In order to make himself quite safe from his enemies, Macbeth thought that he would build a strong castle on the top of Dunsinane hill. It cost a great deal of money to build this castle, because the wood and stones for it had to be dragged up such a steep slope. So Macbeth made all his Thanes help. Each in turn had to build part of the castle, sending men and horses to drag the stones and wood up to the top.
At last it came to the Thane of Fife's turn to help with the building. This Thane, who was called Macduff, was a very great man and he was much afraid of Macbeth. For the greater and richer a man was, the more Macbeth seemed to hate him. Besides Macduff had loved Duncan, and secretly hoped that Prince Malcolm would one day return. Macbeth knew this, and hated him the more. Macduff sent builders and workmen with everything that they might need for the work. He gave them orders to be very careful, to work diligently and well, and to do everything aright, so that the King might find no fault with them. But he himself kept away, for he knew that King Macbeth had no love for him, and he feared to be seized and put to death, as so many nobles before him had been.
One day Macbeth came to see how the castle was getting on. "Where is the Thane of Fife?" he asked, looking round, and seeing him nowhere among his men.
On being told that the Thane of Fife was not there, but had sent his workmen only, Macbeth fell into a violent rage. "I knew beforehand of his disobedient mind," he said. "Now I am resolved to punish it."
At this moment some oxen which were drawing a load up the hill stumbled and fell. "He cannot even send beasts fit to work," cried Macbeth. "I will make an example of him. I will lay the yoke upon his own neck instead of upon that of his oxen."
One of Macduff's friends who stood by heard the King's angry words. This friend went quickly to Macduff to warn him to fly from the country, for it was quite certain that the King meant to do him an evil.
Macduff, as soon as he heard, mounted upon a swift horse and fled away to his strong castle in Fifeshire.
The King lost no time in following. Close behind Macduff he came with a great army of soldiers. It was a fast and furious race. Macduff was almost alone, and he had had to ride away in such haste that he had little money with him. When he came to the ferry across the river Tay, which he must pass in order to reach his castle, he had nothing with which to pay the ferryman except a loaf of bread. But the ferryman was content to take the loaf, and for many years the place was called the Ferry of the Loaf.
On again rode Macduff, faster and faster still, until at length the turrets of his castle came in sight. Now he was quite close; now he was thundering over the drawbridge; now his breathless, sweating, panting horse carried him safe within the courtyard.
"Up with the drawbridge, men, let the portcullis fall," he shouted. In olden times a castle was always surrounded by a ditch filled with water, called a moat. Over the moat there was a bridge, but the bridge was made so that it could be drawn up in time of war. In this way an enemy often found it difficult to get across the moat and enter the castle. The entrance was also guarded by a portcullis. This was a heavy, barred gate, but instead of turning upon hinges as gates usually do, it was raised up and let down like a window.
As soon as Macduff had seen his orders obeyed, he went to greet his wife and tell her what had happened. Together they looked out from the castle turret. In the distance they saw a dark, moving mass. Now and again as the sun caught it, they could see the glitter of steel. It was the King's army.
"We cannot hold the castle long against such a host," said Lady Macduff, as she watched the long lines moving onward. "You must fly. Our little vessel lies in the harbour ready to put to sea. Go quickly on board. I will hold the castle until you are safe."
Macduff did not want to go and leave his wife and children whom he loved. But there was no help for it, so he said good-bye, and stepping on board his little vessel which lay in the harbour behind his castle, he sailed away. He sailed away to England to see Prince Malcolm and to ask him to come and be King.
Meanwhile, brave Lady Macduff held the castle. Macbeth and his soldiers came close below the walls, calling to Macduff to give up the keys. But no one answered.
With beating heart Lady Macduff watched the white sail grow smaller and smaller in the distance, and listened to Macbeth as he poured out dreadful threats of what he would do if Macduff did not yield himself at once.
Then, at last, when Macduff was safely beyond the reach of pursuit, Lady Macduff came to the walls. "Do you see that little white sail far out to sea?" she asked. "Yonder is Macduff. He has gone to England to the court of Edward. He has gone to bring Prince Malcolm back to Scotland. When he comes we will crown him King. You will be dragged from the throne and put to death, so you will never put the yoke on the Thane of Fife's neck."
When Macbeth heard these brave words, and knew that Macduff had escaped him, he was fiercely angry. He began to storm the castle at once. The few men who had been left to guard it fought bravely, but in vain. In a very short time Macbeth's fierce soldiers won an entrance, and gallant Lady Macduff and all her children were put to death.
Macbeth then took all Macduff's land and money, proclaimed him a traitor and an outlaw, and forbade him ever again to return to Scotland.
But Macduff did return.
"Do you see that little white sail far out to sea? Yonder is Macduff."