of this moment contrasts with Stevenson’s more realistic treatment of David’s time on the barren island. David notes, “In all the books I have read of people cast away, they had either their pockets full of tools, or a chest of things would be thrown on the beach along with them, as if on purpose” (Chapter XIV). This part of the novel is widely viewed as Stevenson’s critique of Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe (1719), in which the hero is washed up on a desert island with (conveniently) a full box of tools and other objects useful for survival. In a realistic touch, David is cast ashore not only without useful objects, but also without knowledge of the sea. This last point leads to an anti-climactic but again realistic incident in which David does not realize that he only has to wait for the tide to go out in order to wade comfortably across to the mainland. While this has the anti-romantic and anti-heroic effect of making David’s predicament seem tame in retrospect, it is an authentic detail. Experts frequently comment on real-life wilderness deaths that it is not always external conditions that are the inevitable cause of death, but the lack of knowledge of terrain, how to use equipment or improvise in its absence, and so forth.
This section of the novel explores the theme of the cultural differences between the Whig Lowlander David and the Jacobite Highlander Alan. After the shooting of Colin Campbell in the wood of Lettermore, Alan tells David (Chapter XVIII) that he has a duty to draw the soldiers’ attention to themselves and away from the true killer, even though they are innocent of the murder. He feels it is the right thing to do as a Highlander and as an enemy of the Campbells. This way of thinking is foreign to David, who feels that the guilty person should be punished and the innocent go free according to proper legal process. Nevertheless, David feels respect for Alan’s views and readiness to sacrifice himself for his cause: “Alan’s morals were all tail-first; but he was ready to give his life for them, such as they were” (Chapter XVIII).
For Alan, the true crime was Campbell’s persecution of the Stewarts: for this, Campbell’s killing was just punishment. For David, murder is a crime in law, whatever the justifications that Jacobites may claim, and he trusts due legal process to punish the guilty and acquit the innocent. Alan, on the other hand, assumes that the legal institutions were put in place by the government of England: the jury will be stacked with Campbells, and the presiding judge will be head of the Campbell clan. Thus there will be no real justice for the Stewarts. In such a climate, Alan and his fellow clan members feel justified in taking the law into their own hands, as vigilantes.
David’s success in overcoming the cheating guide and the blind robber (Chapter XV) show his maturation, albeit that he is left somewhat the poorer by his dealings with the guide. No longer the gullible dupe who walked straight into the traps set for him by Ebenezer, he has learned valuable lessons in survival from the trials he has passed through with the guidance of Alan.
David feels tempted to part from Alan for two reasons. First, he knows that Alan is a wanted man and so he is risking arrest and worse if he stays with him. Second, when David believes that Alan is responsible for the murder of Campbell, he is morally repelled by Alan. Nevertheless, David overcomes his doubts and chooses to stay with Alan for reasons of friendship – a major theme of the novel. Alan’s insistence on his innocence can probably be taken at face value, as his own code of honor suggests that he would not lie to his friend.