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Stevens spends the first night of his trip in a guesthouse in Salisbury. He looks back over the day. He describes the excitement he felt during the moment that morning, after the first twenty minutes of driving, when the landscape was no longer familiar to him. At that moment, Stevens stops the car to stretch his legs. A man relaxing at the bottom of a hill suggests that Stevens walk up a trail to the top of the hill to see the view, which the stranger claims is unparalleled in all of England. The view at the top is indeed beautiful, and Stevens feels "a heady flush of anticipation" for the adventures he is sure await him.
In the afternoon, Stevens arrives at the guesthouse in Salisbury. At around four o'clock, he takes a walk in the streets of the town for a few hours. He visits a beautiful cathedral and, though he is generally impressed with the city, the view that remains with him is the view of the English countryside that he saw that morning. Stevens thinks that the sort of subtle beauty typified by the English countryside is best captured by the term "greatness." The landscape is great precisely because it lacks any "drama" or "spectacle"; the beauty is "calm" and has "a sense of restraint." These thoughts lead Stevens to discuss the qualities that constitute a "great" butler.
The Hayes Society, an elite society of butlers in the 1920s and 1930s, claimed that any butler applying for membership to the Society must possess "a dignity in keeping with his position." Through a set of examples, Stevens goes on to define what he believes this notion "dignity" encompasses.
Stevens's first illustration of dignity involves a story Stevens's father used to tell about a butler who was working for his employer in India. One day, while the employer was entertaining guests in his drawing room, the butler went into the dining room and found that there was a tiger under the table. After conferring with his employer, the butler shot the animal, removed its carcass, cleaned up the dining room, and returned to calmly inform his employer, "Dinner will be served at the usual time and I am pleased to say there will be no discernible traces left of the recent occurrence by that time."
Stevens's next two examples of dignity are about his father, who was also a butler. The first story tells how two drunken houseguests of his employer instructed Stevens's father to drive them around in the car late one afternoon. Though the men were loutish, Stevens's father behaved with immaculate courtesy until the men began to make disparaging comments about his employer, Mr. John Silver. At that point, Stevens's father pulled the car over and got out. He opened the back door and stared silently at the two men until they realized they had been really rude. They apologized, and he took them back home in perfect silence.
The third example is about an episode between Stevens's father and an Army general. Stevens's father hated the general because, during the British campaign in South Africa, the general's poor leadership and bad judgment in a particular military maneuver resulted in the needless death of Stevens's older bother. The very same general came as a guest to Mr. Silver's house, and Stevens's father himself waited on the general for four days. Despite the personal pain it caused him, Stevens's father did his duty so well that the general never had a clue as to his true feelings, and left a generous tip. Stevens's father unhesitatingly donated the tip money to charity.
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