The success of the rebels had forced the King to retreat to his northern castle at Dunsinane and it was from there that he was conducting the war.
It was late. A doctor stood in a recess of the wall of a dark corridor with one of the Queen’s gentlewomen-in-waiting. ‘I’ve watched with you for two nights but I’m beginning to doubt your story,’ he said. When did you say she last walked?’
‘Since his Majesty went into the field I’ve seen her rise from her bed, put on her nightgown, unlock her cabinet, take out a piece of paper, fold it, write on it, read it, then seal it and return to bed. And fast asleep all the time.’
‘It’s very unnatural to behave as though she were awake while being asleep,’ said the doctor. ‘Apart from this sleep walking and the writing and so on, what have you heard her say?’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t dare tell you, Sir.’
‘You may tell me, and it’s appropriate to do so.’
‘Not to you, nor anyone. There’s no witness to confirm it.’ There was a point of candlelight some way along the corridor. ‘Shhhh!’ she said. ‘Look. Here she comes. This is exactly like it was before and there, you see? Fast asleep. Watch her and don’t move.’
‘How did she get that light?’
‘It was at her bedside. She has a lighted candle with her all the time. She’s ordered it.’
‘You see?’ said the doctor. ‘Her eyes are open.’
‘Yes, but she can’t see anything.’
Lady Macbeth stopped near them. She was examining her hands closely.
‘What’s she doing?’ whispered the doctor. ‘Look how she’s rubbing her hands.’
‘She always does that. As though washing them. I’ve known her do that for a quarter of an hour.’
‘There’s still a spot here,’ said Lady Macbeth.
‘Listen!’ The doctor took a notebook and a piece of chalk out of his pocket. She’s speaking. I’ll write it down.’
‘Come out, damned spot,’ said Lady Macbeth fiercely, rubbing violently. She stopped, as though listening to something. ‘One – two. Two o’clock: it’s time to do it. hell is dark. What my Lord? Shame! A soldier and frightened? What do we care who knows when no-one can question us? But who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?’
‘Do you hear that?’ said the doctor.
‘The Thane of Fife had a wife,’ continued Lady Macbeth. ‘Where is she now?’ She returned to washing her hands. ‘Will these hands never be clean? No more of that, my Lord – no more of that: you’re ruining it all with your nervousness.’
‘Dear, dear,’ sighed the doctor. ‘You’ve done some things you shouldn’t have.’
‘She’s said things she shouldn’t have,’ said the gentlewoman. ‘God knows what she’s done.’
Lady Macbeth lifted her hands to her face. ‘They still smell of blood,’ she said. ‘All the perfumes of Arabia couldn’t make this little hand smell sweet.’
‘What a sigh that was,’ said the doctor. ‘Her heart is heavily burdened.’
‘I wouldn’t have her heart in my bosom for anything,’ said the gentlewoman.
The doctor shook his head. ‘Well, well, well.’
‘I wish it were well, Sir.’
‘This goes beyond the practice of medicine. Still, I’ve known some who’ve walked in their sleep and have lived good lives.’
‘Wash your hands!’ shouted Lady Macbeth. ‘Put on your night-gown. Don’t look so pale. I’ll tell you once more: Banquo’s buried: he can’t come out of his grave.’
‘That too?’ said the doctor.
‘To bed, to bed, there’s someone knocking at the gate,’ said Lady Macbeth. ‘Come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What’s done can’t be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed.’ She lifted the candle and returned down the corridor.
‘Will she go to bed now?’ said the doctor.
‘There are terrible rumours about,’ said the doctor. ‘Unnatural acts will create unnatural scenes like this. Sick minds let out their secrets in the dead of night. She has more need of a priest than a doctor. Oh, may God forgive us all! Look after her. Take away anything that she could use to harm herself with. And don’t take your eyes off her. So. Good night. She’s stunned my mind and amazed my sight. I think I know what’s going on but I dare not say anything.’
‘Good night, doctor.’ The gentlewoman followed her mistress.