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Beyond The Spectrum
by [?]

The long-expected crisis was at hand, and the country was on the verge of war. Jingoism was rampant. Japanese laborers were mobbed on the western slope, Japanese students were hazed out of colleges, and Japanese children stoned away from playgrounds. Editorial pages sizzled with burning words of patriotism; pulpits thundered with invocations to the God of battles and prayers for the perishing of the way of the ungodly. Schoolboy companies were formed and paraded with wooden guns; amateur drum-corps beat time to the throbbing of the public pulse; militia regiments, battalions, and separate companies of infantry and artillery, drilled, practiced, and paraded; while the regular army was rushed to the posts and garrisons of the Pacific Coast, and the navy, in three divisions, guarded the Hawaiian Islands, the Philippines, and the larger ports of western America. For Japan had a million trained men, with transports to carry them, battle-ships to guard them; with the choice of objective when she was ready to strike; and she was displaying a national secrecy about her choice especially irritating to molders of public opinion and lovers of fair play. War was not yet declared by either side, though the Japanese minister at Washington had quietly sailed for Europe on private business, and the American minister at Tokio, with several consuls and clerks scattered around the ports of Japan, had left their jobs hurriedly, for reasons connected with their general health. This was the situation when the cabled news from Manila told of the staggering into port of the scout cruiser Salem with a steward in command, a stoker at the wheel, the engines in charge of firemen, and the captain, watch-officers, engineers, seamen gunners, and the whole fighting force of the ship stricken with a form of partial blindness which in some cases promised to become total.

The cruiser was temporarily out of commission and her stricken men in the hospital; but by the time the specialists had diagnosed the trouble as amblyopia, from some sudden shock to the optic nerve–followed in cases by complete atrophy, resulting in amaurosis–another ship came into Honolulu in the same predicament. Like the other craft four thousand miles away, her deck force had been stricken suddenly and at night. Still another, a battle-ship, followed into Honolulu, with fully five hundred more or less blind men groping around her decks; and the admiral on the station called in all the outriders by wireless. They came as they could, some hitting sand-bars or shoals on the way, and every one crippled and helpless to fight. The diagnosis was the same–amblyopia, atrophy of the nerve, and incipient amaurosis; which in plain language meant dimness of vision increasing to blindness.

Then came more news from Manila. Ship after ship came in, or was towed in, with fighting force sightless, and the work being done by the “black gang” or the idlers, and each with the same report–the gradual dimming of lights and outlines as the night went on, resulting in partial or total blindness by sunrise. And now it was remarked that those who escaped were the lower-deck workers, those whose duties kept them off the upper deck and away from gunports and deadlights. It was also suggested that the cause was some deadly attribute of the night air in these tropical regions, to which the Americans succumbed; for, so far, the coast division had escaped.

In spite of the efforts of the Government, the Associated Press got the facts, and the newspapers of the country changed the burden of their pronouncements. Bombastic utterances gave way to bitter criticism of an inefficient naval policy that left the ships short of fighters in a crisis. The merging of the line and the staff, which had excited much ridicule when inaugurated, now received more intelligent attention. Former critics of the change not only condoned it, but even demanded the wholesale granting of commissions to skippers and mates of the merchant service; and insisted that surgeons, engineers, paymasters, and chaplains, provided they could still see to box the compass, should be given command of the torpedo craft and smaller scouts. All of which made young Surgeon Metcalf, on waiting orders at San Francisco, smile sweetly and darkly to himself: for his last appointment had been the command of a hospital ship, in which position, though a seaman, navigator, and graduate of Annapolis, he had been made the subject of newspaper ridicule and official controversy, and had even been caricatured as going into battle in a ship armored with court-plaster and armed with hypodermic syringes.