Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter's Tale
examines the conflict between two brothers, Scottish noblemen whose family is torn apart by the Jacobite rising of 1745.
The novel opens in the year 1745 and is presented as the memoir of Ephraim Mackellar, steward of the Durrisdeer estate in Scotland. After Bonnie Prince Charles raises the banner of the Stuarts, the Durie family devises a strategy: James Durie, the Master of Ballantrae, will join the uprising, and the younger Henry Durie will side with the loyalists. The uprising is a failure, and the Master is reported dead, making Henry heir to the estate. At the insistence of their father, the Laird, the late Master's fiancée marries Henry to repair the Durie fortunes. The years go by, and Henry is looked down upon by the townspeople for betraying the uprising. His family treats him with complete indifference since his wife and his father both spend their time mourning the Master.
In April 1749, Colonel Francis Burke arrives, bringing with him letters from the Master, who is still alive and living in France. At this point, the narrator weaves another storyline into the narrative, the memoir of Colonel Burke, from which Mackellar extracts the sections that deal with the Master. From Burke's memoir, it appears that the Master was attached to the Prince solely for the chance of money and high station, and would tell the Prince whatever he wanted to hear in order to appease him. When it looked like the Rising was sure to fail, the Master abandoned it, sailing to France with Burke, refusing to wait in case they might be able to rescue the Prince. However, the ship, old and unseaworthy, was commanded by an incompetent captain. After seven days of being lost in bad weather, pirates captured the ship. The pirate captain, who called himself Teach, took both Burke and the Master aboard to join his pirate crew, before having the rest of the ship's company killed.
The Master eventually succeeded in overthrowing Teach, effectively becoming the new captain. He proved to be brutal and ruthless, seizing several ships and slaughtering all their crews to prevent them from identifying him. Eventually, he steers the ship to the coast of North Carolina, where he abandons it and its crew, escaping with Burke and two confederates, carrying all the ship's treasure between them. In the course of their escape, the Master treacherously kills one of the confederates and leaves another to die. Burke and the Master board a merchant ship en route to Albany. Then they strike out across land for Canada, where they hope to find sanctuary among the French, who supported the Rising. They take along a guide, an Indian trader named Chew, but he dies of a fever and the pair becomes hopelessly lost.
After learning of his brother’s ventures, Henry decides not to inform his parents. Instead, he continues to support his brother’s mistress and to send money to the Master himself. The Master accuses Henry of trying to steal his inheritance and insists that he send all of the money directly to him. This perplexes Henry’s family, but he does not tell them what he is doing with the money. By July 1756, the Master has gotten himself into some trouble and is imprisoned in France. He informs his brother of his plans to make an escape to India, telling him that he will need money to do so, but Henry replies that the estate has been used up.
In November 1756, the Master returns to Durrisdeer, calling himself Mr. Bally. He meets Henry on the road to the house and ominously says that he has chosen his fate by not agreeing to the Master's plan to go to India. His father and his brother's wife, who was once his own fiancée are overjoyed at his return, after not having seen him for eleven years. In a deliberate manipulation, the Master succeeds in turning the family against Henry, always putting him in the wrong and cruelly insulting him, while making it seem as though Henry is insulting the Master. In private, the Master taunts Henry by pointing out that their father does not love him, that Henry's daughter prefers the Master's company and that, despite the Master's falseness and crimes, he is everyone's favorite.
Eventually, the tension rises to a climax, and the brothers resort to a duel with swords. Henry runs the Master through and he falls to the ground, seemingly dead. The Master miraculously survives the sword wound and, with the money extorted from his father, goes to India to make his fortune.
Henry takes his wife and children and leaves Scotland for New York, where Mrs. Durie has a family estate. Soon after, the Master discovers the family’s whereabouts and sets sail for New York, with Mackellar in swift pursuit, hoping to warn Henry of his brother’s arrival. When the Master arrives in town, he once again tries to turn people against Henry. He requests that his brother provide him the money so that he may set out to retrieve buried pirate treasure, but Henry refuses. Instead, he secretly arranges with a smuggler to gather a crew to present themselves to the Master as being willing to set out with him to find the buried treasure. Their real purpose, unknown to the Master, will be to murder him and steal the treasure. In the end, both brothers die and Mackellar buries the two of them under the same stone.