21 September, in the year of our Lord 2021
Up, but the night disturbed by noyses in the hall outside our door, as if a person wandering therein, all a-mutter in their confucion, so that in the dark I did hiss to Mr. Jones, ‘Hath our door been lock’d?’ and he did say, ‘Yes,’ but I up to make sure it was, which it was, and then to bed again, but slept poorly. At our breakfast pick up, dared speak upon it to Mrs. Macbeth, and she says, ‘Oh, I am sorry. That would be Banquo. He stalks the house at night.’
‘He will have brought in a wee mouse — ’ (and on kew appears a pretty white cat, who mews sweetly) ‘ — won’t you? Do ye want some cat milk, eh, wee man? Come on, then,’ says she. And then looks at me, I suspeckt wickedly but cannot tell if my mind plays a trick upon me. ‘The milk of human kindnesse, eh?’
And so they to the kitchen while I hasten to our room with our food, but remayne silent upon our discourse for I fear Mr. Jones hath formed an Opinion that I am become parannoyed.
It being a day of fine drizzle and mist, with no breeze, the midgies are abroad and we start to scratch even as we set out, determining to see a great Fort upon the coast, though it an hour, or more, I think, by coach.
‘I feel as if I am eat alive!’ say I, rubbing my face and ears. ‘The damn’d things are in the coach! Is there no remedie?’
Whereupon Mr. Jones brightens and we stop.
‘I forgot, since we have been so little troubled, but we must apply this to our exposed areas,’ says he, and removes the lid from a small bottle of light glass, within which an oily water, and on it a label proclayming it to be Skin So Soft by Avon. ‘It is my favoured preventitive and not known to fail!’
And so for some minutes we sit and rub it in, and smell fresh but scented, a little too much I think, but pray that it will work. Then on by small roads, with room only for a single coach, only with little bays all along the road where we must pause for another coach, which comes towards us, to pass, which I think a fine idea, and so weave our way to the ruin of a stone castle, stood upon on small island, all watery around but with a sandy tidle causeway, and with a fine aspect, though we could not go in it for there was a wooden gate with a pad Lock.
‘It is the ancient fortress of the MacDonalds,’ say I, for I have read up on it, ‘and called Castle Tioram, which is heard as Chirrum in the language of the Gael. Is there any more of that midgie stuff?’
Walked a while on a small path up a pretty inlet, meeting only two or three, it pleasant though the sky become grey; and then a little farther by coach, and eat a fine salmagundi outside at a small Caff, 2s. 3d. After, set out for the westerliest point on the island of Great Bretayne, but betrayed again by the weather, which comes very poor for a while, so turn homeweards.
But before home we can divert, the storm clouds cleared by late in the afternoon (the weather being so unpredicktable here), to walk upon the beaches for the last time, it being our last day, and admire the fine views of islands, all sun-lighted, and the tide lapping at our feet as it ebbs.
‘The sand here is of an uncommon whitenesse owing to its extraordinary make up,’ explayne I to Mr. Jones, as we stroll, ‘which is of uncountable tiny white seashells, buffetted over a thousand years on the rocks to a fine dust. Doth it not amaze you to think of it?’
‘That is a fine and romantick notion,’ says Mr. Jones. ‘But I think it owes its character to another source. Follow me.’
Whereupon he leads me across a grassy headland, and we find ourselfs upon a beach frequented by none other, and the purest white sand of them all, with not a foot print upon it, only the remains of a wrecked ship lying in the shallow sea.
‘Look,’ says he. ‘Here. And there.’
And I look where he points and my mouth drys. For what I perceived as little imperfecktions in the sand are not. Here is the vault of skull, there the end of femur, and over there the remaynes of a rib cage, all scoured by the sea and bleached by the sun, to make of them this unnatural pearly strand.
‘All these are — ?’
‘They do not call it the Midge Coast for nothing,’ says Mr. Jones, grimly. ‘These are the remaynes of those who were eat alive. These bones are the source of your Silver Sands.’
‘And all this before Skin So Soft by Avon,’ murmur I, in awe.
To our lodgeings as night falls, where we unpack our coach for the final time, the yellow coach still upon the gravel and not moved, and I find against my Will my mind now all preoccupyed anew by thoughts of Death, and pace back and forth in our room, Mr. Jones’ eyes upon me as if watching a tennis match.
‘Be still, Pepys! We have had a fine last day and a table in a tavern awaits.’
‘But I am prey to a gnawing concern,’ say I, all furrowed of brow and biting a nuckle.
‘You have been gnawed by preying concerns since the day we arrived. You have done that which you came here to do. You have walked upon the beaches. You have been to the isles. You have seen the old cottage. And you have met the Macduffs.’
‘Of course!’ cry I aghast. ‘It is all become clear! Do you not see? The dysappearance of Duncan! The absence of Macbeth! The Macduffs are in mortal danger! I must warn them forthwith!’
And with that I grab my Carrymore coat and run from the room while Mr. Jones flounders behind me.
On the gravel I wonder which way to turn, and head up behind the inn to the road. I think to run down to the Macduffs, but next door to Railway Cottage there is a light on in their old house, which I thought derrelict. There is no moon and I have no lamp. I am confused and know not which way to turn so end up rotating three hundred and fifty degrees. Ten degrees short of an entyre cyrcumfirence comes a great yowl and out from the shadows beside the road springs a white apparicion! All at once there is a scream, a shout, a high pitched screech and a banshee wail.
‘Aaa-a-a-argh!’ scream I, for I have never seen a ghost before!
‘What the f— ?’ comes an angry cry!
Eeeeeee-e-e-ek! comes the screech of emergincie braking!
‘Ya-a-h! De-addy-addy-addy — !’ comes the simultaneose banshee wail.
The world spins around me as I flail in my purpose.
‘Banquo!’ cries the voice of a ciclist.
‘What?’ cry I.
‘A hundred yards from home and the bloody cat tries to get me killed!’ cries the voice.
There is the noyse of a dismounting in the dark, and a grumpy scrabbling around on the road. The banshee wail gets closer and is accompanied by a wobbly point of light. It is the mother of next door neighbours staggering from her old house. She clutches in her hand an empty bottle of Famose Grouse and is singing her head off. Her lamp illuminates a man emerging from the Thaie take away, the entire Macduff family marching up the hill and the bicicle on the road, where the ciclist gathers up his strewn belongings.
My head swyvels from side to side as I strive, dysorientated in the dark, to see who amongst this assembly might be who.
‘Duncan!’ gasp I, and the man with the takeaway stops in surprise. ‘I thought you were — ’
‘Was what?’ He is baffled. ‘The guy who owns the pub in Inverie’s leavin’, so we had a wee bit of a night last week and I thought I’d sleep it off thair. I got the last boat back just now.’
I spin bewildered to face the assembled Macduffs.
‘I was coming to warn you!’ pant I. ‘Your lifes are in — danger.’ But I peter out.
‘I’d be very surprised about that,’ says Mrs. Macduff, perplexed. ‘We’ve just come up tae take my Mum home. She does this every week.’
At which point her mother begins an inebriated rendicion of Donald Where’s Yer Troosers and has to be manhandled down the road. To the diminishing bellow of ‘Ah’ve juss come down…from the ISLE OF SKYE…’ I turn in desperacion to the ciclist.
‘And you?’ ask I, astonished.
‘Iain Macbeth,’ says he, grumpily replacing his spilled possessions in his cicle basket.
‘Ah!’ gabble I. ‘We are staying with your — ! But I supposed you upon an errand of dark purpose — !’
‘Dark purpose? I went on my new e-byke tae Glasge to pick up all this stuff from the Polis,’ says he.
‘All this stuff?’ say I weakly, for before me I see no dagger, nor poison, nor any instrument of murder. It seems in fact to consist mainly of books.
‘Aye, as soon we could, what with the Covey an’ everything, me and the wife were off for a wee break abroad, but we got set upon by ruffians around Loch Lomond.’
‘And the brigands took all your valuables, and only now have they been recovered?’
‘Aye. Well, not quite. It’s really weird. They seemed more interested in the books. They even wrote in the bloody things. Look at this.’ Whereupon rummages he in his cicle baskitt and opens up a book. ‘“5/10” it says, “…weak female characterisacion”, and in this one, “3/10 — ending very contryved”.’
‘Did you get them all back?’
‘Not all. They never recovered the Amsterdam Ferry Timetable or my wife’s bound copy of The Age of Innocence.’ He rights himselfe upon his bicycle, his feet upon the peddles. ‘I’m more of a Dean Koontz man myself. He’s no Walter Scott but “1/10, implausible drivel” was a bit harsh.’
He off in the direction of our lodgeings, Mr. Jones draws up in his coach to reskew me.
‘I have been foolish, have I not?’ say I, despondantly.
‘A little,’ says Mr. Jones, whose sanguin outlook I admyre, ‘to let your fancy run away with you so. But they know you are English, so they will make allowances. Now, we must put all thought of Shakespearian tragedie behind us. A pint of wine and a fish stew await us in a warm tavern…where a fire burns and a cauldron — ’