فصل 02

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فصل 02

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Chapter two

Unfamiliar Territory

September 1956

Tonight, I have taken a room at a guest house in the city of Salisbury. The first day of my trip is completed and I feel quite satisfied with it.

It is hard to explain my feelings when I finally left Darlington Hall this morning. For the first twenty minutes of motoring, I cannot say that I was filled with excitement or anticipation. As I motored in the sunshine, I continued to be surprised by the familiarity of the countryside around me.

But eventually the surroundings became unrecognizable and I knew that I had gone beyond all previous boundaries. I confess, I experienced a mild sensation of alarm. This increased when I found myself on a road curving around the edge of a hill. I could sense the steep drop to my left, although I could not see it through the trees and thick bushes that lined the roadside. I felt now that I had truly left Darlington Hall behind, and I was suddenly afraid that I was not on the correct road. It was only the feeling of a moment, but it caused me to slow down. Even when I had assured myself that I was on the right road, I felt I had to stop the car for a moment to consider my situation.

I decided to get out and stretch my legs a little. When I had stepped out of the car, the feeling of being halfway up a steep hill increased. On one side of the road, the bushes and trees rose steeply on the other, as I looked down through the trees, I could see the distant countryside. I suddenly decided that I wanted a clearer view, and I walked along the road until I found a narrow footpath which led up the hill.

I hesitated for a moment, for the path looked steep and rather rough. Then I began to climb. It was a long, hard walk, but it did not cause me any great difficulty. Finally, I came out of the trees and saw a bench in the middle of a small, open area. I walked to the bench and, turning round, I was pleased to see that the climb had not been a waste of time.

I had a most marvellous view of the surrounding countryside. There were hundreds of fields bordered by hedges and trees, and the land rose and fell gently towards the distant horizon. As I listened to the sounds of summer and felt the light wind on my face, my feelings of alarm and anxiety about leaving my familiar territory disappeared. I told myself that it was foolish to worry about meeting Miss Kenton again. Indeed, as I looked at that wonderful view, I even began to feel, for the first time, a sense of excitement at the journey ahead.

Now, this evening, I find myself in this small but comfortable guest house not far from the centre of Salisbury. The landlady, a woman of about forty, noticed my car and my high-quality suit, and seems to think that I am a rather grand visitor. When I wrote my address in her register as ‘Darlington Hall’, she looked at me with alarm. She probably assumed that I was a gentleman who was accustomed to expensive hotels, and that I would angrily leave her guest house as soon as I saw my room. But my room is very clean, with good-sized windows overlooking the street. It is perfectly adequate for my needs.

And here, in the quiet of this room, my thoughts return to that marvellous view this morning of the English countryside. I am willing to believe that other countries offer more dramatic scenery, although I have never had the privilege of observing those sights myself. But I am confident that the finest English countryside possesses a quality that the landscapes of other nations do not possess, the quality of ‘greatness’.

But what exactly is this ‘greatness’? Wiser heads than mine are needed to answer such a question, but I believe that the beauty of our land lies in its calmness, in its lack of obvious drama. The land, it seems, knows its own beauty, its own greatness, and feels no need to shout about it.

This reminds me of a question that has caused much debate in my profession over the years: what is a ‘great’ butler? There have been very few attempts to answer this question officially, but great butlers do seem to me to share one essential quality, and that is best described by the word dignity.

Of course, one can enjoy most interesting debates on the subject of what this ‘dignity’ actually is. To me, though, it is the butler’s ability not to abandon his professional self under any circumstances. A great butler wears his professionalism as a decent gentleman wears his suit; he will take it off when, and only when, he chooses to. And this will always be when he is entirely alone.

It is sometimes said that butlers only truly exist in England; other countries have manservants. I believe this may be true. Continentals are unable to be butlers because they are incapable of the emotional self-control - the dignity - which only the English possess. For this reason, when you think of a great butler he must, almost by definition, be an Englishman.

Some of my colleagues have argued that attempts to analyse greatness are pointless; one can recognize immediately whether a person does or does not have it. But it is surely our professional responsibility to think deeply about these things. In this way we may make every effort to achieve ‘dignity’ for ourselves.


I have rarely been happy in strange beds. It took me a long time to fall asleep last night, and I woke up over an hour ago while it was still dark. I tried to return to sleep but this was impossible. I decided therefore to get up.

Now, in these quiet moments as I wait for the world to awake, I am thinking about Miss Kenton’s letter. I should perhaps explain that her name is not ‘Miss Kenton’ now. She has been ‘Mrs Benn’ for the last twenty years. However, I am unable to think of her as ‘Mrs Benn’, as I have not seen her since she married and moved to the West Country. I must continue to call her ‘Miss Kenton’, for this is how I have always thought of her.

Unfortunately, her letter has given me another reason for continuing to think of her as ‘Miss Kenton’. It seems that her marriage has sadly come to an end. The letter does not contain details of the matter, and I would not expect it to. But Miss Kenton clearly says that she has now moved out of Mr Benn’s house in Helston and is staying in the neighbouring village of Little Compton.

It is, of course, tragic that her marriage has ended in failure. Miss Kenton is now a lonely, unhappy, middle-aged woman and probably greatly regrets her decision to leave Darlington Hall. It is easy to see why she would want to return there now. It is true that she does not say this directly in her letter, but she speaks about the old days at Darlington Hall with such affection and nostalgia that I am sure that this is her real message.

Of course, Miss Kenton must realize that times have changed at Darlington Hall since she left twenty years ago. It will be my first duty to emphasize this when we meet. I will have to explain that the days of working with a large staff will almost certainly never return within our lifetime. But Miss Kenton is an intelligent woman. She probably already understands these things.

Miss Kenton’s letter reveals at times a sense of hopelessness at her present situation, which worries me. She begins one sentence: Although I have no idea how I shall usefully fill what remains of my life… And again, elsewhere, she writes: The rest of my life stretches out emptily before me. The tone of most of the letter, however, is nostalgic. For example, she writes: This whole incident reminds me of Alice White. Do you remember her? Who could forget her awful vowel sounds and ungrammatical sentences! Have you any idea what happened to her?

I have no idea what happened to Alice White, although it amused me to remember her. After a very bad start, she became one of Darlington Hall’s most devoted housemaids.

In another part of her letter, Miss Kenton writes: I was so fond of that view from the second-floor bedrooms. I remember the lawn and the hills visible in the distance. Is it still like that? On summer evenings there was a magical quality to that view. I will confess to you now that I used to spend a lot of time in those bedrooms looking out of the windows.

Then she adds: If this is a painful memory, forgive me. But I will never forget standing with you at one of those bedroom windows. We were both watching your father. He was walking backwards and forwards in front of the summerhouse, looking at the ground. He seemed to be looking for a precious jewel that he had dropped there - do you remember?

It surprises me that Miss Kenton can still remember this incident. It must have occurred on a summer evening over thirty years ago. I can clearly remember climbing to the second-floor landing. Evening sunlight shone through the half-open bedroom doors into the dark corridor. As I made my way along the corridor, I saw Miss Kenton standing by a window in one of the bedrooms. She turned as I was passing and called softly: ‘Mr Stevens, do you have a moment?’

As I entered, Miss Kenton turned back to the window. Down below, the shadows of the trees were falling across the lawn. To the right, the lawn sloped up towards the summerhouse. And there was my father, walking slowly backwards and forwards, looking anxiously at the ground.

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