فصل 18

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فصل 18

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Chapter eighteen

The Best Part of the Day

The pier lights have been switched on, and a crowd of people behind me have just given a loud cheer to celebrate this event. There is still plenty of daylight left - the sky over the sea has turned a pale red - but it seems to me that everybody on this pier will be happy for night to fall. This confirms something that the man who was next to me on this bench said to me a short time ago. He claimed that, for many people, the evening was the best part of the day. It was the part of the day that they most looked forward to. There seems to be some truth in this. Otherwise, why would people cheer so loudly simply because the pier lights have come on?

The man had been sitting next to me for some minutes before I noticed him. I was so lost in my own thoughts that I did not know he was there until he said: ‘Sea air is very good for you.’

He was a heavily built man in his late sixties, wearing an old brown jacket and an open-necked shirt. He was staring out across the water, so I was not sure whether he was talking to me. But since no one else responded, I eventually said: ‘Yes, I’m sure it is.’

‘The doctor says it’s good for you, so I come up here as often as I can.’

The man went on to tell me about his various illnesses. He turned to me occasionally and gave me a nod or a grin, but most of the time he kept staring out to sea. I only really started to pay him attention, however, when he mentioned that he had once been a butler. Until he retired three years ago, he had been the butler in a small house near Weymouth. He had been the only full-time member of staff. When I asked him if he had ever worked with a proper staff under him, perhaps before the war, he replied: ‘Oh, in those days I was just a footman. I didn’t have enough experience to be a butler in those days. Being a butler was a difficult job in those big houses before the war.’

When he told me this, I thought it was appropriate to reveal my identity. My companion seemed suitably impressed when I mentioned Darlington Hall.

‘And I was trying to explain the job to you,’ he said with a laugh. ‘You never know who you’re talking to when you meet a stranger. So you had a big staff, I suppose. Before the war, I mean.’

He was a cheerful fellow, and seemed genuinely interested, so I was happy to tell him about Darlington Hall in the old days. Eventually, I said:

‘Of course, things are quite different today under my present employer. An American gentleman.’

‘Americans are the ones who can afford it now,’ he said, giving me a little grin.

‘Yes,’ I said, laughing a little. ‘That’s true.’

The man turned back to the sea again and took a deep breath. We sat quietly for several moments.

‘The fact is, of course,’ I said after a while, ‘I gave my best to Lord Darlington. I gave him the very best I had to give. And now - well - I find I do not have much left to give.’

The man nodded but said nothing, so I went on:

‘Since my new employer, Mr Farraday, arrived, I’ve tried very hard. But whatever I do, I find I’m making more and more errors with my work. Unimportant errors, it’s true, but I would never have made these errors in the past. And I know what these errors mean. I’ve given everything that I had to give. I gave it all to Lord Darlington.’

‘Oh dear, do you want a handkerchief? I’ve got one somewhere,’ my companion said.

‘No thank you, it’s quite all right. I’m very sorry. I’m afraid the travelling has made me tired. I’m very sorry.’

‘You must have been very devoted to this Lord Darlington. And he died three years ago, you say?’

‘Lord Darlington wasn’t a bad man. He wasn’t a bad man at all. At least he was able to say at the end of his life that he had made his own mistakes. His lordship was a courageous man. He chose a certain path in life. It proved to be a mistaken path, but at least he chose it for himself. I cannot claim that about myself. You see, I trusted in his lordship’s wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted that I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really - one has to ask oneself - where is the dignity in that?’

‘Now look, I’m not sure I understand everything you’re saying. But if you ask me, your attitude’s all wrong, see? Don’t keep looking back all the time, you’ll only get depressed. Maybe you can’t do your job as well as you used to, but it’s the same for all of us. We’ve all got to relax at some time. Look at me - I’ve been very happy since I retired. We may not be as young as we were, but we have to keep looking forward.’

I believe it was then that he said:

‘You’ve got to enjoy yourself. The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can relax and enjoy things. That’s how I look at it. Ask anybody, they’ll all tell you. The evening’s the best part of the day.’

‘I’m sure you’re quite correct,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry. I’m probably too tired. I’ve been travelling rather a lot, you see.’

The man left twenty minutes ago, but I have remained here on this bench to witness the switching on of the pier lights. As I have already said, the happiness of the people around me at this small event seems to confirm what my companion said. For many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day. Perhaps I should stop looking back so much. I should adopt a more positive attitude towards what remains of my day. After all, what purpose is there in forever looking back and blaming ourselves for what might or might not have happened? The hard reality, for people like you and me, is that our lives are in the hands of those great gentlemen who employ our services. What is the sense in worrying about whether we could or could not have taken more control? Surely it is enough that people like you and me have at least tried to make a real contribution, however small. Whatever the result is, surely that is a reason to be proud.

A few minutes ago, soon after the lights came on, I turned around on my bench and studied the crowd of people behind me. They were laughing and chatting. There are people of all ages wandering around this pier: families with children, couples, young and elderly, walking arm in arm. I paid particular attention to a group of six or seven people just a little way behind me. I thought at first that they were a group of friends. However, as I listened to their conversation, I realized that they were strangers who had never met before. As I watch them now, they are all laughing happily. It is strange how people can build such warmth among themselves so quickly It is possible that these people are simply sharing the anticipation of the evening ahead. On the other hand, I think the warmth between them is probably more a result of their skill at bantering. I can hear them exchanging one bantering remark after another. Perhaps it is time for me to pay more serious attention to the subject of bantering. After all, when one thinks about it, it is not such a foolish thing to do - particularly if, for some reason, it contains the key to human warmth.

I have, of course, already spent much time practising my bantering skills. It is possible, however, that I need to be more enthusiastic about it. Perhaps, when I return to Darlington Hall tomorrow - Mr Farraday will be away for another week - I will make a new start. I shall start practising bantering again with new energy. If I do this, I shall be able to pleasantly surprise Mr Farraday with my new skill when he returns.

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