Stevens has a rough time sleeping and awakes in the dark. In these quiet moments, he finds himself going over passages from Miss Kenton's letter. He says that Miss Kenton should be called Mrs. Benn, since she has now been married for twenty years. But because he knew her only during her maiden years, he continues calling her Miss Kenton. Stevens now reveals that Miss Kenton's marriage has come to an end. She has moved out of Mr. Benn's house and is living with an acquaintance in a nearby village. Stevens says that it is tragic that her marriage is ended, but he wonders whether coming back to Darlington Hall might relieve her of her loneliness. Stevens has read her letter closely, and believes he has found a running subtext of despair. He sees emptiness, unfulfillment in Miss Kenton's tone, and the change in her makes him reminisce back to her days working alongside him and her father at Darlington Hall.
Miss Kenton and Stevens' father both arrived at Darlington Hall in the Spring of 1922. Stevens says they came at the same time because an underbutler and housekeeper had a secret affair and then left the house to marry. Stevens makes it clear he finds such liaisons a threat to the order of the house, and is especially disdainful of those who jump from house to house looking for romance with little sense of responsibility to their profession. (But he does not include Miss Kenton in this description for he always found her work of the highest quality.)
Stevens' father had come to the house of the death of his previous employer and was suffering from arthritis. WIth Stevens's father in the house, Stevens and Miss Kenton often found themselves at odds over him. The first battle comes when Miss Kenton address his father as 'William,' prompting Stevens to ask her to call him 'Mr. Stevens senior,' despite Miss Kenton's higher rank. Stevens implies that his father is superior at his job, which Miss Kenton begins to take issue with when Stevens' father makes a number of errors. First, he leaves a dust-pan in the hall, in plain view of those who might visit the house. Then he leaves traces of polish on the silver, and then manages to reverse two sculptures. The last error leads to a blowup where Miss Kenton tells Stevens that his father has been entrusted with far more than he can handle. Steven retorts that she is foolish.
Things come to a head, however, when Stevens' father suffers a terrible fall while carrying a tray out to guests on the lawn. The doctor arrives and lets Lord Darlington know that Stevens' father is overworked. Stevens speaks to his father privately, and quickly we see that their relationship is stilted and dominated by work. Stevens tells his father that his workload will be reduced, and his father is at once embarrassed and quick to blame the fall on the crookedness of the lawn steps. Later that evening, Miss Kenton and Stevens see Stevens' father on those same steps, walking up and down them "as though he hoped to find some precious jewel he had dropped there."
Stevens realizes he may have treated his father brusquely, and proceeds to tell a story that he considers the 'turning point of his life,' one that might further explicate his relationship with his father. The story involves a conference held at Darlington Hall in March 1923, convened partly because of Lord Darlington's friendship with Herr Bremann, an officer in the German army during World War I. Herr Bremann returned to Darlington Hall in the years after the war, and looked increasingly gaunt and disheveled each time. Seeing his friend deteriorate, Lord Darlington had become preoccupied with how the treaty that ended World War I had left Germany to fend for itself - and England had disgraced its own values by neglecting a defeated foe so obviously.
Soon after, Herr Bremann shoots himself, which Lord Darlington harbors deep guilt and resentment over. In his eyes, England was responsible for the officer's death for not helping the Germans after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. As a result, then, this convention at Darlington Hall will assemble Britons, Germans, Belgians, French, Italians, and Swiss in all ranks - clergymen, military gentlemen, writers and thinkers - in order to determine how to correct the Treaty of Versailles to that Germany and its inhabitants were not punished so severely and forced into economic chaos. Indeed, Lord Darlington believed that if the economic spiral of Germany were not stopped, it could spread with alarming rapidity to the world at large.
Stevens notes that the preparations for the conference are increasingly hectic and stressful. He takes an enormous amount of responsibility on his shoulders, believing that if the conference does not go perfectly - and any guests find their stay uncomfortable - it would have terrible repercussions. Stevens notices that Miss Kenton is particularly piqued. When he points out to her that the bed linens upstairs have to be changed, she retorts that she not only has it under control, but that if she were had as much time as he apparently does, she would go around the house reminding him of tasks that he had 'perfectly well in hand.' Stevens offers his own rejoinder attesting to Miss Kenton's lack of experience, which seems to be the last straw. She insists that Stevens not speak to her directly ever again and use a messenger or go-between instead. She leaves him and goes back to his work. Stevens has no time to consider this incident for the guests have just begun to arrive.
Time is always fluid in _Remains of the Day_, so often we lose track of whether we are in the present or the past, and the status of the relationships. It is a novel of stream-of-consciousness reminiscence, and it is only because Stevens' mind is so ordered that we end up having a picaresque view of events - in other words, one that is episodic and anecdotal. In this particular section, we see the convergence of a few streams in the narrative. First off, we begin to understand the fraught, frigid relationship between Stevens and his father. Second, we begin to see that sexual tension appears to overwhelm the relationship between Stevens and Miss Kenton. And finally, we're poised for a key event at the end of the sequence that will likely bring all these matters to a head - namely the conference at Lord Darlington Hall to suggest revisions to the Treaty of Versailles. The political machinations of the conference provide context as well as parallelism to the more domestic dramas between Stevens and the rest of the staff that unfold during the conference.
To begin with Stevens and his father, it's quite clear that Stevens is truly awed by his father's devotion to service and his father's 'dignity' in maintaining his professionalism at all times. Thus when Stevens' father begins to lose his step a bit - making errors that Stevens is not used to seeing from him - he reacts with denial at first. Deep down, Stevens knows two things - that his father is a 'great' butler, and that for him to give up his profession would most certainly lead to his death. He finds that Miss Kenton will conspire on neither count - that she calls his father 'William' because he is of junior rank, and she agrees that he should be relieved of some of his duties. It is the first seed of tension between Stevens and Miss Kenton.
Stevens, himself, is completely uncomfortable talking to his father. It is clearly apparent that Stevens' father commitment to his duties has become his primary relationship and overwhelmed any sense of responsibility to his son. His son is merely a worker in the same house, it seems - and they maintain a relationship that is burdened with formalism, decorum, and impersonal communication. It is perhaps clear, then, that Stevens can only communicate his emotions in terms of work. When he is frustrated, he lashes out at another's work habits; when he is amorous, he compliments one's work - everything must be conveyed through professionalism.
This tendency to sublimate emotions into work is what brings Stevens and Miss Kenton's relationship to a head. By now, it is quite apparent that Stevens has taken a liking to Miss Kenton. And indeed, when he wants to engage her, he says simply that she should clean the upstairs. Miss Kenton, for her part, wants no part of such work-related flirtation, and in fact, takes his comments quite literally. When Stevens labels Miss Kenton 'inexperienced,' it seems to be done with the utmost affection, but she is enraged by it. Something about Stevens' tendency to operate in subtext consistently sets her off and ultimately leads to her severing communication altogether. Remember, Stevens is most definitely the protagonist of the novel, while there seems to be an absent antagonist. Every episode seems to have its own - Miss Kenton at times, perhaps Lord Darlington - but overall, the antagonist seems to be Stevens himself.
The conference that Lord Darlington organizes is one with an explicitly political purpose - namely to revise the Treaty of Versailles. What we must remember in all the political machinations that follow is that Stevens ultimately has no power to affect the dealings of his master. It is a classic upstairs-downstairs narrative where Stevens has full power to comment on the goings-on and make his observation, but cannot actually interfere in them. The irony, however, is that Stevens ultimately feels more responsibility for his employer's life, then for his own. We get exposition, often as a result, as opposed to introspection. As a result, then, he is not a classical hero - and is forced into a passivity unusual to protagonists of character novels.