(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The great mansion owned by Mrs. Tennant is thrown into turmoil by the death of old Eldon, the butler. In the servants’ quarters, no one knows quite what arrangements will be made after his death. The mansion and its inhabitants form an isolated bit of England in Ireland. None of the servants can guess what Mrs. Tennant, who is a widow and very vague, might do in rearranging their duties. Only the footman, Charley Raunce, keeps any purpose in his behavior.

Immediately after Eldon’s death, Raunce goes into the butler’s room and takes two small notebooks, one filled with the butler’s monthly accounts and the other containing a set of special memoranda about visitors to the mansion, information that had helped the old man to obtain generous tips from Mrs. Tennant’s guests. That same day, Raunce approaches Mrs. Tennant and asks to be given the post of butler. She agrees to give him the post, but without any extra pay. Raunce knows, however, that by juggling the household accounts he can make up whatever pay raise he deems sufficient. That evening, he solidifies his position by successfully taking over the old butler’s place at the head of the table in the servants’ dining room. Raunce also insists that one of the mansion’s upstairs maids, Edith, with whom he is in love, continue her practice of bringing the butler his morning tea. The housekeeper, Mrs. Burch, is scandalized but is forced to give in and allow the maid to do so.

Raunce’s usurpation of the old butler’s position immediately upon the latter’s death soon appears a minor matter, because a scandal rocks the mansion within a few days. Mrs. Tennant’s daughter-in-law, Mrs. Jack, is found in bed with a neighbor, Captain Davenport. The discovery is made by Edith, who had gone into the bedroom to open the curtains and to lay out Mrs. Jack’s clothes in the morning. Although Mrs. Tennant is unaware of her daughter-in-law’s indiscretion, the episode creates consternation and nervousness in the servants’ quarters.

To add to the uneasiness among the servants, a blue sapphire ring belonging to Mrs. Tennant disappears. Mrs. Tennant, who is always losing valuable items, does not blame the servants, but the loss makes them feel ill at ease. A few days afterward, Mrs. Tennant and her daughter-in-law leave for England to visit Jack Tennant, who has been given a few days’ leave from military duty. The English servants almost give their notice when they learn that they are being left in sole charge of the mansion, for they are well aware of the unfriendly attitudes of the...

(The entire section is 1051 words.)