Dr. Hutton’s smile broke into a laugh which, short as it was, had the suspicion of a shake in it. “I suppose you think that quite a simple question,” he said.
“I think it a plain question,” said Turnbull, “and one that deserves a plain answer. Why did the Master lock us up in a couple of cupboards like jars of pickles for a mortal month, and why does he now let us walk free in the garden again?”
“I understand,” said Hutton, with arched eyebrows, “that your complaint is that you are now free to walk in the garden.”
“My complaint is,” said Turnbull, stubbornly, “that if I am fit to walk freely now, I have been as fit for the last month. No one has examined me, no one has come near me. Your chief says that I am only free because he has made other arrangements. What are those arrangements?”
The young man with the round face looked down for a little while and smoked reflectively. The other and elder doctor had gone pacing nervously by himself upon the lawn. At length the round face was lifted again, and showed two round blue eyes with a certain frankness in them.
“Well, I don’t see that it can do any harm to tell you know,” he said. “You were shut up just then because it was just during that month that the Master was bringing off his big scheme. He was getting his bill through Parliament, and organizing the new medical police. But of course you haven’t heard of all that; in fact, you weren’t meant to.”
“Heard of all what?” asked the impatient inquirer.
“There’s a new law now, and the asylum powers are greatly extended. Even if you did escape now, any policeman would take you up in the next town if you couldn’t show a certificate of sanity from us.”
“Well,” continued Dr. Hutton, “the Master described before both Houses of Parliament the real scientific objection to all existing legislation about lunacy. As he very truly said, the mistake was in supposing insanity to be merely an exception or an extreme. Insanity, like forgetfulness, is simply a quality which enters more or less into all human beings; and for practical purposes it is more necessary to know whose mind is really trustworthy than whose has some accidental taint. We have therefore reversed the existing method, and people now have to prove that they are sane. In the first village you entered, the village constable would notice that you were not wearing on the left lapel of your coat the small pewter S which is now necessary to any one who walks about beyond asylum bounds or outside asylum hours.”
“You mean to say,” said Turnbull, “that this was what the Master of the asylum urged before the House of Commons?”
Dr. Hutton nodded with gravity.
“And you mean to say,” cried Turnbull, with a vibrant snort, “that that proposal was passed in an assembly that calls itself democratic?”
The doctor showed his whole row of teeth in a smile. “Oh, the assembly calls itself Socialist now,” he said, “But we explained to them that this was a question for men of science.”