Banquo’s son, Fleance, couldn’t sleep. His father hadn’t come in although it was very late. He got up and went outside. It was chilly. His father’s voice came from behind him.
‘What’s the time, boy?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Fleance. ‘But the moon’s gone down.’
‘She goes down at twelve.’
‘I think it’s later, Sir.’ The boy turned.
‘Wait,’ said Banquo. ‘Take my sword.’ He yawned. ‘There’s economy in heaven: their candles are all out.’ He took his belt off. ‘Here take this too. I’m so tired. And yet I don’t want to go to sleep. Merciful powers! What horrendous dreams I’ve been having!’
There was the dull light of a torch and the sound of voices.
‘Give me my sword!’ said Banquo. ‘Who’s there?’ He relaxed when he heard Macbeth’s answer: ‘A friend.’
‘What Sir?’ said Banquo. ‘Not yet in bed? The King is. He’s had a wonderful time and hasn’t stopped talking about you.’ He took a diamond out of his pocket. ‘This is for your wife who he calls a very kind hostess. And he’s gone to bed as contented as a baby.’
‘I’m not tired,’ said Macbeth.
‘I dreamt about the three weird sisters last night,’ said Banquo. ‘They’ve shown you some truth.’
‘I don’t think about them,’ said Macbeth. ‘But when we have an hour to spare we could talk about that business. If you don’t mind.’
‘Whenever you like.’
‘Alright then. I’ll let you know.’
‘As long as I’m not compromised,’ said Banquo. ‘I’m all yours.’
‘In the meantime sleep well,’ said Macbeth.
‘Thank you, Sir,’ said Banquo. ‘The same to you.’
When Banquo and Fleance had gone Macbeth instructed his servant: ‘Go tell your mistress to ring the bell when my drink is ready. Then go to bed.’
It was totally silent. And pitch black. It was now or never. Macbeth stared into the darkness. And as he looked it seemed that a dagger hung there. He closed his eyes and opened them again. It was still there. He peered. It didn’t waver. Was it really a dagger? Its handle towards his hand?
He tried to clutch it. His hand went right through it: it was still there and yet he couldn’t feel it. Was it only a dagger of the mind, a false creation of a fevered brain?
He could still see it as he drew his own, real, dagger: it was pointing the way to Duncan’s room. He knew he was seeing things and yet it was so real. And now there was blood on it, which hadn’t been there before.
It was ridiculous. There was no such thing. He knew it was the violence in his mind that was coming out in the form of a bloody dagger.
His mind was filled with images of fear and horror and he stood there, overwhelmed by them, until a bell rang and brought him back to the business in hand.
‘I go, and it is done: the bell invites me.’ He began walking. ‘Don’t hear it, Duncan: for it’s a knell that summons you to heaven or to hell.’