At Macduff’s castle in Fife Lady Macduff was both anxious and angry. Her young son clung to her, perplexed by his father’s disappearance. Lord Ross had arrived to pacify the anxious family.
“What did he do to make him flee the country?”
“You must have patience, madam.”
“He had none.”
Her tone was bitter and resentful. She had reason to doubt her husband. His actions had implicated her in treason and endangered her family.
She continued, “Our fears make us traitors, even if our actions don’t.”
“You don’t know if it was wisdom or fear.”
“Wisdom! To leave his wife, to leave his children, his estate and his titles in the place he himself flees? He doesn’t love us. He lacks the instincts of a husband and father. Even the poor wren, the most diminutive of birds, will fight off the owl to save her young in the nest.This is all about fear, there’s no love. There is no wisdom! He runs away from reason as he runs away from Macbeth!”
“My dearest kinswoman, you must have discipline,” said Lord Ross. “Your husband is noble, wise and judicious. He alone knows best the circumstances of his decision. I dare not say anymore. It is a cruel time when we are traitors and don’t know it ourselves. Fear thrives on rumour, more so when we don’t know what we fear. We are floating upon a violent sea, we’re at its mercy. I must go but I will return soon. Evil things will eventually end and life will return to normal. My pretty cousin, bless you.”
Lady Macduff pondered Ross’ words. She found some comfort in much of what he said but when she looked at her son her heart sank.
“He has a father, yet he is fatherless.”
Lord Ross stared at the floor. He was aware like nothing else that he was helpless and could offer no more assurance to his cousin and her son.
“If I stay any longer I will only disgrace myself with tears and embarrass you. My thoughts are with you. I must go now.”
Lady Macduff smiled as Ross left. Now She knew she must face a perilous future. She stroked her son’s hair.
“Son, your father is dead. And what will you do now? How will you live?”
“As the birds do, Mother.”
“What? Eat worms and flies!”
“With what I can get, I mean, as they do.”
“Poor bird! Would you never fear the net or birdlime? The cage or the snare?”
“Why should I, Mother? They don’t set traps for chicks! Despite what you say, my father isn’t dead.”
“Yes, he is dead. What will you do for a father?”
She was almost addressing that question to herself. Her son was bright and understood that.
“No, what will you do for a husband?”
“Why, I can buy myself twenty at any market!”
“Then you’ll buy them to sell them again?”
“You speak with all your wit, just enough wit for a child.”
“Was my father a traitor, Mother?”
“Yes, that he was.”
“What is a traitor?”
“Why, one who takes an oath, and then lies.”
“And everyone who does that is a traitor?”
“Everyone who does so is a traitor and must be hanged.”
“And must all who pledge and then lie be hanged?”
“Who must hang them?”
“Why, the honest men!”
“Then the liars and oath-takers are fools. There are enough liars and oath-takers to beat the honest men and hang them!”
“Oh, poor monkey! What will you do without a father?”
“If he was dead, you’d weep for him. If you didn’t weep it would be a good sign that I would be getting a new father!”
“Listen to you! How you talk!”
Lady Macduff laughed at her son but her amusement was short lived as she heard the loud stomping of someone climbing the stairs. She grabbed her son and pulled him beside her. A breathless man entered her chamber without knocking. He leaned against the wall to get his breath back and signalled with his hand that he meantno harm to the terrified woman.
“Bless you, fair madam. You don’t know me though I am acquainted with your family and position. I think you are in mortal danger. If you take this humble man’s advice, don’t be found here. Go, with your children. To frighten you like this is cruel, I know, but it would be worse if I let things befall you without any warning. Heaven help you! I can’t stay any longer.”
The messenger fled as fast as he came. His fear and terror put new life in his legs. Lady Macduff stood helpless. She hugged her son. She pulled him closer still.
“Where should I go?” she said aloud as if expecting an answer from the walls. “I’ve done no harm” she told herself. “But I must remember I’m in this world of men where to do harm is usually laudable and to do good a dangerous folly. Why then do I put up that womanly defence, I’ve done no harm?”
Lady Macduff froze. The messenger had barely left and now she heard a scuffle from the hallway again. This time she knew it was more than one man. She heard several voices, exchanging foul remarks. They were getting closer, they kicked open the door of her chamber.
“Who are you?”
It was Macbeth’s murdering trio.
“Where is your husband?” the first man asked.
“I hope in place so unholy that such as you might find him!”
“He’s a traitor,” the murderer bawled.
“You’re lying, you smelly thug!” shouted Macduff’s son.
“What, you spawn!” yelled the furious murderer.
He reached for his knife and stabbed the child. “Young fry of treachery!”
Macduff’s son stood still, as if for a moment none of this was happening. Lady Macduff was unable to move.
“Mother, he’s going to kill me. Run….”
Lady Macduff screamed. No one heard her. The castle was deserted.
She ran through the halls of the castle. She clutched at her skirts. She ran into rooms and slammed the doors behind her. Her screams bounced off the thick brick walls. She was unaware how close they were until she could run no further, turned and saw her killer face to face.