Strange beds have rarely agreed with me【妙不可言】, and after only a short spell of somewhat troubled slumber【失眠了】, 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【雾的意象耐人寻味】 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[full] 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[人员的变动] – 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 【预先防止】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.【救世主？】
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.’【过去时光 细节动人】
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【一束光】 from the sunset breaking the gloom【幽暗】 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.【很有画面感】 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.【too mean 】 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【竟然】 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.’【这段对话 肯特小姐可爱的形象跃然纸上 活泼 性格鲜明】
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【不好意思 我真的太没眼力劲了】, 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【难堪】 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.’【指桑骂槐 someone】
‘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.’【too mean】
‘But we have already established, have we not, that I am particularly deficient in that respect.’
【对话中 Stevens有点面目可憎 对年前人的不屑一顾 嘴脸丑恶 不管在哪都有“我吃的盐比你走的路还多”的人 颇多傲慢与偏见】
‘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.’