The Castle by Franz Kafka - HTML preview
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.
"You're very severe," said the chairman, "but multiply your severity by a thousand and it will still be as nothing compared with the severity that the authorities show toward themselves.
Only a total stranger could ask such a question. Are there control agencies? There are only control agencies. Of course they aren't meant to find errors, in the vulgar sense of that term, since no errors occur, and even if an error does occur, as in your case, who can finally say that it is an error."
"That would be something completely new," cried K.
"It's very old as far as I'm concerned," said the chairman. "Not altogether unlike you, I'm convinced that there has been an error, that Sordini became seriously ill out of despair over this, and that the first control agencies, to which we owe the discovery of the source of the error, also recognize the error here. But who can claim that the second control agencies will judge likewise and the third, and so on?"
"Perhaps," said K., "but I would rather not start interfering with considerations like that yet, and also this is the first I have heard of these control agencies, and so naturally I can't understand them yet. Still, I think two things must be distinguished here, first, what happens inside the offices, which can then be officially interpreted this way or that, and second, the actual person, me, who stands outside those offices and is threatened by those offices with a restriction that would be so senseless that I still cannot believe in the gravity of the danger. Chairman, as regards the former, the matters you have just spoken of with such admirably uncommon expertise are probably valid, but I should also like to hear a few words about me."
"I'm getting there," said the chairman, "but you wouldn't be able to understand it if I didn't say a few other things first. Even my mentioning of the control agencies just now was premature.
So I'm going back to the differences with Sordini. As I said, my defenses gradually weakened. But if Sordini has even the slightest advantage over a person, then he has already won, for this sharpens his attention, energy, and wits, and for those under attack he is a terrible sight, but a splendid one for the enemies of the person under attack. Only because I experienced the latter in other cases can I speak of him as I do. By the way, I have never yet succeeded in setting eyes on him, he cannot come down, he's overburdened with work, I was once told that the walls in his room are hidden behind columns of large bundles of files piled on top of one another, those are only the files Sordini is working on just then, and since files are constantly being taken from and added to the bundles, all this at great speed, the stacks are constantly falling down, and it's precisely those endless thuds in rapid succession that have come to seem typical of Sordini's study. Well, Sordini is indeed a worker and pays as much attention to the smallest case as to the biggest."
"Chairman," said K., "you're always calling my case one of the smallest and yet it has kept many officials very busy and, even if it was perhaps quite small at first, it has through the zeal of officials of the same type as Mr. Sordini become a big case. Unfortunately and very much against my will; for my ambition is not to have big stacks of files concerning me piling up and then crashing down, but to work quietly as a little surveyor at his little drawing board."
"No," said the chairman, "it isn't a big case, you have no cause for complaint in that respect, it's one of the smallest of the small cases. It's not the amount of work that determines the rank of a case, you're still far from an understanding of the authorities if you believe that. But even if the amount of work were decisive, your case would still be one of the least significant; the ordinary cases, that is, those without so-called errors, create a far greater quantity of admittedly much more productive work. Incidentally, you still have no idea of the actual work caused by your case, so I want to tell you about that first. Initially, Sordini left me out of it, but his officials came, every day formal hearings were held at the Gentlemen's Inn with respected members of the community. Most stood by me, but a few became suspicious, land surveying is an issue that deeply affects peasants, they scented some sort of secret deals and injustice, they also found a leader, and Sordini had to conclude from their presentations that if I had raised the matter at the local council not everybody would have opposed the summoning of a surveyor. And so this perfectly obvious point--namely, that there's no need for a surveyor--was at the very least made to seem problematic. In all this a certain Brunswick played a prominent role, you probably don't know him, perhaps he isn't bad, just stupid and given to fantasy, he's the brother-in-law of Lasemann."
"Of the master tanner?" asked K., and he described the man with the full beard whom he had seen at Lasemann's.
"Yes, that's he," said the chairman.
"I know his wife too," K. said, just on an off-chance.
"That's possible," the chairman said, and he fell silent.
"She's beautiful," said K., "though rather pale and sickly. She probably comes from the Castle?" this was said half as a question.
The chairman glanced at the clock, poured medicine into a spoon, and swallowed it quickly.
"So you are merely acquainted with the office furnishings at the Castle?" K. asked rudely.
"Yes," said the chairman, with an ironic and yet grateful smile, "they're the most important thing about it. As for Brunswick: if we could expel him from the community, virtually everyone would be happy, Lasemann not least of all. But Brunswick gained some influence at that time, he's not a speaker but a shouter, and that's good enough for some. And so I was forced to lay the matter before the council, which by the way was Brunswick's only success at first, since the council naturally decided by a large majority to have nothing to do with the surveyor. That too was years ago, but the matter still hasn't died down, partly through the conscientiousness of Sordini, who tried to probe the motives of both majority and opposition by means of the most meticulous inquiries, partly through the stupidity and ambition of Brunswick, who has various personal contacts with the authorities that he was able to bring into play thanks to his boundless imagination. Sordini, though, didn't let himself be duped by Brunswick--how could Brunswick dupe Sordini?--but precisely so as not to be duped, he had to set up new inquiries, but before they had ended Brunswick had already thought up something else, he's actually quite quick, that's one form his stupidity takes. And now I'm going to talk about a special feature of our official apparatus. In keeping with its precision it is extremely sensitive. "When a matter has been deliberated on at great length, it can happen, even before the deliberations have ended, that suddenly, like lightning, in some unforeseeable place, which cannot be located later on, a directive is issued that usually justly, but nonetheless arbitrarily, brings the matter to a close. It's as if the official apparatus could no longer bear the tension and irritation stemming year in year out from the same perhaps inherently trivial affair and had all by itself, without help from the officials, made the decision. Of course, there was no miracle and some official or other certainly wrote the directive or reached an unwritten decision, at any rate one cannot determine from down here, or indeed even from the administrative offices, which official reached the decision in this case and on what grounds. This is only determined much later by the control agencies, and so we never get to hear any more about it, and anyhow by then the matter would scarcely interest anybody. Now, as I said, it's precisely these decisions that are mostly excellent, the only disturbing thing is that one only gets to hear about them when it's too late, for one is still passionately discussing a matter that has long since been resolved. I don't know whether such a decision was reached in your case--there is evidence both for and against--but if that had happened, they would have sent for you and you would have set off on that long journey, which would have taken time, while Sordini would have been working on the same case to the point of exhaustion, Brunswick would have kept up his intrigues, and I would have been tormented by both.
I'm only suggesting this as a possibility, but the following I know for sure: A control agency discovered meanwhile that many years previously Department A had sent the local council an inquiry concerning a surveyor, but still hadn't received a reply. Recently they sent me an inquiry that actually resolved the entire matter, Department A was satisfied with my reply stating that no surveyor was needed, Sordini had to acknowledge that he wasn't responsible for the case and that he had--though of course through no fault of his own--gone to a great deal of useless, nerve-wracking trouble. If new work hadn't come pouring in as usual from all sides, and if your case hadn't been only a very minor case--the most minor of minor cases, one could almost say--we would all have breathed sighs of relief, even Sordini would, I believe, have done so, Brunswick was the only one who muttered about it, but that was quite ridiculous. And just imagine how disappointed I was, Surveyor, after the happy conclusion of the entire affair--and a great deal of time has gone by since then--when suddenly you appear and it seems as if everything is about to begin all over again. That I want to prevent this from happening, insofar as it lies in my power, is something you'll surely understand, won't you?"
"Certainly," said K., "but I have an even better understanding of the dreadful mistreatment that I, and perhaps the laws as well, are being subjected to here. I, for one, know how to combat this."
"How do you plan to do so?" asked the chairman.
"I cannot give that away," said K.
"I don't want to intrude," said the chairman, "but keep in mind that you have in me--I don't want to say a friend, since we're actually total strangers--a business acquaintance, as it were. The only thing I shall not permit is your being taken on as a surveyor, but otherwise you can always approach me with confidence, though only within the limits of my power, which isn't great."
"You're always saying that I am going to be taken on as surveyor," said K., "but I have already been taken on, here's Klamm's letter. "
"Klamm's letter," said the chairman, "well, it is valuable and even venerable because of Klamm's signature, which appears to be genuine, but otherwise--still, I wouldn't risk saying anything about it on my own. Mizzi!" he called, adding: "But what are you doing?"
The assistants, who had been left unobserved for such a long time, and Mizzi, had evidently not found the file they were looking for and had then tried to lock everything up in the cabinet again, but the jumble of files was so large that they hadn't succeeded. Then it had surely been the assistants who had hit upon the idea that they were now carrying out. They had put the cabinet on the floor, stuffed all the files in, then sat down with Mizzi on the cabinet door and were now trying to force it down slowly.
"So the file hasn't been found," said the chairman, "a pity, but of course you already know the story, we no longer need the file, besides it'll turn up, it must be at the teacher's, he has many more files. But come here with the candle, Mizzi, so you can read the letter with me."
Mizzi came over, she looked even more insignificant and gray sitting on the edge of the bed and clasping her strong and vigorous husband, who had his arm around her. All one could make out in the candlelight was her small face with its distinct stern lines, softened only by the decay of age.
She had barely looked at the letter when she clasped her hands lightly, "From Klamm," she said.
They read the letter together, whispering to each other from time to time, and finally, as the assistants shouted "Hurrah," for they had finally pushed the cabinet door shut, and Mizzi watched them in silent gratitude, the chairman said: "Mizzi agrees with me completely, and now I can probably risk saying what I think. This letter isn't an official letter but rather a private one. That is already clearly apparent from the heading 'My dear Sir!' Besides, it doesn't say a word about your having been taken on as surveyor, rather it refers only in general terms to the lordly services, and even then the phrasing isn't binding, since you have merely been taken on 'as you know,' in other words, the burden of proving that you've been taken on rests with you. Lastly, you're referred exclusively to me, the chairman, who, as your immediate superior, will provide you with all further particulars, and that has, of course, already been largely taken care of. All this is utterly clear to anyone who is capable of reading official letters and therefore better still at reading unofficial ones; that you, a stranger, cannot make this out doesn't surprise me. All in all, the letter merely means that Klamm intends to look after you personally, should you be accepted into the lordly services."
"Chairman," said K., "you interpret the letter so well that all that's finally left is a signature on a blank sheet of paper. Can't you see how you're disparaging the name of Klamm, which you pretend to respect."
"That is a misunderstanding," said the chairman, "the significance of the letter hasn't escaped me, nor am I disparaging it with my interpretation, quite the contrary. A private letter from Klamm has far greater significance than would an official letter, but not the significance you give it."
"You know Schwarzer?" asked K.
"No," said the chairman, "perhaps you do, Mizzi? You don't either. No, we don't know him."
"That's odd," said K., "he is the son of a substeward."
"Dear Surveyor," said the chairman, "how am I supposed to know all the sons of all the substewards?"
"Fine," said K., "then you have to believe me when I say it's he. The day I came, I had an annoying encounter with this Schwarzer. He then made inquiries by telephone, spoke to a substeward called Fritz, and was told they had taken me on as surveyor. How do you explain that, Chairman?"
"Quite simple," said the chairman, "you haven't ever really come into contact with our authorities. All those contacts are merely apparent, but in your case, because of your ignorance of the situation here, you think they're real. As for the telephone: look, in my own house, though I certainly deal often enough with the authorities, there's no telephone. At inns and in places like that it may serve a useful purpose, along the lines, say, of an automated phonograph, but that's all. Have you ever telephoned here, you have? Well then, perhaps you can understand me. At the Castle the telephone seems to work extremely well; I've been told the telephones up there are in constant use, which of course greatly speeds up the work. Here on our local telephones we hear that constant telephoning as a murmuring and singing, you must have heard it too. Well, this murmuring and singing is the only true and reliable thing that the local telephones convey to us, everything else is deceptive. There is no separate telephone connection to the Castle and no switchboard to forward our calls; when anyone here calls the Castle, all the telephones in the lowest-level departments ring, or all would ring if the ringing mechanism on nearly all of them were not, and I know this for certain, disconnected. Now and then, though, an overtired official needs some diversion-especially late in the evening or at night--and turns on the ringing mechanism, then we get an answer, though an answer that's no more than a joke. That's certainly quite understandable. For who can claim to have the right, simply because of some petty personal concerns, to ring during the most important work, conducted, as always, at a furious pace? Nor can I understand how even a stranger can believe that if he calls Sordini, for instance, it really is Sordini who answers. Quite the contrary, it's probably a lowly filing clerk from an entirely different department. But it can also happen, if only at the most auspicious moment, that someone telephones the lowly filing clerk and Sordini himself answers. Then of course it's best to run from the telephone before hearing a sound."
"But that isn't how I saw it," said K. "I couldn't have known the details, but I had little confidence in those telephone conversations and always knew that the only things that are of any real significance are those one discovers or accomplishes at the Castle itself."
"No," said the chairman, seizing one phrase, "those telephone answers are of 'real significance,' how could it be otherwise? How could the information supplied by a Castle official be meaningless? I said so already in relation to Klamm's letter. All these statements have no official meaning; if you attach official meaning to them, you're quite mistaken, though their private meaning as expressions of friendship or hostility is very great, usually greater than any official meaning could ever be."
"Fine," said K., "if all that is indeed so, then I must have plenty of good friends at the Castle; on closer inspection the idea the department had many years ago of possibly sending for a surveyor at some point was a friendly gesture toward me, and from then on there was one such gesture after the other until it came to a bad end with my being enticed here and threatened with being thrown out."
"There is some truth in your view," said the chairman, "you're right that the Castle's statements shouldn't be taken literally. Still, caution is always necessary, not only here, and the more important the statement, the greater the need for caution. But what you then say about your being enticed here I find incomprehensible. If you had paid closer attention to my observations, you would know that the question of your being summoned here is far too difficult to be dealt with in one little conversation."
"Well, then," said K., "the only possible conclusion is that everything is very unclear and insoluble except for my being thrown out."
"Who would dare to throw you out, Surveyor," said the chairman, "it's precisely the lack of clarity in the preliminary questions that guarantees you the most courteous treatment, only it seems that you are too sensitive. Nobody is keeping you here, but that still doesn't mean you're being thrown out."
"Oh, Chairman," said K., "now it's once again you who is seeing certain matters far too clearly. I shall list for you certain things that keep me here: the sacrifices I had to make to get away from home, the long difficult journey, the reasonable hopes I held out for myself of being taken on here, my complete lack of fortune, the impossibility of finding suitable work at home, and finally, my fiancée, who comes from here."
"Oh, Frieda!" said the chairman, not at all surprised. "I know. But Frieda would follow you anywhere. As for the rest, though, certain considerations must indeed be taken into account and I shall report this to the Castle. If a decision comes or if it's necessary to question you again, I shall send for you. Do you approve of this?"
"No, absolutely not," said K., "what I want from the Castle is not charity, but my rights."
"Mizzi," said the chairman to his wife, who still sat pressed up against him, dreamily playing with Klamm's letter, which she had turned into a little boat; startled, K. now took it away from her,
"Mizzi, my leg is beginning to hurt again, we'll have to change the compress."
K. rose, "Then I shall take my leave," he said. "Yes," said Mizzi, who was already preparing some ointment, "besides, it's too drafty." K. turned around; upon hearing K.'s comment the assistants had in their usual misplaced zeal immediately opened both door panels. Obliged to shield the sickroom from the powerful blast of cold air, K. was only able to bow quickly to the chairman.
Then, dragging the assistants along, he ran from the room, quickly closing the door.
SECOND CONVERSATION WITH THE LANDLADY
Waiting for him in front of the inn was the landlord. Without being asked, he wouldn't have dared to speak, so K. asked what he wanted. "Have you found new housing?" the landlord asked, looking at the ground. "You're asking on your wife's instructions," said K., "you're probably quite dependent on her?"
"No," said the landlord, "I'm not asking on her instructions. But she's very upset and unhappy because of you, cannot work, is always lying in bed, sighing and complaining."
"Should I go to her?" asked K. "Please do," said the landlord, "I tried to get hold of you at the chairman's, I listened at the door, but the two of you were talking, I didn't want to interrupt, besides I was worried because of my wife, ran back, but she wouldn't let me in, so I had no choice but to wait for you."
"Then come quickly," said K., "I'll soon calm her down."
"If only that were possible," said the landlord.
They went through the bright kitchen, where three or four maids, scattered about doing odd chores, literally froze at the sight of K. Even in the kitchen one could already hear the landlady sighing. She lay in a windowless alcove separated from the kitchen by a light wooden partition.
There was room only for a large double bed and a wardrobe. The bed was so positioned that one could see the whole kitchen and supervise the work from it. But from here in the kitchen one could barely see anything in the alcove, it was quite dark there, only the white and red bedclothes shimmered through a little. Not until one had gone in and one's eyes had adjusted could one make out the details.
"So you've finally come," the landlady said feebly. She lay stretched out on her back, evidently had trouble breathing, and had thrown back the down quilt. In bed she looked much younger than in her usual clothes, but the little nightcap of delicate lacework that she wore, though too small and swaying back and forth on her hair, made the decay of her face seem pitiable. "How could I have come?" said K. gently, "after all, you never sent for me."
"You shouldn't have kept me waiting so long," said the landlady with an invalid's stubbornness. "Sit down," she said, pointing to the edge of the bed, "but the rest of you go away."
Besides the assistants, the maids too had meanwhile pushed their way in. "I should go away, too, Gardena?" said the landlord, K. was hearing the woman's name for the first time. "Of course," she said slowly, and as though she had other thoughts on her mind, she added absentmindedly: "Why should you of all people stay?" Yet once all of them had withdrawn to the kitchen--this time even the assistants followed immediately, but then they were after a maid--Gardena showed enough presence of mind to realize one could hear everything that was said here from the kitchen, for the alcove had no door, and so she ordered them all to leave the kitchen. This happened at once.
"Please, Surveyor," said Gardena, "right inside the wardrobe there's a shawl, hand it to me, I want to pull it up over me, I cannot stand the down quilt, it's so hard to breathe." And once K. had given her the shawl, she said: "Look, it's a beautiful shawl, isn't it?" To K. it seemed like an ordinary woolen shawl, he felt it once again merely to be obliging, but said nothing. "Yes, it's a beautiful shawl," Gardena said, and covered herself up with it. She was now lying there quietly, all her ailments seemed to have vanished; she even remembered her hair, which was disheveled from lying in bed, sat up a moment and adjusted her hairdo slightly round her nightcap. She had a full head of hair.
K. became impatient and said: "Landlady, you made someone ask me whether I had found new housing."
"I made someone ask you?" the landlady said. "No, that's wrong."
"Your husband asked me about it just now."
"I can believe that," said the landlady, "I had a fight with him. When I didn't want you here, he kept you here, now that I'm happy you're living here, he drives you away. He's always doing this kind of thing."
"So," said K., "you've changed your opinion of me that much? In an hour or two?"
"I haven't changed my opinion," the landlady said, more feebly again. "Give me your hand.
That's it. And now promise me you'll be absolutely honest, which is exactly how I'll be with you."
"Fine," said K., "but who goes first?"
"Me," said the landlady; it didn't seem as though she were trying to be accommodating toward K. but rather as though she were eager to speak first.
She pulled a photograph from under the pillow and handed it to K. "Look at this picture,"
she asked. So as to see better, K. took one step back into the kitchen, but even there it wasn't easy to make anything out in the picture, for it was faded with age, broken in several places, crushed, and stained. "It's not in very good shape," said K. "Alas, alas," said the landlady, "that's what happens when one keeps carrying it around for years. But if you look at it closely, you'll surely be able to make everything out. Besides, I can help you, tell me, what do you see, I like hearing things about the picture. So what is it?"
"A young man," said K. "Right," said the landlady, "and what's he doing?"
"He's lying down, I think, on a board, stretching and yawning." The landlady laughed.
"That's quite wrong," she said. "But here's the board, and he's lying here," said K., insisting on his point of view. "But take a closer look," said the landlady in annoyance, "now then, is he really lying there?"
"No," K. now said, "he isn't lying there, he's hovering, and now I can see that it's not a board but most likely a rope, and the young man is doing a high jump."
"That's it," said the landlady, delighted, "he's jumping, that's how the official messengers practice; well, I knew you would make it out. Can you see his face, too?"
"I can't see much of his face," said K., "he's obviously making quite an effort, his mouth is open, his eyes are screwed up, and his hair is blowing about."
"Very good," said the landlady appreciatively, "that's all anybody who hasn't seen him in person could possibly make out. But he was a handsome youth, I caught only one fleeting glimpse of him and yet I shall never forget him."
"So who was it?" asked K. "The messenger," said the landlady, "the messenger Klamm first summoned me with."
K. found it impossible to listen closely, he was distracted by rattling glass. He immediately found the cause of the disturbance. The assistants were standing outside in the courtyard, hopping from one foot to the other in the snow. They acted as if they were happy to see K. again, out of happiness they pointed him out to each other by tapping on the kitchen window. At a threatening gesture from K. they stopped right away and each tried to push the other back, but one of them slipped past the other and now they were back at the window again. K. rushed into the alcove, where the assistants couldn't see him and he didn't have to see them. But there, too, the faint and as if imploring rattle of the windowpanes pursued him for quite a while.
"Those assistants again," he said to the landlady, so as to excuse himself, pointing out the window. But she was paying no attention to him, she had taken the picture from him, looked at it, smoothed it out and pushed it back under the pillow. Her movements had become slower not out of weariness but under the burden of memory. She had wanted to tell K. something and had forgotten him because of the story. She played with the fringe of her shawl. Not until a little while later did she look up, brush her eyes with her hand, and say: "This shawl comes from Klamm. And the nightcap, too. The picture, the shawl, and the nightcap, those are my three mementos of him. I'm not young like Frieda, I'm not as ambitious as she nor as sensitive, she's very sensitive, in short I know how to adjust to life, but I must admit that without these three items I wouldn't have lasted so long here, indeed I probably wouldn't have lasted a day. To you, these three mementos may seem trivial, but, you see, Frieda, who consorted for so long with Klamm, hasn't a single memento, I asked her, she's too effusive and too demanding, but I, who was only with Klamm three times--later on he never sent for me again, I don't know why--as if sensing the shortness of my time there, I took these mementos along. Of course, one has to do it oneself, Klamm himself never gives one anything, but if one sees anything suitable lying about, one can ask him for it."
K. felt uncomfortable about these stories, however much they concerned him. "How long ago was that," he asked, sighing.
"Over twenty years ago," said the landlady, "well over twenty years ago."
"So one stays faithful to Klamm that long," said K. "Landlady, do you realize that you're causing me great concern, when I think of my own future marriage?"
The landlady considered it unseemly that K. wanted to barge in at this point with his own affairs, and gave him an irritated side-glance.
"Not so angry, Landlady," said K., "I'm certainly not saying a word against Klamm, but through force of circumstances I have entered into certain relations with Klamm; this is something not even Klamm's greatest admirer could deny. And so, as a result, whenever Klamm is mentioned I must also think of myself, that cannot be helped. Besides, Landlady"--here K. seized her hesitant hand--"remember the bad way our last conversation ended and that this time we want to part in peace."
"You're right," the landlady said, bowing her head, "but spare me. I'm no more sensitive than anyone else, on the contrary, everybody has sensitive spots, I have only this one."
"Unfortunately I have the same one," said K., "but I shall certainly restrain myself; now, Landlady, tell me how I should endure this dreadful fidelity to Klamm in my own marriage, assuming Frieda is like you in this respect."
"Dreadful fidelity," the landlady repeated sullenly. "Well, is it fidelity? I'm faithful to my husband, but to Klamm? Klamm once made me his mistress, can I ever lose that distinction? And you ask how you should endure this with Frieda? Oh, Surveyor, who are you who dare to ask such a thing?"
"Landlady!" said K. admonishingly.
"I know," said the landlady, yielding, "but my husband never asked questions like that. I don't know who should be considered more unfortunate, me then or Frieda now. Frieda, who willfully left Klamm, or me, whom he never sent for again. Perhaps it is after all Frieda, though she does not yet seem to realize the full extent of this. My thoughts dwelt exclusively on my misfortune, though, for I had to ask myself, and indeed essentially still have to ask myself: Why did it happen?
Three times Klamm sent for you, but not a fourth time, never a fourth time! And what could have concerned me more then? What else could I talk about with my husband, whom I married shortly afterwards? By day we had no time, we acquired the inn in a miserable condition and had to try to bring it up to standard, but at night? For years our nighttime conversations circled around Klamm and the reasons for his change of mind. And when my husband fell asleep during these conversations, I woke him up and we went on talking."
"Now, if you will permit me," said K., "I will ask you a rather rude question."
The landlady remained silent.
"So I may not ask," said K., "that's enough for me, too."
"Oh, of course," said the landlady, "that's enough for you, that especially. You misinterpret everything, even the silence. You simply cannot help it. I do give you permission to ask."
"If I'm misinterpreting everything," said K., "then perhaps I'm also misinterpreting my own question, perhaps it isn't all that rude. I simply wanted to know how you met your husband and how this inn came into your hands."
The landlady frowned, but said calmly: "It's a very simple story. My father was a blacksmith, and Hans, who is now my husband, and who was then a stable boy for a large farmer, often came to see my father. This was just after my last encounter with Klamm, I was very unhappy and actually shouldn't have been, since everything followed the correct procedure, and the fact that I was no longer allowed to go to Klamm was Klamm's decision, so it was correct, but the reasons were obscure, I was allowed to probe those reasons but shouldn't have been unhappy, well, I was all the same, and couldn't work and sat in our little front garden all day. Hans saw me there, sometimes sat down with me, I never complained to him, but he knew what it was about and, being a good lad, sometimes wept with me. And when the then landlord--whose wife had died and who for that reason had to give up the trade, and anyhow he was already an old man--passed by our little garden and saw us sitting there, he stopped and on the spot offered to lease us the inn, and, since he trusted us, he didn't want any money in advance and arranged cheap terms for the lease. I didn't want to become a burden to my father and couldn't care about everything else, so, thinking of the inn and all the new work, which might make me forget a little, I gave Hans my hand. That's the story."
For a little while there was silence, then K. said: "The landlord's conduct was fine, but imprudent too, or had he particular reasons for trusting you two?"
"He knew Hans well," said the landlady, "he was Hans's uncle."
"No wonder then," said K., "so Hans's family was evidently very interested in the connection with you?"
"Perhaps," said the landlady, "I don't know, I never worried about that."
"Still, that's how it must have been," said K., "if the family was ready to make such sacrifices and simply place the inn in your hands without any security."
"It wasn't imprudent, as became clear later," said the landlady. "I threw myself into the work, I was strong, a blacksmith's daughter, I didn't need a maid or a servant, I was everywhere, in the taproom, in the kitchen, in the stables, in the courtyard, my cooking was so good I even drew guests from the Gentlemen's Inn, you have not as yet been in the inn at noon, you don't know our luncheon guests, there were even more of them then, but in the meantime many have drifted away. And as a result we were not only able to pay the lease on time but after a few years to buy the whole place, and now it's almost free of debt. The other result, though, was that I ruined myself, had heart problems, and now I am an old woman. You may think I'm much older than Hans, but actually he's only two or three years younger and will never get any older, for his work--smoking a pipe, listening to the guests, emptying his pipe, and getting a glass of beer every now and then--such work doesn't make anyone older."
"Your achievements are admirable," said K., "no doubt about that, but we were talking about the time before your marriage, and at that time it would have been strange if Hans's family, under great financial sacrifice, or at least having taken on the great risk involved in giving up the inn, had actually pressed for marriage, for they could only put their hopes in your ability to work, which of course they didn't know anything about yet, and in Hans's, which, as they must already have discovered, was nonexistent."
"Well, yes," the landlady said wearily, "I do know what you're getting at and how mistaken you are. There was no trace of Klamm in all this. Why should he have cared about me, or rather: how could he have cared about me? For by then he had forgotten all about me. That he hadn't called me was a sign he had forgotten me. Anyone whom he no longer summons he forgets entirely. I didn't want to speak of this in front of Frieda. But it isn't simply that he forgets, it's more than that.
If you forget someone, you can of course get to know that person again. With Klamm that is not possible. Anyone whom he no longer summons, he forgets, not only for the past but literally for all time. If I make an effort, I can even think my way into your thoughts, which make no sense here, but are perhaps valid in the foreign lands you come from. Perhaps you're so madly presumptuous as to think that Klamm gave me a husband like Hans so that almost nothing could prevent me from coming to him, should he ever call me in the future. Well, there could be nothing crazier than that!
Where is the man who could prevent me from running to Klamm if Klamm gives me a sign? What nonsense, what utter nonsense, one merely makes oneself all confused by toying with such nonsense."
"No," said K., "we certainly don't want to make ourselves all confused, my thoughts hadn't gone as far as you think, but to tell the truth, they were heading in that direction. For the time being, though, I was merely surprised that the relatives had such high hopes for your marriage and that these hopes were indeed realized, if at some risk to your heart, to your health. The thought that there was a connection between all this and Klamm did occur to me, but not, or not yet, in the crude manner you implied, evidently only so you can shout at me again, for this clearly gives you pleasure. Well, have your pleasure! But these were my thoughts: First, Klamm is obviously the cause of your marriage. Without Klamm you wouldn't have been unhappy, wouldn't have sat idly in your little front garden, without Klamm Hans wouldn't have seen you there, without your sadness the shy Hans would never have dared speak to you, without Klamm you would never have found yourself in tears with Hans, without Klamm your dear old uncle-landlord wouldn't have seen Hans and yourself sitting there peacefully, without Klamm you wouldn't have felt so indifferent about life, and so you wouldn't have married Hans. Well, that is surely enough Klamm, I should say. But there is more. If you hadn't been trying to forget, you certainly wouldn't have worked so recklessly and brought the inn up to such a high standard. So there's also some Klamm there. But even leaving that aside, Klamm is the cause of your illness since even before your marriage your heart was drained by that unfortunate passion. The only question left is why Hans's relatives found the marriage so appealing. You yourself once mentioned that being Klamm's mistress is an increase in stature that cannot be lost, so perhaps that is what attracted them. But I believe they were also hoping that the lucky star which led you to Klamm--assuming it was indeed a lucky star, but you claim it was--belonged to you and would remain yours and would not, say, abandon you as quickly or as suddenly as Klamm did."
"Do you mean all of this seriously?" asked the landlady.
"Very seriously," said K. quickly, "only I think that the hopes of Hans's relatives were neither completely justified nor completely unjustified, and I also think I recognize the mistake you've made. Outwardly, everything does seem to have worked out, Hans is well provided for, has an imposing wife, enjoys great esteem, the inn is free of debt. But everything didn't actually work out; with a simple girl, whose first great love he would have been, Hans would certainly have been far happier; if he sometimes stands about the inn as if lost, as you chide him for doing, that's because he truly does feel lost--not that this makes him unhappy, that's for sure, I know him well enough by now to be able to say so--but it's equally certain that this handsome, sensible lad would have been happier with another wife, and by 'happier' I mean more independent, more diligent, and more manly. And, after all, you yourself certainly aren't happy, and, as you yourself said, without those three mementos you wouldn't want to go on living, and you also have a weak heart. So was it wrong of his relatives to hope? I don't think so. There were blessings above you, but nobody knew how to get them down."
"And what was it we failed to do?" asked the landlady. She was now lying stretched out on her back, gazing up at the ceiling.
"Ask Klamm," said K.
"So we're back to you," said the landlady.
"Or to you," said K., "our concerns overlap."
"So what do you want from Klamm?" said the landlady. She had sat up straight, shaken out the pillows so she could lean on them as she sat, and now looked K. directly in the eye. "I've told you openly about my own case, which you could learn something from. Tell me just as openly what you want to ask Klamm. I had difficulty persuading Frieda to go to her room and stay there, I was afraid you wouldn't speak openly enough with her here."
"I have nothing to hide," said K. "But first I must point out one thing. Klamm forgets at once, you said. Well, first, I find that highly improbable, and second, it cannot be proved, it's obviously nothing but a legend, concocted in the girlish minds of those who just happened to be in Klamm's good graces. I'm surprised you believe in such a trite fabrication."
"It is not a legend," said the landlady, "but comes from general experience."
"So it can be refuted by new experiences," said K. "But then there is one other difference between your case and Frieda's. As for Klamm's not having called Frieda again, in a sense no such thing happened, he called her, but she didn't comply. It's even possible he's still waiting for her."
The landlady remained silent, merely observing K. from head to toe. Then she said: "I want to listen quietly to all you have to say. It's better if you speak openly and don't spare my feelings. I have only one request. Do not use Klamm's name. Call him 'he' or something else, but not by his name."
"Gladly," said K., "but it's difficult to say what I want from him. First, I want to see him close-up, then I want to hear his voice, then I want him to tell me where he stands concerning our marriage; whatever other requests I make will depend on how the conversation goes. A number of subjects may come up, but for me the most important thing is simply to be standing there opposite him. I have not yet spoken directly to a real official, you see. That seems harder to achieve than I had thought. But now I have an obligation to speak with Klamm, the private individual, and to my mind that is much easier to accomplish; I can only speak with the official in his perhaps inaccessible office at the Castle or, and this is already quite dubious, at the Gentlemen's Inn, but I can speak with the private individual at the inn, on the street, anywhere I manage to meet him. The chance of having the official face to face as well is something I shall gladly accept, but that isn't my primary goal."
"Fine," said the landlady, pressing her face into the pillows as if she were saying something shameful, "if I succeed through my connections in getting your request for a conversation forwarded to Klamm, promise me you won't try anything on your own initiative until an answer comes down."
"That I cannot promise," said K., "much as I would like to grant your request, or whim. This is urgent, you see, especially after the unfavorable outcome of my meeting with the chairman."
"That objection isn't applicable," said the landlady, "the chairman is utterly insignificant. So you never noticed? He wouldn't last a day in his position were it not for his wife, who runs everything."
"Mizzi?" asked K. The landlady nodded. "She was there," said K.
"Did she express an opinion?" asked the landlady.
"No," said K., "but I did not get the impression that she was capable of that."
"That's it," said the landlady, "that's how wrongly you view everything here. Besides: the chairman's decision concerning you has no significance, and I shall certainly speak with his wife at some point. And if I now promise you that Klamm's reply will arrive a week from now at the latest, then you will surely not keep on coming up with new reasons for not giving in to me."
"None of that is decisive," said K., "my decision stands, and I would try to carry it out even if the answer that arrived were negative. But since this has been my intention from the start, I obviously cannot request an interview in advance. What remains in the absence of that request a daring but well-meant venture would after an adverse answer be open rebellion. And that of course would be far worse."
"Worse?" said the landlady. "It's rebelliousness anyhow. And now do as you like. Hand me my skirt."
Showing no consideration for K., she pulled on her skirt and hurried to the kitchen. For some time now a commotion had been audible from the parlor. Someone was knocking on the spy window. The assistants had at one point opened it and shouted in that they were hungry. Other faces had appeared there, too. Even a song, faint but in several parts, could be heard.
K.'s conversation with the landlady had naturally very much delayed the cooking of lunch; it was not yet ready, but the guests were assembled; still nobody had dared to defy the landlady's prohibition by entering the kitchen. But now when the observers at the spy window announced that the landlady was coming, the maids immediately ran into the kitchen, and when K. entered the parlor an amazingly large company, more than twenty, men and women, dressed provincially though not like peasants, poured from the spy window, where they had gathered, to the tables, in order to secure places for themselves. Only at one small table in the corner was a couple already seated with several children, the man, a friendly blue-eyed gentleman with tousled gray hair and a beard, was bending down to the children and beating time with a knife for their song, which he kept trying to quiet down. Perhaps he wanted to make them forget their hunger by getting them to sing.
The landlady excused herself before the company with a few casually spoken words, nobody reproached her for this. She looked around for the landlord, who had surely fled the difficult situation some time ago. Then she went slowly into the kitchen; for K., who was hurrying to Frieda in his room, she hadn't a glance to spare.
Upstairs K. met the teacher. The room was fortunately almost unrecognizable, so diligent had Frieda been. It had been given a good airing, the stove was lit, the floor had been scrubbed, the bed straightened out, the maids' things, all that disgusting rubbish, including their pictures, had vanished, and the table, which used to stare at you with its dirt-encrusted top no matter which way you turned, had been covered with a crocheted white cloth. Now you could receive guests; that K.'s small batch of laundry, which Frieda had obviously washed this morning, hung by the stove to dry, barely spoiled the effect. The teacher and Frieda had been sitting at the table, they rose as K.
entered, Frieda greeted K. with a kiss, the teacher bowed slightly. K., still distracted and uneasy after the conversation with the landlady, began to excuse himself for not having visited the teacher; it was as if he assumed that the teacher had become impatient over his failure to appear and had now called on him instead. In his measured way the teacher seemed only gradually to recall that he and K. had once spoken about a possible visit. "Surveyor," he said slowly, "you are indeed the stranger I spoke to in the church square a few days ago."
"Yes," said K. curtly; the sort of thing he had put up with earlier in his isolation, he no longer had to tolerate in his own room. He turned to Frieda and mentioned an important visit he had to make at once and needed to be as well dressed as possible for. Immediately, without asking for an explanation, Frieda called the assistants, who were busy inspecting the new tablecloth, and ordered them down to the courtyard to clean with great care K.'s clothes and shoes, which he had already begun to remove. She herself took a shirt from the line and ran down to the kitchen to iron it.
Now K. was alone with the teacher, who again sat at the table in silence, K. made him wait a little longer, took off his shirt and began to wash at the basin. Only then, with his back to the teacher, did K. ask why he had come. "I have come on instructions from the chairman," he said. K.
was prepared to listen to the instructions. But since K.'s words were difficult to understand with all the splashing, the teacher had to come closer, and he leaned against the wall next to K. K. excused his washing and his agitation by mentioning the urgency of the planned visit. Ignoring this, the teacher said: "You were impolite to the council chairman, that worthy, experienced, and venerable old man."
"I'm not aware of having been impolite," said K., drying himself, "though you're quite right that I have more important things to worry about than fancy manners, for what was at stake was my livelihood, which has been jeopardized by the ignominious machinations of officialdom, the details of which I needn't fill you in on, since you yourself are an active part of that official apparatus. Has the council chairman ever complained about me?"
"Whom do you think he could complain to?" said the teacher, "and even if there were such a person, do you think he would ever complain? I simply took down from his dictation a short deposition concerning that meeting, and this has given me insight into the kindness of the chairman and the quality of your answers." As K. looked for his comb, which Frieda must have tidied away somewhere, he said: "What? A deposition? Taken down afterwards, in my absence, by someone who wasn't even present at the meeting. Not bad at all. But why a deposition? Was it official business?"
"No," said the teacher, "it was semiofficial, the deposition itself is only semiofficial and was only drawn up because everything must be kept strictly in order here. Anyhow it's finished, and reflects badly on your honor." K., who had finally found the comb, which had slipped between the covers of the bed, said more calmly: "Well then, let it be finished. And you've come here to inform me of that?"
"No," said the teacher, "but I'm not an automaton and had to tell you what I think. The chairman's instructions, on the other hand, offer further proof of his kindness; I would like to stress that I find his kindness incomprehensible and am carrying out his instructions only as an official duty and out of respect for the chairman." Washed and combed, K. sat at the table waiting for his shirt and clothes, he had little interest in the message the teacher had brought; besides, he was influenced by the landlady's low opinion of the chairman. "It must already be past twelve?" he asked, thinking of the way he wanted to go, but then on second thoughts he added: "You were about to give me some message from the chairman."
"Oh yes," the teacher said with a shrug, as though shaking off all responsibility. "The chairman fears that if the decision in your case takes too long, you will take the initiative and do something rash. As for me, I don't know why he fears that, for to my mind it would be best if you did as you pleased. We are not your guardian angels and don't have to follow you down every single byway. Well, all right. The chairman thinks differently. Of course the actual decision, which is handled by the Count's authorities, is not something he can speed up. But within his sphere of influence he seems to want to arrive at a truly generous temporary settlement, which you are free to accept or to reject, he is offering you temporarily the post of school janitor." At first K. almost ignored the offer he had been made, but the very fact of his being offered something was, it seemed to him, not without significance. It showed that the chairman thought him capable of carrying out acts in his own defense that would even justify certain expenses by the community so as to protect itself. And how seriously they were taking the whole thing. The teacher, who had already been waiting here a while and had prepared the deposition beforehand, must have been literally chased over by the chairman.
When the teacher saw that he had finally made K. stop and reflect, he went on: "I stated my objections. I pointed out that we had managed without a school janitor up to now, the wife of the sexton tidies up now and then, and her work is supervised by the schoolmistress, Miss Gisa, I already have enough torment with the children, I don't want the added bother of a janitor. The chairman countered that the schoolhouse was actually very dirty. I replied, truthfully, that it wasn't so bad. And besides, I added, would things get any better if we took that man on as janitor?
Certainly not. Quite apart from his ignorance of that kind of work, the schoolhouse has only two large classrooms, without any small adjoining rooms, so the janitor and his family must live, sleep, and perhaps even cook in one of the classrooms, and of course this will hardly enhance the general cleanliness. The chairman, though, declared that the position would assist you in time of need and that you would therefore discharge your duties well, with great energy; besides, the chairman said that we would, in addition to you, gain the services of your wife and assistants, and that the school and the garden, too, could be kept in impeccable condition. I rebutted all this easily. Finally, the chairman, unable to come up with anything else in your favor, laughed and said that you were a surveyor so you should be able to lay out marvelously straight flowerbeds. Well, there's no point objecting to a joke, so I brought you the message."
"Teacher, you needn't worry about that," said K., "I would not even consider accepting the post."
"Splendid," said the teacher, "splendid, you decline, and unconditionally at that," and, picking up his hat, he bowed and left.
Immediately thereafter Frieda came up, her face was distraught, she still hadn't ironed the shirt she was carrying and did not respond to questions; in order to distract her a little, K. told her about the teacher and his offer; no sooner had she heard it than she threw the shirt on the bed and ran off again. She was soon back, though this time with the teacher, who looked annoyed and didn't even greet K. Frieda asked him to be patient for a while--she had obviously done so several times on the way here--then pulled K. through a side door he hadn't noticed into the neighboring attic, where, excited and breathless, she finally told him what had happened. The landlady, incensed at having humiliated herself by making certain confessions to K. and, worse still, at having given way over an interview between Klamm and K.--for she had gained nothing, so she said, but a cold and, what's more, insincere rebuff--was determined not to tolerate K.'s presence in her house any longer; if he had any connections with the Castle, then he should take advantage of them right away, for he must leave the inn today, this instant, and she would take him back only if expressly ordered or compelled to do so by the authorities, but she hoped this would never happen, for she too had connections with the Castle, and would know how to make use of them. Incidentally, he had been admitted to the inn only through the negligence of the landlord, besides he was in no real need, for even this morning he had boasted about other lodgings that were available to him. Of course Frieda should stay; if Frieda moved out with K., she, the landlady, would be deeply unhappy; she, a poor woman with a weak heart, had already collapsed in tears downstairs by the stove in the kitchen at the mere thought of it, but how could she respond any differently, for at least in her opinion the honor of Klamm's memory was at stake. That's how the landlady feels. Frieda would certainly follow him, K., wherever he wanted to go, in the snow and ice, and no more need be said on that score; anyhow, the situation was quite serious for both of them, which is why she had responded with such enthusiasm to the chairman's offer; even if the post was unsuitable for K., it was, after all--and the chairman had singled this out for special emphasis--only a temporary one, and in that way they could gain some time and easily find other opportunities, even if the final decision proved unfavorable. "And if need be," cried Frieda, who had already put her arms round K.'s neck, "we shall go abroad, what keeps us here in the village? Temporarily, though, we accept the offer, don't we, dearest, I've brought the teacher back, you just have to say 'agreed,' that's all, and then we'll move into the school-house."