Published in 1911 as part of The Chronicles of Clovis, The Unrest-Cure is one of Hector Hugh Munro's (aka Saki) most often (though still not that often) anthologized short stories. Commentary below, followed by full text (thank you Project Gutenberg).
In "The Unrest-Cure," there are elements that have often been satirized by other authors- religious misunderstanding and subsequent persecution, inconvenient visits - but the presence of these is only part of the form. The content itself, the object of the satire, is the humdrum existence the Huddles lead and the fact that only a shakeup of monstrous proportions took them out of their rut. One of the clearest signs that the Huddles are living a preplanned life is the fact that the Huddle sister has "headache days"; the arrival of a strange Bishop forces her to rearrange her schedule: "It was not her day for a headache, but she felt the circumstances excused her, and retired to her room to have as much headache as was possible." If even your ailments are already set out for you, Saki illustrates, you are certainly not getting anything out of life. The repetitious daily lives have also apparently desensitized the Huddles: when the postman's death is announced, his fiancée (the housemaid) breaks into crying. These tears, however, are quickly shut off by Mr. Huddle - "remember that your mistress has a headache." These words have the emotion of a robot, and it is a mechanized existence that the Huddles have been living.
Though the Huddles emerge from the night unhurt (and "the Twentieth Century remains un-blot
ted"), we can safely assume (hope
?) that the events of the previous night at the very least have shaken up their mind-numbing daily routine. However, it is Clovis' final remark - on the Huddle's assumed ungratefulness
- that takes the story beyond just a weekend retreat in Slowborough. Saki is making a point (quite explicitly) that Swift
worked in on a more subtle level: those who are "victims" of satire
do not find it amusing that their flaws have been pointed out, or, worse, ignore it: "Satire is a sort of glass
, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own
) Ultimately, The Unrest-Cure is perhaps as much a satire on satire
as on small-town boredom
On the rack in the railway carriage immediately opposite Clovis
was a solidly wrought travelling-bag, with a carefully written
label, on which was inscribed, "J. P. Huddle, The Warren,
Tilfield, near Slowborough." Immediately below the rack sit the
human embodiment of the label, a solid, sedate individual,
sedately dressed, sedately conversational. Even without his
conversation (which was addressed to a friend seated by his side,
and touched chiefly on such topics as the backwardness of Roman
hyacinths and the prevalence of measles at the Rectory), one could
have gauged fairly accurately the temperament and mental outlook
of the travelling bag's owner. But he seemed unwilling to leave
anything to the imagination of a casual observer, and his talk
grew presently personal and introspective.
"I don't know how it is," he told his friend, "I'm not much over
forty, but I seem to have settled down into a deep groove of
elderly middle-age. My sister shows the same tendency. We like
everything to be exactly in its accustomed place; we like things
to happen exactly at their appointed times; we like everything to
be usual, orderly, punctual, methodical, to a hair's breadth, to a
minute. It distresses and upsets us if it is not so. For
instance, to take a very trifling matter, a thrush has built its
nest year after year in the catkin-tree on the lawn; this year,
for no obvious reason, it is building in the ivy on the garden
wall. We have said very little about it, but I think we both feel
that the change is unnecessary, and just a little irritating."
"Perhaps," said the friend, "it is a different thrush."
"We have suspected that," said J. P. Huddle, "and I think it gives
us even more cause for annoyance. We don't feel that we want a
change of thrush at our time of life; and yet, as I have said, we
have scarcely reached an age when these things should make
themselves seriously felt."
"What you want," said the friend, "is an Unrest-cure."
"An Unrest-cure? I've never heard of such a thing."
"You've heard of Rest-cures for people who've broken down under
stress of too much worry and strenuous living; well, you're
suffering from overmuch repose and placidity, and you need the
opposite kind of treatment."
"But where would one go for such a thing?"
"Well, you might stand as an Orange candidate for Kilkenny, or do
a course of district visiting in one of the Apache quarters of
Paris, or give lectures in Berlin to prove that most of Wagner's
music was written by Gambetta; and there's always the interior of
Morocco to travel in. But, to be really effective, the Unrest-
cure ought to be tried in the home. How you would do it I haven't
the faintest idea."
It was at this point in the conversation that Clovis became
galvanized into alert attention. After all, his two days' visit
to an elderly relative at Slowborough did not promise much
excitement. Before the train had stopped he had decorated his
sinister shirt-cuff with the inscription, "J. P. Huddle, The
Warren, Tilfield, near Slowborough."
. . .
Two mornings later Mr. Huddle broke in on his sister's privacy as
she sat reading Country Life
in the morning room. It was her day
and hour and place for reading Country Life, and the intrusion was
; but he bore in his hand a telegram
, and in
that household telegrams were recognized as happening by the hand
. This particular telegram partook of the nature of a
. "Bishop examining confirmation class in
neighbourhood unable stay rectory on account measles invokes your
sending secretary arrange."
"I scarcely know the Bishop; I've only spoken to him once,"
exclaimed J. P. Huddle, with the exculpating air of one who
realizes too late the indiscretion of speaking to strange Bishops.
Miss Huddle was the first to rally; she disliked thunderbolts as
fervently as her brother did, but the womanly instinct in her told
her that thunderbolts must be fed.
"We can curry the cold duck," she said. It was not the appointed
day for curry, but the little orange envelope involved a certain
departure from rule and custom. Her brother said nothing, but his
eyes thanked her for being brave.
"A young gentleman to see you," announced the parlour-maid.
"The secretary!" murmured the Huddles in unison; they instantly
stiffened into a demeanour which proclaimed that, though they held
all strangers to be guilty, they were willing to hear anything
they might have to say in their defence. The young gentleman, who
came into the room with a certain elegant haughtiness, was not at
all Huddle's idea of a bishop's secretary; he had not supposed
that the episcopal establishment could have afforded such an
expensively upholstered article when there were so many other
claims on its resources. The face was fleetingly familiar; if he
had bestowed more attention on the fellow-traveller sitting
opposite him in the railway carriage two days before he might have
recognized Clovis in his present visitor.
"You are the Bishop's secretary?" asked Huddle, becoming
"His confidential secretary," answered Clovis. You may call me
Stanislaus; my other name doesn't matter. The Bishop and Colonel
Alberti may be here to lunch. I shall be here in any case."
It sounded rather like the programme of a Royal visit.
"The Bishop is examining a confirmation class in the
neighbourhood, isn't he?" asked Miss Huddle.
"Ostensibly," was the dark reply, followed by a request for a
large-scale map of the locality.
Clovis was still immersed in a seemingly profound study of the map
when another telegram arrived. It was addressed to "Prince
Stanislaus, care of Huddle, The Warren, etc." Clovis glanced at
the contents and announced: "The Bishop and Alberti won't be here
till late in the afternoon." Then he returned to his scrutiny of
The luncheon was not a very festive function. The princely
secretary ate and drank with fair appetite, but severely
discouraged conversation. At the finish of the meal he broke
suddenly into a radiant smile, thanked his hostess for a charming
repast, and kissed her hand with deferential rapture.
Miss Huddle was unable to decide in her mind whether the action
savoured of Louis Quatorzian courtliness or the reprehensible
Roman attitude towards the Sabine women. It was not her day for
having a headache, but she felt that the circumstances excused
her, and retired to her room to have as much headache as was
possible before the Bishop's arrival. Clovis, having asked the
way to the nearest telegraph office, disappeared presently down
the carriage drive. Mr. Huddle met him in the hall some two hours
later, and asked when the Bishop would arrive.
"He is in the library with Alberti," was the reply.
"But why wasn't I told? I never knew he had come!" exclaimed
"No one knows he is here," said Clovis; "the quieter we can keep
matters the better. And on no account disturb him in the library. Those are his orders."
"But what is all this mystery about? And who is Alberti? And
isn't the Bishop going to have tea?"
"The Bishop is out for blood, not tea."
"Blood!" gasped Huddle, who did not find that the thunderbolt
improved on acquaintance.
"To-night is going to be a great night in the history of
Christendom," said Clovis. "We are going to massacre every Jew in
"To massacre the Jews!" said Huddle indignantly. "Do you mean to
tell me there's a general rising against them?"
"No, it's the Bishop's own idea. He's in there arranging all the
"But--the Bishop is such a tolerant, humane man."
"That is precisely what will heighten the effect of his action.
The sensation will be enormous."
That at least Huddle could believe.
"He will be hanged!" he exclaimed with conviction.
"A motor is waiting to carry him to the coast, where a steam yacht
is in readiness."
"But there aren't thirty Jews in the whole neighbourhood,"
protested Huddle, whose brain, under the repeated shocks of the
day, was operating with the uncertainty of a telegraph wire during
"We have twenty-six on our list," said Clovis, referring to a
bundle of notes. "We shall be able to deal with them all the more
"Do you mean to tell me that you are meditating violence against a
man like Sir Leon Birberry," stammered Huddle; "he's one of the
most respected men in the country."
"He's down on our list," said Clovis carelessly; "after all, we've
got men we can trust to do our job, so we shan't have to rely on
local assistance. And we've got some Boy-scouts helping us as
"Yes; when they understood there was real killing to be done they
were even keener than the men."
"This thing will be a blot on the Twentieth Century!"
"And your house will be the blotting-pad. Have you realized that
half the papers of Europe and the United States will publish
pictures of it? By the way, I've sent some photographs of you and
your sister, that I found in the library, to the MATIN and DIE
WOCHE; I hope you don't mind. Also a sketch of the staircase;
most of the killing will probably be done on the staircase."
The emotions that were surging in J. P. Huddle's brain were almost
too intense to be disclosed in speech, but he managed to gasp out:
"There aren't any Jews in this house."
"Not at present," said Clovis.
"I shall go to the police," shouted Huddle with sudden energy.
"In the shrubbery," said Clovis, "are posted ten men who have
orders to fire on anyone who leaves the house without my signal of
permission. Another armed picquet is in ambush near the front
gate. The Boy-scouts watch the back premises."
At this moment the cheerful hoot of a motor-horn was heard from
the drive. Huddle rushed to the hall door with the feeling of a
man half awakened from a nightmare, and beheld Sir Leon Birberry,
who had driven himself over in his car. "I got your telegram," he
said, "what's up?"
Telegram? It seemed to be a day of telegrams.
"Come here at once. Urgent. James Huddle," was the purport of
the message displayed before Huddle's bewildered eyes.
"I see it all!" he exclaimed suddenly in a voice shaken with
agitation, and with a look of agony in the direction of the
shrubbery he hauled the astonished Birberry into the house. Tea
had just been laid in the hall, but the now thoroughly panic-
stricken Huddle dragged his protesting guest upstairs, and in a
few minutes' time the entire household had been summoned to that
region of momentary safety. Clovis alone graced the tea-table
with his presence; the fanatics in the library were evidently too
immersed in their monstrous machinations to dally with the solace
of teacup and hot toast. Once the youth rose, in answer to the
summons of the front-door bell, and admitted Mr. Paul Isaacs,
shoemaker and parish councillor, who had also received a pressing
invitation to The Warren. With an atrocious assumption of
courtesy, which a Borgia could hardly have outdone, the secretary
escorted this new captive of his net to the head of the stairway,
where his involuntary host awaited him.
And then ensued a long ghastly vigil of watching and waiting.
Once or twice Clovis left the house to stroll across to the
shrubbery, returning always to the library, for the purpose
evidently of making a brief report. Once he took in the letters
from the evening postman, and brought them to the top of the
stairs with punctilious politeness. After his next absence he
came half-way up the stairs to make an announcement.
"The Boy-scouts mistook my signal, and have killed the postman.
I've had very little practice in this sort of thing, you see.
Another time I shall do better."
The housemaid, who was engaged to be married to the evening
postman, gave way to clamorous grief.
"Remember that your mistress has a headache," said J. P. Huddle.
(Miss Huddle's headache was worse.)
Clovis hastened downstairs, and after a short visit to the library
returned with another message:
"The Bishop is sorry to hear that Miss Huddle has a headache. He
is issuing orders that as far as possible no firearms shall be
used near the house; any killing that is necessary on the premises
will be done with cold steel. The Bishop does not see why a man
should not be a gentleman as well as a Christian."
That was the last they saw of Clovis; it was nearly seven o'clock,
and his elderly relative liked him to dress for dinner. But,
though he had left them for ever, the lurking suggestion of his
presence haunted the lower regions of the house during the long
hours of the wakeful night, and every creak of the stairway, every
rustle of wind through the shrubbery, was fraught with horrible
meaning. At about seven next morning the gardener's boy and the
early postman finally convinced the watchers that the Twentieth
Century was still unblotted.
"I don't suppose," mused Clovis, as an early train bore him
townwards, "that they will be in the least grateful for the