MACBETH—HOW BIRNAM WOOD CAME TO DUNSINANE
Macduff sailed southward, little knowing the dreadful
things that were happening at home, little dreaming that
his brave wife was dead, and his castle a ruin.
Through storms and dangers he sailed, until at last
he landed safely in England and went to seek Prince
Malcolm at the court of Edward the Confessor.
Malcolm received Macduff very kindly, for he was glad
to have news of his own land. Macduff told the Prince
of all the sorrows and griefs of Scotland, and begged him
to come to fight for the crown.
‘Do not mistrust me,’ he said. ‘Your father found
me ever faithful. In spite of the many hardships which
I have borne, to you also I have been faithful, and am,
and shall be, all my life. If you come to claim the throne,
nearly all the lords will support you, and the common
people, I know, will joyfully shed their blood for you.’
When Malcolm heard these words he was very glad in
his heart. He longed to go back to Scotland to claim his
crown and throne. But still he was not sure if Macduff
was to be trusted. He feared that he had been sent by
Macbeth to persuade him to come to Scotland so that he
might be betrayed and killed So Malcolm was silent,
wondering if he should go or not, turning it over and over
in his mind, while Macduff still urged, and persuaded.
‘ I am truly grieved,’ said Malcolm at last, ‘ to hear of the
46 SCOTLAND’S STORY
misery which has come upon Scotland. I love my people
and I would like to make them happy, but I am not fit to
rule. I am a bad man. I am the most greedy creature
upon earth, and if I were King I should try in so many
ways to get money and lands that I should put to death
the greater part of the Scottish nobles, for pretended
faults, in order to take their goods and possessions for
myself. So it were well for you that I should not come
to be your King. I am ashamed to own it, but I am a
thief and a robber.’
All this Malcolm said to try Macduff.
Macduff, when he heard it, was very sad, but he
answered, ‘What you tell me grieves me deeply, but
when you are King, you will have great wealth ; when
you are King you will have no lack of gold and silver, or
of precious stones, or jewels, or whatever else you may
desire. Be brave then. Do your best, come to be our
King, and forget your greed and wickedness.’
‘ But,’ said Malcolm, ‘ that is not all. I am deceitful,
I love nothing so much as to betray and deceive. No
man can trust my word. I make promises, but I never
keep them. I am not fit to be a King.’ Then Macduff
was silent, too sad to speak. After a minute or two he
cried out, ‘ Oh unhappy and miserable Scotsmen, alas for
us ! To be subject to you, our liege lord by right—never !
You confess yourself a thief, false, cunning, faithless.
What other kind of badness seems to be left but that you
should call yourself a traitor. A traitor you are. You
shall never be lord over me. Neither shall I be sub
ject to Macbeth. I will rather choose banishment,’ and
bursting into tears Macduff sobbed aloud. Then looking
northward he stretched out his hands. ‘ Scotland, farewell
for ever ! ’ he cried, and turned to go.
But as Macduff, with downcast head, went slowly
BIRNAM WOOD COMES TO DUNSINANE 47
away, Malcolm sprang after him, and catching him by the
sleeve, cried, ‘ Be of good comfort, Macduff, I have none
of these wickednesses. I only said these things to prove
whether you were faithful or faithless. Wicked people
have so often come to try to betray me into the hands
of Macbeth, that I wished to make sure that you were
true to me. Now I know that you hate falseness and
cunning, even as I do. Forgive me, dear friend. Let us
go to Scotland together. You shall not be an exile. No I
you shall be first in the kingdom after the King.’
Then Macduff, who had been weeping for sorrow, wept
for joy, and falling upon his knees clasped Malcolm‘s feet
and kissed them. ‘ If what you say is true, my lord,’ he
cried, ‘ you bring me back from death to life. Oh hasten,
hasten, my lord, I implore you to free your people who
wait and long for you ! ’
‘ If you would keep good men and true from harm,
Men who have fought without one helping arm,
Men on whose necks foes, for three lustres trod,
Help them, in pity for the love of God.
Stay not to think, but up, and fell the foe ;
Lighten the burden of thy people’s woe.
Gird on thy sword, thy trusty weapons take,
For strong thy limbs and firm thy sturdy make
A Scot the heir of a long royal race,
Good hap advance thee to thy father’s place.’
Malcolm and Macduff talked long, making plans.
At last it was agreed that Macduff should return to
Scotland at once, and there secretly gather the people
together and make known to them that their true King,
Malcolm Canmore, was coming.
As soon as Macduff had gone, Malcolm went to King
Edward and told him that he meant to return to Scotland
to fight for the crown. And Edward, who had always
48 SCOTLAND’S STORY
been kind to Malcolm, gave him leave to take with him
any of the English nobles and soldiers who cared to go to
help him to win the crown. So Malcolm, taking with
him the Earl of Siward and ten thousand English soldiers,
set out for Scotland.
It was soon seen that Macduff had spoken the truth,
for nearly all the Scottish nobles joined Malcolm, and
the common people flocked to his standard in hundreds.
But Macbeth did not believe that he could be either
defeated or killed, for he remembered what the Weird
Sisters had said about Birnam wood coming to Dunsinane.
So he shut himself up in his strong castle on Dunsinane
hill, and felt quite safe.
Without fighting any great battle, Malcolm marched
through Scotland until he came to Birnam wood. There
he lay encamped, intending next day to attack the castle
of Dunsinane where he knew Macbeth to be.
In the morning the army arose rested and refreshed.
Before the march to Dunsinane began, Malcolm ordered
every soldier to cut down a bough of whatever tree was
near to him and to carry it in his hand. ‘ In this way,’ he
said, ‘ our army will be hidden by the green branches, and
Macbeth will be unable to tell what numbers are coming
So each man cut down as large a branch as he could
carry, and held it before him as he marched.
A few hours later Macbeth stood on his castle wall
looking out towards Birnam wood. Suddenly his face
grew pale and he trembled in fear. What was this
coming slowly and surely onward ? Trees walking ?
Birnam wood had come to Dunsinane hill. Then all
Macbeth was really brave, and now that he felt that
his last fight had come, he meant to fight it well. So,
BIRNAM WOOD COMES TO DUNSINANE 46
calling all his soldiers about him, he marched out to meet
In the thickest of the fight Macduff and Macbeth
met ‘ Traitor,’ cried Macbeth, lifting his two-handed
‘I am no traitor, but am true to my lawful King,’
cried Macduff, as he sprang aside to avoid the blow. A
minute later Macbeth lay dead upon the ground, slain by
Macduff’s sharp sword.
So died Macbeth. He had reigned for seventeen
years. At first he had been a good and wise King, doing
much for the happiness of his people, but in the end he
had proved himself a tyrant, and was hated and despised
as tyrants ever are. He was killed in 1057 a.d.
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