Stevens returns to the definition of a 'great' butler as determined by the Hayes Society - namely the butler must be a member of a 'distinguished' household. Stevens says his generation has a much more idealistic view of this definition of the word 'distinguished.' His generation believes that a distinguished man furthers the progress of humanity and aspires to noble causes. In his generation, other butlers are willing to leave not just over wages, but also over the moral worth of one's employers.
Butlers of Stevens' father's generation tended to see the world in terms of a ladder - and thus a distinguished household often represented the houses of royalty or the houses of lords. Any butler in his father's generation, then, simply climbed the ladder as high as possible - and the higher he went, the more professional prestige he accumulated. The Hayes Society endorsed this view as well. But later, the new generation viewed the world not as a ladder, but more as a 'wheel' - meaning that they cared about who they served, and they wanted to serve those to whom civilization was entrusted.
Stevens is taking a drive through Dorset, and suddenly realizes that his employer's Ford is emanating a weird smell. he parks the car, and finds a Victorian house a ways away. At the house, he meets a man who puts water in the Ford's radiator, which promptly gets it going again. Stevens asks him how many people are employed at the house, but the man tells him that his employer, the Colonel, is trying to get rid of the house. The man asks Stevens whether he worked for Lord Darlington, but Stevens says no. They part with the man telling Stevens to visit a local pond so he can meet his employer, the Colonel.
At Mortimer's Pond, Stevens begins to think about why he denied working for Lord Darlington. He did this once before, when Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield, an American couple that moved to England, came to visit Darlington Hall. Stevens realizes that he isn't necessarily ashamed of working for Mr. Darlington, but there are just too many foolish things said about Lord Darlington for him to take responsibility for correcting. He says Lord Darlington was a man of great moral stature, no matter what people say, and he is proud and grateful to have been given the privilege to work for him.
Stevens lodges at the Couch and Horses outside of Taunton, Somerset, a cottage by the roadside. He ventures down to the bar, where one of the men tells him he won't get much sleep because of the master and mistress' arguing. Stevens uses the opportunity to make a joke back: 'A local variation on the cock crow, no doubt.' But clearly they don't get it. Stevens is upset that his joke didn't work, especially since he's been listening to a broadcast humor show on the ratio regularly and studying the programme. Later, he considers all the reasons his joke didn't work.
Stevens sits and has tea in Taunton close to the Market Square. He muses about the nearby village of Mursden, where a famous firm named Giffen and Co. used to manufacture a silver polish that put the town on the map. He believes that silver polish came to be one of the key shifts in his profession - the emphasis on silver-polishing as one of the key duties of a butler. He looks back on one butler named Mr. Marshall, who achieved greatness because of his famous silver polishing skills.
Stevens recalls that polishing silver at Darlington Hall often had a pleasing impact on observers. He remembers Lady Astor and George Bernard Shaw both taking note of the beauty of his polishing work. Even Lord Halifax told Lord Darlington that the silver in the house was a delight. Stevens continues his stream of consciousness reminiscing and remembers Herr Ribbentrop, a man who people believed was determined to deceive England about Hitler and Germany's true intentions in 1936-1937. Stevens, however, believed Herr Ribbentrop was an honorable gentleman, and Lord Darlington frequently stayed with Nazi sympathizers because at the time, they were considered significant people in the German administration and extremely hospitable.
Stevens says that his work as a butler often influenced the mood of important political guests and led to them admiring his employer, Lord Darlington. He was particularly proud of his silver polishing skills back then and found that even the most demanding guests were impressed by it. But now his work has slipped. Only recently, he saw Mr. Farraday scrutinizing a dirty fork -- which Stevens had to promptly replace. Stevens again blames the mistake on the staff shortage and looks forward to correcting the error once Miss Kenton arrives.
The last moments of the chapter bring what is a rather aimless section to a dramatic close. For a good portion of this section, Stevens waxes rather oddly upon the importance of silver polishing. The subtext of all this is how deeply he believed in the significance of the details of his work. Indeed, in Stevens' mind, the quality of his work had an undue influence on the attitude of his guests towards his employer. If he did good work with the silver, then inevitably, even the most exacting guests would compliment the silver to Lord Darlington, leading to Stevens essentially changing the mood of the household. If a guest entered the house in a foul mood, then he might leave much more content upon seeing the care with which Darlington took care of his house.
But now, it seems, there's a crack in Stevens' facade. He no longer seems to have the same attention to detail as he used to - and in fact, Lord Farraday has noticed the lapse in his work. Stevens blames it on his staff shortage, but it's clear that he's lost a little bit of his own motivation and self-belief. He's looking for something bigger it seems than just clean silver. And indeed, what he's looking for seems to be layered in with his search for Miss Kenton - she will at once provide him the staff necessary to bring the silver back to its previous quality and to also fulfill the emptiness that has begun to distract him and which is slowly creeping over and dominating his life.
Stevens is an interesting character in that he is not completely of the old guard, but rather a transitional generation. Indeed, most of this section concerns itself with what his peers look for when choosing an employer. In his father's day, Stevens believed that a person's worth as a butler was tied entirely to that of his employer. In other words, one simply absorbed the rank and reputation of his boss. But in Stevens' generation, the principles changed slightly - so that butlers now cared deeply about the moral reputation of their employers rather than just their actual rank in society. The butlers, then, have to be extremely conscious of their employer's politics, which explains Stevens' deep knowledge about Darlington's inner consciousness. Moreover, it explains the constant need for Stevens to explain his employer's friendships and relationships.
Stevens puts such deep emphasis on practicing and training and work ethic that we can't be surprised by t relentless effort he puts into becoming better at bantering. In this particular instance, he listens to a radio program with an emphasis on humor, in order to develop his comic witticisms. When he arrives at the lodge in Somerset, he sees an opportunity to put his learnings to use, but his joke falls flat. We can feel the disappointment. Deep down, we get the sense that Stevens wants to be as normal as the commoners he meets - at ease in his own skin. But he is so deeply ensconced in the idea of being a 'great' butler that he cannot let go of his armor. He has lost touch with his own soul.
Deep down, Stevens seems deeply repressed about his own desires. In many ways, he is attempting to construct a narrative of consciousness and introspection in order to find the Holy Grail - happiness. For so many years, he found distraction, fulfillment in his work, but we sense that the moment Miss Kenton left, he began a slow decline, even though his desire for her was probably subconscious. At the same time, there wasn't much Stevens could do - so tied to propriety, he had to wait until Miss Kenton's marriage had ended. The moment it does, he seizes upon her latest letter as evidence that she is waiting for him to come and rescue her - and bring her back to his castle, like a prince in a fairy tale.