Vanity Fair, August 1915
THE MILITARY INVASION OF AMERICA
A Tale of the Abortive German-Japanese Invasion in 1916
By P. G. Wodehouse
You must read this story now! It is your duty to read this story now! You cannot afford to miss
a word of this story! Your house may be on fire, your wife may be eloping with the chauffeur, your
little ones may be crying for bread—Never mind! Read this story!
Synopsis of what has already happened: Germany and Japan have simultaneously invaded the United States. Japan has reached Yonkers, and Germany has established her army at Kew Gardens. Germany is commanded by Prince Otto of Saxe-Pfennig. Japan is commanded by General Owoki. Our country lies helpless beneath the feet of the cruel invaders. Her sole hope is in Clarence Chugwater, the fearless leader of the boy scouts. What will Clarence do? Ah, we cannot tell you that. You must read this story and see!
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 vaudeville-halls dominate America. At the time of our story, the public appetite for sight-seeing had to be satisfied somehow, and the vaudeville-house provided the best solution. If, for example, an impulsive gentleman slew his wife and children with the ice-pick, only a small portion of the public could gaze upon his pleasing features during the trial. But when he had been acquitted under the Unwritten Law, it was necessary, to enable the great public to enjoy this intellectual treat, to engage him, at enormous expense, to appear in Vaudeville.
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 Yonkers.
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.
“To America!” echoed his subordinate.
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. New York had become a human powder-magazine, and it was Clarence Chugwater who with a firm hand applied the match that was to set it in a blaze.
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 America’s deliverer was spoken of at the Sentinel office!)
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 did not 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 goes, 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, Yonkers.’ You get my distinguished meaning, Stephen?”
“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 wooded steeps of Yonkers. . . .
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 adybody in. If you’re frob sub paper, call toborrow. I cadt see you.”
The spectacled leader drew himself up.
“I am America,” he said with a sublime gesture.
“Aberica? How do you bead you’re Aberica?”
Clarence—for it was he—continued, with a frown.
“I say I am America. I am the Chief Scout, and the Boy Scouts are America. Prince Otto, you thought our country lay prone and helpless. You are wrong. The Boy Scouts were watching and waiting. And now their time has come. Corporal Wagstaff, do your duty.”
The Prince looked up. Two feet away, Corporal Wagstaff was standing, with a toy sling in hand, ready to shoot.
“Well, whad 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.
“America, my America!” cried Clarence, his face shining with a holy patriotism. “America, thou art free! Let the nations learn from this that it is when apparently crushed that America is to more than ever be feared!”
“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.