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Double Double, Toil and Trouble

October 31, 2017 08:31PM
It is not easy to say how it all began, even with hindsight. Did it begin when Sir Thomas brought a little girl of his wife’s family to live with his? Did it begin even earlier, when one of the Ward sisters married a sailor, and the other a pastor? Did it begin when the great-grandfather of the Ward sisters made his way to the big city to sell vole furs as genuine beaver? Did it begin when the grandfather of this man - well, you get the gist.

When it was definitely beginning, nay, probably already had begun, was when Mr Yates was categorically dismissing Lover’s Vows as a possibility of a play to put on.

‘Sentimental claptrap!’ he exclaimed. ‘Liberal fantasy of a world in which charity will succeed, and poverty overcome, toasted by a lying press! Very bad! - no, what we need to do is something to make theatre great again!’

And so, it was to be the Scottish Play. (And no matter what your views on other things, even you can probably agree it is a great play. In a non-reactionary way, that is.)

‘I don’t want to be a witch!’ wailed Julia. (‘You’d be a wonderful witch,’ whispered Henry. ‘Theatrically speaking, of course.’)

‘I don’t want to be a witch!’ wailed Maria. (‘You’d be an amazing witch,’ whispered Henry. ‘I’m speaking, of course, theatrically.’)

‘I think I can be a witch, that would be so thrilling!’ exclaimed Mary. (Edmund did not whisper anything, it would not have been becoming. He did have his thoughts, though. (So did Fanny.))

‘I am going to be Lady Macbeth,’ stated Mrs Norris. ‘It will be very becoming.’

‘NO!’ Henry and Mr Yates exclaimed at the same time. ‘We do not say the name, it is bad luck!’

‘Very bad!’ Mr Yates echoed, for effect.

‘What name?’ Maria said and fluttered her eyelashes at Henry. ‘Macbeth?’

‘Don’t!’ hissed Mr Yates.

‘If Maria mustn’t say Macbeth, I shouldn’t either!’ Julia cried and crossed her arms. ‘I’m not going to say Macbeth, come what may.’

Once would have been enough. Having it said thrice sealed the curse. The fourth time was completely superfluous and ruined a good magical number, but nobody can really be blamed for that.

When shall we three meet again / in thunder, lightning or in rain?





‘Bit rough, this one.’

‘Might have been a bit off with the coordinates - not to worry, it’s all under control -’

‘I don’t think this is the 1966 World Championship, though -’

‘Yes, where are we? And when?’

‘And is this Earth? Remember what happened on that planet that you said was Earth, and then the trees -’

‘Yes, yes, yes, I get it, you are ungrateful. Honestly, show them the wonders of the universe, then mess up stuff once, and it’s all you hear about forever.’

‘Once? You messed up stuff only once?’

‘Boys. Boys. Come on! No fighting. Doctor, where are we?’



‘Right, well. No toxic atmosphere this time. I should say it’s perfectly fine to go outside, see where we are -’

‘We’re in a room. We’re in somebody’s attic room.’

‘Yes, but when? Oh, will you look at that! A muslin shawl - and here, on the wall, a drawing of the HMS Theseus - did I mention I dined with Nelson and Lady Hamilton once? Great conversation, but the potatoes were overcooked and the beef was stringy - look at that, will you, it’s even got the little flag -’

‘Yes, but when are we? And where?’

‘Oh, Rory, Rory, Rory, you impatient young whippersnapper - we’re in England’s Regency, a glorious time, with balls and muslin gowns and fabulous novelists - uuh, that reminds me, I’d better stay clear of Jane Austen - great dancer, and so funny, but I never returned her copy of Udolpho - oooh, and cravats, I could wear a cravat, and a beaver hat - not as cool as a fez, but still -’

When the hurly-burly’s done / when the battle’s lost and won

They couldn’t quite say afterwards where the strangers had come from, it was as if they’d always been there, somehow. In any case, Mr Doctor came with a recommendation from the Bishop of Bath and Wells, there was nobody who would argue with that, and Mr and Mrs Pond were rather delightful, if oddly mannered. And the theatricals had to go on. It was decades, probably, before a snappy phrase would be coined for the phenomenon, but the sentiment was all there. Mr Yates unsuccessfully applied himself for the role of Macbeth, as did Henry. Mr Doctor simply knew all the lines. (‘Wrote a few of them, truth be told,’ he muttered to no one in particular, ‘but don’t tell Will, these things always upset him so.’)

Fanny kept herself from the theatricals, keeping to her room, in which Mr Doctor, for the time being, had stored his odd cabinet. Sometimes, it emanated a faint glow, but Fanny thought it impolite to point that out.

Things took their course. A few servants disappeared overnight, leaving behind only some charred bones, but nobody other than Mrs Pond really thought much about the matter. These things were bound to happen when one lived in the country. And it would not have been a done thing at all to point out to Mrs Norris that depending on how the wind stood, she smelled like a wet dog. (When people say something smells like a wet dog, they don’t usually notice the ‘wet’ component of the smell. What they mean to say is that the humidity increases the olfactory sensation. (In Mrs Norris’ case, however, the wetness of the smell was clearly palpable.))

And the theatricals continued. Maria and Julia learnt the lines of the witches, under protest, and Mary threw herself into the role, even going so far as not brushing her hair any more, and taking to wearing striped stockings. Not that anyone noticed, because Edmund surely never would have risked a glance.

Mr Rushworth could be persuaded to play Duncan. He was much in love with the brass crown he was promised, but kept nagging Mr and Mrs Pond, who were in charge of the script, to cut down on his lines. Henry was given Banquo and complained that his character was killed. Fanny, who had read the play, thought to herself that Shakespeare might have been too subtle about the fate of the other characters. Maria had to be told that the witches do not flirt with Banquo, nor with Macbeth.

‘No!’ Mr Yates exclaimed. ‘The witches are crooked. Very bad! They are lying!’

‘I think Maria does it fabulously,’ Henry said. ‘It has to look like the witches really try to ensnare Macbeth -’

‘Don’t say the name!’ everyone else cried unisono.

Henry was sent outside to say a Hail Mary, turn on his own axis counter-clockwise thirteen times, and recite the funeral oratory of Marc Anthony, whilst everyone else refreshed themselves and had some tea.

When Julia went to get Henry after his penance, there was nothing left but a heap of charred, broken bones.

That will be ere the set of sun



‘Can you get any readings, Doctor? Can the sonic detect curses?’

‘Amy, the man was just killed, show some respect -’

‘I am showing respect, Rory -’

‘Interesting. Interesting. Oh, this is - oh, this is old. Very old. Haven’t seen one of these since - oh, goodness me -’

‘Oh, speak in riddles, will you? I hate it when you make things plain!’

‘Bless you, Rory Pond, for your utter lack of imagination - no, Amy, wait -’

Where the place? / Upon the heath.

When Mr Doctor and Mr and Mrs Pond returned to the improvised theatre where everyone else was still huddled in shock, people were far too disturbed to notice that Mr Doctor was holding aloft a thing with a tiny green beacon on it. (People tend to not notice things that are not, to the extent of their knowledge, technically possible. It’s a basic human trait that has led to quite a few early cavemen being crushed by an early wheel.)

Maria was distraught, and could not even be comforted by Mr Rushworth’s assurances that he would write to his mother that very evening, asking to send Maria a few words of consolation. Nor did Mrs Norris’ promises that her wedding could still go forward as planned help at all. Julia was equally weeping. Edmund was still debating internally whether it would be appropriate to embrace Mary in a fraternal hug of solace.

‘Real people dying!’ Mr Yates exclaimed. ‘This is bad!’

Fanny pointed out that quite a few servants had died - or rather, disappeared in heaps of charred bones - before.

‘Yes, but now rich people! Sad!’ Mr Yates exclaimed. ‘We will fight back!’

‘We should never have done the stupid Macbeth!’ Julia cried and ran out of the room.

‘You mustn’t say Macbeth!’ Mary cried and ran after her.

She was so fast it was not even clear where she had run. (Then, of course, the room seemed to have acquired quite a few additional doors. It was hard to tell. Counting doors was what the servants did who dusted them, and the servant number had been rather decimated.)

It being vital that Julia and Mary perform the required cleansing rituals, everyone ran after them to remind them. They did not find them. However, in the small summer breakfast parlour, they came across a charred heap of bones still smoldering, and Mary’s very badly singed, lifeless body.

There to meet with Macbeth.

TV announcer [in full TV announcer regalia, but still wearing the viking horns from the previous sketch]: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we come here to a warning about the content of this programme. So far, you have been exposed only to gruesome murder, but what will now enter the scene is too horrible to watch. In about fifteen seconds, the Prince Regent will enter the scene, so good luck to all those not using a wide-screen television set. Penguins should be removed from the TV now.’

Army Colonel [not wearing viking horns]: ‘Alright, this is enough. I forbid this sketch -’

I come, Graymalkin! Paddock calls! Anon!

It was obvious then that the small summer breakfast parlour also had far too many doors for a room of its moderate size. Whilst Maria and Mr Rushworth made their entrance through the northernmost one, Mr Doctor and Mr and Mrs Pond entered from the south. Mr Yates came in from the west and Edmund and Fanny from the east. Mrs Norris was already in the room, nobody having seen which door she had used. And the south-by-southwest door was pushed open by the most magnificent personage ever to have graced its threshold. Mr Rushworth trembled at the sight of the satin of his cape.

‘You!’ he said and pointed his gilt walking stick at Mr Doctor. ‘I warned you about coming back to England, Doctor!’

‘Yes, yes, yes,’ Mr Doctor said, brandishing his beacon-thingy. ‘Sorry about your waistcoat and all that, and my apologies to Princess Charlotte for borrowing her hat, but it’s a bad time right now - bit of a crisis, really -’

‘When I heard you were here, I came directly, Doctor!’ the Prince Regent exclaimed. ‘You know you must leave the kingdom within the hour.’

Mr Doctor waved the beacon-thingy around and it bweeped.

‘Georgie, my man,’ he said, ‘would it bother you to know that the gates of hell have been opened in your kingdom?’

Maria screeched. Fanny paled. Mr Pond spluttered. The Prince Regent continued his regal stance and hostile glare.

‘Doctor, how?’ Mrs Pond asked.

‘Oh, simple. Voice-activated, I guess. Very ancient mechanism, works on the protons in the stone gates and ensures that -’

Mrs Pond cleared her throat.

‘Yes, I was coming to that. It’s all this saying Macbeth that done it -’

Mrs Norris snarled and bared her teeth.

‘Oh, so it was a curse?’ Mrs Pond enquired.

‘Oh, you humans with your limited horizons. When you can’t explain it, it’s a curse, and when there is a race of giant, dog-like creatures with fiery breath and really, really smelly fur, dead set on devouring everything on two legs, living under ground, you decide it must be literal hell - well, given that they do mean to kill everyone, perhaps it is hell -’

‘Hell-hounds?’ Mr Pond asked. ‘This is the work of a hell-hound? There was a hell-hound in this house?’

‘We will build a big, big wall!’ Mr Yates suddenly exclaimed. ‘Protect us from hell-hounds. And poor people. Become great again!’ (Fanny thought, for a moment, that he had started to glow faintly orange, but it might have been a reflection of the fiery breath of the hell-hounds.)

The prince regent stood hostile and glared regally.

Mr Doctor waved his beacon-thingy over Mrs Norris.

‘There still is a hell-hound in the house,’ he said. ‘Simple perception filter, really - should have seen it earlier -’

Mrs Norris bared her teeth, saliva slithering down her fangs, and snarled.

‘Why now, though?’ Mr Doctor muttered. ‘They’re an ancient, ancient race, dormant for millenia - why now? Who would set them free, and for what reason?’


The death ray hit Mr Yates, in all his orange glamour, squarely in the chest. His blond wig fell to the floor and he collapsed in a pathetic heap.


Fair is foul and foul is fair / Hover through the fog and filthy air.

Double Double, Toil and Trouble

Bloody MariOctober 31, 2017 08:31PM

Re: Double Double, Toil and Trouble

Kathleen GlancyDecember 11, 2017 04:10PM

Re: Double Double, Toil and Trouble

KEvelynOctober 31, 2017 11:10PM

Re: Double Double, Toil and Trouble

UlrikeOctober 31, 2017 08:55PM

Re: Double Double, Toil and Trouble

Bloody MariOctober 31, 2017 08:59PM

Blurb : Re: Double Double, Toil and Trouble

Bloody MariOctober 31, 2017 08:34PM


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