Stevens is sitting in the dining hall of the Rose Garden Hotel in teh town of Little Compton, Cornwall, watching the rain outside before his impending visit with Miss Kenton. He has told her he will arrive at three o'clock, so he has forty minutes to wait.

Stevens recalls his morning drive with Dr. Carlisle to refill the gas in his car. During the drive, Dr. Carlisle abruptly asks Stevens if he is really a dignitary, or just a manservant to a dignitary. Stevens, somewhat relieved, says he is indeed the butler at Darlington Hall. He begins to explain that it was not his intention to deceive anyone as to his position, but the good-natured doctor says that the simple townspeople are likely to mistake someone like Stevens for even a lord or a duke. Stevens tells Dr. Carlisle that Harry Smith spoke quite a bit during dinner. The doctor replies that many people see the benefit of have strong political views like Harry, but they cannot be bothered to have such views themselves—they would rather just be left alone. The doctor's tone is one of disgust as he makes this assertion, but Stevens does not understand why the doctor feels this way. When the two arrive at Stevens's scar, Dr. Carlisle fills up the tank, the men exchange goodbyes, and Stevens goes on his way.

Stevens once again muses on the past while he is killing time before making the trip to Miss Kenton's at three o'clock. Stevens again thinks over why it was he did not go into Miss Kenton's room after she heard that her aunt died. He says he felt a peculiar sensation inside him as he stood, transfixed by indecision, outside her door. Then he abruptly changes his mind and says that perhaps the moment he recalls so vividly was not the day Miss Kenton learned of her aunt's death, but on another occasion several months later, when he again stood outside her door. Stevens now thinks that the memory in question occurred the evening that Mr. Reginald Cardinal arrived at Darlington hall on an unexpected visit.

Reginald Cardinal, the son of Lord Darlington close friend Sir David Cardinal—who had been tragically killed in a riding accident in the 1920s—is also Lord Darlington's godson. When Stevens goes to tell Miss Kenton that Mr. Cardinal has arrived, he catches her in a pensive mood. She tells Stevens she is taking the night off, and reminds him that she had requested the time off a month ago. Miss Kenton then tells Stevens that the man she is going to meet has asked for her hand in marriage, and that she is still thinking the matter over. Stevens briefly thanks her for telling him and excuses himself.

A tense atmosphere prevails during the dinner between Lord Darlington and his godson. Darlington is expecting guests, but he refuses to tell his godson who exactly the guests are. After dinner, the two get into an argument in the smoking room. Herr Ribbentrop arrives at the house under police escort.

Miss Kenton returns from her outing and tells Stevens she has accepted her acquaintance's marriage proposal. Stevens offers her brief congratulations, but says in the same breath that he must return upstairs. Miss Kenton calls to Stevens, amazed that after all her years at Darlington Hall he has nothing more to say about her news. Stevens replies only that events of global significance are occurring in the house and that he must go upstairs. Miss Kenton then tells Stevens that she and her fiancé often pass the time by making fun of Stevens and his incessant professionalism. Stevens does not react, and merely excuses himself once again.