As the preparation for the convention continues, Lord Darlington calls Stevens in to give him an unusual and confidential task. Sir David Cardinal, instrumental in organizing the convention, has brought his son Mr. Reginald, who is twenty-three and engaged to be married. Lord Darlington is the young man's godfather and has been entrusted by Sir David with the responsibility of teaching his son 'the facts of life' before his wedding day. Lord Darlington tells Stevens that he's terribly busy and simply can't find the time to do it - and asks that Stevens does it instead. Stevens obliges but fails on two occasions and finally gives up, since Mr. Lewis, the American senator arrives two days early.
The major guests at the conference include Mr. Lewis and M. Dupont from France. Before the Frenchman arrives, Lord Darlington tells Mr. Lewis that he's aghast by the French attitude towards the Germans. It is unbecoming to hate an enemy once they are defeated - and he is insistent that the British do not adopt this same bullying mentality. The next morning two countesses around from Germany, as well as an Italian, and soon enough the rest of the guests begin to arrive. Stevens tries one last time to talk to Mr. Cardinal about the birds and the bees, but has to abort the plan when he finds out that M. Dupont has arrived - and in a most foul temper.
Mr Dupont is a tall, elegant gentleman who arrives upset because some sores on his feet are growing septic. But ironically on the first day of the conference, it's not M. Dupont that requires severe medical attention - but rather Stevens' father. Stevens runs up to his room to find his father ashen, feverish, and Miss Kenton duly informs him that she will take over monitoring him - and that Stevens should return to work. That evening, Stevens overhears a conversation between Dupont and Mr. Lewis where Mr. Lewis tells the Frenchman of his conversation with Lord Darlington earlier - the one in which he called the French 'despicable' and 'barbarous'.
This seems to cause the next day's conference discussions to be heated and intense. Stevens tries to keep track of what's happening, but he also must attend to his father. Stevens finally speaks to his sick father, and his father says that he's 'proud' of him - he's been a 'good son' and he hopes he's been a 'good father,' ending only with 'I suppose I haven't.' Stevens replies that the can talk in the morning as they're extremely busy.
On the last night of the conference, Dupont gives a speech where he says that he's been eminently impressed by Lord Darlington's efforts and the attempts to ensure German quality of life after the Treaty of Versailles. He says he is determined to lessen the scornful attitude of the French towards the Germans, and here stops to mock Mr. Lewis, who he said secretly spoke behind everyone's back. Mr. Lewis is humiliated, and the rest of the table goes on to toast Lord Darlington. Lewis stands up to make his own speech, and declares that they are all intensely naive and that Darlington is an amateur. Darlington closes by saying simply that he believes in honesty and truth - and his amateurism should actually be called 'honour.'
Miss Kenton comes immediately to tell Stevens that his father has become very ill. Stevens runs upstairs, but then has to come back down to check on the guests. Darlington asks him whether anything's wrong, but Stevens says its merely been the strain of a hard day. Miss Kenton comes down and informs him that his father has passed away. Miss Kenton asks if he will come up and see his father now, but Stevens says he is quite busy and his father would have preferred that he 'carry on.' Stevens takes care of Dupont, whose feet are giving him trouble, and then finally attends to Dr. Meredith, who informs Stevens that his father died as the result of a massive stroke. Stevens asks the doctor to attend to Mr. Dupont.
We return to the present day, then, where Stevens recalls all these events. He looks back and says that that night he displayed the level of 'dignity' that would make him a great butler. He remembers that day not for its sense of sadness, but for the triumph of maintaining his professionalism even in the harshest of circumstances.
In perhaps one of the most heartbreaking moments of the novel, Stevens cannot attend to his own father on his deathbed because of his piety to his professional duties. Perhaps even more heartbreaking is that looking back at this confluence of events, Stevens views it as a triumph, rather than a tragedy. He does not look back with sadness on his father's death, rather pride that he was able to maintain his dignity and professionalism in the face of such chaos and pain. This single moment, it seems, makes him believe that he was worthy of being called a 'great' butler. The paradox of this moment, of course, is that what makes Stevens a great butler also makes him an unfulfilled human.
The idea of 'confidence' seems to permeate the novel at every level of the term - confidence in terms of trust, confidence in terms of secrecy, even confidence in terms of self-belief. In the case of Stevens, he is entrusted by Lord Darlington with the most delicate and seemingly inappropriate matters - for instance, informing Mr. Cardinal about sex. At the same time, though, Stevens does not trust Lord Darlington enough to let him know the goings-on in his own life. Truly he would see this as a disruption of his professionalism, but there is also the implicit sense that Stevens is afraid of being seen as weak. The situation with the young Mr. Cardinal is a larger metaphor for Stevens' own reluctance to find comfort in his own sexuality.
In the earlier chapter, Miss Kenton noted that she no longer wished to speak to Mr. Stevens directly and it would have to be done through a messenger from now on. Ironically that messenger turns out to be Stevens' father. Indeed, it is Stevens' father in his illness that brings them back together, as Miss Kenton vows to stay by his side even though Stevens must press on with his work. In many way,s Miss Kenton comes to symbolize Stevens' severed heart. She understands the tenor of a man who would relinquish his own father in order to preserve the semblance of his duties. Suddenly she does not take Stevens' slights so personally.
Stevens, even more than his father though, does actually have emotions that overtake him. Where Stevens' father learned to quell his emotions entirely - hence leading to Stevens' belief that he pales in comparison to his father's greatness - Stevens occasionally must surrender. Indeed, when he's running upstairs and downstairs, between jolly guests and his dying father, he can't help but shed tears. But when confronted with this by Lord Darlington, Steven wipes his tears as if they're sweat, and attests only to the hard work of a long day.
Perhaps one of the odder moments in the novel comes when Stevens is asked by Lord Darlington to inform Mr. Cardinal about the 'facts of life.' Suddenly reading these passages, we're terribly concerned as to whether Stevens himself has ever experienced carnal love. The discomfort of having to explain biological processes to a young man engaged to be married can only be more humiliating to one who never managed to find his own love. Again, Stevens finds a way to be distracted by his duties. But slowly we see that all the aspects of life he should have enjoyed - family, love, marriage, children - have never been broached, merely swept away in the name of work.