The same. 8.30 the same evening. Marevski is messing about with the inside of the piano. He closes the top. Jos. enters in full dress clothes – the ribbon of an order on shirt-front: he has recovered from his gassing.
Mar. Yes – that’s done. You had some luck this afternoon, Joseph. If they had switched onto 2 instead of 1, you wouldn’t be here now.
Jos. No. Lucky you knew about the switches.
Mar. I heard enough for our purposes. Shall I leave her in neutral
Jos. Wherever she’s safe for the present, provided that it doesn’t rouse their suspicions.
Mar. They’d expect her to be in neutral – and she’s safe as a house there.
Jos. Good, you’d better not be seen with me.
(Exit Mar, C. Jos. signals at window with torch: after a short pause von Armstadt appears.)
Arm. Coast clear?
Jos. For the moment. They’re at dinner – probably drinking to the “triumph of Klovenia.”
Arm. How did you get away?
Jos. I never went in: I got gassed this afternoon and am supposed to be resting upstairs. I’ll tell you all about it later. What about you?
Arm. Everything going splendidly, We’ve got all the aeroplane sheds and arrested all the men there, The sheds and bomb stores have been mined and by a wireless control I can blow them all up one after another. There are men all round the castle, so no one can go out or come in without my knowledge. Of course we saw Van der Vogt dash off in his car at 5 o’clock, but naturally didn’t stop him. What was he after?
Jos. Going to stop the real Prince Karyl from getting here. He was due this evening, it seems.
Arm. Would you like us to stop anyone else from coming in?
Jos. No – only from going out. We don’t know whether the Great Unknown is here yet. We’ve got to catch him red-handed.
Arm. You’ve not spotted him yet?
Jos. No – I’ve got just a faint suspicion – but it’s nothing really to go on.
Arm. I wonder if we’re running things too fine, Ought we to imperil the whole of Europe for the sake of catching one man?
Jos. If that man escapes, the peace of the World will never be secure.
Arm. We’ve got to consider the ghastly loss of life, if the cylinders are discharged.
Jos. I’ll see that they are not discharged. Look here – nine o’clock’s the time. Be close to this window at 9 with at least 20 men. Do you know Rachmaninov’s Prelude
Arm. Yes, I do. But why?
Jos. Rachmaninov’s Prelude plays a big part in this show. As soon as you hear the opening bars, hand in two revolvers to Marevski, who will be near the window. We may have lost ours by then. Have another for yourself. When I call your name, blow up the aeroplane sheds and walk in. You can arrest everyone – and I hope by then I shall be able to point out the Great Unknown.
Arm. Well, this is your show, Wilkinson. I’ll follow your directions. I’d better be off now: the men shall be posted here just before nine.
Jos. One second: wasn’t Van der Vogt our agent in Klovenia last year?
Arm. Yes – why?
Jos. Oh, nothing. I just wanted to know. Thanks.
(Exit von Armstadt R. Jos. walks over to the piano – he speaks to himself.) Now why did Van der Vogt –? (He is opening the top of the piano, when he hears voices, shuts it and exit L, Enter C Zov., Bar. and Kras. in full dress,)
Bar. Yes – it was most unfortunate. I suppose Herr Van der Vogt explained the apparatus to him and when he was left alone he wanted to examine it. But who altered the switch? I thought Moneskin left it in neutral.
Zov. He probably altered it himself: it’s fortunate he didn’t put it onto 2. He’s an important feature in the programme. (Looks at his watch.) Has Van der Vogt returned?
Kras. I don’t think so.
Zov. What can he be doing? He didn’t say he was going out.
Bar. This accident won’t have improved the Prince’s temper. He was furious this afternoon: you three didn’t handle him very cleverly.
Zov. We’d heard he was a very stupid young fellow who would swallow anything: but he saw through our plans all the time: he’s a very clever man – hardly the right man for a king.
Kras. I suppose it’s quite certain he is the Prince?
Zov. What do you mean?
Kras. He seemed to me at first to be on the point of giving himself away at every remark. Mightn’t he be a spy?
Zov. You thought at first that Van der Vogt was a spy.
Kras. Yes. I admit I was wrong there but this fellow – Bar. Perhaps we are all getting rather nervy. We must keep on good terms with the Prince. He is necessary to Klovenia.
Zov. I wish Van der Vogt was back. (Exit Zov. C.)
Bar. (after a short pause – exclaims suddenly) Oh, why isn’t it all successfully over. The suspense is unendurable.
(Slov. appears alone C. Kras sees him and helps him in.)
Slov. Who’s here?
Bar. Only Krasnovik and myself, Professor.
Slov. What is the time?
Kras. About twenty to nine.
Slov. Twenty minutes more. I am enjoying myself, Baroness. If you ever reach my age, you will find that in many ways you are going back to the sensations of childhood. I feel tonight as I once did when I was eight years old and my father had promised me ... I was so excited that I couldn’t eat: that is just what I feel like now. Yet I soon became tired of that. Things are often better in anticipation than they are in reality.
Bar. Hut this is the realisation of your life’s work.
Slov. My life’s work: yes – my life of hatred and revenge. I am in my 80th year, Baroness, and for the last 60 years I have lived and laboured for this hour. Oh that revenge may taste as sweet as I have imagined.
(Enter Zov, C.)
Zov. He’s not back yet – and it’s almost a quarter to nine.
Bar. Oh! What can have happened to him?
Zov. He’s sure to be back before nine. He couldn’t fail us.
Kras. Do we carry on without him?
Zov. No – we must all be here.
Bar. I feel a presentiment of evil: if we delay, anything may happen.
Slov. What does it matter, Baroness? Ten minutes more or less of life for twelve million people: think of them now – living, singing, dancing, breathing – how little do they think of the joy of breathing: in fifteen minutes they will be struggling for breath – a short, spasmodic struggle: then – nothing.
Kras. Don’t, Professor,
Slov. There they are now in their homes – in their theatres and cinemas – in the ballroom and the nightclub, laughing, drinking, enjoying life. Careless fools, enjoy your fifteen minutes of frivolity. I can hear your jokes – your laughter: I can hear the busy hum of traffic in the streets. How soon your city will be silent – a city of desolation – a city of the dead. Kras. (jumping to his feet) What can have happened to Van der Vogt?
(Enter Marta C. in evening dress.)
Marta. I’ve just been up to the Prince’s room: he’s feeling much better, He’ll be down in a moment. Where’s Herr Van der Vogt?
Bar. (almost rudely) He’s not back.
Marta. Well, I hope he’s not going to let us down.
(Enter Pez. C.)
Pez. There’s about twelve minutes more: is everything ready? Hullo, where’s Van der Vogt?
Zov. Not back yet.
Pez. Not –-? Then what –?
Zov. We must wait.
Bar. No – we can’t wait – no.
(Enter Joseph C. There is an obvious tension in the air.)
Jos. Hullo – anything wrong?
Pez. Anything wrong?
(Enter Moneskin C.)
Mon. He’s here! His car’s coming up the drive. (Exit C,)
Bar. Ah! (General relief – except for Kras. who is becoming more and more nervy – sitting with his head in his hands.)
Zov. I knew he couldn’t let us down.
(There is a general buzz of relieved conversation.)
(Enter Mon. C. announcing. He carries some rope.)
Mon. Prince Karyl of Klovenia.
(Enter Karyl with Van. C. Karyl is dressed in plus fours and spats. He is made up like Joseph. He is a bounder.)
Van. I’m sorry to run things so close. The Prince was rather late. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me present to you our future King.
Zov. But I don’t understand.
Jos. (stepping forward) Herr Van der Vogt, I demand an explanation of this foolish joke.
Van. This is the explanation! (He unexpectedly whips off Joseph’s wig ) There’s your ex-prince – an obvious impostor (Jos. whips out a revolver, but his arms are pinioned by Pez. and Mon. Pez. takes revolver.) Bind him in a chair – and Princess Marta Losch as well. (This is done, they are some way apart. While they are bound the dialogue continues.)Karyl. So this is my first taste of revolution: it’s as good as a film.
Zov. I’m glad you arrived in time, Sir.
Karyl. Yes – we had a little engine trouble on the way. When’s the real fun starting? You’ve got some stunt for gassing Europe, haven’t you? Or is that already done? I had great difficulty in persuading my wife to leave Paris: she’d got some ball on, I believe.
Zov. But she’s safe?
Karyl. Yes – bored stiff in Lausanne.
(By this time Jos. and Marta are tied to chairs.)
Jos. Now I know why you wanted me to examine the piano.
Van. Only just discovered that. I’m sure you will all be interested to see your late prince: (pulls off his moustache) perhaps you recognise him.
Van. Joseph Wilkinson, your late waiter – and agent of the League Secret Service.
Jos. As you are yourself – Pieter Van der Vogt, the traitor – alias the Great Unknown.
Van. He’s got it at last. Come, Prince you’ve just got time for a drink before we begin the destruction of Europe.
Karyl. Well, I’ve got an awful thirst on me. A couple of cocktails will put me right.
Van. Moneskin, guard the prisoners. (Mon. nods and takes revolver from pocket. Exeunt Karyl and Van.)
Bar. And that man is to be King of Klovenia.
Zov. My dear, what does it matter who’s King?
Pez. All the power will be in the hands of the Great Unknown.
Jos. Will you listen to me a moment (They turn round in surprise.) I suppose you realise that you are all placing yourselves in the hands of a very unscrupulous man? This Van der Vogt was one of our leading secret service agents – he had taken oaths of loyalty to the League of Nations –
Bar. Anyone is justified in breaking such oaths.
Jos. (without heeding the interruption) This brands him as a man without loyalty or conscience. Do you suppose he is likely to care more for you and for Klovenia than for the League he has betrayed? Why has he organised this plot? To satisfy his insane ambition. He wants to be master of the World. You are nothing to him: he will fling you aside when he has made use of you. Klovenia is nothing but the ladder by which he can climb to the height of his ambition.
Bar. He loves Klovenia. That is why he broke his oaths to the League which has always oppressed and insulted our country. Jos. I say he cares nothing for Klovenia – and for a man like this you are imperilling the peace of the world – you are bringing shame and disgrace on the country you love – and you are ready to doom millions of your innocent fellow-creatures to a hideous death.
Slov. (suddenly rising) Don’t listen to him. I will have my revenge. Take me from him.
(Zov. and Bar. lead him out.)
Kras. Must we go on Vlastin?
Pez. My good boy, don’t get sentimental. Your nerves are all on edge.
Kras. I’m going to wreck the thing. (He makes a dash for the piano. Pez. holds him.)
Pez. Don’t be a fool, Krasnovik, I must get you out of this. (Pez. drags Kras. out C.)
Jos. How much longer, Moneskin?
Mon. About five minutes.
Jos. Thanks. (A long pause. Then Marevski enters C)
Mar. Moneskin, Zovescu wants you to get the plane out of the hanger. Vlastin will have to start on his tour of the aeroplane sheds as soon as they’ve done here. I’m to relieve you.
Mar. They look safe enough, But you’d better give me the gun. (Mon. hands Mar. revolver and exit C.) Shall I cut the ropes
Jos. Not yet: they might notice. Marta.
Jos. Marevski will cut the ropes while the Prelude’s being played. He’s to get revolvers from von Armstadt through the window. He’ll give one to each of us. Be ready to use yours if necessary.
Jos. (to Mar.) See if anyone’s outside. (Mar. opens window.) Hullo – von Armstadt. (Arm. looks in.)
Arm. Here alright.
Jos. What’s the time?
Arm. Two minutes to nine.
Jos. You’re ready for a rough house?
Arm. Oh yes, Have you spotted the Great Unknown?
Jos. Yes, (Voices off,) St! (Arm. Retreats closing curtain.)
(Enter Karyl, Van., Zov, Bar., Slov Pez, and Kras. C)Pez. (to Kras) Sit down there – and if you value your skin, keep quiet.
Van. Now, ladies and gentlemen, not excluding those in the stalls, (he bows to Marta and Joseph) our concert is about to begin. (Slov. sits C.) The first and only item in our programme this evening will be the Prelude in C sharp minor by Rachmaninov. But though the performance will be a short one, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that almost every chord I play is bringing destruction upon one of the capitals of Europe.
Bar. And power to Klovenia.
Van. (putting watch on piano and opening keyboard) Our recital will begin in one minute. Kindly turn the control switch to No. 3, Baron Zovescu. (Zov. Does so.)
Slov. War! War! The dogs of war are loosed.
Karyl. The old boy thinks it’s a greyhound meeting.
Slov. Death and desolation are to be let loose upon the world.
Kras. Stop! This cant go on!
Pez. Hold your tongue, you fool, (Pez. forces him back in his chair.)
Kras. Don’t let him start! It’s murder, I tell you: deliberate wholesale murder. You can’t do it –
(Van, who has been watching the time quite coolly, crashes out the opening chord.)
Van. Paris! (He continues to play.) Rome! Berlin London! Geneva
(Zov. is leaning on piano. Pez. holding Kras. R. Slov. C., Bar. and Karyl R.C. Mar. cutting ropes and getting revolvers for Jos. and Marta.)
Slov. (He rises. He speaks to the accompaniment of the music in a kind of singsong prophetic voice.) The stream of poison issues forth. It spreads and spreads – invisible, irresistible – it grips its victim by the throat – there’s no escape – it passes over him – another falls – now another. Like the angel of destruction it passes over the city. Now a thousand miles away the poison works. North – South – East – West – men gasping for breath: no refuge – no pity – And I, Slovenski, have brought this on mankind – the world is shattered! Eyes! You are avenged. My genius has triumphed! (Slov totters over to the piano.)
Van strikes the final chord on the word “Geneva.”
Bar. The League of Nations is no more
Bar. (reverently) Long live Klovenia.
(There is a terrific explosion off.)
Van. (springing up, but not leaving piano) What’s that? (There is silence, broken only by more explosions, gradually becoming more distant. Mon. rushes in C)
Mon. The aeroplane sheds are being blown up!
Pez. By whose orders?
Arm. (entering) By mine.
Pez. Who are you?
Arm. I represent the Secret Service of the League of Nations. (Pez. is about to attack him, but finds himself covered and draws back. Karyl exit quickly but unobtrusively C.) –
Van. (triumphantly) You’re too late, Von Armstadt, Europe is destroyed.
Jos. Europe is unhurt. That instrument is harmless.
Jos. Marevski has disconnected the wires.
(Mar. getting more and more excited, Pezuin and Moneskin rush to examine piano.)
Pez. You misshapen beast! I’ll murder you (Pez. finds himself covered by revolvers and stops.)
Mar. (almost beside himself) Joseph! I disobeyed orders (a long pause.)
Jos. My God!
Arm. Then the poison gas –
Mar. Is there! (pointing to piano) I changed the wires from 3 to 2. (Jos. springs forward, but is stopped by Mar. Those standing near piano realise what has happened. Van sits slowly down on stool, staring straight ahead of him: Pezuin’s face is distorted with terror. Mon shrugs his shoulders with indifference. Zov. smiles cynically.) Stop where you are! (Pause.) They’re all in it: but it can’t reach us, (Mar. utters a short, sudden peal of laughter.)
Jos. Marevski – what have you done?
Arm. Perhaps it’s better so.
Zov. We’ve failed. We die as patriots.
Bar. My husband is doomed – my country is disgraced. I have nothing more to live for. (She deliberately walks over to Zov. by piano and takes a deep inhalation.)
Slov. The instrument of death. (Almost reverently and happily.)
(Kras. rises unsteadily and is about to cross to piano. Jos. leaps forward and stops him.)
Jos. Stop! You’re too young for that. Kras. My country calls me. I am going to die for Klovenia.
Jos. No, Krasnovik. Your country needs patriots, as she has never needed them before. You are going to live for Klovenia. (Krasnovik breaks down.)
(There is silence. Van. gives a short, sharp cough – then Pez. – two from Van.)