by Franz Kafka
K.’s uncle – Leni
One afternoon – K. was very busy at the time, getting the post ready – K.’s Uncle Karl, a small country land owner, came into the room, pushing his way between two of the staff who were bringing in some papers. K. had long expected his uncle to appear, but the sight of him now shocked K. far less than the prospect of it had done a long time before. His uncle was bound to come, K. had been sure of that for about a month. He already thought at the time he could see how his uncle would arrive, slightly bowed, his battered panama hat in his left hand, his right hand already stretched out over the desk long before he was close enough as he rushed carelessly towards K. knocking over everything that was in his way. K.’s uncle was always in a hurry, as he suffered from the unfortunate belief that he had a number things to do while he was in the big city and had to settle all of them in one day – his visits were only ever for one day – and at the same time thought he could not forgo any conversation or piece of business or pleasure that might arise by chance. Uncle Karl was K.’s former guardian, and so K. was duty-bound to help him in all of this as well as to offer him a bed for the night. ‘I’m haunted by a ghost from the country’, he would say.
As soon as they had greeted each other – K. had invited him to sit in the armchair but Uncle Karl had no time for that – he said he wanted to speak briefly with K. in private. “It is necessary,” he said with a tired gulp, “it is necessary for my peace of mind.” K. immediately sent the junior staff from the room and told them to let no-one in. “What’s this that I’ve been hearing, Josef?” cried K.’s uncle when they were alone, as he sat on the table shoving various papers under himself without looking at them to make himself more comfortable. K. said nothing, he knew what was coming, but, suddenly relieved from the effort of the work he had been doing, he gave way to a pleasant lassitude and looked out the window at the other side of the street. From where he sat, he could see just a small, triangular section of it, part of the empty walls of houses between two shop windows. “You’re staring out the window!” called out his uncle, raising his arms, “For God’s sake, Josef, give me an answer! Is it true, can it really be true?” “Uncle Karl,” said K., wrenching himself back from his daydreaming, “I really don’t know what it is you want of me.” “Josef,” said his uncle in a warning tone, “as far as I know, you’ve always told the truth. Am I to take what you’ve just said as a bad sign?” “I think I know what it is you want,” said K. obediently, “I expect you’ve heard about my trial.” “That’s right,” answered his uncle with a slow nod, “I’ve heard about your trial.” “Who did you hear it from, then?” asked K. “Erna wrote to me,” said his uncle, “she doesn’t have much contact with you, it’s true, you don’t pay very much attention to her, I’m afraid to say, but she learned about it nonetheless. I got her letter today and, of course, I came straight here. And for no other reason, but it seems to me that this is reason enough. I can read you out the part of the letter that concerns you.” He drew the letter out from his wallet. “Here it is. She writes; ‘I have not seen Josef for a long time, I was in the bank last week but Josef was so busy that they would not let me through; I waited there for nearly an hour but then I had to go home as I had my piano lesson. I would have liked to have spoken to him, maybe there will be a chance another time. He sent me a big box of chocolates for my name-day, that was very nice and attentive of him. I forgot to tell you about it when I wrote, and I only remember now that you ask me about it. Chocolate, as I am sure you are aware, disappears straight away in this lodging house, almost as soon as you know somebody has given you chocolate it is gone. But there is something else I wanted to tell you about Josef. Like I said, they would not let me through to see him at the bank because he was negotiating with some gentleman just then. After I had been waiting quietly for quite a long time I asked one of the staff whether his meeting would last much longer. He said it might well do, as it was probably about the legal proceedings, he said, that were being conducted against him. I asked what sort of legal proceedings it was that were being conducted against the chief clerk, and whether he was not making some mistake, but he said he was not making any mistake, there were legal proceedings underway and even that they were about something quite serious, but he did not know any more about it. He would have liked to have been of some help to the chief clerk himself, as the chief clerk was a gentleman, good and honest, but he did not know what it was he could do and merely hoped there would be some influential gentlemen who would take his side. I’m sure that is what will happen and that everything will turn out for the best in the end, but in the mean time things do not look at all good, and you can see that from the mood of the chief clerk himself. Of course, I did not place too much importance on this conversation, and even did my best to put the bank clerk’s mind at rest, he was quite a simple man. I told him he was not to speak to anyone else about this, and I think it is all just a rumour, but I still think it might be good if you, Dear Father, if you looked into the matter the next time you visit. It will be easy for you to find out more detail and, if it is really necessary, to do something about it through the great and influential people you know. But if it is not necessary, and that is what seems most likely, then at least your daughter will soon have the chance to embrace you and I look forward to it.’ – She’s a good child,” said K.’s uncle when he had finished reading, and wiped a few tears from his eyes. K. nodded. With all the different disruptions he had had recently he had completely forgotten about Erna, even her birthday, and the story of the chocolates had clearly just been invented so that he wouldn’t get in trouble with his aunt and uncle. It was very touching, and even the theatre tickets, which he would regularly send her from then on, would not be enough to repay her, but he really did not feel, now, that it was right for him to visit her in her lodgings and hold conversations with a little, eighteen year old schoolgirl. “And what do you have to say about that?” asked his uncle, who had forgotten all his rush and excitement as he read the letter, and seemed to be about to read it again. “Yes, Uncle,” said K., “it is true.” “True!” called out his uncle. “What is true? How can this be true? What sort of trial is it? Not a criminal trial, I hope?” “It’s a criminal trial,” answered K. “And you sit quietly here while you’ve got a criminal trial round your neck?” shouted his uncle, getting ever louder. “The more calm I am, the better it will be for the outcome,” said K. in a tired voice, “don’t worry.” “How can I help worrying?!” shouted his uncle, “Josef, my Dear Josef, think about yourself, about your family, think about our good name! Up till now, you’ve always been our pride, don’t now become our disgrace. I don’t like the way you’re behaving,” he said, looking at K. with his head at an angle, “that’s not how an innocent man behaves when he’s accused of something, not if he’s still got any strength in him. Just tell me what it’s all about so that I can help you. It’s something to do with the bank, I take it?” “No,” said K. as he stood up, “and you’re speaking too loud, Uncle, I expect one of the staff is listening at the door and I find that rather unpleasant. It’s best if we go somewhere else, then I can answer all your questions, as far as I can. And I know very well that I have to account to the family for what I do.” “You certainly do!” his uncle shouted, “Quite right, you do. Now just get a move on, Josef, hurry up now!” “I still have a few documents I need to prepare,” said K., and, using the intercom, he summoned his deputy who entered a few moments later. K.’s uncle, still angry and excited, gestured with his hand to show that K. had summoned him, even though there was no need whatever to do so. K. stood in front of the desk and explained to the young man, who listened calm and attentive, what would need to be done that day in his absence, speaking in a calm voice and making use of various documents. The presence of K.’s uncle while this was going on was quite disturbing; he did not listen to what was being said, but at first he stood there with eyes wide open and nervously biting his lips. Then he began to walk up and down the room, stopped now and then at the window, or stood in front of a picture always making various exclamations such as, “That is totally incomprehensible to me!” or “Now just tell me, what are you supposed to make of that?!” The young man pretended to notice nothing of this and listened to K.’s instructions through to the end, he made a few notes, bowed to both K. and his uncle and then left the room. K.’s uncle had turned his back to him and was looking out the window, bunching up the curtains with his outstretched hands. The door had hardly closed when he called out, “At last! Now that he’s stopped jumping about we can go too!” Once they were in the front hall of the bank, where several members of staff were standing about and where, just then, the deputy director was walking across, there was unfortunately no way of stopping K.’s uncle from continually asking questions about the trial. “Now then, Josef,” he began, lightly acknowledging the bows from those around them as they passed, “tell me everything about this trial; what sort of trial is it?” K. made a few comments which conveyed little information, even laughed a little, and it was only when they reached the front steps that he explained to his uncle that he had not wanted to talk openly in front of those people. “Quite right,” said his uncle, “but now start talking.” With his head to one side, and smoking his cigar in short, impatient draughts, he listened. “First of all, Uncle,” said K., “it’s not a trial like you’d have in a normal courtroom.” “So much the worse,” said his uncle. “How’s that?” asked K., looking at him. “What I mean is, that’s for the worse,” he repeated. They were standing on the front steps of the bank; as the doorkeeper seemed to be listening to what they were saying K. drew his uncle down further, where they were absorbed into the bustle of the street. His uncle took K.’s arm and stopped asking questions with such urgency about the trial, they walked on for a while in silence. “But how did all this come about?” he eventually asked, stopping abruptly enough to startle the people walking behind, who had to avoid walking into him. “Things like this don’t come all of a sudden, they start developing a long time beforehand, there must have been warning signs of it, why didn’t you write to me? You know I’d do anything for you, to some extent I am still your guardian, and until today that’s something I was proud of. I’ll still help you, of course I will, only now, now that the trial is already underway, it makes it very difficult. But whatever; the best thing now is for you to take a short holiday staying with us in the country. You’ve lost weight, I can see that now. The country life will give you strength, that will be good, there’s bound to be a lot of hard work ahead of you. But besides that it’ll be a way of getting you away from the court, to some extent. Here they’ve got every means of showing the powers at their disposal and they’re automatically bound to use them against you; in the country they’ll either have to delegate authority to different bodies or just have to try and bother you by letter, telegram or telephone. And that’s bound to weaken the effect, it won’t release you from them but it’ll give you room to breathe.” “You could forbid me to leave,” said K., who had been drawn slightly into his uncle’s way of thinking by what he had been saying. “I didn’t think you would do it,” said his uncle thoughtfully, “you won’t suffer too much loss of power by moving away.” K. grasped his uncle under the arm to prevent him stopping still and said, “I thought you’d think all this is less important than I do, and now you’re taking it so hard.” “Josef,” called his uncle trying to disentangle himself from him so that he could stop walking, but K. did not let go, “you’ve completely changed, you used to be so astute, are you losing it now? Do you want to lose the trial? Do you realise what that would mean? That would mean you would be simply destroyed. And that everyone you know would be pulled down with you or at the very least humiliated, disgraced right down to the ground. Josef, pull yourself together. The way you’re so indifferent about it, it’s driving me mad. Looking at you I can almost believe that old saying: ‘Having a trial like that means losing a trial like that’.” “My dear Uncle,” said K., “it won’t do any good to get excited, it’s no good for you to do it and it’d be no good for me to do it. The case won’t be won by getting excited, and please admit that my practical experience counts for something, just as I have always and still do respect your experience, even when it surprises me. You say that the family will also be affected by this trial; I really can’t see how, but that’s beside the point and I’m quite willing to follow your instructions in all of this. Only, I don’t see any advantage in staying in the country, not even for you, as that would indicate flight and a sense of guilt. And besides, although I am more subject to persecution if I stay in the city I can also press the matter forward better here.” “You’re right,” said his uncle in a tone that seemed to indicate they were finally coming closer to each other, “I just made the suggestion because, as I saw it, if you stay in the city the case will be put in danger by your indifference to it, and I thought it was better if I did the work for you. But will you push things forward yourself with all your strength, if so, that will naturally be far better.” “We’re agreed then,” said K. “And do you have any suggestions for what I should do next?” “Well, naturally I’ll have to think about it,” said his uncle, “you must bear in mind that I’ve been living in the country for twenty years now, almost without a break, you lose your ability to deal with matters like this. But I do have some important connections with several people who, I expect, know their way around these things better than I do, and to contact them is a matter of course. Out there in the country I’ve been getting out of condition, I’m sure you’re already aware of that. It’s only at times like this that you notice it yourself. And this affair of yours came largely unexpected, although, oddly enough, I had expected something of the sort after I’d read Erna’s letter, and today when I saw your face I knew it with almost total certainty. But all that is by the by, the important thing now is, we have no time to lose.” Even while he was still speaking, K.’s uncle had stood on tiptoe to summon a taxi and now he pulled K. into the car behind himself as he called out an address to the driver. “We’re going now to see Dr. Huld, the lawyer,” he said, “we were at school together. I’m sure you know the name, don’t you? No? Well that is odd. He’s got a very good reputation as a defence barrister and for working with the poor. But I esteem him especially as someone you can trust.” “It’s alright with me, whatever you do,” said K., although he was made uneasy by the rushed and urgent way his uncle was dealing with the matter. It was not very encouraging, as the accused, be to taken to a lawyer for poor people. “I didn’t know,” he said, “that you could take on a lawyer in matters like this.” “Well of course you can,” said his uncle, “that goes without saying. Why wouldn’t you take on a lawyer? And now, so that I’m properly instructed in this matter, tell me what’s been happening so far.” K. instantly began telling his uncle about what had been happening, holding nothing back – being completely open with him was the only way that K. could protest at his uncle’s belief that the trial was a great disgrace. He mentioned Miss Bürstner’s name just once and in passing, but that did nothing to diminish his openness about the trial as Miss Bürstner had no connection with it. As he spoke, he looked out the window and saw how, just then, they were getting closer to the suburb where the court offices were. He drew this to his uncle’s attention, but he did not find the coincidence especially remarkable. The taxi stopped in front of a dark building. K.’s uncle knocked at the very first door at ground level; while they waited he smiled, showing his big teeth, and whispered, “Eight o’clock; not the usual sort of time to be visiting a lawyer, but Huld won’t mind it from me.” Two large, black eyes appeared in the spy-hatch in the door, they stared at the two visitors for a while and then disappeared; the door, however, did not open. K. and his uncle confirmed to each other the fact that they had seen the two eyes. “A new maid, afraid of strangers,” said K.’s uncle, and knocked again. The eyes appeared once more. This time they seemed almost sad, but the open gas flame that burned with a hiss close above their heads gave off little light and that may have merely created an illusion. “Open the door,” called K.’s uncle, raising his fist against it, “we are friends of Dr. Huld, the lawyer!” “Dr. Huld is ill,” whispered someone behind them. In a doorway at the far end of a narrow passage stood a man in his dressing gown, giving them this information in an extremely quiet voice. K.’s uncle, who had already been made very angry by the long wait, turned abruptly round and retorted, “Ill? You say he’s ill?” and strode towards the gentleman in a way that seemed almost threatening, as if he were the illness himself. “They’ve opened the door for you, now,” said the gentleman, pointing at the door of the lawyer. He pulled his dressing gown together and disappeared. The door had indeed been opened, a young girl – K. recognised the dark, slightly bulging eyes – stood in the hallway in a long white apron, holding a candle in her hand. “Next time, open up sooner!” said K.’s uncle instead of a greeting, while the girl made a slight curtsey. “Come along, Josef,” he then said to K. who was slowly moving over towards the girl. “Dr. Huld is unwell,” said the girl as K.’s uncle, without stopping, rushed towards one of the doors. K. continued to look at the girl in amazement as she turned round to block the way into the living room, she had a round face like a puppy’s, not only the pale cheeks and the chin were round but the temples and the hairline were too. “Josef!” called his uncle once more, and he asked the girl, “It’s trouble with his heart, is it?” “I think it is, sir,” said the girl, who by now had found time to go ahead with the candle and open the door into the room. In one corner of the room, where the light of the candle did not reach, a face with a long beard looked up from the bed. “Leni, who’s this coming in?” asked the lawyer, unable to recognise his guests because he was dazzled by the candle. “It’s your old friend, Albert,” said K.’s uncle. “Oh, Albert,” said the lawyer, falling back onto his pillow as if this visit meant he would not need to keep up appearances. “Is it really as bad as that?” asked K.’s uncle, sitting on the edge of the bed. “I don’t believe it is. It’s a recurrence of your heart trouble and it’ll pass over like the other times.” “Maybe,” said the lawyer quietly, “but it’s just as much trouble as it’s ever been. I can hardly breathe, I can’t sleep at all and I’m getting weaker by the day.” “I see,” said K.’s uncle, pressing his panama hat firmly against his knee with his big hand. “That is bad news. But are you getting the right sort of care? And it’s so depressing in here, it’s so dark. It’s a long time since I was last here, but it seemed to me friendlier then. Even your young lady here doesn’t seem to have much life in her, unless she’s just pretending.” The maid was still standing by the door with the candle; as far as could be made out, she was watching K. more than she was watching his uncle even while the latter was still speaking about her. K. leant against a chair that he had pushed near to the girl. “When you’re as ill as I am,” said the lawyer, “you need to have peace. I don’t find it depressing.” After a short pause he added, “and Leni looks after me well, she’s a good girl.” But that was not enough to persuade K.’s uncle, he had visibly taken against his friend’s carer and, even though he did not contradict the invalid, he persecuted her with his scowl as she went over to the bed, put the candle on the bedside table and, leaning over the bed, made a fuss of him by tidying the pillows. K.’s uncle nearly forgot the need to show any consideration for the man who lay ill in bed, he stood up, walked up and down behind the carer, and K. would not have been surprised if he had grabbed hold of her skirts behind her and dragged her away from the bed. K. himself looked on calmly, he was not even disappointed at finding the lawyer unwell, he had been able to do nothing to oppose the enthusiasm his uncle had developed for the matter, he was glad that this enthusiasm had now been distracted without his having to do anything about it. His uncle, probably simply wishing to be offensive to the lawyer’s attendant, then said, “Young lady, now please leave us alone for a while, I have some personal matters to discuss with my friend.” Dr. Huld’s carer was still leant far over the invalid’s bed and smoothing out the cloth covering the wall next to it, she merely turned her head and then, in striking contrast with the anger that first stopped K.’s uncle from speaking and then let the words out in a gush, she said very quietly, “You can see that Dr. Huld is so ill that he can’t discuss any matters at all.” It was probably just for the sake of convenience that she had repeated the words spoken by K.’s uncle, but an onlooker might even have perceived it as mocking him and he, of course, jumped up as if he had just been stabbed. “You damned …,” in the first gurglings of his excitement his words could hardly be understood, K. was startled even though he had been expecting something of the sort and ran to his uncle with the intention, no doubt, of closing his mouth with both his hands. Fortunately, though, behind the girl, the invalid raised himself up, K.’s uncle made an ugly face as if swallowing something disgusting and then, somewhat calmer, said, “We have naturally not lost our senses, not yet; if what I am asking for were not possible I would not be asking for it. Now please, go!” The carer stood up straight by the bed directly facing K.’s uncle, K. thought he noticed that with one hand she was stroking the lawyer’s hand. “You can say anything in front of Leni,” said the invalid, in a tone that was unmistakably imploring. “It’s not my business,” said K.’s uncle, “and it’s not my secrets.” And he twisted himself round as if wanting to go into no more negotiations but giving himself a little more time to think. “Whose business is it then?” asked the lawyer in an exhausted voice as he leant back again. “My nephew’s,” said K.’s uncle, “and I’ve brought him along with me.” And he introduced him, “Chief Clerk Josef K.” “Oh!” said the invalid, now with much more life in him, and reached out his hand towards K. “Do forgive me, I didn’t notice you there at all.” Then he then said to his carer, “Leni, go,” stretching his hand out to her as if this were a farewell that would have to last for a long time. This time the girl offered no resistance. “So you,” he finally said to K.’s uncle, who had also calmed down and stepped closer, “you haven’t come to visit me because I’m ill but you’ve come on business.” The lawyer now looked so much stronger that it seemed the idea of being visited because he was ill had somehow made him weak, he remained supporting himself of one elbow, which must have been rather tiring, and continually pulled at a lock of hair in the middle of his beard. “You already look much better,” said K.’s uncle, “now that that witch has gone outside.” He interrupted himself, whispered, “I bet you she’s listening!” and sprang over to the door. But behind the door there was no-one, K.’s uncle came back not disappointed, as her not listening seemed to him worse than if she had been, but probably somewhat embittered. “You’re mistaken about her,” said the lawyer, but did nothing more to defend her; perhaps that was his way of indicating that she did not need defending. But in a tone that was much more committed he went on, “As far as your nephew’s affairs are concerned, this will be an extremely difficult undertaking and I’d count myself lucky if my strength lasted out long enough for it; I’m greatly afraid it won’t do, but anyway I don’t want to leave anything untried; if I don’t last out you can always get somebody else. To be honest, this matter interests me too much, and I can’t bring myself to give up the chance of taking some part in it. If my heart does totally give out then at least it will have found a worthy affair to fail in.” K. believed he understood not a word of this entire speech, he looked at his uncle for an explanation but his uncle sat on the bedside table with the candle in his hand, a medicine bottle had rolled off the table onto the floor, he nodded to everything the lawyer said, agreed to everything, and now and then looked at K. urging him to show the same compliance. Maybe K.’s uncle had already told the lawyer about the trial. But that was impossible, everything that had happened so far spoke against it. So he said, “I don’t understand …” “Well, maybe I’ve misunderstood what you’ve been saying,” said the lawyer, just as astonished and embarrassed as K. “Perhaps I’ve been going too fast. What was it you wanted to speak to me about? I thought it was to do with your trial.” “Of course it is,” said K.’s uncle, who then asked K., “So what is it you want?” “Yes, but how is it that you know anything about me and my case?” asked K. “Oh, I see,” said the lawyer with a smile. “I am a lawyer, I move in court circles, people talk about various different cases and the more interesting ones stay in your mind, especially when they concern the nephew of a friend. There’s nothing very remarkable about that.” “What is it you want, then?” asked K.’s uncle once more, “You seem so uneasy about it” “You move in this court’s circles?” asked K. “Yes,” said the lawyer. “You’re asking questions like a child,” said K.’s uncle. “What circles should I move in, then, if not with members of my own discipline?” the lawyer added. It sounded so indisputable that K. gave no answer at all. “But you work in the High Court, not that court in the attic,” he had wanted to say but could not bring himself to actually utter it. “You have to realise,” the lawyer continued, in a tone as if he were explaining something obvious, unnecessary and incidental, “you have to realise that I also derive great advantage for my clients from mixing with those people, and do so in many different ways, it’s not something you can keep talking about all the time. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage now, of course, because of my illness, but I still get visits from some good friends of mine at the court and I learn one or two things. It might even be that I learn more than many of those who are in the best of health and spend all day in court. And I’m receiving a very welcome visit right now, for instance.” And he pointed into a dark corner of the room. “Where?” asked K., almost uncouth in his surprise. He looked round uneasily; the little candle gave off far too little light to reach as far as the wall opposite. And then, something did indeed begin to move there in the corner. In the light of the candle held up by K.’s uncle an elderly gentleman could be seen sitting beside a small table. He had been sitting there for so long without being noticed that he could hardly have been breathing. Now he stood up with a great deal of fuss, clearly unhappy that attention had been drawn to him. It was as if, by flapping his hands about like short wings, he hoped to deflect any introductions and greetings, as if he wanted on no account to disturb the others by his presence and seemed to be exhorting them to leave him back in the dark and forget about his being there. That, however, was something that could no longer be granted him. “You took us by surprise, you see,” said the lawyer in explanation, cheerfully indicating to the gentleman that he should come closer, which, slowly, hesitatingly, looking all around him, but with a certain dignity, he did. “The office director – oh, yes, forgive me, I haven’t introduced you – this is my friend Albert K., this is his nephew, the chief clerk Josef K., and this is the office director – so, the office director was kind enough to pay me a visit. It’s only possible to appreciate just how valuable a visit like this is if you’ve been let into the secret of what a pile of work the office director has heaped over him. Well, he came anyway, we were having a peaceful chat, as far as I was able when I’m so weak, and although we hadn’t told Leni she mustn’t let anyone in as we weren’t expecting anyone, we still would rather have remained alone, but then along came you, Albert, thumping your fists on the door, the office director moved over into the corner pulling his table and chair with him, but now it turns out we might have, that is, if that’s what you wish, we might have something to discuss with each other and it would be good if we can all come back together again. – Office director …,” he said with his head on one side, pointing with a humble smile to an armchair near the bed. “I’m afraid I’ll only be able to stay a few minutes more,” smiled the office director as he spread himself out in the armchair and looked at the clock. “Business calls. But I wouldn’t want to miss the chance of meeting a friend of my friend.” He inclined his head slightly toward K.’s uncle, who seemed very happy with his new acquaintance, but he was not the sort of person to express his feelings of deference and responded to the office director’s words with embarrassed, but loud, laughter. A horrible sight! K. was able to quietly watch everything as nobody paid any attention to him, the office director took over as leader of the conversation as seemed to be his habit once he had been called forward, the lawyer listened attentively with his hand to his ear, his initial weakness having perhaps only had the function of driving away his new visitors, K.’s uncle served as candle-bearer – balancing the candle on his thigh while the office director frequently glanced nervously at it – and was soon free of his embarrassment and was quickly enchanted not only by the office director’s speaking manner but also by the gentle, waving hand-movements with which he accompanied it. K., leaning against the bedpost, was totally ignored by the office director, perhaps deliberately, and served the old man only as audience. And besides, he had hardly any idea what the conversation was about and his thoughts soon turned to the care assistant and the ill treatment she had suffered from his uncle. Soon after, he began to wonder whether he had not seen the office director somewhere before, perhaps among the people who were at his first hearing. He may have been mistaken, but thought the office director might well have been among the old gentlemen with the thin beards in the first row.
There was then a noise that everyone heard from the hallway as if something of porcelain were being broken. “I’ll go and see what’s happened,” said K., who slowly left the room as if giving the others the chance to stop him. He had hardly stepped into the hallway, finding his bearings in the darkness with his hand still firmly holding the door, when another small hand, much smaller than K.’s own, placed itself on his and gently shut the door. It was the carer who had been waiting there. “Nothing has happened,” she whispered to him, “I just threw a plate against the wall to get you out of there.” “I was thinking about you, as well,” replied K. uneasily. “So much the better,” said the carer. “Come with me”. A few steps along, they came to a frosted glass door which the carer opened for him. “Come in here,” she said. It was clearly the lawyer’s office, fitted out with old, heavy furniture, as far as could be seen in the moonlight which now illuminated just a small, rectangular section of the floor by each of the three big windows. “This way,” said the carer, pointing to a dark trunk with a carved, wooden backrest. When he had sat down, K. continued to look round the room, it was a large room with a high ceiling, the clients of this lawyer for the poor must have felt quite lost in it. K. thought he could see the little steps with which visitors would approach the massive desk. But then he forgot about all of this and had eyes only for the carer who sat very close beside him, almost pressing him against the armrest. “I did think,” she said “you would come out here to me by yourself without me having to call you first. It was odd. First you stare at me as soon as you come in, and then you keep me waiting. And you ought to call me Leni, too,” she added quickly and suddenly, as if no moment of this conversation should be lost. “Gladly,” said K. “But as for its being odd, Leni, that’s easy to explain. Firstly, I had to listen to what the old men were saying and couldn’t leave without a good reason, but secondly I’m not a bold person, if anything I’m quite shy, and you, Leni, you didn’t really look like you could be won over in one stroke, either.” “That’s not it,” said Leni, laying one arm on the armrest and looking at K., “you didn’t like me, and I don’t suppose you like me now, either.” “Liking wouldn’t be very much,” said K., evasively. “Oh!” she exclaimed with a smile, thus making use of K.’s comment to gain an advantage over him. So K. remained silent for a while. By now, he had become used to the darkness in the room and was able to make out various fixtures and fittings. He was especially impressed by a large picture hanging to the right of the door, he leant forward in order to see it better. It depicted a man wearing a judge’s robes; he was sitting on a lofty throne gilded in a way that shone forth from the picture. The odd thing about the picture was that this judge was not sitting there in dignified calm but had his left arm pressed against the back and armrest, his right arm, however, was completely free and only grasped the armrest with his hand, as if about to jump up any moment in vigorous outrage and make some decisive comment or even to pass sentence. The accused was probably meant to be imagined at the foot of the steps, the top one of which could be seen in the picture, covered with a yellow carpet. “That might be my judge,” said K., pointing to the picture with one finger. “I know him,” said Leni looking up at the picture, “he comes here quite often. That picture is from when he was young, but he can never have looked anything like it, as he’s tiny, minute almost. But despite that, he had himself made to look bigger in the picture as he’s madly vain, just like everyone round here. But even I’m vain and that makes me very unhappy that you don’t like me.” K. replied to that last comment merely by embracing Leni and drawing her towards him, she lay her head quietly on his shoulder. To the rest of it, though, he said, “What rank is he?” “He’s an examining judge,” she said, taking hold of the hand with which K. held her and playing with his fingers. “Just an examining judge once again,” said K. in disappointment, “the senior officials keep themselves hidden. But here he is sitting on a throne.” “That’s all just made up,” said Leni with her face bent over K.’s hand, “really he’s sitting on a kitchen chair with an old horse blanket folded over it. But do you have to be always thinking about your trial?” she added slowly. “No, not at all,” said K., “I probably even think too little about it.” “That’s not the mistake you’re making,” said Leni, “you’re too unyielding, that’s what I’ve heard.” “Who said that?” asked K., he felt her body against his chest and looked down on her rich, dark, tightly-bound hair. “I’d be saying too much if I told you that,” answered Leni. “Please don’t ask for names, but do stop making these mistakes of yours, stop being so unyielding, there’s nothing you can do to defend yourself from this court, you have to confess. So confess to them as soon as you get the chance. It’s only then that they give you the chance to get away, not till then. Only, without help from outside even that’s impossible, but you needn’t worry about getting this help as I want to help you myself.” “You understand a lot about this court and what sort of tricks are needed,” said K. as he lifted her, since she was pressing in much too close to him, onto his lap. “That’s alright, then,” she said, and made herself comfortable on his lap by smoothing out her skirt and adjusting her blouse. Then she hung both her arms around his neck, leant back and took a long look at him. “And what if I don’t confess, could you not help me then?” asked K. to test her out. I’m accumulating women to help me, he thought to himself almost in amazement, first Miss Bürstner, then the court usher’s wife, and now this little care assistant who seems to have some incomprehensible need for me. The way she sits on my lap as if it were her proper place! “No,” answered Leni, slowly shaking her head, “I couldn’t help you then. But you don’t want my help anyway, it means nothing to you, you’re too stubborn and won’t be persuaded.” Then, after a while she asked, “Do you have a lover?” “No,” said K. “Oh, you must have,” she said. “Well, I have really,” said K. “Just think, I’ve even betrayed her while I’m carrying her photograph with me.” Leni insisted he show her a photograph of Elsa, and then, hunched on his lap, studied the picture closely. The photograph was not one that had been taken while Elsa was posing for it, it showed her just after she had been in a wild dance such as she liked to do in wine bars, her skirt was still flung out as she span round, she had placed her hands on her firm hips and, with her neck held taut, looked to one side with a laugh; you could not see from the picture whom her laugh was intended for. “She’s very tightly laced,” said Leni, pointing to the place where she thought this could be seen. “I don’t like her, she’s clumsy and crude. But maybe she’s gentle and friendly towards you, that’s the impression you get from the picture. Big, strong girls like that often don’t know how to be anything but gentle and friendly. Would she be capable of sacrificing herself for you, though?” “No,” said K., “she isn’t gentle or friendly, and nor would she be capable of sacrificing herself for me. But I’ve never yet asked any of those things of her. I’ve never looked at this picture as closely as you.” “You can’t think much of her, then,” said Leni. “She can’t be your lover after all.” “Yes she is,” said K., “I’m not going to take my word back on that.” “Well she might be your lover now, then,” said Leni, “but you wouldn’t miss her much if you lost her or if you exchanged her for somebody else, me for instance.” “That is certainly conceivable,” said K. with a smile, “but she does have one major advantage over you, she knows nothing about my trial, and even if she did she wouldn’t think about it. She wouldn’t try to persuade me to be less unyielding.” “Well that’s no advantage,” said Leni. “If she’s got no advantage other than that, I can keep on hoping. Has she got any bodily defects?” “‘Bodily defects’?” asked K. “Yeah,” said Leni, “as I do have a bodily defect, just a little one. Look.” She spread the middle and ring fingers of her right hand apart from each other. Between those fingers the flap of skin connecting them reached up almost as far as the top joint of the little finger. In the darkness, K. did not see at first what it was she wanted to show him, so she led his hand to it so that he could feel. “What a freak of nature,” said K., and when he had taken a look at the whole hand he added, “What a pretty claw!” Leni looked on with a kind of pride as K. repeatedly opened and closed her two fingers in amazement, until, finally, he briefly kissed them and let go. “Oh!” she immediately exclaimed, “you kissed me!” Hurriedly, and with her mouth open, she clambered up K.’s lap with her knees. He was almost aghast as he looked up at her, now that she was so close to him there was a bitter, irritating smell from her, like pepper, she grasped his head, leant out over him, and bit and kissed his neck, even biting into his hair. “I’ve taken her place!” she exclaimed from time to time. “Just look, now you’ve taken me instead of her!” Just then, her knee slipped out and, with a little cry, she nearly fell down onto the carpet, K. tried to hold her by putting his arms around her and was pulled down with her. “Now you’re mine,” she said. Her last words to him as he left were, “Here’s the key to the door, come whenever you want”, and she planted an undirected kiss on his back. When he stepped out the front door there was a light rain falling, he was about to go to the middle of the street to see if he could still glimpse Leni at the window when K.’s uncle leapt out of a car that K., thinking of other things, had not seen waiting outside the building. He took hold of K. by both arms and shoved him against the door as if he wanted to nail him to it. “Young man,” he shouted, “how could you do a thing like that?! Things were going well with this business of yours, now you’ve caused it terrible damage. You slip off with some dirty, little thing who, moreover, is obviously the lawyer’s beloved, and stay away for hours. You don’t even try to find an excuse, don’t try to hide anything, no, you’re quite open about it, you run off with her and stay there. And meanwhile we’re sitting there, your uncle who’s going to such effort for you, the lawyer who needs to be won over to your side, and above all the office director, a very important gentleman who is in direct command of your affair in its present stage. We wanted to discuss how best to help you, I had to handle the lawyer very carefully, he had to handle the office director carefully, and you had most reason of all to at least give me some support. Instead of which you stay away. Eventually we couldn’t keep up the pretence any longer, but these are polite and highly capable men, they didn’t say anything about it so as to spare my feelings but in the end not even they could continue to force themselves and, as they couldn’t speak about the matter in hand, they became silent. We sat there for several minutes, listening to see whether you wouldn’t finally come back. All in vain. In the end the office director stood up, as he had stayed far longer than he had originally intended, made his farewell, looked at me in sympathy without being able to help, he waited at the door for a long time although it’s more than I can understand why he was being so good, and then he went. I, of course, was glad he’d gone, I’d been holding my breath all this time. All this had even more affect on the lawyer lying there ill, when I took my leave of him, the good man, he was quite unable to speak. You have probably contributed to his total collapse and so brought the very man who you are dependent on closer to his death. And me, your own uncle, you leave me here in the rain – just feel this, I’m wet right through – waiting here for hours, sick with worry.”
The Trial by Franz Kafka