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NEW YORK _1912_


[Illustration: "What does anything matter, when I know - that the end
is near!"]


"What does anything matter, when I know - that the
end is near!" _Frontispiece_


"_O-i-i-ga_, you Moso! Get a move on! _Pronto!_ If
you don't I'll do that myself" 20

"I hear the call of the White Mice," said Peter de
Peyster 30

Under the blow, the masked man staggered drunkenly 70

Shifting the reins to his left hand, Roddy let the
other fall upon his revolver 114

"Now I know why I came to Venezuela!" 144

On such a night, Leander swam the Hellespont 198

Her fingers traced the sign of the cross 294



Once upon a time a lion dropped his paw upon a mouse.

"Please let me live!" begged the mouse, "and some day I will do as
much for you."

"That is so funny," roared the king of beasts, "that we will release
you. We had no idea mice had a sense of humor."

And then, as you remember, the lion was caught in the net of the
hunter, and struggled, and fought, and struck blindly, until his
spirit and strength were broken, and he lay helpless and dying.

And the mouse, happening to pass that way, gnawed and nibbled at the
net, and gave the lion his life.

The morals are: that an appreciation of humor is a precious thing;
that God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform, and that
you never can tell.

In regard to this fable it is urged that, according to the doctrine
of chances, it is extremely unlikely that at the very moment the lion
lay bound and helpless the very same mouse should pass by. But the
explanation is very simple and bromidic.

It is this - that this is a small world.

People who are stay-at-home bodies come to believe the whole world is
the village in which they live. People who are rolling-stones claim
that if you travel far enough and long enough the whole world becomes
as one village; that sooner or later you make friends with every one
in it; that the only difference between the stay-at-homes and the
gadabouts is that while the former answer local telephone calls, the
others receive picture postal-cards. There is a story that seems to
illustrate how small this world is. In fact, this is the story.

* * * * *

General Don Miguel Rojas, who as a young man was called the Lion of
Valencia, and who later had honorably served Venezuela as Minister of
Foreign Affairs, as Secretary of War, as Minister to the Court of St.
James and to the Republic of France, having reached the age of sixty
found himself in a dungeon-cell underneath the fortress in the harbor
of Porto Cabello. He had been there two years. The dungeon was dark
and very damp, and at high-tide the waters of the harbor oozed through
the pores of the limestone walls. The air was the air of a
receiving-vault, and held the odor of a fisherman's creel.

General Rojas sat huddled upon a canvas cot, with a blanket about his
throat and a blanket about his knees, reading by the light of a candle
the story of Don Quixote. Sometimes a drop of water fell upon the
candle and it sputtered, and its light was nearly lost in the
darkness. Sometimes so many drops gathered upon the white head of the
Lion of Valencia that he sputtered, too, and coughed so violently
that, in agony, he beat with feeble hands upon his breast. And _his_
light, also, nearly escaped into the darkness.

* * * * *

On the other side of the world, four young Americans, with legs
crossed and without their shoes, sat on the mats of the tea-house of
the Hundred and One Steps. On their sun-tanned faces was the glare of
Yokohama Bay, in their eyes the light of youth, of intelligent
interest, of adventure. In the hand of each was a tiny cup of acrid
tea. Three of them were under thirty, and each wore the suit of silk
pongee that in eighteen hours C. Tom, or Little Ah Sing, the Chinese
King, fits to any figure, and which in the Far East is the badge of
the tourist tribe. Of the three, one was Rodman Forrester. His
father, besides being pointed out as the parent of "Roddy" Forrester,
the one-time celebrated Yale pitcher, was himself not unfavorably
known to many governments as a constructor of sky-scrapers,
breakwaters, bridges, wharves and light-houses, which latter he
planted on slippery rocks along inaccessible coast-lines. Among his
fellow Captains of Industry he was known as the Forrester Construction
Company, or, for short, the "F. C. C." Under that alias Mr. Forrester
was now trying to sell to the Japanese three light-houses, to
illuminate the Inner Sea between Kobe and Shimoneseki. To hasten the
sale he had shipped "Roddy" straight from the machine-shops to

Three years before, when Roddy left Yale, his father ordered him
abroad to improve his mind by travel, and to inspect certain
light-houses and breakwaters on both shores of the English Channel.
While crossing from Dover to Calais on his way to Paris, Roddy made a
very superficial survey of the light-houses and reported that, so far
as he could see by daylight, they still were on the job. His father,
who had his own breezy sense of humor, cancelled Roddy's letter of
credit, cabled him home, and put him to work in the machine-shop.
There the manager reported that, except that he had shown himself a
good "mixer," and had organized picnics for the benefit societies, and
a base-ball team, he had not earned his fifteen dollars a week.

When Roddy was called before him, his father said:

"It is wrong that your rare talents as a 'mixer' should be wasted in
front of a turning-lathe. Callahan tells me you can talk your way
through boiler-plate, so I am going to give you a chance to talk the
Japs into giving us a contract. But, remember this, Roddy," his father
continued sententiously, "the Japs are the Jews of the present. Be
polite, but don't appear _too_ anxious. If you do, they will beat you
down in the price."

Perhaps this parting injunction explains why, from the time Roddy
first burst upon the Land of the Rising Sun, he had devoted himself
entirely to the Yokohama tea-houses and the base-ball grounds of the
American Naval Hospital. He was trying, he said, not to appear too
anxious. He hoped father would be pleased.

With Roddy to Japan, as a companion, friend and fellow-tourist, came
Peter de Peyster, who hailed from the banks of the Hudson, and of what
Roddy called "one of our ancient poltroon families." At Yale, although
he had been two classes in advance of Roddy, the two had been
roommates, and such firm friends that they contradicted each other
without ceasing. Having quarrelled through two years of college life,
they were on terms of such perfect understanding as to be inseparable.

The third youth was the "Orchid Hunter." His father manufactured the
beer that, so Roddy said, had made his home town bilious. He was not
really an orchid hunter, but on his journeyings around the globe he
had become so ashamed of telling people he had no other business than
to spend his father's money that he had decided to say he was
collecting orchids.

"It shows imagination," he explained, "and I have spent enough money
on orchids on Fifth Avenue to make good."

The fourth youth in the group wore the uniform and insignia of a
Lieutenant of the United States Navy. His name was Perry, and, looking
down from the toy balcony of the tea-house, clinging like a
bird's-nest to the face of the rock, they could see his battle-ship on
the berth. It was Perry who had convoyed them to O Kin San and her
delectable tea-house, and it was Perry who was talking shop.

"But the most important member of the ship's company on a submarine,"
said the sailor-man, "doesn't draw any pay at all, and he has no
rating. He is a mouse."

"He's a _what_?" demanded the Orchid Hunter. He had been patriotically
celebrating the arrival of the American Squadron. During tiffin, the
sight of the white uniforms in the hotel dining-room had increased his
patriotism; and after tiffin the departure of the Pacific Mail,
carrying to the Golden Gate so many "good fellows," further aroused
it. Until the night before, in the billiard-room, he had never met any
of the good fellows; but the thought that he might never see them
again now depressed him. And the tea he was drinking neither cheered
nor inebriated. So when the Orchid Hunter spoke he showed a touch of

"Don't talk sea slang to me," he commanded; "when you say he is a
mouse, what do you mean by a mouse?"

"I mean a mouse," said the Lieutenant, "a white mouse with pink eyes.
He bunks in the engine-room, and when he smells sulphuric gas escaping
anywhere he squeals; and the chief finds the leak, and the ship isn't
blown up. Sometimes, one little, white mouse will save the lives of a
dozen bluejackets."

Roddy and Peter de Peyster nodded appreciatively.

"Mos' extr'd'n'ry!" said the Orchid Hunter. "Mos' sad, too. I will
now drink to the mouse. The moral of the story is," he pointed out,
"that everybody, no matter how impecunious, can help; even you fellows
could help. So could I."

His voice rose in sudden excitement. "I will now," he cried, "organize
the Society of the Order of the White Mice. The object of the society
is to save everybody's life. Don't tell me," he objected scornfully,
"that you fellows will let a little white mice save twelve hundred
bluejackets, an' you sit there an' grin. You mus' all be a White Mice.
You mus' all save somebody's life. An' - then - then we give ourself a

"And medals!" suggested Peter de Peyster.

The Orchid Hunter frowned. He regarded the amendment with suspicion.

"Is't th' intention of the Hon'ble Member from N'York," he asked,
"that _each_ of us gets a medal, or just th' one that does th'

"Just one," said Peter de Peyster.

"No, we all get 'em," protested Roddy. "Each time!"

"Th' 'men'ment to th' 'men'ment is carried," announced the Orchid
Hunter. He untwisted his legs and clapped his hands. The paper walls
slid apart, the little Nezans, giggling, bowing, ironing out their
knees with open palms, came tripping and stumbling to obey.

"Take away the tea!" shouted the Orchid Hunter. "It makes me nervous.
Bring us fizzy-water, in larges' size, cold, expensive bottles. And
now, you fellows," proclaimed the Orchid Hunter, "I'm goin' into
secret session and initiate you into Yokohama Chapter, Secret Order of
White Mice. And - I will be Mos' Exalted Secret White Mouse."

When he returned to the ship Perry told the wardroom about it and
laughed, and the wardroom laughed, and that night at the Grand Hotel,
while the Japanese band played "Give My Regards to Broadway," which
Peter de Peyster told them was the American national anthem, the White
Mice gave their first annual dinner. For, as the Orchid Hunter pointed
out, in order to save life, one must sustain it.

And Louis Eppinger himself designed that dinner, and the Paymaster,
and Perry's brother-officers, who were honored guests, still speak of
it with awe; and the next week's _Box of Curios_ said of it
editorially: "And while our little Yokohama police know much of
ju-jitsu, they found that they had still something to learn of the
short jab to the jaw and the quick getaway."

Indeed, throughout, it was a most successful dinner.

And just to show how small this world is, and that "God moves in a
mysterious way, His wonders to perform," at three o'clock that
morning, when the dinner-party in rickshaws were rolling down the
Bund, singing "We're Little White Mice Who Have Gone Astray," their
voices carried across the Pacific, across the Cordilleras and the
Caribbean Sea; and an old man in his cell, tossing and shivering with
fever, smiled and sank to sleep; for in his dreams he had heard the
scampering feet of the White Mice, and he had seen the gates of his
prison-cell roll open.

* * * * *

The Forrester Construction Company did not get the contract to build
the three light-houses. The Japanese preferred a light-house made by
an English firm. They said it was cheaper. It _was_ cheaper, because
they bought the working plans from a draughtsman the English firm had
discharged for drunkenness, and, by causing the revolving light to
wink once instead of twice, dodged their own patent laws.

Mr. Forrester agreed with the English firm that the Japanese were "a
wonderful little people," and then looked about for some one
individual he could blame. Finding no one else, he blamed Roddy. The
interview took place on the twenty-seventh story of the Forrester
Building, in a room that overlooked the Brooklyn Bridge.

"You didn't fall down on the job," the fond parent was carefully
explaining, "because you never were _on_ the job. You didn't even
_start_. It was thoughtful of you to bring back kimonos to mother and
the girls. But the one you brought me does not entirely compensate me
for the ninety thousand dollars you didn't bring back. I would _like_
my friends to see me in a kimono with silk storks and purple wistarias
down the front, but I feel I cannot afford to pay ninety thousand
dollars for a bathrobe.

"Nor do I find," continued the irate parent coldly, "that the honor
you did the company by disguising yourself as a stoker and helping the
base-ball team of the _Louisiana_ to win the pennant of the Asiatic
Squadron, altogether reconciles us to the loss of a government
contract. I have paid a good deal to have you taught mechanical
engineering, and I should like to know how soon you expect to give me
the interest on my money."

Roddy grinned sheepishly, and said he would begin at once, by taking
his father out to lunch.

"Good!" said Forrester, Senior. "But before we go, Roddy, I want you
to look over there to the Brooklyn side. Do you see pier number
eleven - just south of the bridge? Yes? Then do you see a white steamer
taking on supplies?"

Roddy, delighted at the change of subject, nodded.

"That ship," continued his father, "is sailing to Venezuela, where we
have a concession from the government to build breakwaters and buoy
the harbors and put up light-houses. We have been working there for
two years and we've spent about two million dollars. And some day we
hope to get our money. Sometimes," continued Mr. Forrester, "it is
necessary to throw good money after bad. That is what we are doing in

"I don't understand," interrupted Roddy with polite interest.

"You are not expected to," said his father. "If you will kindly
condescend to hold down the jobs I give you, you can safely leave the
high finance of the company to your father."

"Quite so," said Roddy hastily. "Where shall we go to lunch?"

As though he had not heard him, Forrester, Senior, continued
relentlessly: "To-morrow," he said, "you are sailing on that ship for
Porto Cabello; we have just started a light-house at Porto Cabello,
and are buoying the harbor. You are going for the F. C. C. You are an

Roddy groaned and sank into a chair.

"Go on," he commanded, "break it to me quick! _What_ do I inspect?"

"You sit in the sun," said Mr. Forrester, "with a pencil, and every
time our men empty a bag of cement into the ocean you make a mark. At
the same time, if you are not an utter idiot and completely blind, you
can't help but see how a light-house is set up. The company is having
trouble in Venezuela, trouble in collecting its money. You might as
well know that, because everybody in Venezuela will tell you so. But
that's all you need to know. The other men working for the company
down there will think, because you are my son, that you know more
about what I'm doing in Venezuela than they do. Now, understand, you
don't know anything, and I want you to say so. I want you to stick to
your own job, and not mix up in anything that doesn't concern you.
There will be nothing to distract you. McKildrick writes me that in
Porto Cabello there are no tea-houses, no roads for automobiles, and,
except for the fire-flies, all the white lights go out at nine

"Now, Roddy," concluded Mr. Forrester warningly, "this is your chance,
and it is the last chance for dinner in the dining-car, for you. If
you fail the company, and by the company I mean myself, _this_ time,
you can ask Fred Sterry for a job on the waiters' nine at Palm Beach."

* * * * *

Like all the other great captains, Mr. Forrester succeeded through the
work of his lieutenants. For him, in every part of the world, more
especially in those parts of it in which the white man was but just
feeling his way, they were at work.

In Siberia, in British East Africa, in Upper Burmah, engineers of the
Forrester Construction Company had tamed, shackled and bridged great
rivers. In the Soudan they had thrown up ramparts against the Nile.
Along the coasts of South America they had cast the rays of the
Forrester revolving light upon the face of the waters of both the
South Atlantic and the Pacific.

They were of all ages, from the boys who had never before looked
through a transit except across the college campus, to sun-tanned,
fever-haunted veterans who, for many years, had fought Nature where
she was most stubborn, petulant and cruel. They had seen a tidal-wave
crumple up a breakwater which had cost them a half-year of labor, and
slide it into the ocean. They had seen swollen rivers, drunk with the
rains, trip bridges by the ankles and toss them on the banks, twisted
and sprawling; they had seen a tropical hurricane overturn a
half-finished light-house as gayly as a summer breeze upsets a
rocking-chair; they had fought with wild beasts, they had fought with
wild men, with Soudanese of the Desert, with Federated Sons of Labor,
with Yaqui Indians, and they had seen cholera, sleeping-sickness and
the white man's gin turn their compounds into pest-camps and

Of these things Mr. Forrester, in the twenty-seven-story Forrester
sky-scraper, where gray-coated special policemen and elevator-starters
touched their caps to him, had seen nothing. He regarded these
misadventures by flood and field only as obstacles to his carrying out
in the time stipulated a business contract. He accepted them patiently
as he would a strike of the workmen on the apartment-house his firm
was building on Fifty-ninth Street.

Sometimes, in order to better show the progress they were making, his
engineers sent him from strange lands photographs of their work. At
these, for a moment, he would glance curiously, at the pictures of
naked, dark-skinned coolies in turbans, of elephants dragging iron
girders, _his_ iron girders; and perhaps he would wonder if the man
in the muddy boots and the heavy sun hat was McKenzie. His interest
went no further than that; his imagination was not stirred.

Sometimes McKenzie returned and, in evening dress, dined with him at
his up-town club, or at a fashionable restaurant, where the senses of
the engineer were stifled by the steam heat, the music and the scent
of flowers; where, through a joyous mist of red candle-shades and
golden champagne, he once more looked upon women of his own color. It
was not under such conditions that Mr. Forrester could expect to know
the real McKenzie. This was not the McKenzie who, two months before,
was fighting death on a diet of fruit salts, and who, against the sun,
wore a bath-towel down his spinal column. On such occasions Mr.
Forrester wanted to know if, with native labor costing but a few yards
of cotton and a bowl of rice, the new mechanical rivet-drivers were
not an extravagance. How, he would ask, did salt water and a sweating
temperature of one hundred and five degrees act upon the new anti-rust
paint? That was what he wanted to know.

Once one of his young lieutenants, inspired by a marvellous dinner,
called to him across the table: "You remember, sir, that light-house
we put up in the Persian Gulf? The Consul at Aden told me, this last
trip, that before that light was there the wrecks on the coast
averaged fifteen a year and the deaths from drowning over a hundred.
You will be glad to hear that since your light went up, three years
ago, there have been only two wrecks and no deaths."

Mr. Forrester nodded gravely.

"I remember," he said. "That was the time we made the mistake of
sending cement through the Canal instead of around the Cape, and the
tolls cost us five thousand dollars."

It was not that Mr. Forrester weighed the loss of the five thousand
dollars against a credit of lives saved. It was rather that he was not
in the life-saving business. Like all his brother captains, he was,
in a magnificent way, mechanically charitable. For institutions that
did make it a business to save life he wrote large checks. But he
never mixed charity and business. In what he was doing in the world he
either was unable to see, or was not interested in seeing, what was
human, dramatic, picturesque. When he forced himself to rest from his
labor, his relaxation was the reading of novels of romance, of
adventure - novels that told of strange places and strange peoples.
Between the after-dinner hour and bedtime, or while his yacht picked
her way up the Sound, these tales filled him with surprise. Often he
would exclaim admiringly: "I don't see how these fellows think up such

He did not know that, in his own business, there were melodramas,
romances which made those of the fiction-writers ridiculous.

And so, when young Sam Caldwell, the third vice-president, told Mr.
Forrester that if the company hoped to obtain the money it had sunk
in Venezuela it must finance a revolution, Mr. Forrester, without
question, consented to the expense, and put it down under "Political."
Had Sam Caldwell shown him that what was needed was a construction-raft
or a half-dozen giant steam-shovels, he would have furnished the money
as readily and with as little curiosity.

Sam Caldwell, the third vice-president, was a very smart young man.
Every one, even men much older than he, said as much, and no one was
more sure of it than was Sam Caldwell himself. His vanity on that
point was, indeed, his most prepossessing human quality.

He was very proud of his freedom from those weak scruples that
prevented rival business men from underbidding the F. C. C. He
congratulated himself on the fact that at thirty-four he was much more
of a cynic than men of sixty. He held no illusions, and he rejoiced
in a sense of superiority over those of his own class in college, who,
in matters of business, were still hampered by old-time traditions.

If in any foreign country the work of the F. C. C. was halted by
politicians, it was always Sam Caldwell who was sent across the sea to
confer with them. He could quote you the market-price on a Russian
grand-duke, or a Portuguese colonial governor, as accurately as he
could that of a Tammany sachem. His was the non-publicity department.
People who did not like him called him Mr. Forrester's jackal. When
the lawyers of the company had studied how they could evade the law on
corporations, and had shown how the officers of the F. C. C. could do
a certain thing and still keep out of jail, Sam Caldwell was the man
who did that thing.

He had been to Venezuela "to look over the ground," and he had
reported that President Alvarez must go, and that some one who would
be friendly to the F. C. C. must be put in his place. That was all Mr.
Forrester knew, or cared to know. With the delay in Venezuela he was
impatient. He wanted to close up that business and move his fleet of
tenders, dredges and rafts to another coast. So, as was the official
routine, he turned over the matter to Sam Caldwell, to settle it in
Sam Caldwell's own way.

Two weeks after his talk with his father, Roddy, ignorant of Mr.
Caldwell's intentions, was in Venezuela, sitting on the edge of a
construction-raft, dangling his rubber boots in the ocean, and
watching a steel skeleton creep up from a coral reef into a blazing,
burning sky. At intervals he would wake to remove his cigarette, and

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Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisThe White mice → online text (page 1 of 15)