Extract from some notes written by Victor Slater, attorney, one evening in the summer of 1909.
I have just come back from another of those awful visits. Every time I go, I wonder what makes me do it; each time I make a firm resolve never to go again – always these resolutions are broken. Each time I come back nauseated, and the horror of the place has me in its grip. The following day –and tomorrow – I fear will be the same. I go over my recollection and ask myself what it is that holds such repugnance for me, and never is there a satisfactory answer. The cold grey stone of the building, the long corridors, spotlessly clean, the ordered efficiency of the place – these should not be sufficient to revolt my feelings, unavoidably blunted, one would imagine, by a lifetime of dealing with the distant side of other people's troubles. Of any intimate horrors I see nothing. I do not even see the one whom I go to visit. Perhaps that is the trouble: that I know these things to exist but, having no experience of them, my imagination makes them out to be worse than they really are. Yes, perhaps that is it. And yet, to a legal mind, a far from satisfactory solution. But it must be. The silences, the blandness of the doctors, the strength and purpose of the nurses. Yes, it is my imagination of which I am afraid.
Perhaps in writing these notes I can come face-to-face with my fears and they will disappear. I am not a man given to vague fancies, and I am no believer in the occult. Yet, after these happenings, I am unable to stop wondering. I ponder the matter in the sleepless darkness of my bedroom, and fear comes back to me. Whenever I ask myself the question, "Could these things happen?" it is only a matter of common sense to answer, "No, of course not." But then, is common sense enough? Sometimes, such as the present, I doubt it. Perhaps I will never know.
I have had no experience of this kind of writing, so it becomes a distraction for my thoughts. But where shall I start? Let me then write about my first visit to the place. It is still so clear in my memory. . . ."
It was an afternoon in March, borrowed from the coming summer, when I set out on horseback. The place – they call it the "Felton Oaks Home" – was reached very simply. It was only five miles outside the village that gave it the name, and where I have practised in my humble way for over thirty years, and my father before me. The building lies well back from the road, and a high wall encloses the grounds. Heavy wrought-iron gates guard the entrance to the drive and these, on all the occasions I have seen them, have always been closed. Just inside the gates I noticed a rustic wooden seat upon which a middle-aged, thick-set man was sitting, evidently taking his ease in the sunshine. He was smoking a clay pipe and was respectably, if somewhat unfashionably, dressed.
Dismounting, I tethered old Cobber to one of the rings in the wall and entered the grounds through a small wicker gate along the main gates. I saw by my watch that I was somewhat early and, not wishing to get there too early, I engaged the man in conversation
"Yes, sir," he replied in response to my enquiry. "This is the Home all right. Would you be having an appointment?"
I assured him that I had, but that having allowed myself rather longer for the journey than had actually proved necessary, I would prefer to wait out in the sunshine than inside the building. I sat down on the seat beside him to while away five minutes or so in the open air.
"My name's Warner, sir. What would be your trouble today?"
I smiled. "I haven't got one particularly. I have just come to see a friend of mine."
"Inside?" the man asked and, from the inflection of the one word, I realized coldly what he meant.
"Er, yes," I affirmed. "Unfortunately."
"Too bad, sir, too bad," he returned, shaking his head sadly. "It's a poor place to be, and worse when you can't get out. Your first visit here, sir, if I may ask?"
I told him that it was.
"I thought as much. I didn’t think as I had seen you here before, and in my job I reckon I'd know if anybody would."
"You work here then?" I queried.
"Yes, sir, been here for fifteen years now. Head Orderly. They call us Orderlies here, you know," he added, "and a hard job it is too. Still, the pay is good, and the grub's better than in a good many places."
"How many of you are there?" I asked, more for something to say than because I was particularly interested.
"Four of us. Male orderlies, that is. Of course the nurses do the donkey work, but there are always two of us on duty during the day, and two on call at night. I must say the nights go pretty easy, the doctors see to that. Very efficient they are here, sir," he added. "Not like some places."
His ordinary words sent an apprehensive chill down my spine, despite the warmth of the day.
I looked at him. "You don’t get much . . . much trouble then?"
"Well, sir, we're not rightly supposed to talk with strangers about what goes on, begging your pardon sir, but no, on the whole I wouldn't say we do really. Not real trouble, like strong-arm stuff and suchlike. Very clever the doctors are, if you see what I mean. They use the patients' minds to control them; better than force and the old straight-jacket. Mind you, there's some that that won't work on, and then of course we have to come along and sort things out a bit. But no, not too bad on the whole."
This conversation was still echoing in my mind as the main door of the Home was opened in response to my summons by a woman in a nurse's uniform. Before admitting me, she asked my name, and then stood aside for me to enter. I noticed that she locked the main door behind me with a key from a chain at her waist, and then showed me into a spacious panelled hall in which there was a handsome oak table and a few solid oak chairs against the walls.
"Please wait here," she said. "The doctor will be along directly." She left the hall by another door which she also locked behind her, and this gave me a feeling of great uneasiness which was in no way lessened when, coming to move one of the chairs against the wall preparatory to sitting down at the table on which there were some papers, I discovered that it was firmly secured to the floor.