The Castle by Franz Kafka - HTML preview
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still hadn't succeeded either. It wasn't curiosity that drove them, the cemetery no longer held any secrets for them, they had often enough gone in through the small wrought-iron gate and had merely wanted to conquer the smooth high wall. And then one morning--the calm, empty square was flooded with light, when before or since had K. ever seen it like this?--he succeeded with surprising ease; at a spot where he had been often rebuffed, with a small flag clenched between his teeth, be climbed the wall on the first attempt. Pebbles were still trickling down, but he was on top. He rammed in the flag, the wind filled out the cloth, he looked down, all around, even over his shoulder at the crosses sinking into the earth; there was nobody here, now, bigger than he. By chance the teacher came by and with an angry look drove K. down, in jumping off K. hurt his knee and only with difficulty reached home, but still he had been up on the wall, it had seemed to him then that this feeling of victory would sustain him throughout a long life, and this hadn't been entirely foolish, for now, after many years, on the arm of Barnabas in this snowy night it came to his aid.
He tightened his grip, Barnabas almost dragged him, the silence was not broken; of this particular route K. could say only that judging by the state of the road they had not yet turned off into a side street. He vowed not to let any difficulties along the way or worries about the way back keep him from going on, for after all he surely had sufficient strength for being dragged along. And could this path be endless? All day the Castle had lain before him like an easy goal, and this messenger certainly knew the shortest way.
Just then Barnabas stopped. Where were they? Couldn't they go on? Would Barnabas send K. on his way? He wouldn't succeed. K. gripped Barnabas's arm so tightly that he almost hurt himself. Or might the incredible have happened and they were already in the Castle or at its gates?
Yet, so far as K. knew, they still hadn't gone uphill. Or had Barnabas led him along such an imperceptibly rising path? "Where are we?" K. asked quietly, more to himself than to Barnabas.
"Home," said Barnabas in the same tone. "Home?"
"Now take care, sir, that you don't slip. The path goes downhill."
"Only another step or two," he added, and he was already knocking on a door.
A girl opened it, they were now standing on the threshold of a large room that lay almost in darkness, for there was only a tiny oil lamp hanging over a table on the left toward the back. "Who is with you, Barnabas?" the girl asked. "The surveyor," he said. "The surveyor," said the girl, repeating his answer more loudly in the direction of the table. At that, two old people, a man and his wife, stood up, and a girl as well. They greeted K. Barnabas introduced him to everyone, it was his parents and his sisters, Olga and Amalia. K. scarcely looked at them, they removed his wet coat to dry it by the stove, K. let this happen.
So it was not they who were at home, only Barnabas was at home. But why were they here?
K. took Barnabas aside and said: "Why did you go home? Or do you live in the Castle precincts?"
"In the Castle precincts?" Barnabas repeated, as if he did not understand K. "Barnabas," said K., "you wanted to go from the inn to the Castle."
"No, sir," said Barnabas, "I wanted to go home, I only go to the Castle in the morning, I never sleep there."
"So," said K., "you didn't want to go to the Castle, only as far as here"--to K. his smile seemed fainter, and he himself more insignificant--"why didn't you say so?"
"You never asked, sir," said Barnabas, "you merely wanted to give me another message, but neither in the taproom nor in your own room, so I thought you could give it to me here at my parents' house without anybody disturbing you--they will go away at once, if that's the order you give--besides, if you prefer to be with us, you can spend the night here. Haven't I done the right thing?" K. was unable to answer. So it was a misunderstanding, a low vulgar misunderstanding, and K. had completely abandoned himself to it. He had let himself be spellbound by the shimmering, silky, tight-fitting jacket, which Barnabas now unbuttoned, revealing underneath a coarse, dirt-gray, often-mended shirt over the powerful square chest of a farmhand. And everything else was not only in keeping with this but even outdid it, the old gout-ridden father, who moved more with the help of his groping hands than of his stiff trailing legs, and the mother who, hands clasped on her breast, could because of her girth only take the tiniest of steps; ever since he had entered, Barnabas's father and mother had been trying to approach him from their corner, but they were still nowhere near him. The sisters, blondes, who resembled each other and Barnabas, too--though with harsher features than Barnabas--were big strong country girls; they surrounded the new arrivals, expecting some greeting from K.; yet he couldn't say a word, he had been convinced that everyone in the village mattered to him, and this was probably true, but these people in particular meant absolutely nothing to him. If he could have managed the way back to the inn alone, he would have left at once.
The possibility of going to the Castle with Barnabas tomorrow morning did not tempt him at all. He had wanted to press on to the Castle, at night, unnoticed, led by Barnabas, but by Barnabas as he had struck him till now, a man who was closer to him than everyone else he had met here thus far and who, so he had also believed then, possessed close connections with the Castle far exceeding his apparent rank. But as for the son of this family, who fully belonged to it and already was sitting at the table with them, a man who significantly enough wasn't even allowed to sleep at the Castle, to go arm in arm with him to the Castle in broad daylight was impossible, a ridiculous, hopeless endeavor.
K. sat down on a window seat, determined to spend the night there and not to accept any other services from this family. The people in the village, who sent him away or at least feared him, were less dangerous, it seemed to him, since they essentially threw him back on his own resources and thus helped him to preserve his strength, whereas those seeming helpers who, instead of taking him to the Castle, led him by means of a little masquerade to their family, distracted him, whether intentionally or not, and were draining all his strength. Completely ignoring an invitation from the family table, he remained on his window seat, with his head bent.
Then Olga, the gentler of the two sisters, rose, came over, and with a touch of girlish embarrassment asked him to join them at the table, they had already put out bread and bacon, she would go to get beer. "But from where?" K. asked. "From the inn," she said. K. was pleased to hear this, he asked that instead of getting beer she accompany him to the inn, important tasks still awaited him there. It now turned out, though, that she did not want to go to his inn, only to one much closer by, to the Gentlemen's Inn. Nonetheless, K. asked whether he could accompany her, they might have a place for the night, he thought; no matter what it was like, he would rather have it than the best bed in this house. Olga did not answer at once, she glanced back at the table. Her brother stood up, nodded eagerly, and said: "If that's what the gentleman wants--" This approval almost prompted K. to withdraw his request, anything that man could approve must be worthless.
Yet when they brought up the question whether K. would be admitted to the inn and everyone doubted it, he insisted all the more urgently on going, though without troubling to invent a plausible reason for his request; this family had to accept him as he was, somehow he had no shame where they were concerned. Only Amalia shook his confidence slightly in that respect with her grave, fixed, imperturbable, and perhaps rather dull gaze.
On the short walk to the inn--K. took Olga's arm and let himself be pulled, what else could he do, much as he had done earlier with her brother--he discovered that this inn was reserved exclusively for the Castle gentlemen, who, whenever they had anything to do in the village, would eat and sometimes even spend the night there. Olga spoke with K., softly and as if on familiar terms, it was pleasant walking with her, almost as pleasant as with her brother, K. struggled against this sense of well-being, but it persisted.
Outwardly the inn was very similar to the inn where K. was staying, there were hardly any great outward differences in the village, but one could detect certain minor differences right away, there was a balustrade on the front steps and a handsome lantern attached over the door; as they entered, a cloth fluttered over their heads, it was a flag with the Count's colors. In the hallway they immediately encountered the landlord, evidently on a tour of inspection; with small eyes he looked quizzically or sleepily at K. in passing and said: "The surveyor may go no farther than the taproom."
"Of course," said Olga, immediately taking K.'s side, "he only came with me!" But K., ungrateful, let go of Olga and took the landlord aside, meanwhile Olga waited patiently at the end of the corridor. "I would like to spend the night here," said K. "Unfortunately, that's impossible,"
said the landlord, "you don't seem to realize yet that this house is reserved exclusively for the gentlemen from the Castle."
"That may be the regulation," said K., "but you can surely let me sleep in a corner somewhere."
"I should very much like to oblige you," said the landlord, "but, leaving aside the severity of the actual regulation, which you speak of in the manner of a stranger, that is simply impracticable since the gentlemen are extremely sensitive, I am convinced that they cannot bear the sight of a stranger, or not without forewarning at least; so if I let you spend the night here and by chance--and chance is always on the gentlemen's side--somebody were to come across you, not only would I be lost, but so too would you. This sounds ridiculous, but it's true." This tall, rather reserved gentleman, who had one hand braced against the wall, the other on his hip, his legs crossed and body tilted slightly toward K., and was speaking to him in confidence, no longer seemed to belong in this village, though his suit was festive only by peasant standards. "I believe you completely,"
said K., "and don't by any means underestimate the importance of the actual regulation, however clumsily I may have expressed myself. There's only one other thing to which I wish to draw your attention, I have valuable connections at the Castle and will obtain others that are even more valuable, these will shield you from any danger possibly arising from my overnight stay and guarantee that I can express fitting gratitude for this small favor."
"I know," said the landlord, and then he repeated: "I know that." K. could have stated his wish more emphatically, but distracted by this particular response, he merely asked: "Are many gentlemen from the Castle spending the night here?"
"In that respect the situation tonight is quite favorable," the landlord said, almost enticingly,
"only one gentleman has stayed." K. still found it impossible to insist, he was hoping that by now he almost had permission to stay, so he simply asked for the gentleman's name. "Klamm," the landlord said casually, turning to his wife, who came rustling along dressed in clothes that were oddly threadbare, outmoded, and laden with pleats and frills, but city finery nonetheless. She came to get the landlord, the director desired something. Before he left, the landlord turned to K., as though the decision about the overnight stay no longer rested with him but with K. K., however, was unable to say a word; especially surprising to him was the presence of his superior; unable to explain this to himself, he felt that he couldn't deal as freely with Klamm as he generally did with the Castle, and though it wouldn't have been as terrifying as the landlord assumed if Klamm had caught him there, it would nonetheless have led to an awkward unpleasantness, as if he had, say, frivolously inflicted suffering on someone he was indebted to, yet it still oppressed him greatly to see that the consequences he feared, such as his being a subordinate, a worker, were becoming evident and that he couldn't overcome them even here, where they were so blatant. He stood thus, silently biting his lips. Before disappearing into a doorway, the landlord looked back at him again, K. stared after him and did not move from the spot until Olga came and pulled him away. "What did you want from the landlord?" asked Olga. "I wanted to spend the night here," said K. "But you're spending the night with us," said Olga in astonishment. "To be sure," said K., leaving it to her to interpret the words he had spoken.
In the taproom, large but empty in the middle, there were a few peasants along the walls, leaning against barrels or sitting on them, but they looked different from the people at K.'s inn. The ones here were more neatly and uniformly dressed in a coarse gray-yellow material with bulky jackets and tight-fitting trousers. Small men, at first glance they seemed quite alike, with their flat bony yet round-cheeked faces. All were quiet and barely moved except to train their eyes on the new arrivals, slowly and indifferently. Still, because they were so numerous and because it was so silent they had a certain effect on K. He took Olga's arm again to let these people know why he was here. In a corner a man, an acquaintance of Olga's, rose and was about to approach them, but with her linked arm K. turned her in another direction, she alone could notice this, and she accepted it with a smiling side-glance at him.
The beer was served by a young girl called Frieda. A nondescript little blonde with sad features, thin cheeks, and a surprising gaze, a gaze of exceptional superiority. When this gaze descended on K., it seemed to him to be a gaze that had already decided matters concerning him, whose existence he himself still knew nothing about, but of whose existence that gaze now convinced him. K. kept watching Frieda from the side even while she spoke with Olga. Olga and Frieda didn't seem to be friends, they merely exchanged a few cold words. K. wanted to help them out, so he asked abruptly: "Do you know Mr. Klamm?" Olga burst out laughing. "Why are you laughing?" K. asked irritably. "But I'm not laughing," she said, though she kept on laughing. "Olga is still a rather childish girl," said K., bending down over the counter so as to draw Frieda's gaze firmly back toward him. But she kept her eyes lowered and said softly: "Do you want to see Mr.
Klamm?" K. said yes. She pointed to a door right beside her on the left. "Here's a little peephole, you can look through here."
"And what about these people?" asked K. She pouted out her lower lip, and with an uncommonly soft hand pulled K. to the door. Through the small hole, which evidently had been drilled for the purpose of observation, he could almost see the entire room next door. At a desk in the center on a comfortable armchair sat Mr. Klamm, harshly illuminated by a lightbulb hanging in front of him. A medium-sized, fat, ponderous gentleman. His face was still smooth, but his cheeks had begun to sag a little under the weight of the years. His black mustache stuck out on the sides. A precariously balanced pince-nez, which reflected the light, concealed his eyes. Had Mr. Klamm been sitting directly facing the desk, K. would have seen only his profile, but since Klamm was turned straight toward him, he had a full view of his face. Klamm had put his left elbow on the desk and his right hand, which held a Virginia cigar, was resting on his knee. On the desk was a beer glass; since the desk had a high run, K. could not see clearly whether there were any documents lying there, but to him the desk seemed empty. In order to make sure, he asked Frieda to look through the hole and tell him what she saw. But since she had just been in the room, she could confirm right away that there were no documents lying there. K. asked Frieda whether he had to leave now, but she said he could look as long as he wanted. Now K. was alone with Frieda; Olga, he fleetingly noted, had indeed found her way to her acquaintance and sat high up on a barrel, kicking her feet. "Frieda," said K. in a whisper, "do you know Mr. Klamm very well?"
"Oh, yes," she said, "very well." She leaned over next to K., playfully arranging her blouse, which, as K. only now noticed, was a thin low-cut cream-colored garment, hanging like a foreign object from her poor body. Then she said: "Don't you remember how Olga laughed?"
"Yes, the rude thing," said K. "Well," she said in a conciliatory tone, "there was cause for laughter, you asked whether I know Klamm, actually I'm"--at this point she involuntarily straightened up a little and her victorious gaze, which had absolutely nothing to do with the conversation, passed over K. again--"actually I'm his mistress."
"Klamm's mistress," said K. She nodded. "Well," said K., smiling, so that things wouldn't get too serious between them, "then I consider you a very respectable person."
"You're not alone in that," Frieda said affably, though without returning his smile. K. had a means of combatting this arrogance and employed it by asking: "Have you ever been at the Castle?"
But this didn't work, for she responded: "No, but isn't it sufficient that I'm here in the taproom?" Her ambition was obviously boundless and it was on K., apparently, that she sought to appease it. "Of course," said K., "here in the taproom it is you who docs the landlord's work."
"That's true," she said, "and I began as a stable maid at the Bridge Inn."
"With those delicate hands," said K. half-quizzically, not knowing whether he was merely flattering her or had himself really been conquered by her. Her hands were indeed small and delicate, but they could also be called weak and expressionless. "Nobody paid any attention to that then," she said, "and even now--" K. looked at her quizzically, she shook her head and broke off.
"Of course," said K., "you have your secrets and aren't about to tell them to someone you've only known for half an hour, someone who still hasn't even had a chance to tell you about his situation."
This remark proved inopportune, it was as if he had awakened Frieda from a slumber favorable to him, she took from the leather bag hanging from her belt a small wooden stick, stopped the peephole with it, and said to K., clearly checking herself so that he wouldn't notice the change in her attitude, "As for you, I know all about you, you're the surveyor," and then she added, "but I must get back to work now," and she went to her place behind the counter while here and there several of the people rose to get their empty glasses refilled. K. wanted to speak with her again, unobtrusively, so he took an empty glass from a stand and went up to her: "Just one more thing, Miss Frieda," he said,
"the achievement of working one's way up from stable girl to barmaid is quite extraordinary and one that requires exceptional strength, but does this mean that such a person has reached the ultimate goal? Absurd question! Your eyes, don't laugh at me now, Miss Frieda, your eyes speak not so much of the past struggle as of that to come. But the world puts up great resistance, the higher the goals, the greater the resistance, and it's no disgrace to secure help, even that of a little man without influence who is struggling just as much. Perhaps we could get together sometime for a quiet talk, without all these eyes staring at us."
"I don't know what you want," she said, and her voice now seemed to echo not the victories of her life but its infinite disappointments, "perhaps you want to take me from Klamm. Good heavens!" she said, clapping her hands. "You've seen through me," K. said as if wearied by such great mistrust, "that precisely was my most secret goal. You were supposed to leave Klamm and become my mistress. And now of course I can go. Olga!" cried K., "we're going home." Obediently Olga slid from the barrel, but she couldn't immediately free herself from the friends encircling her.
At that, Frieda said softly, with a menacing glance at K.: "When can I speak with you?"
"Can I spend the night here?" asked K. "Yes," said Frieda. "Can I stay here now?"
"Go with Olga, so I can get rid of these people here. And then after a while you can come back."
"Fine," said K., and he waited impatiently for Olga. But the peasants wouldn't let her go, they had made up a dance with Olga in the middle, and during this round dance one of them, always at a cry from the whole group, went up to Olga, grasped her firmly by the hips, and whirled her about several times, the round went ever faster, their hungrily rattling shouts gradually merged into a single sound, Olga, who had tried earlier to break out of the circle with a smile, was now simply reeling about from one to the other, with her hair undone. "That's the sort of people they send me,"
said Frieda, biting her thin lips in anger. "Who are they?" asked K. "Klamm's servants," said Frieda,
"he always brings these people with him, their presence shatters me. I barely know what I have been telling you, Surveyor, if I said anything bad, forgive me, it's the presence of these people that's to blame, they're the most despicable and repulsive creatures I know, and yet it's their beer glasses I have to fill. How often have I asked Klamm to leave them at home; even if I have to put up with the other gentlemen's servants, he, at least, could show some consideration, but it's useless asking, an hour before he comes they always burst in, like cows into a shed. But now they're really going to be put in the shed, where they belong. If you weren't here, I would tear open this door and Klamm would have to drive them out himself."
"Well, can't he hear them?" asked K. "No," said Frieda, "he's asleep."
"What!" cried K., "he's asleep? But when I looked into the room, he was still awake, sitting at his desk."
"And he's still sitting there like that," said Frieda, "even when you saw him, he was asleep--
if not, do you think I would have let you look in there?--that was his sleeping position, the gentlemen sleep a great deal, it's hardly possible to understand this. Besides, if he didn't sleep so much, how could he stand these people. But now I'll have to drive them out myself." Taking a whip from the corner, she leaped toward the dancers in one high but not entirely secure leap, the way, say, a little lamb leaps. At first, they turned to face her as if a new dancer had come, and indeed for a moment it seemed as if Frieda were about to drop the whip, but then she raised it again. "In the name of Klamm," she cried, "into the shed, all of you into the shed," they saw now that this was serious, and in a fear that K. found incomprehensible began rushing toward the back, where under the pressure of the first arrivals a door opened, night air streamed in, all of them disappeared with Frieda, who was evidently driving them across the courtyard into the shed. But in the silence that had suddenly fallen K. heard steps in the corridor. In order to shield himself somehow, he leaped behind the counter, which was the only place to hide; being in the taproom wasn't forbidden K., but since he wanted to spend the night here, he had to avoid being seen. So when the door actually was opened, he slid under the counter. Of course, being found here wasn't without danger either, but then the excuse of having hidden from the peasants, who had suddenly gone on a rampage, wouldn't sound implausible.
It was the landlord, "Frieda!" he cried, pacing up and down the room several times, fortunately Frieda soon came back and didn't mention K., she merely complained about the peasants, and then in an effort to find K. went behind the counter, K. could touch her foot there and from then on he felt safe. Since Frieda didn't mention K., the landlord finally had to do so. "And where is the surveyor?" he asked. He was in any case a courteous man, who had acquired his cultivation through constant and relatively open dealings with people far outranking him, yet he spoke to Frieda in an especially deferential manner, this was all the more striking since he didn't stop talking like an employer dealing with an employee, and a rather cheeky one at that. "I forgot all about the surveyor," said Frieda, putting her small foot on K.'s chest. "He must have left long ago."
"I didn't see him, though," said the landlord, "and I was in the corridor almost the entire time."
"But he's not here," said Frieda coolly. "Perhaps he hid somewhere," said the landlord, "if my own impression is any indication, one oughtn't to put anything past him."
"He could hardly be that impudent," said Frieda, pressing her foot down more firmly on K.
In her being there was something gay and free, which K. hadn't noticed before, and it got out of hand, quite unexpectedly, when she laughingly said: "Perhaps he's hiding down here," bent down to K., kissed him lightly, jumped back up, and said sadly: "No, he isn't here." But the landlord, too, gave cause for astonishment when he said: "I find it most unpleasant not knowing for certain whether he has left. This is not simply a matter of Mr. Klamm, it is also a matter of the regulation.
But the regulation applies to you, Miss Frieda, as well as to me. You're responsible for the taproom, I shall search through the rest of the house. Good night! Sleep well!" He could scarcely have left the room when Frieda switched off the electric light and joined K. under the counter. "My darling! My sweet darling!" she said in a whisper, but without touching K.; as if unconscious in her love she lay on her back and stretched out her arms, time must have seemed endless in her happy love, she sighed rather than sang some little song. Then she started, for K. was still silent, lost in thought, and like a child she began to tug at him: "Come, it's stifling down here," they embraced each other, her small body was burning in K.'s hands; they rolled a few paces in an unconscious state from which K. repeatedly but vainly tried to rescue himself, bumped dully against Klamm's door, and then lay in the small puddles of beer and other rubbish with which the floor was covered. Hours passed there, hours breathing together with a single heartbeat, hours in which K. constantly felt he was lost or had wandered farther into foreign lands than any human being before him, so foreign that even the air hadn't a single component of the air in his homeland and where one would inevitably suffocate from the foreignness but where the meaningless enticements were such that one had no alternative but to go on and get even more lost. And so, initially at least, it came not as a shock but as a consoling glimmer when from Klamm's room a deep, commanding, yet also indifferent voice called out for Frieda. "Frieda," said K. in Frieda's ear, relaying the cry. With almost innate obedience Frieda was about to jump to her feet, but then, realizing where she was, she stretched, laughed softly, and said: "I will not go, I will never go to him again." K. wanted to object, he wanted to urge her to go to Klamm, and began to gather what was left of her blouse, but he couldn't speak, for he was all too happy having Frieda in his arms, all too anxiously happy, since it seemed to him that if Frieda abandoned him all he possessed would abandon him too. And as though Frieda had been fortified by K.'s consent, she clenched her fist, knocked on the door, and cried: "I'm with the surveyor. I'm with the surveyor." Klamm now fell silent. Yet K. rose, knelt beside Frieda, and looked about in the dull early-morning light. What had happened? Where were his hopes? What could he expect from Frieda, now that all was betrayed. Instead of advancing with utmost caution in a manner befitting the size of the enemy and the goal, he had rolled about all night in the beer puddles, which now gave off an overpowering smell. "What have you done?" he said to himself.
"We are lost, the two of us."
"No," said Frieda, "only I am lost, but I have won you. And hush now. But look at the way those two are laughing."
"Who?" asked K., turning around. Sitting on the counter were his two assistants, they were somewhat tired from lack of sleep, but cheerful, it was the kind of cheerfulness that comes from the faithful fulfillment of duty. "What do you want here?" K. shouted as though they were to blame for everything, he looked about for the whip that Frieda had in the evening. "We had to come looking for you," said the assistants, "you never came back down to the taproom, so we looked for you at Barnabas's and finally found you here. We've been sitting here all night. This isn't easy work, that's for sure."
"I need you by day, not at night," said K., "go away!"
"Well, it is day now," they said, without moving. It was indeed day, the gate to the courtyard opened, the peasants poured in, also Olga, whom K. had completely forgotten; Olga was as lively as last evening despite the disheveled state of her clothes and hair; from the doorway her eyes sought K. "Why didn't you go home with me," she said, almost in tears. "For the sake of a woman like that," she said, and then repeated the remark several times. Frieda, who had gone away for a moment, came back with a small bundle of clothes. Sadly, Olga moved aside. "Now we can go,"
said Frieda, obviously meaning that they should go to the inn by the bridge. K. walked with Frieda, the assistants followed, that was the procession; the peasants were showing great contempt for Frieda, this was understandable, for she had handled them strictly up to now; one of them even took a stick and held it out as if he wouldn't let her go until she had jumped over it, but the look in her eyes was enough to drive him away. Outside in the snow K. breathed somewhat more easily, this time the joy of being outside made it easier to bear the difficulties along the way; if K. had been on his own, he could have made even better progress. At the inn he went straight to his room and lay down on the bed, Frieda arranged a place to sleep for herself on the floor beside it, the assistants had pushed their way into the room and were driven out, but they came back in through the window.
K. was too tired to drive them out again. The landlady came up for the sole purpose of greeting Frieda, who called her "little mother"; the greetings that followed were incomprehensibly effusive, with kisses and long embraces. And in any case there wasn't much peace to be had in that little room, the maids in their men's boots often came clattering in, bringing things or removing them.
Whenever they needed something from the bed, which was crammed with various objects, they inconsiderately pulled it out from under K. Frieda, though, they greeted as one of their own. Despite this commotion, K. stayed in bed all day and all night. Frieda did some small chores for him. Next morning, when he finally got up, feeling greatly refreshed, it was already the fourth day of his stay in the village.
FIRST CONVERSATION WITH THE LANDLADY
He would have liked to have a confidential conversation with Frieda, but the assistants, with whom Frieda even joked and laughed every now and then, prevented this through their intrusive presence.
Otherwise they weren't demanding, they had settled down in a corner of the floor on two old skirts; their goal, which they often discussed with Frieda, was to avoid disturbing the surveyor and to take up as little room as possible, they made various attempts to bring that about, always to the accompaniment of whispers and giggles, by drawing in their arms and legs and huddling together, all one could see in their corner in the twilight was a large knot. Still, certain experiences in broad daylight had, alas, made it clear that they were attentive observers, they were constantly staring over at K., playing seemingly childish games, using their hands as telescopes and resorting to other such antics, or simply blinking at him while appearing to be engaged chiefly in tending their beards, which they set great store on and compared on countless occasions for length and thickness, letting Frieda be the judge. From his bed K. often watched the antics of the three of them with utter indifference.
Now when he felt strong enough to get up out of bed, they all rushed over to serve him. Yet he still wasn't strong enough to resist their offers, he saw that in this way he was becoming somewhat dependent on them, which could have negative consequences, but he simply had to let it happen. Besides, it wasn't so terribly unpleasant, sitting at the table drinking the good coffee Frieda had brought, warming himself at the stove Frieda had stoked, having the assistants run up and down the stairs ten times in their clumsy eagerness to bring him soap, water, a comb, a mirror, and finally, since K. had softly uttered a wish that could be interpreted that way, a little glass of rum.
Amid all this ordering and serving, more out of good cheer than in hope of success, K. said:
"Now go away, you two, I have no further wishes for the present, and I want to speak to Miss Frieda alone," and since he saw no outright protest in their faces, he added by way of amends: "And then the three of us will go to the council chairman, wait for me downstairs in the taproom." Oddly enough, they complied, except for saying before they left: "We could also wait here," to which K.
responded: "I know, but I don't want that."
K. was annoyed but in a certain sense glad too, when Frieda, who had sat down on his lap once the assistants had left, said: "What have you got against the assistants, darling? We needn't keep secrets from them. They are loyal."
"Loyal," said K., "they're constantly lying in wait for me, it is senseless and also quite repulsive!"
"I think I know what you mean," she said, clasping his neck and attempting to say something else, but she couldn't go on, and since the chair stood by the bed they stumbled over it and fell down. They lay there, but without abandoning themselves as fully as that time at night. She sought something and he sought something, in a fury, grimacing, they sought with their heads boring into each other's breasts; their embraces and arched bodies, far from making them forget, reminded them of their duty to keep searching, like dogs desperately pawing at the earth they pawed at each other's bodies, and then, helpless and disappointed, in an effort to catch one last bit of happiness, their tongues occasionally ran all over each other's faces. Only weariness made them lie still and be grateful to each other. Then the maids came up, "Look at the way they're lying there," one of them said, and out of pity she threw a sheet over them.
Later, when K extricated himself from the sheet and looked about, the two assistants were back in their corner--this didn't surprise him--warning each other to be serious by pointing at K and saluting--but in addition to that, the landlady was sitting by the bed, knitting a sock, a small task ill-suited to her huge frame, which almost darkened the room "I've been waiting a long time," she said, lifting her wide face, which was criss-crossed and lined with age but for all its massiveness it was still smooth and had perhaps once been beautiful Her words sounded like a reproach, an inappropriate one, for K certainly hadn't asked that she come So he merely acknowledged her words with a nod and sat up, Frieda, too, stood up, but she moved away from K and leaned against the landlady's chair "Landlady," K said distractedly, "could you postpone whatever you want to tell me until I get back from the council chairman's? I have an important meeting there"
"Believe me, Surveyor, this is a more important matter," said the landlady, "that is probably only about some work, while this is about a human being, about Frieda, my dear girl"
"Oh, I see," said K, "then, yes indeed, though I don't understand why you cannot leave this up to us"
"Out of love, out of concern," said the landlady, and she drew Frieda's head toward her; standing, Frieda only came up to the shoulder of the seated landlady "If Frieda has such confidence in you," said K, "so must I Only a moment ago Frieda called my assistants loyal, so we're among friends And I can therefore tell you, Landlady, that I think it best that Frieda and I should marry, and very soon at that Certainly, it's unfortunate, most unfortunate, that I cannot replace what Frieda has lost through me, her position at the Gentlemen's Inn and her friendship with Klamm" Frieda raised her face, her eyes were full of tears, they did not seem at all triumphant "Why me? Why was I chosen for this?"
"What?" K and the landlady asked with one voice "She's confused, the poor child," said the landlady, "confused because of the coming together of so much happiness and misfortune" And as if to confirm this, Frieda threw herself at K, kissed him wildly, and then, crying and embracing him as if there were nobody else in the room, fell on her knees before him As he stroked Frieda's hair with both hands, K said to the landlady: "You seem to agree with me?"
"You're a man of honor," said the landlady, who, even though her voice was tearful and she looked somewhat decrepit and had trouble breathing, still found the strength to say: "The only issue now is what kind of assurances you will have to give Frieda, for no matter how much I respect you you're still a stranger, you cannot give references, we here know nothing about your domestic situation, so assurances are needed, but you, dear sir, can understand this, since it was, after all, you who pointed out how much Frieda is losing through this connection with you"
"Certainly, assurances, of course," said K, "those are probably best given at the notary's, though some other authorities of the Count may also start meddling with this By the way, there's something I absolutely must do before the wedding I must speak with Klamm"
"That's impossible," said Frieda, rising slightly and pressing against K, "what an idea!"
"I must," said K, "and if I don't succeed, you must"
"I cannot, K, I cannot," said Frieda, "Klamm will never speak to you How can you believe that Klamm will speak to you?"
"But he would speak to you?" asked K "No, that isn't so," said Frieda, "not to me, not to you, those are utter impossibilities" She turned to the landlady, extending her arms: "Landlady, just see what he's asking for"
"You're odd, Surveyor," said the landlady, who looked frightening now that she was sitting more upright, with her legs spread apart and her powerful knees pressing up through her thin skirt,
"you're asking for the impossible"
"Why is it impossible?" asked K "I shall explain it to you," the landlady said in a voice that sounded as though the explanation were not a final favor but the first in a series of punishments that she was handing out, "I shall gladly explain that to you True, I don't belong to the Castle and am only a woman and am only the landlady in one of the lowest-ranking inns--no, not the lowest-ranking, though not far from it--and so you may not attach any weight to my explanation, but I have gone through life with my eyes open and have come to know many different people and have had to carry the entire weight of the inn alone, for though my husband is a good lad all right, he isn't a landlord and will never understand the meaning of responsibility For instance, it's only through his negligence--I was about to collapse that evening from exhaustion--that you are here in the village and can sit there on the bed in peace and comfort"
"What?" K asked, awakening from a certain distraction, roused more by curiosity than by anger "It's only thanks to his negligence," cried the landlady again, pointing at K with her raised forefinger Frieda tried to calm her "What is it you want," said the landlady, turning her entire body in one quick motion, "the surveyor has asked me and I must answer him Otherwise, how can he possibly understand something that is absolutely self-evident to us, namely, that Mr Klamm will never speak to him--why am I saying 'will'--can never speak to him Listen here, Surveyor!, Mr Klamm is a gentleman from the Castle, and that signifies in and of itself, even leaving aside Klamm's other position, a very high rank, but what are you? You, the very person whom we are so humbly imploring that he might deign to consider marriage You're not from the Castle, you're not from the village, you are nothing Unfortunately, though, you are something, a stranger, one who is superfluous and gets in the way everywhere, one who is a constant source of trouble and who, for instance, makes it necessary for us to dislodge the maids, one who seduces our dearest little Frieda, one whose intentions are utterly unknown here, but who is unfortunately the very person to whom we must give her away On the whole, though, I'm not blaming you for all this; I have already seen too much in life not to be able to bear this sight as well But stop for a moment to consider the nature of your request You expect a man like Klamm to speak to you It pained me to hear that Frieda let you look through the peephole, in doing so, she was already seduced But tell me, how could you bear the sight of Klamm? You needn't say a word, I know, you had little difficulty bearing it Indeed you cannot really see Klamm at all, and this isn't arrogance on my part, for neither can I You expect Klamm to speak to you, but he doesn't even speak to people from the village, has never spoken to anyone from the village It certainly was a great distinction for Frieda, a distinction that I, too, shall be proud of until the end of my days, that he would at least call her name and she could speak to him whenever she wished and was allowed to use the peephole, and yet he never spoke to her And as for his calling Frieda now and then, that isn't necessarily as significant as one might care to think, he merely called Frieda's name--who knows what his intentions are?--and Frieda's decision to rush over was naturally her own business and the fact that she was admitted without difficulty is simply due to the goodness of Klamm, but nobody can claim that he actually called her And now all that, such as it was, is finished for all time Klamm may still call Frieda's name, that may be so, but a girl of that sort, who has consorted with you, will certainly never be admitted again And there's one thing, one thing this little head of mine cannot understand, how could a girl whom some people call Klamm's mistress--and by the way I consider that a rather exaggerated term--even let you touch her?"
"It's certainly odd," said K., and he took Frieda on his lap; she yielded right away, though with her head down, "but it shows, I think, that everything isn't quite as you think. For instance, you're certainly right to say I am nothing in Klamm's eyes, and even if I insist on speaking to Klamm and refuse to let your explanations deter me, this doesn't mean I could bear the sight of Klamm if there weren't a door separating us, or wouldn't run from the room the moment he appeared. But such fears, even if they're justified, are still no reason for me not to risk going ahead.
Yet if I can stand up to him, he needn't even speak to me, I'll be sufficiently gratified on seeing the effect my words have on him, and if they have none, or if he doesn't hear a word I say, I will still have gained something from the chance to speak frankly to a person with power. But you, Landlady, with your wide experience of life and people, and Frieda, who as of yesterday was still Klamm 's mistress--I don't see why I should drop the term--can no doubt easily arrange for me to talk to Klamm; if there's no other way, then at the Gentlemen's Inn, perhaps he's still there today as well."
"That's impossible," said the landlady, "and I can see you're incapable of understanding this.
But anyhow, tell me, what do you want to talk to Klamm about?"
"About Frieda, of course," said K.
"About Frieda?" asked the landlady, baffled, turning to Frieda. "Do you hear, Frieda, he, he wants to talk about you to Klamm, to Klamm."
"Oh, Landlady," said K., "you're such a clever woman, so worthy of respect and yet you're frightened by every little thing. Well, I want to talk to him about Frieda, there's nothing monstrous about that, it's only natural. For you're certainly mistaken again if you think Frieda lost all meaning for Klamm from the very moment I arrived. If that's what you think, you're underestimating him. I have the distinct feeling that it's presumptuous of me to lecture you on the subject, but I simply cannot avoid it. Nothing can have changed in Klamm's relationship to Frieda because of me. Either there was no significant relationship--and that's precisely what those who deprive Frieda of her honorable title as mistress are suggesting--in which case it doesn't exist today, or else there was one, but then how could it have been disturbed by me, by someone who, as you rightly said, is a mere nothing in Klamm's eyes? One believes such things in the first moment of fright, but a little thought ought to straighten it out. By the way, we should let Frieda say what she thinks."
Looking into the distance, her cheek resting on K.'s chest, Frieda said: "It's certainly as Mother says: Klamm doesn't want to have anything more to do with me. But certainly not because you came here, darling, nothing like that could ever shake him. But I believe it was through Klamm's work that we found each other under the counter, blessed, not accursed, be the hour!"
"If that's so," said K. slowly, for Frieda's words were sweet, he closed his eyes for several seconds to let the words permeate him, "if that's so, then there's even less reason to fear an interview with Klamm."
"Frankly," said the landlady, gazing down from her height at K., "you sometimes remind me of my husband, you're just as stubborn and childlike as he. You've been in the village a few days and already think you know everything better than everyone here, better than me, an old woman, and better than Frieda, who has heard and seen so much at the Gentlemen's Inn. I'm not denying it's possible to accomplish something that runs absolutely counter to the rules and the old traditions, I myself have never experienced anything of the sort, but such instances are said to occur, this may be so, but they certainly don't occur the way you go about it, simply by saying 'no, no' all the time and by swearing to do what you think and by ignoring the most well-meant advice. Do you really think I'm concerned about you? Did I do anything for you while you were still on your own? Although that wouldn't have been such a bad thing and might have prevented certain incidents. All I said to my husband about you then was: 'Stay away from him.' That would also be the case with me now if Frieda hadn't become entangled in your fate. It is to her--whether you like it or not--that you owe my care and even my respect. And you cannot simply turn me away, for I'm the only person who watches over little Frieda with motherly concern, and I hold you strictly accountable. Perhaps Frieda is right and everything that has happened is the will of Klamm, but now I know nothing about Klamm, I shall never again speak to him, he's completely beyond my reach, but you sit here, keep my Frieda, and are in turn--why shouldn't I say this?--kept by me. Yes, kept by me, young man, for if I ever threw you out, just try to find lodgings anywhere in the village, even in a doghouse!"
"Thanks," said K., "you've spoken frankly and I believe you entirely. So my position is that uncertain, and in connection with that, Frieda's position, too!"
"No," the landlady broke in furiously, "in that respect Frieda's position has nothing whatsoever to do with yours. Frieda belongs in my house, and nobody has any right to call her position here uncertain."
"Fine, fine," said K., "I'll concede you're right this time, too, especially since Frieda--for reasons unknown to me--seems too afraid of you to get involved. So, for now, let's just stick to me.
My position is utterly uncertain, you're not denying that, but rather struggling to prove it. As in everything you say, that's mostly right, but not entirely so. Just one instance, I do know of a good night's lodging that I can use."
"Where? Where?" Frieda and the landlady cried eagerly, almost in one voice, as if both had the same reason for asking.
"At Barnabas's," said K.
"That riffraff," cried the landlady, "that slippery riffraff! At Barnabas's! Do you hear--"and she turned toward the assistants' corner, but they had come out quite a while ago and now stood arm in arm behind the landlady, who, as if needing support, seized one by the hand, "do you hear where the gentleman hangs out, at Barnabas's! He's sure to find lodgings there, oh, if only he had liked it better there than at the Gentlemen's Inn! But where have the two of you been?"
"Landlady," said K. before the assistants could answer, "those are my assistants, but you treat them as if they were your assistants and my warders. On every other subject I'm at least willing to engage in a polite discussion of your opinions, but not concerning my assistants, for that's an absolutely clear-cut affair. So I request that you not speak to my assistants, and if my request should not suffice, I shall forbid my assistants to answer you.'"
"So I'm not allowed to speak to you," said the landlady, and all three laughed, the landlady derisively but more softly than K. had expected, the assistants in their usual way, meaning everything and nothing, disclaiming all responsibility.
"Now don't get angry," said Frieda, "you must try to understand why we're so upset. One could say that it's solely thanks to Barnabas that the two of us are together now. When I first caught sight of you in the taproom--you came in arm in arm with Olga--I did already know a few things about you, but on the whole I felt completely indifferent about you. Yet you weren't the only one, I felt indifferent about almost everything, almost everything. Indeed, I felt dissatisfied then about many things and annoyed by many more, but what an odd sort of dissatisfaction and annoyance it was. If someone insulted me, say one of the guests in the taproom--they were always after me, you saw those fellows there, but others came who were far worse, Klamm 's servants weren't the worst--
if one of them insulted me, what difference did that make to me? I felt as if the incident had happened many years before or as if it hadn't happened to me or as if I had only heard people speak of it or as if I myself had forgotten it. But I cannot describe it, I cannot even imagine it anymore, that's how much everything has changed since Klamm abandoned me--"
And Frieda broke off her story, lowered her head sadly, and folded her hands in her lap.
"Look," cried the landlady, sounding as though she herself weren't speaking but were lending Frieda her voice, she moved closer as well and was now sitting beside Frieda, "Surveyor, look at the results of your actions, and your assistants too--but then of course I'm not supposed to speak to them--may watch and learn a lesson from this. You wrenched Frieda out of the happiest state ever granted her, and could do so largely because Frieda herself, owing to her childlike, exaggerated sense of compassion, couldn't bear to see you hanging on Olga's arm and thus seemingly at the mercy of Barnabas's family. She rescued you and sacrificed herself. And now that this has happened and Frieda has given up all she had in exchange for the happiness of sitting on your knee, you come and pass off as your greatest trump card the fact that you once had the opportunity to spend the night at Barnabas's. You're probably trying to prove you're not dependent on me. Certainly, if you really had spent the night at Barnabas's, you would be so little dependent on me that you would have to leave my house at once, and double-quick, too."
"I don't know the sins of the Barnabas family," said K., carefully lifting Frieda, who seemed lifeless, placing her on the bed, and getting up again, "perhaps you're right in this case, though I was certainly right when I requested that you leave our affairs, Frieda's and mine, in our hands. You said something about love and concern, I haven't noticed much of that, but I have noticed great hatred and contempt and talk of banishment from the house. If your goal was to get Frieda to leave me or me to leave Frieda, then you went about this quite cleverly, but I don't think you'll succeed, and if you do--and now for a change let me be the one to give you a dark warning--you'll regret it bitterly.
As for the lodgings you're providing me with--you must mean this awful hole--it isn't at all clear that this is a voluntary offer on your part, it seems more likely that the Count's authorities have issued a directive to this effect. I shall report now that I was given notice here, and if they assign other lodgings to me, you may well breathe more easily, but I'll certainly breathe more deeply. And now I'm going to see the council chairman about this and several other matters. You could at least take care of Frieda, whom you've seriously harmed with those so-called motherly talks of yours."
Then he turned to the assistants. "Come," he said, then he took Klamm's letter from the hook and was about to go. Although the landlady had watched him silently, his hand was already on the latch before she spoke: "Surveyor, I have a parting thought for you, for no matter what you say or how many insults you heap on an old woman like me, you are still the future husband of Frieda.
And that's the only reason why I even bother telling you that you're dreadfully ignorant about the situation here, one's head buzzes from listening to you and from comparing your opinions and ideas with the real situation. Your ignorance cannot be remedied all at once, and perhaps not at all, but many things can get better if you would only show a little faith in me and always keep in mind how ignorant you are. And then you will, say, become less unjust toward me and begin to sense how shocked I was--I still haven't recovered from the shock--when I noticed that my dearest little one has, so to speak, abandoned the eagle to unite with a blindworm, but the actual relationship is worse still, and I'm constantly trying to forget all about it, because otherwise I couldn't speak calmly to you at all. Oh, now you're angry at me again! No, don't go yet, you must first listen to my final request: Wherever you go, keep in mind that you're the most ignorant person here and be careful; here with us you'll be out of harm's way with Frieda present, so you may chatter to your heart's content, you can even show us how you plan to talk to Klamm, but in reality, in reality... please, oh please don't do it."
She stood up, swaying somewhat with excitement, approached K., took his hand, and looked at him pleadingly. "Landlady," said K., "I cannot understand why you humiliate yourself over such a trifling matter by pleading with me like this. If, as you say, it's impossible for me to speak to Klamm, then I won't succeed whether you plead with me or not. If it were actually possible, though, why shouldn't I do it, especially since, after your main objection has fallen by the wayside, your other fears will be very doubtful. Certainly, I am ignorant, that at least is true, sadly enough for me, but the advantage here is that those who are ignorant take greater risks, and so I'll gladly put up with my deficient knowledge and its undoubtedly serious consequences for a little while, for as long as my energy holds out. But those consequences essentially concern only me, and so, particularly for that reason, I cannot understand why you are pleading with me. After all, you will certainly always take care of Frieda, and if I ever vanished from Frieda's sight, that would inevitably be good news for you. So what are you afraid of? Surely you aren't afraid--those who are ignorant naturally consider everything possible"--here K. opened the door--"surely you aren't afraid for Klamm's sake?" The landlady looked after him in silence as he hurried down the stairs followed by the assistants.
AT THE CHAIRMAN'S
The meeting with the chairman caused K. little concern, almost to his own surprise. He sought to explain this to himself on the grounds that, judging by his previous experiences, dealing with the Count's authorities was very simple for him. On one hand, this was due to their having issued for his affairs, apparently once and for all, a definite ruling that was outwardly very much in his favor, and on the other, to the admirable consistency of the service, which was, one suspected, especially perfect on occasions when it appeared to be missing. Sometimes when thinking of such matters K.
almost concluded that his situation was quite satisfactory, though he always told himself quickly after such fits of satisfaction that this is precisely where the danger lay. Dealing directly with the authorities wasn't all that difficult, for no matter how well organized they were, they only had to defend distant and invisible causes on behalf of remote and invisible gentlemen, whereas he, K., was fighting for something vitally close, for himself, and what's more of his own free will, initially at least, for he was the assailant, and he was not struggling for himself on his own, there were also other forces, which he knew nothing of, but could believe in because of the measures adopted by the authorities. By mostly obliging him from the start in some of the more trivial matters--and no more had been at stake until now--the authorities were depriving him not only of the chance to gain a few easy little victories but also of the corresponding satisfaction and the resulting well-founded confidence for other, greater battles. Instead they let K. wander about as he wished, even if only in the village, spoiling and weakening him, barred all fighting here, and dispatched him to this extra-official, completely unclear, dull, and strange life. If this went on, if he weren't always on guard, he might one day, despite the friendly attitude of the authorities, despite his meticulous fulfillment of his exaggeratedly light official duties, be deceived by the favor seemingly granted him and lead the rest of his life so imprudently that he would fall to pieces, and the authorities, gentle and friendly as ever, would have to come, as though against their will but actually at the behest of some official ordinance of which he knew nothing, in order to clear him out of the way. And what did that actually amount to here, the other part of his life? Nowhere else had K. ever seen one's official position and one's life so intertwined as they were here, so intertwined that it sometimes seemed as though office and life had switched places. How great, say, was the power Klamm wielded over K.'s service, which up to now had been no more than a formality, compared with the power Klamm possessed in actual fact in K.'s bedroom. That's why a slightly more frivolous approach, a certain easing of tension, was appropriate only when dealing directly with the authorities, whereas otherwise you always had to exercise great caution and look about on all sides before each step you took. K. initially found his view of the local authorities very much confirmed at the chairman's. A friendly fat clean-shaven man, the chairman was ill, he had a severe attack of gout and received K.
in bed. "So you must be our surveyor," he said, intending to sit up and greet K., but he couldn't manage it and, pointing apologetically to his legs, threw himself back down on the pillows. A woman, quite still, almost shadowlike in the dimly lit room, whose small curtained windows made it even darker, brought K. a chair and put it by the bed. "Sit down, sit down, Surveyor," said the chairman, "and tell me what you want." K. read Klamm's letter aloud and then added a few comments. Again he thought he felt the extraordinary ease of dealing with the authorities. They bore the whole burden, quite literally, you could leave everything up to them and remain free and untouched yourself. As though sensing this in his own way, the chairman stirred uneasily in his bed.
Finally he said: "Surveyor, as you've noticed, I knew about the entire affair. The reason I haven't seen to it yet is, first, I have been ill, and then you took so long to come I thought you had given up the affair. But now that you're so kind as to call on me, I must of course let you know the entire unpleasant truth. You were, as you say, taken on as a surveyor, but we don't need a surveyor. There wouldn't be the least bit of work for a person like that. The boundaries of our small holdings have been marked out, everything has been duly registered, the properties themselves rarely change hands, and whatever small boundary disputes arise, we settle ourselves. So why should we have any need for a surveyor?" K., despite having never really thought about this before, was convinced deep down that he had been expecting some such communication. For that very reason he was immediately able to say: "I find this most surprising. It upsets all my plans. I can only hope there's been a misunderstanding."
"Unfortunately not," said the chairman, "it is as I say."
"But how is that possible?" cried K. "After all, I didn't set out on this endless journey only to be sent back now."
"That is a different matter," said the chairman, "and one that's not for me to decide, though I can explain how this misunderstanding was possible. In an administration as large as the Count's, it can happen at some point that one department issues an order, another a second, neither department knows of the other, the higher-ranking control agency is indeed extremely precise, but by nature it intervenes too late, and so a little confusion can nonetheless arise. Of course, this happens only in the tiniest matters, such as yours, in a large affair I have never heard of an error, but even the small cases are often quite embarrassing. Now, as for your case, without turning this into an official secret--I'm simply not enough of an official for that, I'm only a peasant, and that's good enough for me--I want to give you a frank description of what happened. A long time ago, I had only been chairman for a few months, a decree came--I cannot recall from which department--stating in the categorical manner so typical of the gentlemen up there that a surveyor would be summoned and instructing the local council to be ready with all the plans and records needed for his work. This decree obviously cannot have been about you, for that was many years ago, and I wouldn't even have thought of it if I weren't ill in bed with all the time in the world to think about the silliest matters. Mizzi," he said, suddenly interrupting his account, to the woman, who was still flitting about the room on some incomprehensible errand, "please look in the cabinet, perhaps you'll find the decree. You see," he told K. by way of explanation, "it's from the early days when I still kept everything." The woman opened the cabinet right away, K. and the chairman watched. The cabinet was crammed with papers; once it was open, two large packs of files tied together in a bundle like firewood came rolling out, the woman started and jumped aside. "Down below, it should be down below," said the chairman, directing from his bed. After obediently gathering the files in both arms so as to reach the papers underneath, the woman threw out the entire contents of the cabinet. The papers already covered half the room. "We've certainly accomplished a great deal," said the chairman, nodding, "and that's only a small part of it. I stored the bulk of it in the barn, but most of it got lost. Who could keep all that together! But there is still a great deal left in the barn. You think you can find the decree?" he said, turning again to his wife, "You should look for a file with the word 'surveyor' underlined in blue."
"It's too dark here, I'll get a candle," said the woman, walking on the papers as she went to the door. "My wife," said the chairman, "she's such a great help in carrying out this difficult official work, which is only part-time, I have one other aide, the teacher, for written work, but it's still impossible to finish everything, a large portion never gets done, but we have put that away in the cabinet there," and he pointed to another cabinet. "And especially now that I am ill, everything is quite out of hand," he said, lying down again, tired yet proud. "Well," K. said, the woman had come back with the candle and was on her knees looking for the decree, "couldn't I help your wife look?"
The chairman shook his head and smiled: "As I said, I'm not keeping official secrets from you, but to let you look through the files would be going too far." There was now silence in the room, all one could hear was the rustling of papers, perhaps the chairman was dozing off. A light knock at the door made K. turn around. The assistants, of course. Still, they had picked up some manners, didn't barge into the room right away, but whispered first through the slightly open door: "It's too cold outside."
"Who is it?" asked the chairman, starting. "Only my assistants," said K., "I'm not sure where I should get them to wait for me, it's too cold outside, and they're a nuisance here."
"They won't bother me," said the chairman agreeably, "let them in. Incidentally, I know them. Old acquaintances."
"But they do bother me," said K. frankly, letting his eyes wander from the assistants to the chairman and back again to the assistants; he found the smiles of all three indistinguishable. "Well, now that you're here," he added as a test, "stay and help the chairman's wife look for a file with the word 'surveyor' underlined in blue." The chairman did not object to this; what K. was not permitted, the assistants were now being permitted; they immediately threw themselves on the papers, but instead of searching, they merely rummaged about in the pile, and each time one of them spelled out the words on a file, the other tore the file from his hand. But the woman was still kneeling in front of the empty cabinet, she seemed to have stopped looking altogether, the candle was now some distance from her.
"The assistants," said the chairman with a self-satisfied smile, as though he himself had arranged all this without anybody else's knowledge, "so they bother you. But they're your own assistants."
"No," said K. coolly, "they simply ran up to me here."
"Why 'ran up'?" he said. "You must mean 'were assigned.'"
"Fine, 'were assigned' then," said K., "but they could just as easily have fallen like snowflakes, given how little thought went into assigning them."
"Nothing ever happens here without due thought," said the chairman, who even forgot about the pain in his foot and sat up. "Nothing," said K., "and what about my being summoned here?"
"Even the decision to summon you was carefully considered," said the chairman, "but a few minor details introduced some confusion, I can prove this through the files."
"Well, the files won't be found," said K. "Won't be found?" cried the chairman, "Mizzi, do hurry a bit with your search! I can first tell you the story, though, even without the files. We responded to the decree I mentioned earlier by pointing out gratefully that we don't need a surveyor.
However, this reply seems never to have reached the first department--which I shall call A--and went by error to another department, B. So Department A was left without an answer, and unfortunately B didn't receive our entire answer; either because the contents of the file never left us, or because the file itself got lost on the way--though certainly not in the department itself, I'll vouch for that--all that came to Department B in any case was the file folder, which simply had on it a note saying that the enclosed, though in reality unfortunately missing, file dealt with the summoning of a surveyor. Meanwhile, Department A was waiting for our answer, they had preliminary notes on the affair, but as often happens, and this is quite understandable and even justifiable given the precision with which such matters must be handled, the designated official was expecting that we would answer and he would then summon a surveyor or, if need be, engage us in further correspondence about the matter. As a result he paid no attention to his preliminary notes and the entire matter slipped his mind. In Department B the folder reached a functionary famous for his conscientiousness, Sordini is his name, an Italian, even an insider such as myself cannot understand how a man of his abilities can be kept in what is virtually the lowest position of all. Now this Sordini did of course return the empty folder to us for completion. But by now many months, if not years, had passed since we had received the message from Department A, understandably, for when, as is the rule, a file heads the right way, it arrives at its department in one day at the latest and is dealt with that same day, but should it ever lose its way, the excellence of the organization is such that the file must zealously seek the wrong way, for otherwise it won't find it, and then it does indeed take a long time. So when we got Sordini's memorandum, we had only the vaguest memories of the affair, there were only two of us then for all this work, Mizzi and I, the teacher hadn't been assigned yet, and we kept copies only in the most important cases--in short, we could answer only vaguely to the effect that we knew of no such summons and that there was no need for a surveyor here.
"But," said the chairman, interrupting himself as if he had gone too far in his eagerness to tell the story, or as if it were at least possible that he had gone too far, "does the story bore you?"
"No," said K., "it amuses me."
At that, the chairman said: "I am not telling you this for your amusement."
"It amuses me," said K., "only because it gives me some insight into the ridiculous tangle that may under certain circumstances determine a person's life."
"You still haven't gained any insight," the chairman said gravely, "and so I can go on. Well of course our answer couldn't satisfy a Sordini. I admire the man, even though he torments me. You see, he distrusts everyone, even if for instance on countless occasions he finds that someone is a most trustworthy person, on the very next occasion he mistrusts him, as if he didn't know him or, more precisely, as if he knew him to be a rascal. I think that is right, that's how an official must behave, unfortunately by nature I cannot follow that precept myself, you can see how I'm telling all this openly to you, a stranger, I simply cannot help it. But Sordini immediately distrusted our answer. A lengthy correspondence came about. Sordini asked why I had suddenly realized that a surveyor shouldn't be summoned; with the help of Mizzi's excellent memory I answered that the initial proposal had come from his own office (that a different office had been involved we had of course long since forgotten), and then Sordini said: why was I mentioning this official memorandum only now; I: because I had only just recalled it; Sordini: that was quite odd; I: it wasn't odd in a long-drawn-out affair like this; Sordini: it certainly was odd, for the memorandum that I recalled did not exist; I: of course it didn't exist, since the whole file had been lost; Sordini: still, there should be a preliminary note concerning that first memorandum, but there was none.
Then I faltered, for I was not so daring as to claim, or even to think, that Sordini's department had made a mistake. Surveyor, in your thoughts you may be reproaching Sordini for not having been prompted by my claim to make inquiries about the matter in other departments. But that would have been wrong, and I want this man cleared of all blame even in your thoughts. One of the operating principles of the authorities is that the possibility of error is simply not taken into account. This principle is justified by the excellence of the entire organization and is also necessary if matters are to be discharged with the utmost rapidity. So Sordini couldn't inquire in other departments, besides those departments wouldn't have answered, since they would have noticed right away that he was investigating the possibility of an error."
"Chairman, allow me to interrupt you with a question," said K., "didn't you mention a control agency? As you describe it, the organization is such that the very thought that the control agency might fail to materialize is enough to make one ill."