Prologue (July 1956) Darlington Hall. I decided to go on a journey around England in Mr Farraday’s Ford. It was Mr Farraday’s idea. He was my boss at the house. My name was Stevens. Since he was travelling as well, he suggested that I use a short break. He was quite insistent. I finally considered his suggestion when I saw Miss Kenton’s letter. I was making mistakes at work and realized that they were due to a faulty staff plan. Mrs Clements left for other employment. Later I hired Rosemary and Agnes to replace her. One day, Mr Farraday wanted me to draw up a staff plan for Mrs Clement, two young girls and myself to run the library. I thought about it very carefully. The 4 of us were his employees and had to clean up the house. However, I gave myself too much to do. Miss Keaton was keen to return to Darlington Hall, as evidenced from the letter. I thought of proposing her up for recruitment. During my trip, I planned to visit Miss Keaton to tell her about the role. I owned a few business suits. I offered to read Mrs Symon’s work at the library when I was free. Later, I studied her works in depth. I thought of the best possible moment to bring up this story to Mr Farraday. When I told him the story, Mr Farraday grinned and thought it was not appropriate for me to have a lady-friend at that age. Mr Farraday was an American man. I learnt to better appreciate the moments when he was only joking and wasn’t being serious. He liked entertaining banter. I didn’t think it was appropriate to join in the banter, given our relationship. However, I could tell he was not pleased with my answers to his recent banters. I knew a lot of other butlers for famous people as well. One day, Sir James visited the hall without his butler. Since Mr Farraday was paying for the trip, I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t go.
But from my observation of Mr Farraday over these months, he is not one of those gentlemen prone to that most irritating of traits in an employer – inconsistency. – Stevens
Day 1 (Evening) Salisbury. I am in a guest house in Salisbury. The first day had been completed. Mrs Clements and the girls were also gone. I found it difficult to leave. After a bit of travelling, I grew interested in the familiarity around me. Later, I encountered uncharted territory and knew that I was exploring outside. Along my journey, I met an old man smoking his pipe. He asked me how fit my legs were. He challenged me to scale up a hill. However, I declined his invitation. Finally I accepted the challenge after repeated taunting. It was a strenuous walk. The view was breathtaking. It was this view that made me look forward to the rest of my trip with eager anticipation. My primary goal of the trip was to brief Miss Kenton on the staffing problems. Later, I stayed at a comfortable guest house in Salisbury. The weather was perfect for strolling. Although the cathedral was impressive, I longed for a view that was better than the one this morning. Great Britain, to me, was impressive because it was calm and peaceful. This was beautiful in its own way. Marshall of Charleville House or Mr Lane of Bridewood were excellent butlers. However, you can’t pinpoint an exact quality which they were good at. In my hall, Mr Neighbours was a very impressive butler as well. In this industry, butlers who work in prominent houses are well known. However, many of them often make blunders later on in their careers and are then mired into obscurity.
We often discussed in the servant hall of ‘what is a great butler?’ In the past, only the first rank butlers could join the Hayes society. I was disappointed when I learnt that the criteria was being attached to a distinguished house. I agreed with the society’s view that what distinguished the best from the extremely competent was something called ‘dignity’. To me, one couldn’t strive to have dignity. It was either whether you had it or not. To me, my dad was an embodiment of ‘dignity’, even if not everyone agreed with me. Some people have the icing on the cake, but not what is essential. The modern butlers would pursue general knowledge and eloquence. I felt that many young butlers did not focus on the core of their vocation. I have read of cases where butlers acted like ‘performance monkeys’ for the audience. My dad knew exactly how to run a house. My dad told me a very famous story about a butler. My dad, through his career, always managed to achieve his ambition. I thought this was very admirable indeed. Once, the guests were berating my dad for making a wrong turn in traffic. My dad was pissed and stopped the car. He simply stood outside the car and stared at the drunk guests. The drunk guests were intimidated all right. He didn’t need to say a word and then after a while, the men apologized and my dad was on his way again. My brother, Leonard, died during the Southern African War. My dad loathed the African general for indirectly causing my brother’s death with poor practices. When the general’s original butler was ill, my dad was the stand in. He discharged his duty without fuss. The best butlers do not let events affect them. Some people from overseas cultures might not have what it takes to be a great butler. I believed that one could sense greatness. I felt the concept of dignity was important and that people should pay more attention to it.
I would say that it is the very lack of obvious drama or spectacle that sets the beauty of our land apart. What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it. – Stevens
The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing. – Stevens
Day 2 – Morning: Salisbury. I couldn’t sleep well. It was misty outside. In the past, Miss Kenton was known as Mrs Benn. Apparently, her marriage came to an end. She moved out of Mr Benn’s house and is staying at a village in Little Compton. Miss Kenton did miss Darlington Hall. Miss Kenton sounded a little depressed in her life, not seemingly knowing what to do with her life. She spoke of an Alice White, a housemaid.
Miss Kenton and my dad had arrived at the house at roughly the same time. Sometimes, the butlers would marry the maids and then leave the profession. I detested those maids who travelled from house to house looking for love. Miss Kenton was a professional when she was working under me. One day, Miss Kenton brought me flowers to decorate my room. I was disappointed with her when she called my dad an under butler and hence called him William instead of Mr Stevens Senior. I encouraged her to be more observant and learn from my dad. Miss Kenton was confident and felt like she knew a lot already. One day, my dad left a dust-pan behind after cleaning the house. I thought he wouldn’t be as careful as that. Miss Kenton was creating unnecessary fuss. People weren’t perfect anyway. She was now pointing out my dad’s flaws. Some of them were simply extremely trivial. She kept pestering me and made me angry. Now, Miss Kenton raised her voice. She suggested my dad be relieved of some duties. Lord Darlington was an extremely shy man, even to me. Although he might have been criticized in the past, I know him to be a very fine man. He offered to reduce my dad’s load after his fall. However, I thought that my dad was still capable. One day, I decided to discuss this matter with my dad. Dad usually slept very little every night. My dad appeared surprised when I told him about the possibility of reduced duties. Now, he appeared expressionless. He blamed the construction of the steps for his fall.
I travelled on the scenic routes suggested by Mrs J. Symons. Once, I nearly ran over a hen on the road. Thankfully I stopped in the nick of time and the owner thanked me. Now, she invited me over or tea. However, I declined and continued my way to Salisbury. The conference of March 1923 when I was the butler was a milestone for me as I indeed performed with dignity. I remembered that when Herr Bremann and the Lord visited Berlin, they returned looking visibly weaker and sick. One day, Herr Bremann and the Lord were having a conversation in the hall when I overheard them. Although Herr Bremann was German, the Lord was always hospitable to him. These words packed a lot of meaning. Later on, Herr Bremann killed himself. Lord was very friendly and allowed me to say whatever I wanted during the dinner. The Lord wanted to organize a grand conference, invite prominent people, in hope that the Versailles treaty could be revised. The French were not very forgiving of the Germans and the Lord wanted to invite at least one of them for the meeting. Finally, after many rejections, Lord managed to find someone named M. Dupont. It was a massive event and I didn’t know exactly how many would go. I devised a plan to cover all contingencies. I gave an impassioned speech to my staff. My dad used a trolley and it was very effective. He was invigorated and performed really well. Before the event, Miss Kenton felt that I was very free and should be doing some of the tasks myself. She was furious and suggested that I not speak to her again but communicate to her via a messenger. The Lord brought me to his room and wanted me to educate Sir David’s son on the birds and the bees and the fact that the Lord Darlington was his godfather. Mr Cardinal was Sir David’s son. I attempted to communicate the message. Mr Lewis was very frank at the meeting and said that it was normal for the French to hate the Germans to the core. Sir David added that the English look at things differently from the French. More people continued streaming in in the following days.
Dupont was in a foul mood when he arrived. I had to attend to him now. Mr Lewis and M. Dupont were apparently good friends and often were seen together. M. Dupont was not deeply engaged in the discussions. Later, my dad was taken in ill. Miss Keaton was kind enough to offer to take care of my dad. My dad was 72 and was attended to by Dr Meredith. I overheard the conversation between Mr Lewis and M. Dupont. Mr Lewis was basically conveying to Dupont that he was invited because the rest wanted to manipulate him. M. Dupont thanked the Lordship on the last day for organizing this conference. At the end, he promised to try to sell to the French government some of the ideas exchanged at this conference. He slammed Mr Lewis for having abominable behavior and attitude during the conference. Now, Mr Lewis rose to his feet. He condemned the group for being amateurs and said he didn’t want to waste time on Dupont. To Mr Lewis, professionalism meant deceit and cheating others. Miss Kenton pointed out that my dad was increasingly weak. It seems like my dad suffered a stroke. Lordship realized that I was crying and asked if I was alright. Unfortunately, at that moment, my dad passed away. I missed listening to my dad’s last words as I was busy attending to the guests. Finally, the doctor came and attended to both Dupont and my deceased dad. This marked the end of the conference. I was proud of what I achieved and felt a sense of triumph.
The fact is, Mr Stevens, your father is entrusted with far more than a man of his age can cope with. – Miss Kenton
I fought that war to preserve justice in this world. As far as I understood, I wasn’t taking part in a vendetta against the German race. – Lord Darlington
Once you’ve got a man on the canvas, that ought to be the end of it. You don’t then proceed to kick him. – Sir David
I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better if the Almighty had created us all as – well –as sort of plants. You know, firmly embedded in the soil. Then none of this rot about wars and boundaries would have come up in the first place. – Mr Cardinal
Day Two (Afternoon) Mortimer’s Pond, Dorset. What is a distinguished household? That term is inherently subjective. Our generation of butlers were different from those in the past. We are more idealistic nowadays. It would been worthier to serve someone who has humble beginnings but who worked hard and succeeded in life as compared to someone who had a noble background but grew up snobbish. The moral worth of an employer was very important. In the past, wealth defined who you were. In the past, the career path was like climbing on a ladder. For modern butlers, it was more like a wheel. For us, the key was to work to the hub of the wheel, to understand where great decisions were made. You need a distinguished host so that you can fulfil your potential as a butler. Once, my Ford was producing smoke and I had to pull over by the road shoulder. I wanted to look for a garage, but there was none in sight. Later, I found a house with a chauffeur in it. He assessed my situation and advised me accordingly. He was a butler as well as a chauffeur for a Colonel. When I told him about Darlington Hall, he immediately recalled it. Lord Darlington passed away 3 years ago and is now occupied by John Farraday. He recommended that I visit a pond. I headed there after my Ford was alright. It was an extremely charming spot. I sat there for a good half an hour. I was reluctant to describe Lord Darlington to the chauffeur and I wondered about my own behavior. Once, Mr and Mrs Wakefield visited Mr Farraday. Although they were Americans, they seemed to know a lot about the English culture. I lied to Mrs Wakefield and said that I hadn’t worked for Lord Darlington. However, Mr Farraday told her about my 30 years of experience in the house. This contradicted my account of things and Mr Farraday was left embarrassed. I explained that it made the host look better if I would be the first and only butler who worked for him. The truth was that there was a lot of bad things said about Lordship recently and I didn’t want to hear that. To me, the Lordship was a great man. Even today, I felt like I was privileged to have once served the Lordship.
Day Three (Morning) – Taunton, Somerset. I checked into an inn outside of Somerset. Later on, I headed to the bar and try the cider. The people warned me at the bar that the landlord often makes noise and that it would be difficult for me to sleep. I was trying to improve and be more witty. I have studied radio programs in order to try to be better. At the bar, I tried to say something witty but it was not well received. One does not have time to think before producing a witty remark. In the day, I went to visit the market. I was tempted to visit ‘Mursden’ village. Mr Marshall loved to polish silver in the house, as it would be the first to be noticed by guests. After him, many butlers tried to surpass his ability. Lord Halifax visited the Hall one day and he was impressed at the condition the silver was in. Herr Ribbentrop’s job was to deceive the English. In his heyday, Ribbentrop was well respected and it was natural for the Lordship to listen to him. Lordship was criticized for being too hospitable to the Nazis. The fact were that most of the English were hospitable to them as well. Lordship was definitely not anti-Jew. Almost all the stuff said about the Lordship was utterly false. I have definitely made some errors in my lifetime. There was nothing in the letter which indicated that Miss Kenton wanted to return to the hall to work.
One has had the privilege of practicing one’s profession at the very fulcrum of great affairs. And one has a right, perhaps, to feel a satisfaction those content to serve mediocre employers will never know – the satisfaction of being able to say with some reason that one’s efforts, in however modest a way, comprise a contribution to the course of history. – Stevens
Day Three – Evening. There were many Jewish staff that were hired by Lordship . They were also not treated any differently. Carolyn Barnet was a widow who had an influence over the lordship. She was very intelligent and could challenge me. She was a member of Mosley’s ‘blackshirt’ organization. Things got blown out of proportion. One day, he called me into the room and said that we cannot have any Jews here. He said we had to fire the Jews which were part of our staff. I had to inform Miss Kenton that the 2 housemaids would be dismissed. I had to carry it out with dignity. Miss Kenton was shocked as well. She was adamant that it was not right and that she couldn’t take such decisions well. Miss Kenton now threatened to quit. I thought that it would be dignified to carry out the instructions of the Lordship. Thankfully, Miss Kenton didn’t leave abruptly. I teased her about her threat to resign. A year later, Ms Barnet was no longer a visitor and Lordship wanted to compensate the housemaids for wrongly dismissing them. Miss Kenton didn’t have anywhere to go had she resigned. She couldn’t bring herself to leave. She lamented that I liked to pretend and hide my feelings.
We hired Lisa to replace the 2 who left. Her credentials were not good but Miss Kenton promised to groom her. To my surprise, the girl made good progress. Miss Kenton alleged that I had something against pretty staff. Miss Kenton and I always quarreled. Later, Lisa and the second footman disappeared from the house. They would later be married. They left a letter behind which expressed no form of gratitude on how Miss Kenton treated her. Now, Miss Kenton said that I was right all along. I praised her for doing well with the girl and that it wasn’t her fault. Miss Kenton regretted that Lisa let it all go to waste. Mrs Taylor helped clean the room and take care of the inn. Later, I arrived at Tavistock.
Later, I was directed to a boarding school. I kept driving when I realized I was out of gas. I had to walk down to the village to buy a can of petrol. It was dark now. I kept walking towards the direction of the lights. Later, I met Mr Taylor at the foot of the village and he offered to help me. Later, he offered me a room for the night. Mr and Mrs Taylor were extremely hospitable. I suddenly recalled my relationship with Miss Kenton and wondered why it soured. She entered my pantry without permission. It was the only place where I could have privacy. She criticized my room the moment she walked in. She was interested to know what I was reading. I said I wanted to preserve my privacy. She was relentless and kept bugging me. Later, she seemed almost frightened. She tried to prise the book away from me and discovered the title. I ushered her out of the pantry. It was a romantic book and I picked it up because I wanted to improve my command of English. Although I found some of the plots ridiculous, some of the stories did attract my attention. I was upset as I caught in an ‘off duty’ stance. I didn’t want to appear to be undignified. I wanted our relationship to be more professional.
Miss Kenton appeared moody and her leave patterns changed. She did not have a wish for a family. However, she was receiving more letters than normal and I suspected that she might be seeing someone. I decided to probe on the matter. She was meeting a butler at Granchester Lodge. Her thoughts often drifted away from work. I didn’t want her to attend meetings as she was too distracted and not contributing. Shortly after, her aunt died. Our relationship was getting increasingly strained. Recently, she overlooked some work items and I pointed them out to her. Miss Kenton’s marriage had broken down and she was without a home. Flashforward to the present and I was having supper with Mr and Mrs Taylor. We heard footsteps outside the guesthouse. It was a guy named George Andrews. He knew that my car ran out of gas and I was surprised at how he knew about it. Later, another guy named Trevor Morgan entered the guesthouse. They were likely to be farmers. Mr and Mrs Smith now entered as well. They started commenting on a certain Mr Lindsay, a rich man in town whom they didn’t like. Dr Carlisle would soon join the table as well. I commented that the quality might be ‘dignity’. Many people mistake acting high and mighty for dignity. The conversation then moved to about WWI.
They asked whether I had visited Winston Churchill and I admitted he did visit the house a few times. I didn’t agree with a lot Mr Churchill had to say. I admitted that I have seen people change after engaging in politics. The rest lamented that they cared about politics but couldn’t influence anything because they didn’t know important people. I was tired and wanted to excuse myself but the rest wanted me to stay behind. The doctor arrived and shortly after I excused myself. The doctor offered to drive me to my car the next morning. I agree. Once, during a meeting when Lordship was around, his friends quizzed me on some topics. I declined to answer them and said I could not assist them on such political matters. The Lordship was more haggard than usual. He admitted that some of British parliamentary practices weren’t the most updated ones. Decision making was too slow and it usually passes through too many committees. It was not my duty to meddle with the great affairs of the nation. Many butlers are too ambitious and think they can contribute to intellectual conversations. I did my best while serving the Lordship during his reign.
It’s not just the cut of your clothes, nor is it even the fine way you’ve got of speaking. There’s something else that marks you out as a gentleman. Hard to put your finger on it, but it’s plain for all to see that’s got eyes. – Mr Smith
There is, after all, a real limit to how much ordinary people can learn and know, and to demand that each and every one of them contribute ‘strong opinions’ to the great debates of the nation cannot, surely, be wise. – Stevens
Day Four – Afternoon (Little Compton, Cornwall). I am now staying at the Rose Garden Hotel. The rain was lashing down. I would be meeting Miss Kenton at 3pm today. Dr Carlisie bought me a can of petrol and I was extremely grateful for it. Later, he brought me on a hike. The doctor commented that Harry was a mess and didn’t have coherent thoughts. The doctor said that although ordinary people might have some ideas, they don’t really want to see things changed. Mr Harry thought that dignity was having the need for strong opinion. After her aunt’s death, I realized I forgot to offer Miss Kenton my condolences. I contemplated entering her room to inform her but I was afraid that she would still be grieving over her aunt’s demise. Sir David Cardinal was killed in a riding accident 3 to 4 years ago. Later, Miss Kenton had admitted that someone had proposed and wanted to marry her. She would give the decision some thought. The Lordship and Mr Cardinal had an awkward conversation. Later on, Herr Ribbentrop came to visit. Miss Kenton accepted the butler’s proposal to get married. I offered her my congratulations but wasn’t too pleased by such news. Mr Cardinal offered me a drink, which I declined. In a private conversation, he shared that he felt that the lordship was out of his depth. At that very moment, the Lordship and the Foreign Secretary and the German Ambassador were discussing matters. I didn’t bother asking what they were discussing about. Mr Cardinal was disappointed that I was not curious. According to him, the Lordship was being manipulated like a pawn by the Nazis. Mr Cardinal was surprised that I had not seen it coming. He kept criticizing the Lordship. My job, as I did, was to keep defending the Lordship. Later, I found Miss Kenton crying. I reflected on how I performed that evening and thought I performed with ‘dignity’.
They want a quiet life. Harry has a lot of ideas about changes to this and that, but really, no one in the village wants upheaval, even if it might benefit them. People here want to be left alone to lead their quiet little lives. They don’t want to be bothered with this issue and that issue. – Dr Carlisie
Day 6 – Evening. Weymouth was a seaside town. It was 2 days since my meeting with Miss Kenton. We had a chat for more than 2 hours long. She didn’t seem to have aged much. She did seem a little slower though. It turned out her marriage wasn’t that bad and that she was still seeing Mr Benn. Her daughter was Catherine. We soon started recollecting old pleasant memories. I told her that the Lordship was no longer highly regarded anymore. I waited for a bus with Miss Kenton. Miss Kenton added that she was unhappy working for the Lordship. Finally, it was time to leave and Mrs Benn was upset. One day, I decided to talk to the staff. I gave my whole life to Lord Darlington. To me, sacrifice was a cause of pride. Later I overhead people bantering and realized that it was very important to form strong relationships. To me, bantering was the key to human warmth. I hoped to be able to impress Mr Farraday in a great way in the future.
After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? – Stevens
What is the point in worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. – Stevens