Stevens is sitting in the dining room of the Rose Garden Hotel, a steady rain falling outside. He imagines that on a nice day it must be very pleasant to eat outside; as it is he has spent the past hour watching the rain falling on the village square. The rain is now lighter than before, but he wants to wait until 3:00 to meet Miss Kenton, rather than surprise her by arriving earlier than their appointment.
After a tumultuous series of recollections, in which Stevens has striven to balance retrospective reevaluation with a defense of his own and Lord Darlington’s pasts, Stevens returns to a certain calm and balance: as usual, he is fastidious and well-organized in his plans.
Stevens is quite aware that his request may only be met with disappointment. But the day had begun auspiciously, with a pleasant breakfast at the Taylors’ before Dr. Carlisle met him at the door with a can of petrol. As they walked to the car, the doctor abruptly asked if Stevens was a manservant; feeling relieved, Stevens told him he was the butler of Darlington Hall. Carlisle said he conjectured as much, and Stevens replied that he didn’t mean to deceive anyone. The doctor said that he could see easily how it happened, and found him an “impressive specimen” anyway.
Although Stevens was himself at fault for misleading the villagers, he can’t quite bring himself to explain how or why he did so, and he is happy to have the mistake corrected by someone else. Dr. Carlisle seems to see a friendly face in Stevens, someone who is similarly distinct from the villagers gathered around at Moscombe, and whom he might have something in common with.
Dr. Carlisle asked several times what Stevens thought of the village folk, though with a slightly odd, deliberate edge, as he said he’d happily spent his whole life “out here.” Stevens said that they were congenial, and there were some interesting viewpoints expressed. The doctor told Stevens that Harry Smith, to whom he must be referring, is interesting but all in a muddle in his thoughts. Stevens asked if Smith was considered a comic fellow; that’s too strong, Carlisle replied, as people in the village do think they ought to have strong feelings. But like people anywhere, they want to be left alone, to have a quiet life, rather than be bothered by issues. Stevens was surprised at the tone of disgust, though the doctor quickly recovered.
Dr. Carlisle expresses a strange mixture of scorn and defensiveness as he seeks to describe the villagers. On the one hand, he has become one of them, having lived for so many years in the “out of the way” village; but as a doctor, he is considered and thinks of himself as part of a higher, more important social class. In that way, he’s somewhat like Stevens, who is both firmly excluded from the aristocracy, and intimately connected to it through his employment and service to members of that class.
Dr. Carlisle told Stevens that when he first arrived in the village, he was a committed socialist, because he thought socialism would allow people to live with dignity—that’s what he used to believe. Apologizing for rambling, he asked Stevens what he thought about dignity. Though taken aback, Stevens responded that it had something to do with not taking one’s clothes off in public. Bemused, the doctor looked at him, but at that moment the Ford came into view. Stevens thanked Dr. Carlisle and they took leave of each other.
Dr. Carlisle’s politics and social views seem to have shifted over the course of time—unlike the general trend of British society, though, he seems to have grown more conservative over time. Nonetheless, he still contrasts to Stevens, who, despite all his introspection, never fundamentally changes his views over the course of the book.
All morning, Stevens has been thinking of a fragment of a memory: standing alone in front of the door to Miss Kenton’s parlor, convinced that on the other side she was crying. Earlier he’d asserted that this was a few moments after she learned of her aunt’s death; now he thinks he may have been confused. It may have taken place a few months later, when the young Mr. Cardinal arrived unexpectedly at the house.
This is another instance in which a memory related earlier in the novel turns out to be, if not misleading, then at least misremembered. The question is, again, to what extent Stevens consciously or subconsciously modified the memory in order to fit the narrative he wanted to believe.
The young Mr. Cardinal had, following his father’s death in an accident a few years later, been making a name for himself as a witty columnist—writing columns that were rarely pleasing to Lord Darlington. Still, he continued to treat the man like the godson he was. But this was the first time Mr. Cardinal had ever shown up without warning. Darlington seemed annoyed when Stevens informed him of Cardinal’s arrival, but said he’d join him soon.
Mr. Cardinal is a member of a younger generation, one that does not see in fascism the same welcoming, nostalgic glimpse of an earlier time that his father and Lord Darlington had seen. Although Darlington continues to look after his godson, as the years go on the disconnect between these generations widens.
Stevens then went down to Miss Kenton’s parlor to inform her of Mr. Cardinal’s arrival. She said she was going out that evening, as they had agreed a fortnight earlier. He said it had slipped his mind, and of course she should leave, even if some visitors were expected. As he left, Miss Kenton said she had something to tell him: her acquaintance had asked her to marry him before he started a job in the West Country the next month. He merely responded “Indeed” to her remarks, and asked her to excuse him.
As Stevens reports his conversation with Miss Kenton without, at least for now, commenting on it, it seems nevertheless evident that he is giving Miss Kenton a hard time—even, perhaps, that he’s sulking a little about her intended excursion. As usual, Stevens fails to admit any emotional reaction to Miss Kenton, even at the news of her engagement.
Twenty minutes later, Stevens was carrying a tray upstairs when he heard angry footsteps and saw Miss Kenton glaring at him from the foot of the stairs. She asked if he expected her to remain on duty; he said not at all, but she replied that the commotion and stamping in the kitchen and outside his parlor suggested otherwise. She’d made these arrangements weeks ago, she said; he replied simply that he wished her a pleasant evening.
Stevens, again, doesn’t convey in his recollections whether or why he was angry, but by reporting what another character said, he allows his reader to understand how upset he was—something that he cannot bring himself to convey to Miss Kenton, whom he continues to treat politely and formally.
Upstairs, Mr. Cardinal was eager to hear about Lord Darlington’s guests, but Darlington said it was quite confidential, and that Mr. Cardinal couldn’t join them. After dinner, from the drawing room, Stevens suddenly heard angry voices, and Darlington shouting to Mr. Cardinal that it wasn’t any of his business. After a while, they seemed to have calmed down, and as Mr. Cardinal left to go to the library, Darlington reminded Mr. Cardinal that he was trusting him.
Stevens remains both a part of and outside the affairs of the “great men” upstairs. He has to balance his duties to and curiosity about powerful people and events against his own personal affairs, though this is a balance he’s always excelled at—mostly by expunging the personal in favor of a consistent professional attitude.
Herr Ribbentrop and another gentleman arrived not long thereafter. A little later, Miss Kenton returned. She asked if Stevens was not at all interested in what took place with her acquaintance; Stevens replied that he really needed to get back upstairs, as events of worldwide significance were taking place. If he must rush off, she said, she’d just tell him that she accepted the marriage proposal. Stevens offered her congratulations. She said she’d like to leave as soon as possible, and he added that he’d do his best to find a replacement quickly.
The coexistence of two worlds, upstairs and downstairs, upper-class and servant class, continues, even as Stevens would prefer to to remain fully focused on the upstairs affairs and forget about anything to do with his own personal life. Miss Kenton, for her part, is frustrated at Stevens’s lack of emotion, so much so that she seems to act almost solely to try to provoke a response from him.
As Stevens left her, Miss Kenton called out his name, and asked if after all her years of service, he had nothing more to say to such news. He repeated his warmest congratulations, but said again that important events were going on upstairs. She told Stevens that he was actually important to her relationship with her acquaintance, as they often spent time amusing themselves by telling anecdotes about him. Stevens responded with only, “indeed,” and excused himself.
Miss Kenton’s last attempt at inviting a response from Stevens verges on the desperate, but he doesn’t take the bait. As a result, Miss Kenton turns from desperation to cruelty. This maneuver has something in common with Stevens, who has caused pain to Miss Kenton in the past as a result of failed communication.
Upstairs, Mr. Cardinal asked Stevens to get him more brandy; while Stevens suggested that he may want to stop drinking, Cardinal refused. He began telling Stevens that he considered him a friend. Interrupting himself to ask if Stevens was feeling unwell, he asked Stevens to tell him if the Prime Minister was in the other room. Lord Darlington, he told Stevens, was in “deep water.” Over in the other room—he wouldn’t need Stevens to confirm it, he said—were the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and the German Ambassador. Darlington believes he is doing something honorable, Cardinal said, but in fact is being made a fool of: the Nazis are manipulating him like a pawn.
Not unlike what took place at the final speeches of the “unofficial” international conference, this passage involves one of Darlington’s guests drinking too much and sharing something he shouldn’t have. At first it seems like Mr. Cardinal is trying to get on Stevens’s good side so that he can learn about what’s going on in the other room; then, however, he claims to know what’s happening already, to recognize the evil truth of what Stevens thinks of simply as “events of worldwide significance.”
In response to Mr. Cardinal’s questions as to whether Stevens had noticed this, Stevens said that it wasn’t his place to do so. Cardinal said that was to be expected, as Stevens wasn’t curious, never thinking to look at things more closely. Darlington is a true gentleman, Mr. Cardinal said, but the other men have used and manipulated that noble quality into something else. Cardinal recalled the American senator, years before, who had called Darlington an amateur: now he had to admit that the senator was right. Stevens must have seen this, he repeated, but Stevens said he hadn’t.
In his drunken state, Mr. Cardinal speaks to to Stevens with frankness but also a certain level of cruelty. His anger, it seems, is tied up with a feeling of frustration in seeing clearly what, he thinks, the older generation cannot. He thus disdains Stevens’s lack of attention, even while hoping Stevens might confirm what he sees around him.
Mr. Cardinal asked Stevens if he was content to watch his lordship go off a cliff; Stevens said he didn’t understand. Cardinal replied that Darlington has been the single most useful pawn of Hitler, establishing links between Berlin and the most influential British citizens, bypassing the Foreign Office altogether. Now Darlington was trying to convince the Prime Minister to accept an invitation to visit Hitler, and for the king himself to do so, as if it was all a terrible misunderstanding to be cleared up. Stevens couldn’t see why this was such a terrible idea: Darlington had always striven to preserve peace in Europe, and Stevens had faith in his judgment.
It’s been hinted throughout the book that Lord Darlington allowed himself to get too close to the Nazis, that he seemed to believe they could be managed with old gentlemanly decency. Mr. Cardinal exposes that benign-seeming theory for the naïve, even dangerous delusion that it is. Stevens, though, continues to see things from Lord Darlington’s view, confident that all he needs to do is follow his employer’s judgment.
Stevens rose to leave as he heard the bell from the drawing room. Upon going downstairs, he met Miss Kenton, who apologized for her foolishness earlier. He said he couldn’t even recall what she had said, given the events of importance unfolding upstairs. He continued to the cellar to get a bottle of port for the gentlemen. Upon returning, he saw a light from under Miss Kenton’s parlor door. Now he’s certain that this is the moment lodged in his memory, as he passed by, increasingly certain that she was within, crying. But he hurried upstairs and took his usual position. At first his mood was, he now admits, downcast; but then a slight feeling of triumph began to come over him. It had been a very trying evening, and he’d managed to preserve a dignity in keeping with his position.
Although Miss Kenton seems to extend an olive branch to Stevens, hoping that they can regain some of their lost trust and friendship, he is not willing to do the same, remaining on the plane of formality and distance. This anecdote was sparked by Stevens’s realization that the memory he related earlier of Miss Kenton crying actually took place in a different context. The new memory is now part of a much broader network of recollections—memories that are linked, in Stevens’s sense of triumph, to the night of his father’s death.