روز دوم - صبحگاه - 01

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روز دوم - صبحگاه - 01

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Strange beds have rarely agreed with me, and after only a short spell of somewhat troubled slumber, I awoke an hour or so ago. It was then still dark, and knowing I had a full day’s motoring ahead of me, I made an attempt to return to sleep. This proved futile, and when I decided eventually to rise, it was still so dark that I was obliged to turn on the electric light in order to shave at the sink in the corner. But when having finished I switched it off again, I could see early daylight at the edges of the curtains.

When I parted them just a moment ago, the light outside was still very pale and something of a mist was affecting my view of the baker’s shop and chemist’s opposite. Indeed, following the street further along to where it runs over the little round-backed bridge, I could see the mist rising from the river, obscuring almost entirely one of the bridge-posts. There was not a soul to be seen, and apart from a hammering noise echoing from somewhere distant, and an occasional coughing in a room to the back of the house, there is still no sound to be heard. The landlady is clearly not yet up and about, suggesting there is little chance of her serving breakfast earlier than her declared time of seven thirty.

Now, in these quiet moments as I wait for the world about to awake, I find myself going over in my mind again passages from Miss Kenton’s letter. Incidentally, I should before now have explained myself as regards my referring to ‘Miss Kenton’. ‘Miss Kenton’ is properly speaking ‘Mrs Benn’ and has been for twenty years. However, because I knew her at close quarters only during her maiden years and have not seen her once since she went to the West Country to become ‘Mrs Benn’, you will perhaps excuse my impropriety in referring to her as I knew her, and in my mind have continued to call her throughout these years. Of course, her letter has given me extra cause to continue thinking of her as ‘Miss Kenton’, since it would seem, sadly, that her marriage is finally to come to an end. The letter does not make specific the details of the matter, as one would hardly expect it to do, but Miss Kenton states unambiguously that she has now, in fact, taken the step of moving out of Mr Benn’s house in Helston and is presently lodging with an acquaintance in the nearby village of Little Compton.

It is of course tragic that her marriage is now ending in failure. At this very moment, no doubt, she is pondering with regret decisions made in the far-off past that have now left her, deep in middle age, so alone and desolate. And it is easy to see how in such a frame of mind, the thought of returning to Darlington Hall would be a great comfort to her. Admittedly, she does not at any point in her letter state explicitly her desire to return; but that is the unmistakable message conveyed by the general nuance of many of the passages, imbued as they are with a deep nostalgia for her days at Darlington Hall. Of course, Miss Kenton cannot hope by returning at this stage ever to retrieve those lost years, and it will be my first duty to impress this upon her when we meet. I will have to point out how different things are now – that the days of working with a grand staff at one’s beck and call will probably never return within our lifetime. But then Miss Kenton is an intelligent woman and she will have already realized these things. Indeed, all in all, I cannot see why the option of her returning to Darlington Hall and seeing out her working years there should not offer a very genuine consolation to a life that has come to be so dominated by a sense of waste.

And of course, from my own professional viewpoint, it is clear that even after a break of so many years, Miss Kenton would prove the perfect solution to the problem at present besetting us at Darlington Hall. In fact, by terming it a ‘problem’, I perhaps overstate the matter. I am referring, after all, to a series of very minor errors on my part and the course I am now pursuing is merely a means of preempting any ‘problems’ before one arises. It is true, these same trivial errors did cause me some anxiety at first, but once I had had time to diagnose them correctly as symptoms of nothing more than a straightforward staff shortage, I have refrained from giving them much thought. Miss Kenton’s arrival, as I say, will put a permanent end to them.

But to return to her letter. It does at times reveal a certain despair over her present situation – a fact that is rather concerning. She begins one sentence: ‘Although I have no idea how I shall usefully fill the remainder of my life …’ And again, elsewhere, she writes: ‘The rest of my life stretches out as an emptiness before me.’ For the most part, though, as I have said, the tone is one of nostalgia. At one point, for instance, she writes: ‘This whole incident put me in mind of Alice White. Do you remember her? In fact, I hardly imagine you could forget her. For myself, I am still haunted by those vowel sounds and those uniquely ungrammatical sentences only she could dream up! Have you any idea what became of her?’ I have not, as a matter of fact, though I must say it rather amused me to remember that exasperating housemaid –who in the end turned out to be one of our most devoted. At another point in her letter, Miss Kenton writes: ‘I was so fond of that view from the second-floor bedrooms overlooking the lawn with the downs visible in the distance. Is it still like that? On summer evenings there was a sort of magical quality to that view and I will confess to you now I used to waste many precious minutes standing at one of those windows just enchanted by it.’ Then she goes on to add:

‘If this is a painful memory, forgive me. But I will never forget that time we both watched your father walking back and forth in front of the summerhouse, looking down at the ground as though he hoped to find some precious jewel he had dropped there.’ It is something of a revelation that this memory from over thirty years ago should have remained with Miss Kenton as it has done with me. Indeed, it must have occurred on just one of those summer evenings she mentions, for I can recall distinctly climbing to the second landing and seeing before me a series of orange shafts from the sunset breaking the gloom of the corridor where each bedroom door stood ajar. And as I made my way past those bedrooms, I had seen through a doorway Miss Kenton’s figure, silhouetted against a window, turn and call softly: ‘Mr Stevens, if you have a moment.’ As I entered, Miss Kenton had turned back to the window. Down below, the shadows of the poplars were falling across the lawn. To the right of our view, the lawn sloped up a gentle embankment to where the summerhouse stood, and it was there my father’s figure could be seen, pacing slowly with an air of preoccupation –indeed, as Miss Kenton puts it so well, ‘as though he hoped to find some precious jewel he had dropped there’.

There are some very pertinent reasons why this memory has remained with me, as I wish to explain. Moreover, now that I come to think of it, it is perhaps not so surprising that it should also have made a deep impression on Miss Kenton given certain aspects of her relationship with my father during her early days at Darlington Hall.

Miss Kenton and my father had arrived at the house at more or less the same time – that is to say, the spring of 1922 – as a consequence of my losing at one stroke the previous housekeeper and under-butler. This had occurred due to these latter two persons deciding to marry one another and leave the profession. I have always found such liaisons a serious threat to the order in a house. Since that time, I have lost numerous more employees in such circumstances. Of course, one has to expect such things to occur amongst maids and footmen, and a good butler should always take this into account in his planning; but such marrying amongst more senior employees can have an extremely disruptive effect on work. Of course, if two members of staff happen to fall in love and decide to marry, it would be churlish to be apportioning blame; but what I find a major irritation are those persons – and housekeepers are particularly guilty here – who have no genuine commitment to their profession and who are essentially going from post to post looking for romance. This sort of person is a blight on good professionalism.

But let me say immediately I do not have Miss Kenton in mind at all when I say this. Of course, she too eventually left my staff to get married, but I can vouch that during the time she worked as housekeeper under me, she was nothing less than dedicated and never allowed her professional priorities to be distracted.

But I am digressing. I was explaining that we had fallen in need of a housekeeper and an under-butler at one and the same time and Miss Kenton had arrived – with unusually good references, I recall – to take up the former post. As it happened, my father had around this time come to the end of his distinguished service at Loughborough House with the death of his employer, Mr John Silvers, and had been at something of a loss for work and accommodation. Although he was still, of course, a professional of the highest class, he was now in his seventies and much ravaged by arthritis and other ailments. It was not at all certain, then, how he would fare against the younger breed of highly professionalized butlers looking for posts. In view of this, it seemed a reasonable solution to ask my father to bring his great experience and distinction to Darlington Hall.

As I remember, it was one morning a little while after my father and Miss Kenton had joined the staff, I had been in my pantry, sitting at the table going through my paperwork, when I heard a knock on my door. I recall I was a little taken aback when Miss Kenton opened the door and entered before I had bidden her to do so. She came in holding a large vase of flowers and said with a smile: ‘Mr Stevens, I thought these would brighten your parlour a little.’

‘I beg your pardon, Miss Kenton?’

‘It seemed such a pity your room should be so dark and cold, Mr Stevens, when it’s such bright sunshine outside. I thought these would enliven things a little.’

‘That’s very kind of you, Miss Kenton.’

‘It’s a shame more sun doesn’t get in here. The walls are even a little damp, are they not, Mr Stevens?’

I turned back to my accounts, saying: ‘Merely condensation, I believe, Miss Kenton.’

She put her vase down on the table in front of me, then glancing around my pantry again said: ‘If you wish, Mr Stevens, I might bring in some more cuttings for you.’

‘Miss Kenton, I appreciate your kindness. But this is not a room of entertainment. I am happy to have distractions kept to a minimum.’

‘But surely, Mr Stevens, there is no need to keep your room so stark and bereft of colour.’

‘It has served me perfectly well thus far as it is, Miss Kenton, though I appreciate your thoughts. In fact, since you are here, there was a certain matter I wished to raise with you.’

‘Oh, really, Mr Stevens.’

‘Yes, Miss Kenton, just a small matter. I happened to be walking past the kitchen yesterday when I heard you calling to someone named William.’

‘Is that so, Mr Stevens?’

‘Indeed, Miss Kenton. I did hear you call several times for “William”. May I ask who it was you were addressing by that name?’

‘Why, Mr Stevens, I should think I was addressing your father. There are no other Williams in this house, I take it.’

‘It’s an easy enough error to have made,’ I said with a small smile. ‘May I ask you in future, Miss Kenton, to address my father as “Mr Stevens”? If you are speaking of him to a third party, then you may wish to call him “Mr Stevens senior” to distinguish him from myself. I’m most grateful, Miss Kenton.’ With that I turned back to my papers. But to my surprise, Miss Kenton did not take her leave. ‘Excuse me, Mr Stevens,’ she said after a moment.

‘Yes, Miss Kenton.’

‘I am afraid I am not quite clear what you are saying. I have in the past been accustomed to addressing under-servants by their Christian names and saw no reason to do otherwise in this house.’

‘A most understandable error. Miss Kenton, However, if you will consider the situation for a moment, you may come to see the inappropriateness of someone such as yourself talking “down” to one such as my father.’ ‘I am still not clear what you are getting at, Mr Stevens. You say someone such as myself, but I am as far as I understand the housekeeper of this house, while your father is the under-butler.’

‘He is of course in title the under-butler, as you say. But I am surprised your powers of observation have not already made it clear to you that he is in reality more than that. A great deal more.’

‘No doubt I have been extremely unobservant, Mr Stevens. I had only observed that your father was an able under-butler and addressed him accordingly. It must indeed have been most galling for him to be so addressed by one such as I.’ ‘Miss Kenton, it is clear from your tone you simply have not observed my father. If you had done so, the inappropriateness of someone of your age and standing addressing him as ‘‘William” should have been self-evident to you.’ ‘Mr Stevens, I may not have been a housekeeper for long, but I would say that in the time I have been, my abilities have attracted some very generous remarks.’

‘I do not doubt your competence for one moment, Miss Kenton. But a hundred things should have indicated to you that my father is a figure of unusual distinction from whom you may learn a wealth of things were you prepared to be more observant.’ ‘I am most indebted to you for your advice, Mr Stevens. So do please tell me, just what marvellous things might I learn from observing your father?’

‘I would have thought it obvious to anyone with eyes, Miss Kenton.’

‘But we have already established, have we not, that I am particularly deficient in that respect.’

‘Miss Kenton, if you are under the impression you have already at your age perfected yourself, you will never rise to the heights you are no doubt capable of. I might point out, for instance, you are still often unsure of what goes where and which item is which.’ This seemed to take the wind out of Miss Kenton’s sails somewhat. Indeed, for a moment, she looked a little upset. Then she said:

‘I had a little difficulty on first arriving, but that is surely only normal.’

‘Ah, there you are, Miss Kenton. If you had observed my father who arrived in this house a week after you did, you will have seen that his house knowledge is perfect and was so almost from the time he set foot in Darlington Hall.’ Miss Kenton seemed to think about this before saying a little sulkily:

‘I am sure Mr Stevens senior is very good at his job, but I assure you, Mr Stevens, I am very good at mine. I will remember to address your father by his full title in future. Now, if you would please excuse me.’ After this encounter, Miss Kenton did not attempt to introduce further flowers into my pantry, and in general, I was pleased to observe, she went about settling in impressively. It was clear, furthermore, she was a housekeeper who took her work very seriously, and in spite of her youth she seemed to have no difficulty gaining the respect of her staff.

I noticed too that she was indeed proceeding to address my father as ‘Mr Stevens’. However, one afternoon perhaps two weeks after our conversation in my pantry, I was doing something in the library when Miss Kenton came in and said: ‘Excuse me, Mr Stevens. But if you are searching for your dust-pan, it is out in the hall.’

‘I beg your pardon, Miss Kenton?’

‘Your dust-pan, Mr Stevens. You’ve left it out here. Shall I bring it in for you?’

‘Miss Kenton, I have not been using a dust-pan.’

‘Ah, well, then forgive me, Mr Stevens. I naturally assumed you were using your dust-pan and had left it out in the hall. I am sorry to have disturbed you.’

She started to leave, but then turned at the doorway and said:

‘Oh, Mr Stevens. I would return it myself but I have to go upstairs just now. I wonder if you will remember it?’

‘Of course, Miss Kenton. Thank you for drawing attention to it.’

‘It is quite all right, Mr Stevens.’

I listened to her footsteps cross the hall and start up the great staircase, then proceeded to the doorway myself. From the library doors, one has an unbroken view right across the entrance hall to the main doors of th Most conspicuously, in virtually the central spot otherwise empty and highly polished floor, lay the a pan Miss Kenton had alluded to.

It struck me as a trivial, but irritating error; the dust-pan would have been conspicuous not only from the five ground-floor doorways opening on to the hall, but also from the staircase and the first-floor balconies. I crossed the hall and had actually picked up the offending item before realizing its full implication; my father, I recalled, had been brushing the entrance hall a half-hour or so earlier. At first, I found it hard to credit such an error to my father. But I soon reminded myself that such trivial slips are liable to befall anyone from time to time, and my irritation soon turned to Miss Kenton for attempting to create such unwarranted fuss over the incident.

Then, not more than a week later, I was coming down the back corridor from the kitchen when Miss Kenton came out of her parlour and uttered a statement she had clearly been rehearsing; this was something to the effect that although she felt most uncomfortable drawing my attention to errors made by my staff, she and I had to work as a team, and she hoped I would not feel inhibited to do similarly should I notice errors made by female staff. She then went on to point out that several pieces of silver had been laid out for the dining room which bore clear remains of polish. The end of one fork had been practically black. I thanked her and she withdrew back into her parlour. It had been unnecessary, of course, for her to mention that the silver was one of my father’s main responsibilities and one he took great pride in.

It is very possible there were a number of other instances of this sort which I have now forgotten. In any case, I recall things reaching something of a climax one grey and drizzly afternoon when I was in the billiard room attending to Lord Darlington’s sporting trophies. Miss Kenton had entered and said from the door: ‘Mr Stevens, I have just noticed something outside which puzzles me.’

‘What is that, Miss Kenton?’

‘Was it his lordship’s wish that the Chinaman on the upstairs landing should be exchanged with the one outside this door?’

‘The Chinaman, Miss Kenton?’

‘Yes, Mr Stevens. The Chinaman normally on the landing you will now find outside this door.’

‘I fear, Miss Kenton, that you are a little confused.’

‘I do not believe I am confused at all, Mr Stevens. I make it my business to acquaint myself with where objects properly belong in a house. The Chinamen, I would suppose, were polished by someone then replaced incorrectly. If you are sceptical, Mr Stevens, perhaps you will care to step out here and observe for yourself.’ ‘Miss Kenton, I am occupied at present.’

‘But, Mr Stevens, you do not appear to believe what I am saying. I am thus asking you to step outside this door and see for yourself.’

‘Miss Kenton, I am busy just now and will attend to the matter shortly. It is hardly one of urgency.’

‘You accept then, Mr Stevens, that I am not in error on this point.’

‘I will accept nothing of the sort, Miss Kenton, until I have had a chance to deal with the matter. However, I am occupied at present.’

I turned back to my business, but Miss Kenton remained in the doorway observing me. Eventually, she said:

‘I can see you will be finished very shortly, Mr Stevens. I will await you outside so that this matter may be finalized when you come out.’

‘Miss Kenton, I believe you are according this matter an urgency it hardly merits.’

But Miss Kenton had departed, and sure enough, as I continued with my work, an occasional footstep or some other sound would serve to remind me she was still there outside the door. I decided therefore to occupy myself with some further tasks in the billiard room, assuming she would after a while see the ludicrousness of her position and leave. However, after some time had passed, and I had exhausted the tasks which could usefully be achieved with the implements I happened to have at hand, Miss Kenton was evidently still outside. Resolved not to waste further time on account of this childish affair, I contemplated departure via the french windows. A drawback to this plan was the weather – that is to say, several large puddles and patches of mud were in evidence – and the fact that one would need to return to the billiard room again at some point to bolt the french windows from the inside. Eventually, then, I decided the best strategy would be simply to stride out of the room very suddenly at a furious pace. I thus made my way as quietly as possible to a position from which I could execute such a march, and clutching my implements firmly about me, succeeded in propelling myself through the doorway and several paces down the corridor before a somewhat astonished Miss Kenton could recover her wits. This she did, however, rather rapidly and the next moment I found she had overtaken me and was standing before me, effectively barring my way.

‘Mr Stevens, that is the incorrect Chinaman, would you not agree?’

‘Miss Kenton, I am very busy. I am surprised you have nothing better to do than stand in corridors all day.’

‘Mr Stevens, is that the correct Chinaman or is it not?’

‘Miss Kenton, I would ask you to keep your voice down.’

‘And I would ask you, Mr Stevens, to turn around and look at that Chinaman.’

‘Miss Kenton, please keep your voice down. What would employees below think to hear us shouting at the top of our voices about what is and what is not the correct Chinaman?’

‘The fact is, Mr Stevens, all the Chinamen in this house have been dirty for some time! And now, they are in incorrect positions!’

‘Miss Kenton, you are being quite ridiculous. Now if you will be so good as to let me pass.’

‘Mr Stevens, will you kindly look at the Chinaman behind you?’

‘If it is so important to you, Miss Kenton, I will allow that the Chinaman behind me may well be incorrectly situated. But I must say I am at some loss as to why you should be so concerned with these most trivial of errors.’ ‘These errors may be trivial in themselves, Mr Stevens, but you must yourself realize their larger significance.’

‘Miss Kenton, I do not understand you. Now if you would kindly allow me to pass.’

‘The fact is, Mr Stevens, your father is entrusted with far more than a man of his age can cope with.’

‘Miss Kenton, you clearly have little idea of what you are suggesting.’

‘Whatever your father was once, Mr Stevens, his powers are now greatly diminished. This is what these “trivial errors” as you call them really signify and if you do not heed them, it will not be long before your father commits an error of major proportions.’ ‘Miss Kenton, you are merely making yourself look foolish.’

‘I am sorry, Mr Stevens, but I must go on. I believe there are many duties your father should now be relieved of. He should not, for one, be asked to go on carrying heavily laden trays. The way his hands tremble as he carries them into dinner is nothing short of alarming. It is surely only a matter of time before a tray falls from his hands on to a lady or gentleman’s lap. And furthermore, Mr Stevens, and I am very sorry to say this, I have noticed your father’s nose.’ ‘Have you indeed, Miss Kenton?’

‘I regret to say I have, Mr Stevens. The evening before last I watched your father proceeding very slowly towards the dining room with his tray, and I am afraid I observed clearly a large drop on the end of his nose dangling over the soup bowls. I would not have thought such a style of waiting a great stimulant to appetite.’ But now that I think further about it, I am not sure Miss Kenton spoke quite so boldly that day. We did, of course, over the years of working closely together come to have some very frank exchanges, but the afternoon I am recalling was still early in our relationship and I cannot see even Miss Kenton having been so forward. I am not sure she could actually have gone so far as to say things like: ‘these errors may be trivial in themselves, but you must yourself realize their larger significance’. In fact, now that I come to think of it, I have a feeling it may have been Lord Darlington himself who made that particular remark to me that time he called me into his study some two months after that exchange with Miss Kenton outside the billiard room. By that time, the situation as regards my father had changed significantly following his fall.

The study doors are those that face one as one comes down the great staircase. There is outside the study today a glass cabinet displaying various of Mr Farraday’s ornaments, but throughout Lord Darlington’s days, there stood at that spot a bookshelf containing many volumes of encyclopedia, including a complete set of the Britannica. It was a ploy of Lord Darlington’s to stand at this shelf studying the spines of the encyclopedias as I came down the staircase, and sometimes, to increase the effect of an accidental meeting, he would actually pull out a volume and pretend to be engrossed as I completed my descent. Then, as I passed him, he would say: ‘Oh, Stevens, there was something I meant to say to you.’ And with that, he would wander back into his study, to all appearances still thoroughly engrossed in the volume held open in his hands. It was invariably embarrassment at what he was about to impart which made Lord Darlington adopt such an approach, and even once the study door was closed behind us, he would often stand by the window and make a show of consulting the encyclopedia throughout our conversation.

What I am now describing, incidentally, is one of many instances I could relate to you to underline Lord Darlington’s essentially shy and modest nature. A great deal of nonsense has been spoken and written in recent years concerning his lordship and the prominent role he came to play in great affairs, and some utterly ignorant reports have had it that he was motivated by egotism or else arrogance. Let me say here that nothing could be further from the truth. It was completely contrary to Lord Darlington’s natural tendencies to take such public stances as he came to do and I can say with conviction that his lordship was persuaded to overcome his more retiring side only through a deep sense of moral duty. Whatever may be said about his lordship these days – and the great majority of it is, as I say, utter nonsense – I can declare that he was a truly good man at heart, a gentleman through and through, and one I am today proud to have given my best years of service to.

On the particular afternoon to which I am referring, his lordship would still have been in his mid-fifties; but as I recall, his hair had greyed entirely and his tall slender figure already bore signs of the stoop that was to become so pronounced in his last years. He barely glanced up from his volume as he asked: ‘Your father feeling better now, Stevens?’

‘I’m glad to say he has made a full recovery, sir.’

‘Jolly pleased to hear that. Jolly pleased.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

‘Look here, Stevens, have there been any – well – signs at all? I mean signs to tell us your father may be wishing his burden lightened somewhat? Apart from this business of him falling, I mean.’

‘As I say, sir, my father appears to have made a full recovery and I believe he is still a person of considerable dependability. It is true one or two errors have been noticeable recently in the discharging of his duties, but these are in every case very trivial in nature.’ ‘But none of us wish to see anything of that sort happen ever again, do we? I mean, your father collapsing and all that.’

‘Indeed not, sir.’

‘And of course, if it can happen out on the lawn, it could happen anywhere. And at any time.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘It could happen, say, during dinner while your father was waiting at table.’

‘It is possible, sir.’

‘Look here, Stevens, the first of the delegates will be arriving here in less than a fortnight.’

‘We are well prepared, sir.’

‘What happens within this house after that may have considerable repercussions.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘I mean considerable repercussions. On the whole course Europe is taking. In view of the persons who will be present, I do not think I exaggerate.’

‘No, sir.’

‘Hardly the time for taking on avoidable hazards.’

‘Indeed not, sir.’

‘Look here, Stevens, there’s no question of your father leaving us. You’re simply being asked to reconsider his duties.’ And it was then, I believe, that his lordship said as he looked down again into his volume and awkwardly fingered an entry: These errors may be trivial in themselves, Stevens, but you must yourself realize their larger significance. Your father’s days of dependability are now passing. He must not be asked to perform tasks in any area where an error might jeopardize the success of our forthcoming conference.’ ‘Indeed not, sir. I fully understand.’

‘Good. I’ll leave you to think about it then, Stevens.’

Lord Darlington, I should say, had actually witnessed my father’s fall of a week or so earlier. His lordship had been entertaining two guests, a young lady and gentleman, in the summerhouse, and had watched my father’s approach across the lawn bearing a much welcome tray of refreshments. The lawn climbs a slope several yards in front of the summerhouse, and in those days, as today, four flagstones embedded into the grass served as steps by which to negotiate this climb. It was in the vicinity of these steps that my father fell, scattering the load on his tray – teapot, cups, saucers, sandwiches, cakes – across the area of grass at the top of the steps. By the time I had received the alarm and gone out, his lordship and his guests had laid my father on his side, a cushion and a rug from the summerhouse serving as pillow and blanket. My father was unconscious and his face looked an oddly grey colour. Dr Meredith had already been sent for, but his lordship was of the view that my father should be moved out of the sun before the doctor’s arrival; consequently, a bath-chair arrived and with not a little difficulty, my father was transported into the house. By the time Dr Meredith arrived, he had revived considerably and the doctor soon left again, making only vague statements to the effect that my father had perhaps been ‘Over-working’.

The whole episode was clearly a great embarrassment to my father, and by the time of that conversation in Lord Darlington’s study, he had long since returned to busying himself as much as ever. The question of how one could broach the topic of reducing his responsibilities was not, then, an easy one. My difficulty was further compounded by the fact that for some years my father and I had tended — for some reason I have never really fathomed – to converse less and less. So much so that after his arrival at Darlington Hall, even the brief exchanges necessary to communicate information relating to work took place in an atmosphere of mutual embarrassment.

In the end, I judged the best option to be to talk in the privacy of his room, thus giving him the opportunity to ponder his new situation in solitude once I took my leave. The only times my father could be found in his room were first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Choosing the former, I climbed up to his small attic room at the top of the servants’ wing early one morning and knocked gently.

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