Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1051
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 Irish in the countryside and are also in fear of an invasion of the district by German troops. Raunce, who has a great sense of duty as well as a clear understanding of what a good position he is in, prevails upon the servants to remain despite their general dissatisfaction.
In Mrs. Tennant’s absence, Raunce pays court to Edith and discovers that she is also in love with him. They spend many pleasant hours together, for Raunce is kept from his duties by a sore throat and Edith spends much of her time nursing him. Like the other servants, they are worried by the absence of their mistress and by their failure to find Mrs. Tennant’s missing ring. Edith finally finds the ring, but she and Raunce are at a loss to know where to keep it until Mrs. Tennant returns. They decide to hide it in the upholstery of a chair, but later, much to their dismay, they find that it is gone from its hiding place.
Shortly after they discover the ring’s loss a second time, an investigator from an insurance company calls at the mansion. All the servants refuse to answer his questions; his presence during their mistress’s absence bothers them, and they do not know what to say in order to protect her and her interests. The investigator leaves in a suspicious mood, saying that his company will not pay for the loss. After his departure, the servants discover that the initials of the insurance company are like those of the militant, revolutionary Irish Republican Army, and they are struck with panic. Only the thoughts of military service and short rations in England keep them from giving up their jobs immediately.
In the remaining days before Mrs. Tennant’s return, Edith learns that Mrs. Tennant’s grandchildren and the cook’s nephew had found the sapphire ring while playing. Not realizing the value of the piece of jewelry, the youngsters had taken it out and hidden it on the lawn. By pretending to want it as a wedding present from one of the little girls, Edith persuades the child to bring it to her.
When Mrs. Tennant returns, the ring is restored to her, and its loss and the ugliness of the insurance investigator soon become matters of the past, almost forgotten after Raunce’s helper, a young lad named Albert, gives his notice and leaves the mansion. Albert leaves because of Mrs. Tennant’s implication that he had taken the ring in the first place. He goes back to England to enter the military service and becomes an aerial gunner.
Raunce grows restless when he comes to the realization, brought home to him by Albert’s departure, that he has had no part in the war effort. He also feels remorseful because his mother, who lives in England and has been exposed to bombings by the Germans, refuses to come to Ireland to live with her son and Edith after their marriage. These influences, coupled with the many dissensions among the servants and the domestic crises occurring at the mansion, assume larger and larger proportions as he thinks about them. At last, he admits to Edith that he is dissatisfied and wants to leave. His announcement makes Edith unhappy, for she thinks at first that he is trying to cancel their wedding plans. He convinces her, however, that he wants her to go with him, and they decide that, unlike good servants, they will leave without giving notice to Mrs. Tennant. One night, they elope; they are married in England and settle down there to live.