The Destroying Angel : The Ultimate Weapon

by Bassett Kendall


Persons in the Prologue in the order of their appearance
Mère Vichy Father Ambrose’s housekeeper
M. Giraud of the French Diplomatic Service
Father Ambrose Curé of St Jacques, Strassburg
Sir George Hilary of the British diplomatic Service
Cardinal Jallance Bishop of Strassburg

characters in the play
in the order of their appearance.

Lady Hilary Wife of Sir George Hilary
Chung-Hi The Hilary’s butler
James Denison A young scientist
Sir George Hilary 
The Earl of Castlemore Secretary of State for War
M. Giraud 
Count Radivloski A Russian refugee
Baron von Breitwald A representative from the German Ministry for War
Nancy Wake An inexperienced motorist.
Senator Stewart P. HigginsonA representative from the U.S.A. Government
Simmons Mr. Higginson’s chauffeur
Ambrose Beaujour A young man with a mission
Stein An unwelcome visitor


Father Ambrose’s house in Strassburg. The room is very simple but not poorly furnished. Scientific apparatus about. Mère Vichy is busying herself, putting the room to rights. There is a knock on the door.

Mère V. I’m coming. (Another knock.) Now, don’t be impatient. I said I was coming. (She opens door. Giraud enters.) Oh, I beg your pardon, Monsieur. I thought it was one of those tiresome penitents. They bother the life out of me – and what it must be for the Father, I don’t know.

Giraud. Is Father Ambrose at home?

Mère V. I am expecting him every minute, Monsieur. Will Monsieur sit down? He has been called out to see an old woman, who is dying and I know he meant to write his sermon this morning. But the poor folk have no thought far the good Father: they spend all their time dying and sinning and expect the Father to spend all his time ministering to their souls.

Giraud. I have an appointment with Father Ambrose. I will wait till he returns.

Mère V. Well, if the old woman dies quickly, you will not have to wait long. The Father told me he hoped to be back by 11 o’clock. It is already after that.

Giraud. I am in no hurry. (Examining a retort.) He does a good deal of this kind of thing, I suppose?

Mère V. Why yes, Monsieur. When the Father is not ministering to the souls of the poor, he is making smells with his chemicals. Sometimes I can scarcely enter the room without a handkerchief round my nose. But there the greatest of the Saints have had their weaknesses. And I suppose it is a just penance for my sins to live in a house of evil smells.

Giraud. If you find it so unpleasant, why do you stay here?

Mère V. But if I went away, Monsieur, who would cook the meals? Who would darn the Father’s stockings? Who would make his bed?

Giraud. He could get another woman, no doubt.

Mère V. But, Monsieur, you don’t understand. I love the Father, as if he were my own son. Listen, Monsieur. Five years ago my good man died. All the time he was ill, the Father came to see us every day – and when the good God took him to bliss the Father said to me “You will be lonely now, Mère Vichy. Come and keep house for me.” That is what he’s like. Do you think a little smell would drive mc away?

(Enter Father Ambrose: he is a comparatively young man, about 35 – tall and ascetic looking. He wears the cassock of a Roman priest moving among his people.)

Amb. M. Giraud?

Giraud. That is my name.

Amb. It is good of you to come in answer to my rather strange invitation.

Giraud. Perhaps you will be good enough to explain why you wrote to me.

Amb. I was expecting another guest. When he comes, I will explain everything. I hope you have not been waiting long?

Giraud. Only a few minutes. I have been well entertained.

Amb. Mère Vichy, you have been gossiping again.

Mère V. Monsieur asked me so many questions.

Amb. And you gave such full answers. “The tongue can no man tame me? It is a restless evil.” You should hang that text above the head of your bed.

Mère V. But, Father, if it hung over my head I should never see it.

Amb. And wherever it hung, you would never heed it. (A knock.) But there is the other gentleman, I suppose. Go and see, Mère Vichy.

(Mère Vichy goes to door.)

Hil. Does Father Ambrose live here?

Mère V. Yes, Monsieur. Will you step in? The Father is expecting you.

(Enter Sir George Hilary, an English diplomat about 50 years of age.)

Hil. I am afraid I am a little after the time you suggested. Why it’s Giraud: how are you? I am delighted to see you. What ages since we met.

Giraud. It must be four years since you left Paris. You have been in Peking, haven’t you?

Hil. Yes. I returned a month ago. Things are in a bad way out there. Bolshevism is rampant. Father Ambrose, we have to thank you for bringing two old friends together.

Amb. Mère Vichy, I shall have no dinner unless you return to the kitchen.

Mère V. But won’t the gentlemen take a little refreshment?

Giraud. No thank you.

Hil. Not for me, thank you.

Mère V. Just a little white wine? No? I will go to my onions. (Exit Mère Vichy.)

Amb. Now, gentlemen, I owe you some explanation of my unusual invitation. Do sit down. When I wrote and asked you both to come and see me on a matter which might prove to be the salvation of the world, I was making no idle claim. You mentioned Bolshevism just now, Sir George. To both of you Bolshevism is a political danger – a menace to western civilisation; to me it is the arch-enemy of the Church of Christ. Russia is no longer a Christian country: the Bolshevists have murdered the priests and the peasants are afraid to return to their old faith. And every day Bolshevism is growing in strength.

Giraud. That is quite true. And the recent alliance of China and Russia makes the danger very serious.

Hil. Yes. I was in Peking until diplomatic relations were broken off. China is nothing but a tool in the hands of Soviet Russia.

Amb. Bolshevism is like a vast octopus stretching out its tentacles all over the world – squeezing the life out of all whom they seize. The time has come for a world crusade of all Christian countries to crush the monster. If we delay, if we Christians desert the cause of our Master, then Bolshevism will triumph. The Church of Christ will be destroyed – and the world will lie at the feet of Satan. But forgive me, gentlemen; I did not invite you here to preach a sermon to you. I must get down to hard facts. My reason for writing to you both is that I have read some account of your recent work. You have been in Russia, M. Giraud, and Sir George has seen the effect of Bolshevism in China. You both know that the Bolshevists are aiming at the destruction of everything which we hold sacred and just. You are both anxious to crush the venomous thing.

Giraud. Certainly, But how can it be done?

Amb. I can place in your hands a weapon – a weapon so deadly, that it will destroy Bolshevism for ever. (Pause.) Listen: three years ago I conceived the idea of an explosive which would be so destructive in its action that war would be revolutionised by it. I have been working steadily on this invention, and a fortnight ago it was complete. My difficulty was then to test it: the explosion of even a tiny particle of this powder is so terrific that it can only be dropped with safety from the air. I could not charter an aeroplane for my experiment – and so I went to a remote district of the Alps, climbed a peak and dropped five grains of the powder over the edge of a precipice 2000 feet high. Perhaps you saw an account in the papers of a serious landslide in the Alps, which fortunately caused no destruction to life or property. That was the result of my little experiment.

Hil. But surely it is not sufficient merely to drop the powder: some time-fuse, I suppose, is required?

Amb. That, for the present, is secret. It is enough to say that this tin of powder is sufficient to destroy every capital of Europe. At the moment it is as harmless as oatmeal. If I threw a handful into the fire, it would just shrivel into ash. But in a minute I could convert it into a force which would blow Strassburg into the air, so that not one stone was left upon another.

Giraud. Then you suggest that the French and British governments should carry out tests of your invention, and if they are successful, you are prepared to sell.

Amb. One moment: I am making this offer to you two gentlemen because I am hoping that France and England will lead the great crusade against Bolshevism. My father was an Alsatian – a doctor here in Strassburg, my mother was an English woman. Though I spent my childhood in Strassburg I was educated in England – at Downside and Emmanuel – I studied science at Cambridge, and when I decided to become a priest, I did not give up my scientific work. I have an equal love for England and France, and it is my earnest hope that my two countries shall be in the forefront of the fight for Christ’s Church. If you accept my offer, I shall be the humble instrument of God in crushing the powers of darkness.

Giraud. How long are you prepared to allow for the tests?

Amb. I am only ready to sell on one condition: that is that the purchaser must pledge his word that his country shall make no use of this invention except in warfare against the Bolshevists. It is too terrible a thing for one Christian country to use against another.

Giraud. But surely, Father Ambrose, you must see that it is impossible for us to tie the hands of our governments. We have come here at your invitation as private individuals: we have no immediate authority to purchase from you. I cannot involve the French government in a capital expenditure large or small, without reference to my colleagues. And if we did agree to the purchase, we could not give any guarantee that this explosive should only be used against Bolshevist countries. We should use it in the interests of our country: if she were attacked by a foreign power, it would be our duty to employ every means at our command to crush our enemy. A Frenchman’s highest duty is his loyalty to France.

Amb. And a Christian’s highest duty is his loyalty to Christ: the Church is greater than Country.

Giraud. But you surely understand that we are not in a position to negotiate with you without authority from our respective governments.

Amb. M. Giraud, I am disappointed. I see my hope is not to be realised. I have given you an opportunity not only of saving France, but of serving the cause of the Church. You have rejected it. There is no more to be said. I apologise for having brought you here to no purpose.

Giraud. If you feel inclined to modify your conditions, I hope you will communicate with me again. As they stand at present, no responsible statesman could accept them.

Amb. I have stated terms. An enthusiast would have agreed to them. Good morning: I am sure you will treat our conversation as confidential.

Giraud. Oh certainly: are you coming, Hilary?

Hil. If Father Ambrose can put up with me for a little longer, I should like to have a few more words with him.

Amb. Of course.

Giraud. Good morning, then. (Exit Giraud.)

Amb. “Because thou art neither hot nor cold, I eschew thee out of my mouth.”

Hil. Isn’t that rather unjust to my friend Giraud?

Amb. He is a politician, Sir George: his politics mean more to him than his faith.

Hil. He put the case very fairly. We are not empowered to deal with you on behalf of our countries; but if you will discuss the matter with me as a private individual, I should like to ask you a few questions?

Amb. Ask what you like.

Hil. If I were to agree to your conditions, for what price would you sell your invention?

Amb. The price is immaterial to me. If I were assured that this destructive weapon would be used against Bolshevism, the purpose of my life would be achieved.

Hil. I am not a rich man – but I believe in your honesty. I am willing to offer £5000 on the conditions you have stated.

Amb. You will not sell again?

Hil. Only to the British Government, if they are satisfied after proper tests that the explosive is effective.

Amb. I have no doubt of that. And there must be a guarantee from your Government that it shall be used only against Bolshevist countries.

Hil. I should not sell on any other conditions.

Amb. One thing more. There are Bolshevist agents everywhere. I have two copies of instructions for the manufacture of this powder. One I shall keep myself: the other I am prepared to hand to you on the understanding that it remains in your own possession, and that no copy is made of it, which might fall into the hands of Bolshevist spies.

Hil. That is perfectly reasonable.

Amb. You are not a scientist yourself?

Hil. I am afraid not.

Amb. Then you will have to employ someone to manufacture the powder. The process is a long and complicated one. It cannot be produced under 34 days: I have here detailed instructions of each day’s work. I suggest that you fit up a laboratory in your own house.

Hil. There is no danger attached to the manufacture of it?

Amb. Not the slightest.

Hil. I’m sorry I interrupted. Go on.

Amb. You will have to engage an absolutely trustworthy scientist to do the work: I should advise you to give him one day’s instructions at a time – stipulate that he hands them back to you each evening. Then it will be quite impossible for him to carry the whole process in his head – and as you will have all the papers in your own hands, the secret cannot be given away – unless you are robbed. If the Bolshevists get wind of it, they will stop at nothing to get those papers.

Hil. I must take my risk of that.

Amb. It is a serious risk.

Hil. (Shrugs his shoulders.) One thing more. I have agreed to all your conditions – but before we close the bargain, I must make one request. When the tests for the British War Office are made I should propose to invite representatives from France, Germany and America to see them.

Amb. For what reason?

Hil. Because I believe that war with Bolshevist countries is much nearer than anyone realises. Have you heard of Kanikoff?

Amb. No, who is he?

Hil. He is the man who pulls all the Bolshevist strings. The centre of a vast organisation of propagandists – the brains of the Bolshevist League. Wherever one goes in Russia or China, one hears him talked of with fear and reverence; – but no one has ever seen him. If he were removed, Bolshevism as a world force would collapse. But Kanikoff is alive, and is preaching a doctrine of destruction. He means to attack the world before we are prepared. That is why I have suggested that representatives of the four great anti-Bolshevist powers should witness the tests of your invention. We must know what weapon we have in common: and it would be our duty to supply our allies with the explosive in the event of war breaking out.

Amb. But it would be manufactured in England only?

Hil. Certainly, that would be part of the agreement – the finished article only would be supplied to them.

Amb. In that case, I consent.

Hil. Then the bargain is complete. You probably wish to have a written agreement?

Amb. I am not a business man, Sir George. I have your word: that is enough.

Hil. I will write you a cheque at once. (Opens despatch case and does so.)

Amb. (Goes to cupboard and takes out papers.) I should not like you to think that I am taking your money for myself. I shall hand your cheque to my Bishop to be used at his discretion. (Takes cheque.) Thank you. Here are the instructions for making the powder: you realise that in itself it is harmless. It can be destroyed entirely and its power rendered useless by being thrown either into fire or water. But if this powder is mixed with a liquid, for which you will find the formula here, in exactly one minute it will explode with terrific force. One grain of powder so treated would blow up this street, a teaspoonful would destroy Strassburg. So be careful when the tests are made: it must be dropped from an aeroplane at a great altitude – and several miles from any building.

Hil. Is the liquid easily made?

Amb. Anyone who can measure out three acids in equal quantities can make it. Do it yourself, Sir George, then the formula need never go out of your hands until it is accepted by the British Government.

Hil. And after the powder has been added to the liquid?

Amb. Nothing on earth can prevent an explosion in 60 seconds. If it were thrown straight into water, it would make no difference.

Hil. (Locking papers into his despatch case.) Then that is all – unless you have any further instructions to give me?

Amb. Sir George, I have placed in your hands a force which has had no equal in the history of the world. When war comes – as come it will – the enemies of Christ’s Church will feel the vengeance of the Lord of Hosts. “Then there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I thank God that He has used me for his work. My invention will be His destroying angel, who will smite down His foes until His Holy Church once more rises triumphant from the ruins of a selfish world.

Hil. (Shakes hands with Amb. and exit in silence.)

Amb. (Ecstatically clasping his hands.) “Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered: let them also that hate Him flee before Him.”

(Enter Mère Vichy.)

Mère V. Dinner time, Father.

Amb. Mère Vichy, the Lord has chosen me for a great work.

Mère V. Well, do it after dinner, Father. The omelette is getting like a piece of leather.

Amb. You have no soul above food, Mother.

Mère V. Everything in its own time, I say. The good God can’t be in such a hurry that He grudges you a bit of dinner.

Amb. Very well. I’ll come in a moment. (A knock.)

Mère V. There’s another: now the omelette will be ruined. Go into the Kitchen, Father. I’ll say you are not at home.

Amb. Shall I allow you to stray from the path of truth, Mère Vichy? (Another knock.) Open the door.

Mère V. (Going to the door and opening it.) Can’t you let the Father have a bit of dinner?

Bishop. (In doorway.) Peace be to this house.

Mère V. Saints triumphant! It’s Monseigneur the Bishop. (Enter Bishop very old and benevolent.)

Bishop. Is that your reason for invoking the protections of the Holy Saints, my daughter? Is Monseigneur the Bishop such a fearful thing?

Mère V. But I spoke to Monseigneur as if he were a common penitent.

Amb. Run away, Mère Vichy. Monseigneur no doubt wishes to speak to me.

Mère V. Pardon, Monseigneur. (Exit Mère Vichy.)

Amb. Monseigneur, your presence does honour to my poor house.

Bishop. (Sitting down.) My son, I wish to have a word with you. Some of our brother priests are troubled that you devote so much of your time to scientific studies. There are those who say that a scientist cannot be a good Christian: we need not consider them, for we know that they speak in ignorance. But to those who feel that your researches are hindering you from devoting enough time to your duties as a priest we must pay more heed.

Amb. Monseigneur they do not understand. My work has been done for the glory of God. And today He has accepted it.

Bishop. Explain, my son.

Amb. I have invented an explosive a thousand times more powerful than the world has ever known; today I have sold it to an agent of the English Government for use against the Bolshevists.

Bishop. You have sold it?

Amb. Not for my own profit. Here is the cheque: will you spend it as you think best.

Bishop. Judas sold his Master.

Amb. What do you mean, Monseigneur? My motive was not to gain the money. I have for years laboured at this work, hoping to forge a deadly weapon to smite the enemies of the Holy Church.

Bishop. Did Christ tell us to smite our enemies, my son? Did He not say “Love your enemies: pray for them that persecute you.”

Amb. For our personal enemies, yes. But are we not a Church Militant? Isn’t it our sacred duty to fight against the foes of the Church”

Bishop. By the use of deadly explosives? By murdering thousands of innocent women and children?

Amb. But the Bolshevists have murdered thousands of innocent Christian people.

Bishop. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” – is that the teaching of our Master? A course of violence and retaliation can breed nothing but more hatred – more bloodshed.

Amb. The Bolshevists have renounced Christianity and have forfeited the right to be treated as Christians.

Bishop. And shall we therefore renounce the teaching of Christ? I do not deny that Bolshevism is an evil and pernicious thing: I do not deny that some of the Bolshevists are wilful sinners. But it is not for us to destroy them: if they have forfeited your sympathy, my son, they can never forfeit the Love of God. Did not our Blessed Saviour die for them as much as for you and me? He “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Think of the millions of ignorant people in Russia and China who have been led astray by the wicked teaching of a handful of unscrupulous men: do you wish to destroy them because of their ignorance? We should feel pity for them, rather than hatred. Can we help them by murdering their children? There is only one way in which we can fight successfully against Bolshevism, my son – by carrying once more to those ignorant millions the glorious Gospel of goodwill – by bringing them back to the Babe in the Manger, and the Saviour on the Cross – by showing them the loving nature of God reflected in our own lives. Will explosives teach them the love of God?

Amb. And I believed I was serving the cause of the Church.

Bishop. I do not doubt it, my son. But in the blindness of your service you have betrayed the Church’s Founder.

Amb. Monseigneur, you have opened my eyes. I am a murderer and a traitor to my Master – a second Judas. How can I atone for my sin?

Bishop. By seeing that your invention is never used. Write to the purchaser – send the money back – say that you have repented of your action. If that proves useless, go and see him. The explosive must never become the property of a European government: it must be recovered at all costs: but in recovering it you must commit no crime. Good cannot come out of evil.

Amb. It is impossible, Monseigneur. I can never recover it.

Bishop. You will succeed my son. It cannot be God’s will that such an instrument of destruction should be used against innocent people. Have you any of the explosive here?

Amb. Yes, Monseigneur – and a copy of the instructions for making it.

Bishop. Destroy them – and then go forth on your quest, and may God’s blessing go with you. (The Bishop is up by the door looking at Ambrose, who sits with his head on his hands.)

Amb. God be merciful to me a sinner.

(The Bishop comes down and touches him on the shoulder. He looks up quickly.)

Bishop. “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”

(The Bishop goes up and exit. Ambrose gets up and destroys the powder and papers. Then he kneels down at prie dieu.)