The porter had been drinking all evening and it took his wife a long time to wake him. As he staggered out into the misty morning he muttered to himself.
‘What a knocking this is! This is the gate of hell, this is. Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, in the name of Beelzebub? We’ve got all sorts here, I can tell you. Here’s a farmer who hanged himself for being too greedy and losing everything. Alright, alright, new inmate, I’m coming! I hope you ve got enough towels: you’ll sweat enough in here! Knock, knock. Alright!. Here’s a hypocrite who sat on both sides so well you didn’t know where he was.’
He shivered and began running. ‘It’s too cold to devil-porter it any longer. Alright, alright!’ He drew back the enormous bolts to admit an impatient Macduff, the great Thane of Fife, accompanied by Lennox.
‘What time did you go to bed that you’re having such a good lie in?’ said Macduff.
‘Oh very late, Sir,’ said the porter. ‘Drinking all night. And now I’m suffering: drink does three things to you.’
Macduff and Lennox walked towards the courtyard, followed by the porter. ‘And what are they?’ said Macduff.
‘It makes your nose red, it makes you sleep and it makes you piss. Lust, Sir, it encourages and discourages: it makes you want it but it makes you unable to do it. It makes you and breaks you. It turns you on and it turns you off. It excites you and it dulls you. It makes you stand up to fight and it stops you from standing up!’
‘I think you had too much last night.’
‘Yes, but I’ve thrown it all up.’
‘Is your master awake?’ said Macduff.
‘He is now, with all that knocking,’ said the porter. ‘Here he comes. Good morning, noble Sir,’ said Lennox.
Macbeth wore a white robe and soft slippers. ‘Good morning to you both,’ he said.
‘Is the King up?’
‘He told me to call for him very early. I’m almost late.’
‘I’ll take you to him.’
‘I’m sorry to trouble you,’ said Macduff as Macbeth took them to the bed chambers.
‘It’s no trouble,’ said Macbeth. ‘There’s the door.’
‘I’ll just go and wake him,’ said Macduff. ‘That’s what he told me to do.’ He went in.
‘Is the King leaving today?’ said Lennox.
‘He is. Or so he intends.’
‘It was a wild night where we stayed,’ said Lennox. ‘Our chimneys were blown down. And they say wails and strange ghostly screams were heard in the air. And there were prophesies of dreadful civil war and all sorts of terrible things. Owls flew about all night and there’s been talk of earthquakes.’
‘It was a rough night,’ said Macbeth.
‘I can’t remember anything like it,’ said Lennox.
There was a sudden commotion, a great clatter and banging. ‘Oh horror!’ It was Macduff’s voice – screaming. ‘Horror! horror!’
Macbeth and Lennox rushed to the entrance. ‘What?’ ‘What’s the matter?’
Macduff stumbled out. ‘Chaos has broken out!’ he cried. ‘Someone’s stolen the life from the Lord’s anointed temple!’
‘What’s that?’ said Macbeth. ‘The life?’
‘Do you mean his majesty?’ said Lennox.
‘Go and see,’ said Macduff. He covered his face with his hands. Don’t tell me to speak. Go and look then speak yourselves.’ They hurried off up to the King’s bedroom. ‘Wake up! Wake up!’ shouted Macduff. ‘Ring the alarm bell! Murder and treason! Banquo and Donalbain! Malcolm! Wake up! Ring the bell!’
Lady Macbeth came out as the bell started tolling. ‘What’s going on? All this noise! Tell me, tell me!’
‘Oh gentle lady,’ sobbed Macduff. ‘It’s not suitable for a woman to hear. It would kill you.’ He embraced Banquo, who had also just come out. ‘Oh Banquo! Banquo! Our royal master’s been murdered.’
‘What! In our house!’ exclaimed Lady Macbeth.
‘Too cruel anywhere,’ said Banquo. ‘Dear Duff, I beg of you, tell me it’s not true.’
Macbeth and Lennox returned. Everyone looked at Macbeth.
‘If I had died an hour before this tragedy I would have lived a good life,’ he said. ‘From this moment there’s nothing important in life.’
Malcolm and Donalbain came down the stairs. ‘What’s wrong?’ said Donalbain.
Macbeth approached them and put and arm around each. ‘You are and don’t know it,’ he said. ‘The spring, the head, the fountain of your blood, has been turned off. Its very source has been cut off.’
‘Your royal father’s been murdered,’ said Macduff.
‘Oh!’ Malcolm slumped against Macbeth. ‘Who did it?’
‘His chamberlains,’ said Lennox. ‘Their hands and faces were all smeared with blood. So were their daggers, which lay unwiped on their pillows. They stared like madmen, quite desperate.’
‘Even so!’ exclaimed Macbeth. ‘I’m sorry about the anger that made me kill them.’
‘Why did you do that?’ said Macduff.
‘I couldn’t help it,’ said Macbeth. ‘Anyone would have done the same. My love for royal Duncan was stronger than my reason.’ He swept the air in front of him. ‘Here lay Duncan, his silver skin laced with his golden blood, the jagged wounds an affront to nature itself. There… he pointed to the side – ‘the murderers, soaked in the evidence of their deed, their daggers obscenely dripping blood. Who could have helped himself if he’d had a heart at all?’
Macduff was about to say something when Lady Macbeth moaned and thrust her hand up dramatically to her forehead. ‘Help me!’ she said and dropped down.
‘Help the lady,’ said Macduff and servants ran to her assistance.
They all gathered around her, showing their concern. Malcolm whispered to his brother: ‘Why aren’t we taking charge of this? This is our business.’
‘We’d be fools to say anything at all,’ said Donalbain. ‘It’s too dangerous. Let’s get out of here.’
‘Careful with her there,’ said Banquo as the servants lifted Lady Macbeth. ‘And when we’re all dressed let’s meet and inquire into this violent piece of work. I’m determined to oppose this malicious treason.’
‘So am I,’ said Macduff.
The others murmured their agreement.
‘Let’s go and get dressed then and meet in the great hall,’ said Macbeth.
Malcolm and Donalbain watched them go.
‘What will you do?’ said Malcolm. ‘We’d better not hang about here. I’m going to England.’
‘Ireland for me,’ said Donalbain. ‘It’ll be safer to split up. I don’t trust anyone, least of all our closest relatives.’
‘This poisonous arrow hasn’t landed yet,’ said Malcolm. ‘The safest thing is to get out of its way. So let’s find our horses right now. And I don’t think we should be too fussy about making our farewells!’