THE UNREST-CURE

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 sat 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 absolutely irregular; but he bore in

his hand a telegram, and in that household telegrams were

recognized as happening by the hand of God. This particular

telegram partook of the nature of a thunderbolt. “Bishop

examining confirmation class in neighbourhood unable stay

rectory on account measles invokes your hospitality 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

consciously deferential.

“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 map.

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 Huddle.

“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.

“Tonight is going to be a great night in the history of

Christendom,” said Clovis. “We are going to massacre every

Jew in the neighbourhood.”

“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 details now.”

“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 earthquake

disturbances.

“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 thoroughly.”

“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 auxiliaries.”

“Boy-scouts!”

“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 any one 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 Unrest-cure.”