When Goneril and Edmund arrived at the gates of Goneril’s castle they got out of the coach and waited for the servants whose job it was to escort them through to the palace.
‘Welcome, my lord,’ she said. ‘I’m surprised that my mild-mannered husband didn’t meet us on the way.’ Oswald appeared and she snapped: ‘Where’s your master?’
‘Madam, he’s indoors, but never has a man changed so much,’ Oswald said. ‘I told him about the army that’s landed. He smiled at it. I told him you were coming. His reply was, “so much the worse for that!” When I told him about Gloucester’s treachery, and about the loyal services of his son he called me a cretin and told me I had got it inside out. The things he should most frown at seem pleasing to him, and what he should like, offensive.’
Goneril’s face showed her anger. She turned to Edmund. ‘Then you mustn’t come in,’ she told him. ‘It’s the cowardliness of his nature – it won’t allow him to engage: he will never commit himself. But the hopes we talked about on the way here may still come to fruition. Go back, Edmund, to my brother : speed up his recruitment and take charge of his army. I’ll have to swap our marriage roles and give my husband the spinning-wheel. This trusty servant will go between us. Soon you will receive a mistress’ command, if you dare to take the opportunity of doing yourself a favour.’ She removed a chain from which hung a locket with her picture in it from around her neck. ‘Wear this.’ He opened his mouth and she put her fingers over his lips. ‘Shh Don’t say anything. Lower your head.’ She placed the chain around his neck then kissed him. ‘This kiss, if it dared to speak, would boost your spirits to the skies. Think about me, and goodbye.’
Edmund took her hand and kissed it. ‘Yours to the death,’ he whispered.
‘My dearest Gloucester,’ she said softly.
He got back into the carriage. Goneril watched it disappear. She sighed. Oh what a difference there was between one man and another. Edmund deserved what a woman had to give. She had a fool in her bed!
Oswald’s voice broke into her thoughts. ‘Madam, here comes my lord,’ he said as he started walking back to the palace.
Goneril glared at her husband. ‘You once thought I was worth taking some trouble about!’
‘Oh Goneril!’ he exclaimed. ‘You aren’t worth the dust that the harsh wind blows in your face! I don’t trust you. One can’t have confidence in a person who can do that to a parent. A woman who insists on cutting herself off from the trunk of the family tree must necessarily wither and die.’
‘Enough!’ she said. ‘Your sermon is stupid.’
‘Wisdom and goodness seem vile to the vile,’ he persisted. ‘Filth can appreciate only filth. What have you done? Tigers, not daughters: what do you think you’re doing? A father and a gracious elderly man, whose reverence even a captive bear would respond to. You have driven him mad in the most barbarous and degenerate way. How could my good brother have allowed you to do it? A man – a prince – who owed him so much! If the gods don’t send their angels down soon to punish these vile offences what will happen is that human beings will eat each other like monsters of the sea.’
‘Lily-livered man!’ she exclaimed. ‘You’ve got a cheek for slapping, a head for taking punches. You can’t tell the difference between what you can tolerate and how much you’re prepared to suffer. You don’t understand that only fools pity those villains who are punished before they’ve committed their crimes. Where are your military preparations? France is raising his flag in our unprotesting land: military defeat threatens your country while you, a moral fool, just sit there crying. “Alas, why is he doing that?” ‘
‘Take a look at yourself, devil!’ he exclaimed. ‘Depravity is an even worse spectacle in a woman than in the devil!’
‘Oh, you ridiculous fool!’
Albany was finding it hard to control himself in the face of his wife’s scornful sneer. ‘You changed and self-deceiving thing! For shame! Stop that monstrous sneering. If I were to let my hands obey my anger they would break your bones and tear your flesh from them. However fiendish you are your woman’s form protects you.’
‘Really! As for your manhood…’
A messenger interrupted them and Albany turned and snapped: ‘What news!’
‘Oh my dear lord, the Duke of Cornwall’s dead: killed by his servant as he was about to put Gloucester’s other eye out.’
‘Gloucester’s eyes!’ exclaimed Albany.
The messenger told him what had happened: ‘One of his own servants, overwhelmed by his shocked feelings, objected to it and raised his sword against his great master who, enraged by that, flew at him and struck him dead, but not before the man had given him a mortal wound that eventually killed him.’
Albany faced upwards. ‘This shows that you are up there, you judges, who can avenge our earthly crimes so speedily! But oh, poor Gloucester! Did he lose his other eye?’
‘Both, both, my lord.’ The messenger gave Goneril a letter. ‘This letter, madam, requires a speedy answer. It’s from your sister.’
Goneril’s mind was in turmoil. In one way she liked what was happening. However, Regan was a widow now and if Goneril’s Edmund was there it may bring the structure of her dreams crashing down. But looking at it another way it wasn’t such bad news. ‘I’ll read it and give you my answer,’ she told the messenger and walked to the palace door.
‘Where was his son when they took his eyes out?’ said Albany.
‘On his way here with my lady,’ the messenger said.
Albany looked around. ‘He isn’t here,’ he said.
‘No, my dear lord, I met him on his way back.’
‘Does he know about this wickedness?’
‘Yes, my good lord. It was he who informed against him, and he left the house on purpose so that their punishment could be more freely performed.’
Albany made a silent vow. He would live to thank him for the love he had shown the King, and to revenge his eyes. He turned and began walking back to the palace. ‘Come with me, friend,’ he said. ‘Tell me what more you know.’