THE MILITARY INVASION OF
P. G. Wodehouse
A REMARKABLE TALE OF THE GERMAN-JAPANESE INVASION OF 1916
Editor's Note — It may be
thought that in this story Mr. Wodehouse has painted in too lurid colors the
horrors of a foreign invasion of the
The invasion of
Once begun, it had proceeded apace.
Far-seeing patriots took a gloomy view of this state of affairs. For some years the receipts of baseball had been falling off, and it was argued that this counter-attraction must hit the national sport hard. The desire to see the invaders as they marched through the country must inevitably draw away thousands who would otherwise have paid their half-dollars to sit in the bleachers.
By the end of August, a powerful army of Germans under Prince Otto of
Saxe-Pfennig had established itself at
This was a very serious state of things.
It has been well said that the crisis always produces the man, or
necessity is the mother of man or something like that: and never has this
admirable truth (of which I cannot remember the exact wording) been better
exemplified than in this hour of
At a moment when everything seemed blackest, along came Clarence Chugwater.
To-day the name of Clarence Chugwater is
familiar to all. Everyone has seen the Chugwater
To-day, it is hard to understand how even a City editor (notoriously one of the least intelligent of human beings) could have failed to detect in the lad's face the promise of future greatness. That bulging forehead, distended with useful information (for Clarence attended night-school); those eyes, gleaming behind their tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles; that massive chin; that tout ensemble; that je ne sais quoi.
Why, if the City editor had had a grain of sense, he would have flooded
DO YOU KNOW THAT CLARENCE CHUGWATER IS WITH THE SENTINEL?
Instead of which, he called him Bone-head, and often with shocking adjectives prefixed. What a world!
Clarence Chugwater, that many-sided boy, was not only a prop of the Daily Sentinel, he was the Pride of the Boy Scouts. When off duty, he might be seen walking abroad, dressed neatly but not gaudily, in a flat-brimmed hat, a flannel shirt, a bunch of ribbons, a knapsack, knickerbockers, brown shoes, a whistle, and a long stick. He could do everything that the Boy Scout must learn to do. He could low like a bull. He could gurgle like a wood-pigeon. He could imitate the cry of the turnip in order to deceive rabbits. He could spoor, fell trees (unless their owner saw him at it), tell the character by the sole of the shoe, and fling the squaler. He did all these things well, but what he was best at was flinging the squaler.
But did they? Not by a jug-full. They had never even heard of Clarence.
What was to be the result of this over-confidence?
It was inevitable that at a time like August, when there is never anything
very much going on, such a topic as the simultaneous invasion of
A piquancy was added to the situation by the fact
that the Germans and Japanese were not acting in any way as allies. What had
happened was a curious outcome of the modern custom of striking a deadly blow
before actually declaring war. By a mere chance it had occurred independently
to both the Kaiser and the Mikado that it would not be half a bad idea to
All Prince Otto's early training and education had implanted in him the
fixed idea that, if he ever invaded
"It all comes of this 'Swoop of the Vulture' business," he grumbled to General von Poppenheim, his chief of staff, "this silly business of invading a country before you declare war on it. I suppose there's nothing for it," said the Prince, "but to have a talk with Owoki. Get him on the 'phone, Pop, and ask him to lunch with us at the Ritz to-morrow, to talk things over."
The momentous conversation took place, accordingly on the following day. It was conducted in the language of diplomacy, which, as anyone who has seen this year's crop of war plays is aware, stands in a class by itself. It is a language specifically designed to deceive the chance listener.
Thus, when the Prince, turning to Owoki, as the
latter consumed his portion of buckwheat cakes and maple syrup, said "I
hear the crops are coming on nicely down Tokio
way," none of the waiters perceived anything remarkable in the words. But Owoki, nursed from the cradle in an atmosphere of
diplomatic subtlety, understood at once that what the Prince meant was
"Now, about this business of
Owoki hesitated for a moment, then replied blandly: "The food here is good, but I am not sure that I do not prefer the Honble Childs."
The Prince frowned at this typical piece of shifty Oriental diplomacy.
"How are you getting along with your fox trotting?" he inquired guardedly.
The Japanese general smiled a subtle smile.
"Poorly," he said, "poorly. The last time I tried it, I thought somebody had thrown honble building at me."
Prince Otto flushed. He was a plain, blunt man, and he hated this beating about the bush.
But what could he do? His Imperial Master would not wish him, save in the direst extremity, to fight the Japanese. Perhaps he had better yield the point. It was with a conciliatory smile, then, that, having ordered a second cup of coffee, he observed: "Speaking of Mrs. Vernon Castle, I hear that she's in again."
And then the two shook hands.
And so it was settled, the Japanese general having, as we have seen,
waived his claim to bombard
Prince Otto went to bed that night conscious of good work well done. He now saw his way clear before him.
But he had made one miscalculation, He had omitted to reckon with Clarence Breamworthy Chugwater, the Boy Scout.
In the center of that vast tract of unreclaimed park there shone feebly, seeming almost to emphasize the darkness and desolation of the scene, a single light.
It was the camp-fire of the Boy Scouts.
The night was raw and windy. A fine rain had been falling for some hours. The date was October the First. In the camp of the Boy Scouts a vast activity prevailed.
The power of the Scouts is enormous. Let us suppose that you are a
business-man, and, arriving at the office one morning in a bad temper, you cure
yourself by taking it out of the office-boy. He says nothing; he apparently
does nothing. But that evening, as you enter your train for
Or, meeting a ragged newsboy, you pat his head, give him a dime, and ask him if he means to be President when he grows up. Next day an anonymous present of champagne arrives at your address.
Terrible in their wrath, the Boy Scouts never forget a kindness.
A whistle sounded softly in the darkness. The sentry, pacing to and fro before the camp fire, halted and peered into the night.
"Who goes there?"
"Advance, friend: give the countersign."
"Pass, friend! All's well."
An indistinct figure walked into the firelight. The sentry started, then stood at attention, The newcomer was Clarence Chugwater.
"Your name?" said Clarence, eyeing the sturdy young warrior.
"Private William Buggins."
"You watch well, Private Buggins.
Clarence pinched the young Scout's ear tolerantly. The boy flushed with pleasure.
"My orders have been carried out? The patrols are here?"
Standing in an attitude of deep thought, with his feet apart, his hands clasped behind him, and his chin sunk upon his breast, Clarence made a strangely impressive picture. The Scouts hearing of his arrival were charging desperately in all directions, at last they assembled, and were soon standing, alert and attentive. Clarence returned their salute moodily. He raised his hand.
"Men," he said, in his clear, penetrating alto, "you are all aware by this time that our country has been invaded. It is for us to crush the invader. (Cheers, and a voice 'You said it!') I would call on you here and now to seize your sticks and rush upon the alien intruders, but at present their forces are too strong. We must wait. And something tells me that we shall not have to wait long. (Applause.) Soon jealousy must inevitably spring up between the Germans and the Japanese. It will be our task to aggravate that feeling. Sooner or later this smouldering jealousy will burst into flames, and then will come our time, See that it finds you ready. I have finished."
"Chugwater, Chugwater, Rah! Rah! Rah!" shouted the now thoroughly aroused troops.
It was the voice of Young America — of Young America alert, desperate, and at its post!
Synopsis of what has already happened:
Historians, when they come to deal with the opening years of the Twentieth
Century, will probably call this the Vaudeville Age. At this time the
It was not till the middle of October, 1916, that anyone conceived what one would have thought the obvious idea of offering vaudeville engagements to the invading generals, Prince Otto, and General Owoki.
The first man to think of it was Solly Quhayne, the rising young vaudeville agent. Solly was the son of Abraham Cohen, an eminent agent of the later nineteenth century. His brothers, Abe Kern, Benjamin Colquhoun, Jack Coyne, and Barney Cowan, had gravitated to the curb market, but Solly had carried on his father's vaudeville business, and was making a big name for himself.
The idea of securing Prince Otto and General Owoki for his theatres came to him in a flash!
Solly was a man of action. Within a minute he
was talking to the managing director of the Keith circuit, on the telephone. In
five minutes the managing director had agreed to pay Prince Otto of
Saxe-Pfennig twenty-five hundred dollars a week. In ten minutes the Japanese
general had been engaged by the Orpheum Circuit at a weekly salary of two
thousand dollars. And in a quarter of an hour Solly Quhayne, having pushed his way through the crowd in his
ante-room, was bowling off in a taxi to the Japanese lines, at
General Owoki received his visitor civilly, but at first without enthusiasm. it seemed that he was shy about becoming an artist. Would he have to wear a property bald head and sing rag-time? He didn't think he could. He had only sung once in his life, and that was twenty years ago, at a class reunion at Tokio.
"Why, general," said Solly, "it won't be anything of that sort. You ain't going to be head-lined as a comic. You're a refined lecturer and Society Monolog Artist. 'How I Invaded America,' with lights down and the cinematograph going. Is it a deal?"
Two thousand dollars would come in uncommonly useful.
"Where do I sign?" the general said, extending his hand for the contract.
Five minutes later, Solly Quhayne was exceeding the speed limit in the direction of the German encampment.
* * *
Clarence Chugwater read the news of the two vaudeville engagements on the tape at the office of the Sentinel, a newspaper where he worked as an office boy. He chuckled grimly. To sow jealousy between two rival vaudeville headliners should be easy.
Among the general public the announcement created a profound sensation. At first the popular impression was that the generals were going to do a comedy-duo act of the Who-Was-It-I-Seen-You-Coming-Down-The- Street-With? type, and there was disappointment when it was found that the engagements were for different houses. Rumors sprang up. It was said that General Owoki had for years been an enthusiastic amateur buck-and-wing dancer, and had, indeed, come to America mainly for the purpose of securing bookings: that Prince Otto had a secure reputation in Berlin as a singer of the Al Jolson type: that both were expert trick-cyclists.
Then the truth came out. Neither had any specialties: they would simply appear and deliver monologs.
* * *
It was Clarence Chugwater's custom to leave the office of his newspaper at one o'clock each day and lunch at a neighboring Codington's. As he sipped his milk, he read the newspaper reports of the appearances in vaudeville of the two generals. According to the paper each was drawing a salary of five thousand dollars a week.
Clarence had just finished reading the reports when he looked up and saw, standing before him, a boy of about fifteen years.
After a moment or two the boy saluted.
"Private Biggs of the Eighteenth, sir," he said. "I have information."
"Say on, Private Biggs," said Clarence.
"I am employed, sir, as a sort of office-boy and junior clerk by Solly Quhayne, the vaudeville agent, the man who secured the engagements of the invading generals. This morning, happening to pass Mr. Quhayne's room, I overheard him talking to his brother, Mr. Colquhoun. They were talking about the generals. 'Yes, I know they are press-agented at five thousand a week,' Mr. Quhayne was saying, 'but between you and me that isn't what they are getting. The German's pulling down twenty-five hundred, and the Jap gets two thousand. Can't say why he gets less. I should have thought he was a better draw. He's a good comic, in his way.'"
Clarence's eyes gleamed.
"Magnificent, Private — no, Sergeant Biggs. You have given me valuable information."
He raised his glass.
Deep in thought, Clarence hurried to the offices of the Encore, the vaudeville weekly.
The days following Clarence's visit to the offices of the Encore
were marked by a growing feeling of unrest. The first novelty of the foreign
occupation of the country was beginning to wear off, and the sturdy
independence of the American character was reasserting itself. Deep down in his
heart the genuine American has a rugged distaste for seeing his country invaded
by a foreign army. People were asking themselves by what right these aliens had
overrun American soil. An ever-growing feeling of annoyance had begun to lay
hold of the nation.
The Encore is published on Thursdays. It so happened that on the Thursday following his momentous call at the office, there was need of someone on the staff of the Sentinel, Clarence's paper, to go and obtain an interview with the Japanese general. Clarence's editor was at a loss. Finally he had an inspiration.
"Send young bone-head Chugwater," he said.
(It was thus that
General Owoki's act at the Palace Theatre started every evening at ten sharp. Clarence, having been detained by a review of the Boy Scouts, arrived as the general was going on the stage, and waited in the dressing room. Presently, a long-drawn chord from the invisible orchestra announced the conclusion of the act, and the general returned, obviously in high good humor.
"You went well?" enquired Clarence respectfully.
"I was honble riot," responded the general affably.
"You are so popular," said Clarence, "that it seems extraordinary to me — and I think I may say that I speak for the whole of the vaudeville public — that you should be receiving five hundred dollars a week less than Prince Otto of Saxe-Pfennig."
Not all the traditions of the Samurai could prevent the general from starting and uttering an exclamation.
"It is in this paper," said Clarence, producing the Encore. "Let me read it to you. It is headed 'What the Encore Would Like to Know,' and it runs as follows: 'Whether Prince Otto of Saxe-Pfennig go particularly big at the Colonial last week? And whether it is not a fact that, though they are press-agented at the same figure, his Nibs of the Fatherland is not drawing down five hundred cold iron men more than the Jap? And whether, seeing the way he does, the Prince isn't worth twice that much more than the Japanese lemon?'"
A hoarse cry interrupted him.
"It says that?"
"I have read it verbatim. It strikes me as most unjust. Prince Otto is not worth more than you, general."
"I believe that honble German boob wrote distinguished paragraph himself!"
"Very possibly. Professional jealousy is a sad thing. Though," went on Clarence, "I believe the Prince is going very big. They tell me that last night he took eleven calls."
General Owoki pulled himself together with a supreme effort.
"To-morrow night," he said between his teeth, "he will take more than that. But they will be honble cat-calls!"
* * *
Accounts vary so much as to what exactly did take place at the Colonial Theatre on the following night that it is hard to get at the exact truth. All eye-witnesses, however, are agreed that, just as Prince Otto of Saxe-Pfennig strode upon the stage and said 'Ladeez 'n gemmen, with your kind indulgence —', there arose from every part of the house such a storm of disapproval that he was unable to continue. From floor to roof the building was packed with Japanese soldiers, and shouts of 'Get off honble stage!' 'Procure distinguished hook!' and the like rendered it impossible for the Prince to proceed. Finally the stage-manager dropped the curtain, to the accompaniment of the Japanese National Anthem, thunderously delivered.
It had been the custom of the two generals, since joining the vaudeville profession, to proceed after their act to a neighboring saloon, where they would stand talking about themselves and blocking up the gangway, as etiquette demands that a successful artist shall. The Prince, leaving the Colonial, after his disastrous fiasco, had no doubt that he would find the man responsible for his downfall there.
He was right. The Japanese general was at the bar, chatting affably to the bar-keeper. He nodded at the Prince with well-assumed carelessness.
"Knock 'em to-night?" he enquired casually.
Prince Otto clenched his fists.
"Look here," he said, "did you or did you not send your soldiers to give me the bird tonight? You did! I know you did! Well, I'll give you and your precious soldiers one chance, — twenty-four hours from midnight to leave this country. If you are still here then —"
General Owoki slowly drained his high-ball.
"Have you seen my professional advertisement in the Dramatic
Mirror, Prince? It says 'Permanent Address, General Delivery,
"You mean —"
"I mean that I see no occasion to alter that advertisement in any way. I beg to wish you honble goodnight."
The great battle was over. I have not considered it necessary to describe it, from the first shot to the final capitulation of the practically annihilated Japanese, for that has been done more ably than I can do it by Senator Beveridge, Richard Harding Davis, Corra Harris, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Ernest Poole, Perceval Gibbon, Robert Dunn, John Reed, Irvin Cobb, and every other able-bodied American citizen with the price of a typewriter.
The German victory had not been gained bloodlessly. It was but a shattered
wreck of an army that remained after the final charge up the wooden steeps of
* * *
Prince Otto of Saxe-Pfennig lay sleeping in his tent. He was worn out. In addition to the strain of the battle, which had taken place in perfectly beastly weather, there had been the heavy work of seeing the interviewers, signing autograph-books for school-girls, sitting to photographers, signing contracts for the moving-pictures, writing testimonials for patent medicines and Tuxedo tobacco, and the thousand and one tasks, burdensome but unavoidable, of the man who is in the public eye. Also he had caught a bad cold during the battle. A bottle of quinine was on the table beside him.
As he lay there, the flap of the tent was pulled softly aside. Two figures entered. Each was dressed in the regulation costume of the Boy Scout. One, however, wore tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles and a quiet superiority which showed that he was the leader.
"Corporal Wagstaff," he said, "wake him."
The boy shook the sleeper's shoulder. The Prince sat up, blinking.
"What — what — what is the beadig of this?" he stammered. "I told the sedtry particularly not to let anybody in. If you're frob sub paper, call toborrow. I cadt see you."
The spectacled leader drew himself up.
"Aberica? How do you bead you're Aberica?"
Clarence — for it was he — continued, with a frown.
"I say I am
The Prince looked up. Two feet away, Corporal Wagstaff was standing, with a toy sling in hand, ready to shoot.
"Well, what do you want?" he snarled.
"Resistance is useless," said Clarence. "The moment for which I have plotted has arrived. Your troops, worn with fighting, are mere shadows of their former selves. They have fallen an easy prey. An hour ago your camp was silently surrounded by Boy Scouts. One rush and the battle was over. Your entire army — like yourself — are prisoners.
"The diggids they are!" said the Prince blankly.
"That's bad grabbar," said the Prince critically.
Clarence's eyes flashed fire.
"I don't want you getting fresh with me," he said. "Corporal Wagstaff, remove your prisoner."
"All the sabe," said the Prince, "it is bad grabbar. It's a split infinitive, and it's spoiled your big speech."
Clarence pointed silently to the door.
"Come on, can't you," said Corporal Wagstaff.
"I ab cubbing, aren't I? I was odly sayig —"
"I'll give you such a whack over the shin in a minute," said Corporal Wagstaff warningly. "Come on!" The Prince went.
The brilliantly lighted auditorium of the Colonial Theatre.
Everywhere a murmur and a stir.
In the seats fair women and brave men converse in excited whispers. One catches sentences here and there.
"Quite a boy, I believe!"
"I've heard he's getting $10,000 a week!"
"Why, that's more than either of those horrid generals ever got!"
"It's a lot of money. But then, of course, he did save our country."
The orchestra stops. The number 7 is displayed. A burst of applause, swelling into a roar as the curtain rises.
A stout man in crinkled evening-dress walks on the stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I have the honor to present to you to-night one whose name is, as the saying is, a household word. It was this hero's genius and I may say — er — genius that, unaided, hit upon the only way of removing the cruel conqueror from our beloved hearths and homes. It was this hero who, having first permitted the invaders to claw themselves into hash, after the well-known precedent of the Kilkenny cats, thereupon firmly and without flinching stepped in with his brave Boy Scouts and gave them what was coming to them. I have only to add that this hero has been engaged exclusively by the Colonial Palace of Varieties at a figure previously undreamed-of in the annals of the vaudeville stage. I have little to add. This hero will first perform a few physical exercises which have made the Boy Scouts what they are. He will low like a bull. He will gurgle like a wood-pigeon. He will spoor, tell the character by the sole of the shoe, and fling the squaler. He will then give imitations of very real living animals. In this connection I have to assure you that he has nothing whatsoever in his mouth, as it has sometimes been suggested. Before uttering the cries, he will gargle in full view of the audience, thus rendering deception impossible. Ladies and gentlemen, it only remains for me to introduce to you America's Darling Son, the Nation's Hero, our champion and proudest possession, — Clarence Chugwater."
A moment's breathless suspense, a crash from the orchestra, and the audience are standing on their seats, cheering, and shouting.
A small, sturdy, tortoise-shell-spectacled figure is on the stage.
It is Clarence, the Boy of Destiny.