The Yellow Peril : The Japanese Threat

By Bassett Kendall


The Study of Mr. Robert Maxwell’s town house. Time, about 8.30 p.m. Doors up R. and L. French windows at back L.C. Curtains drawn. Writing table L.C. with drawers. Cupboard behind it down L. Table up R.C. Chairs, etc. Winter. Phone on writing table L.C.

Miss Gaskell discovered typing letters at table R.C. Phone rings. She answers it. She is an alert businesslike woman.

Miss G. Hullo – yes, this is Park 3316 – Mr. Maxwell’s house – his secretary speaking. Mr. Maxwell is at dinner – can I give him any message? – Very well, will you hold on? Who is it speaking? Right. (She X R and rings bell. Enter Beale R.) Beale, will you tell Mr. Maxwell that Sir Reginald Cooper wishes to speak to him on the telephone? He says it’s urgent.

Beale. Very good, Miss. (Exit.)

Miss G. Hullo. Mr. Maxwell will be here in one minute. (Enter Maxwell R. He is an elderly and benevolent looking man, able and practical.) I’m sorry to disturb you at dinner, but the Admiral says it’s urgent.

Max. No matter. (At phone.) Are you there? Yes Maxwell speaking – yes, I shall be at home all the evening – Oh, yes, come round at once, if you like. My plans are almost complete – but there is one point about which I am uncertain. I am most anxious to study a few details in the latest type of submarine, before I make my final drawings. Could you bring round plans of the most recent models? – Of course you can see my rough drafts, but I am afraid they may not be very clear – John? No, He’s not here. Perhaps he will look in after dinner – Very good. Don’t forget to bring the drawings with you. (Rings off.) Miss Gaskell, I will see the Admiral in the Library – will you please tell Beale I don’t want to be disturbed.

Miss G. Certainly. (Exit Max. R.) (Miss G Rings. Enter Beale L.) Beale, will you light the library fire.

Beale. Very good, Miss.

Miss G. And when Sir Reginald calls, Mr. Maxwell will be seeing him in there. He does not want to be disturbed.

Beale. I quite understand, Miss. Thank you. (Exit L.)

Miss G. (X R C to phone.) Regent 7854 – yes, please – is that Regent 7854. This is Mr. Robert Maxwell’s house – the secretary speaking – who’s speaking that end? – I thought you would like to know that Admiral Cooper is coming round to see Mr. Maxwell this evening. He is bringing important Admiralty plans with him. He ought to be here in about 20 minutes – You’ll come round? Very well. (Rings off.) (Enter Beale L.) (Miss G. back at table R.C.)

Beale. Mr. Cooper, Miss. (Enter John Cooper, a typical young naval officer.)

John. Good evening, Miss Gaskell. Is Derek in, do you know?

Miss G. Yes, they are still at dinner. Beale, tell Mr. Sherwood that Mr. Cooper is here.

Beale. Yes, Miss. (Exit R.)

John. I say, can’t I do something useful? Let me lick some stamps or something.

Miss G. I don’t want to tire you. We are expecting the Admiral in a few minutes.

John. How very unfortunate. And I dined out on purpose to escape him. For the last three nights he has talked about nothing except this wretched Yellow Peril. I am getting Japan on the nerves. (Enter Derek. He is a well-built young man of about 25.)

Derek. Good man, John. I’m so glad you’ve come round. Uncle Robert is going to talk shop to your governor, and I thought I was in for a boring evening.

John. What about looking in at the Hippodrome?

Derek. I think I won’t if you don’t mind. I’ve had a pretty stiff day at the Home Office and feel rather played out. My Chief’s up to his eyes in work. (Enter Maxwell R.) It’s this Japanese business, of course.

John. Derek, if you mention the Yellow Peril again I shall be homeless. I forsook the paternal roof tonight to avoid it, and now I walk straight into it here. I thought you had better taste than to talk shop off duty.

Max. (Casually, to John.) Evening, John. (To Miss G.) I am afraid I have kept you rather late this evening, Miss Gaskell.

Miss G. Oh, that’s all right, thank you. I have just finished the letters. If you will sign them. I will go and address the envelopes. (She puts letters on writing table and exit L.) (Max. sits L of writing table, reading and signing.)

John. I seem to be a spending the whole of my leave trying to persuade Father that this Japanese scare is all bunkum.

Derek. It’s anything but bunkum.

John. My good man, when questions are being asked about it every day in the House of Commons, of course the Home Office can’t say it’s bunkum. But it’s a clear case of newspaper boom. Ever since the Cardiff crowd mobbed the referee in the Scotland and Wales match last month there hasn’t been a thing worth looking at in the papers. They needed a sensation. Some enterprising Editor invented this Yellow Peril stunt and there you are. Everyone gets the wind up including the House of Commons and the circulation of all the papers is about doubled.

Derek. I wish you were right, but the evidence is dead against you. We’re up against a very serious business. (Pause.)

John. Well, what is it, anyway. Of course I know the headlines “Leakage of news to Japan,” but what news? They are welcome to any I’ve read in the last five weeks.

Derek. Yes, but you don’t read very intelligently, do you? If you read further than the headlines, you would know that several pieces of secret Admiralty information of the most vital importance are known to have been transmitted to the Japanese Government.

John. Yes, that’s what the papers say. (Derek grunts.) But is there any proof of it?

Derek. There is. Conclusive proof.

John. Well?

Derek. I can’t say more. I have better taste than to talk shop off duty.

John. I see. (Short pause.) But hang it all, what is the Home Office doing. Why don’t they arrest every Jap in England?

Derek. It would hardly be courteous, when we are not at war with Japan.

John. Well, can’t the Secret Service do something? Or Scotland Yard? They must be pretty inefficient, if they can’t lay a blooming Jap spy by the heels. The older I get, the more I realise that the Navy is the only efficient Service we have. That’s about the one point on which father and I agree.

Derek. You won’t take the thing seriously.

John. Well. I’m not convinced. What do you think, Mr. Maxwell?

Max. (Still busy with letters.) One minute.

John. I’m sorry. (Max signs last letter.)

Max. Yes?

John. What do you think about this Yellow Peril business? I mean, do you regard it as serious.

Max. Every sane man must regard it as serious. (Pause.)

John. (To Derek.) That’s a nasty one.

Max. (Leaning forward.) My dear boy, I probably know more about Japan than anyone else in this country; as you know I lived there for a great many years and I admire, and in many ways like, the Japanese. They are an exceedingly clever and efficient nation – and intensely ambitious. All their finest statesmen dream of a great Japanese Empire, but they know that we stand in their way. Since the Great War, as you know, Japan has been building ships at a colossal pace, and her fleet is now a match for any other nation’s except ours. We manage to keep ahead of her by our greater knowledge of technical details; for instance our latest guns and torpedoes are infinitely superior to anything she has yet produced. But if Japan could get hold of a few of our secrets, in two year’s time she might be able to outclass us. (Rise and cross to fire.) It looks as if one or two of these vital secrets are already known to the Japanese Government.

John. Good heavens! But what secrets?

Max. That I know no better than you. The Admiralty is not likely to give away such information.

John. But how have such secrets got through to Japan?

Max. If I could answer that question, I should be the most popular man in England. No doubt our own Secret Service is engaged both here and in Japan in trying to solve the riddle. But the Japanese Secret Service is probably the finest organisation of its kind in the world. That is the disquieting feature.

John. Yes. It looks as if there was something in the Yellow Peril after all.

Max. England is in just as great danger as she was in 1914: perhaps greater.

John. Well, I climb down. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t tell Father I’ve done so.

Max. I am expecting your father: I don’t know why he hasn’t turned up already.

John. He’s coming on business, is he. He doesn’t like turning out in the evenings, as a rule.

Max. Yes, on business. One of these little secrets which the Japanese would like to know: I am at present engaged on plans for a new type of submarine. Your Father is bringing round with him for comparison some drawings of the latest models now under construction. If an Japanese agent were to succeed in carrying off these plans, the whole of our naval construction programme would have to be altered.

John. And we should be in the soup.

Max. Quite so. (Enter Beale with card on salver.) (After reading card.) Is it the same gentleman as called on Wednesday?.

Beale. I am afraid I can’t say, Sir. Wednesday is my afternoon out, sir. He’s a tall, dark gentleman – looks like an Oriental, sir.

Max. Very good, Beale; I’ll see him.

Beale. Shall I show him in here, sir?

Max. Yes, in here.

Beale. Thank you, sir. (Exit Beale.)

(Max. hands card to Derek, who whistles.)

Derek. (Handing card to John.) Japanese.

John. By gad! The Yellow Peril in person!

Max. (Slowly.) Yes. I wonder. (Enter Beale.)

Beale. Mr. Fusee cheerio.

(Enter Fugijiro. He is taller than most Japanese and is dressed in correct evening dress with overcoat and opera hat. He speaks fluent English with a slight foreign accent.) (Exit Beale.)

Fugi. I am afraid your servant has found my name something of a stumbling block.

Max. Beale has an original and inventive mind.

Fugi. Like his master’s.

Max. His originality takes a different form. Let me introduce my nephew, Mr. Sherwood – Mr. Cooper – Mr. Fugijiro.

Fugi. (Bows.) It is a great pleasure to meet you, gentlemen.

Derek. Perhaps you wish to see my uncle privately?

Fugi. If it does not inconvenience you, that was the purpose of my visit.

Derek. Then I’ll say good evening, sir.

Fugi. May the nightingales lull you to sleep, gentlemen.

John. Oh, thank you. The same to you. (Exeunt Derek and John. R.)

Max. Now, Mr. Fugijiro, what can I do for you? I must warn you that I have an appointment with a friend in a few minutes, so our time is limited.

Fugi. Mr. Maxwell, will you not reconsider your decision with regard to the Tokyo bridge?.

Max. No, I am afraid not. I thought I gave you a definite answer on Wednesday.

Fugi. Yet I can leave no stone unturned to persuade you to undertake the work. As soon as I left your house on Wednesday, I cabled home for further instructions; as you are aware. Our Japanese engineers have not your knowledge or skill; it was a deplorable day for Japan when you left our shores two years ago. The name Robert Maxwell still commands an esteem in my country, which is unprecedented in our industrial history. The rebuilding of Tokyo is a matter of supreme importance to us – and the construction of the great railway bridge is an essential part of that work. Mr. Maxwell, you have loved Japan; for 17 years Tokyo was your home. Will you not come to the assistance of your Japanese home in her need?

Max. In spite of your eloquence ...

Fugi. We must have a bridge which combines strength with beauty. There is only one man in the world who can build such a bridge to harmonise with our Japanese architecture.

Max. My answer is final.

Fugi. I am now in a position to offer you £100,000 more for your assistance than I could offer on Wednesday.

Max. The offer is a tempting one – but I must refuse it. I am now engaged on work even more important than Civil Engineering.

Fugi. But what is this work which can prevent you from helping your adopted home?

Max. Work for the British Admiralty, and my duty to England is greater than my duty to Japan.

(Enter Beale closely followed by Admiral.)

Beale. Sir Reginald Cooper. (Exit L.)

Adm. (Entering.) Well, I’ve brought you the plans – (stops short.)

Max. Good evening, Admiral. Let me introduce Mr. Fugijiro – Sir Reginald Cooper.

Fugi. It is a privilege to be permitted to address so distinguished a personage as Sir Reginald. (Adm. stares almost rudely.)

Max. Mr. Fugijiro is trying to induce me to build the new railway bridge at Tokyo. I have explained to him that I have work which I cannot leave.

Adm. Of course not. (Enter Miss G. with envelopes. She puts in letters.)

Fugi. The need of Japan is great ...

Adm. If England wants Mr. Maxwell’s services, it’s hardly likely that he’ll work for another country.

Fugi. But what is this work for England, which can prevent him from spending a few months with us?

Adm. It is not usual far Englishmen to discuss state secrets with foreigners.

Fugi. I stand rebuked. I had supposed that in your free England one might discuss anything one pleased.

Max. I’m afraid I have an appointment with Sir Reginald. Miss Gaskell, you might see Mr. Fugijiro out?

Miss G. Certainly.

Fugi. Your answer is final.

Max. Absolutely. Good night, Mr. Fugijiro.

Fugi. May the nightingales lull you to sleep. (Exeunt Max. and Adm. L.) Now, where have I left my hat? I was under the impression that I placed it on that table. (Till they are out of hearing.) What are the plans which the Admiral has brought?

Miss G. Drawings of the latest type of submarine.

Fugi. We must have those. Maxwell will probably take tracings tonight; does he work late?

Miss G. He is generally up at least an hour after the rest of the household.

Fugi. Good. Where does he work?

Miss G. In here – invariably.

Fugi. Then we’ll leave a chink in the curtains – so. I think I’ll take the key; there is a keyhole on the outside?

Miss G. Yes.

Fugi. (Producing oil can.) A little oil will prevent noise. (Oils lock.) I shall take a stroll in this garden tonight. I feel some curiosity about Mr. Robert Maxwell’s work for England. If it looks very interesting – perchance the nightingales may lull him to sleep.

Miss G. Chloroform?

Fugi. Nightingales, Miss Gaskell; nightingales. Where does he keep his important papers?

Miss G. The left hand bottom drawer of the writing table is always locked. There is nothing important in the others.

Fugi. You are very thorough.

Miss G. I have had a good training.

Fugi. And his keys?

Miss G. He keeps them on his watch-chain.

Fugi. Your room is immediately above this? Isn’t it?

Miss G. Yes.

Fugi. Then go upstairs, but keep a lookout. If I flash an electric torch once in the garden, go to bed; if I flash twice, I need your help here.

John. (Without.) I hope the jolly old Yellow Peril has hooked it. (Fugi. has dropped on his knees and is groping under writing-table, as John and Derek enter R.) Hullo! What’s this? Hunt the thimble?

Miss G. Mr. Fugijiro has lost his hat.

Fugi. Ah! At last I have it. (Picks up opera hat triumphantly and snaps it up on his head.) I hope I have not inconvenienced you, Miss ...

Miss G. Gaskell.

Fugi. Miss Gaskell. Thank you. Gentlemen, I have the honour to wish you a very good night.

John. May the nightingales lull you to sleep.

Fugi. Sir, when the soul is at peace, the nightingales are superfluous. (Exit L.)

Miss G. Goodnight. (Exit L.)

Derek. Goodnight.

John. Goodnight, Miss Gaskell. (Together.)

Derek. Yes, I wonder.

John. That’s what your uncle said.

Derek. I know. I was quoting.

John. Do you really think that fellow’s a bad hat?

Derek. Why should he be? He probably has some perfectly innocent business with uncle Robert. Yet I have a sort of instinctive feeling. ... The fact is, John, I’ve got this business badly on my nerves. I can’t meet a Jap in the streets without suspecting him of carrying Admiralty secrets in his pocket. And when I meet one in the house, where I know important Government work is being done...

John. That’s the point. Do you think we ought to call in the police?

Derek. Don’t be a fool, John. We haven’t got a scrap of evidence against him.

John. No, but hang it all, this Yellow Peril is a serious business.

Derek. Nothing but a newspaper boom.

John. Oh, don’t be flippant, Derek.

Derek. Well, your conversion is rather sudden.

John. It’s that blighter’s eyes. A fellow with eyes like a snake could do anything. (Pause.)

Derek. (Suddenly.) Look here, let’s see this thing straight. We must clear our minds of groundless suspicions and start at scratch. I’ve got a fortnight’s leave from today; the Chief says I’m overworked – absolute rot, but that’s that. I was going to shoot my cousin’s pheasants in Dorset –- but I’ll chuck that. I’m going to track down this Japanese spy.

John. Sort of amateur secret service stunt.

Derek. Yes. If you’ll come in, I have a feeling we shall succeed.

John. I’m on. When do we start operations?

Derek. Tomorrow morning. I want a good night’s rest first.

John. What’s the first day’s disguise? Shall I turn up as a coalheaver or a German Jew?

Derek. Come disguised as much like a gentleman as you can manage.

(Enter Max. and Adm. L.)

Max. (Goes to desk, carrying papers.) Then I’ll make tracings of these tonight and bring them round to the Admiralty myself tomorrow morning.

Adm. Good. Hello, John, so you have turned up after all.

John. Yes, I just slipped round to avoid talking about the Yellow Peril.

Adm. And bumped into a Jap on the doorstep. (Max. has locked up papers in bottom left drawer.) Maxwell, keep that fellow out of your house. Never trust a Jap – I know them.

Max. Well, I lived among them for 17 years. I have a great admiration for them.

Adm. The only Jap I ever came across was a confounded liar. Come on John, we must be off. Its after 11.0. Goodnight, Maxwell.

Max. Goodnight; Derek will see you out. (Exit Adm. L. with Derek.)

John. Right. Goodnight, Sir. May the nightingales lull you to sleep.

Max. Goodnight, John. (Exit John.) (Max. turns off all lights except reading lamp on writing table; takes papers from drawers and arranges for tracing. Enter Derek.)

Derek. I think I’ll turn in now, Uncle Robert. I’ve locked the front door. Goodnight. (Exit L.)

Max. (Absently.) Goodnight. (He starts working. Suddenly looks up at window; rises and walks up to it. Looks out. Finds key missing: is surprised: looks on floor : looks out again and starts working again. Curtains stir and Fugi’s hand appears: he looks through. Then with one spring he is on Maxwell with his hand over his mouth and sponge at his nose. Max struggles feebly and then succumbs to chloroform. Fugi goes outside window – flashes torch twice – then returns. Takes up drawings: takes keys from Max’s pockets and opens bottom drawer: extracts other papers and locks up. Enter Miss G.)

Fugi. Wax. (Makes impression of all keys.) You had better keep these papers until tomorrow. No one will suspect you and it is just possible that I may be taken up as a burglar by an inquisitive policeman. I shall send Hamilton round soon after 9.0 tomorrow; give them to him and he will bring them to me. If anything happens to me and you hear nothing from me before 11.0, send them straight to Headquarters with a report. I shall send you duplicates of these keys later in the morning, in case you need them later.

Miss G. Anything else?

Fugi. No, that’s all. Well, you might come round and report later in the day, if you have an opportunity.

Miss G. I will.

Fugi. Puts keys back in Max’s pocket. Packs despatch case. There are your keys, my friend. Goodnight, Miss Gaskell. Lock the window after me and leave the key in. So: may the nightingales lull you to sleep. (Exit cautiously. Miss G. locks window, draws curtain.)