by Franz Kafka
Block, the businessman – Dismissing the lawyer
K. had at last made the decision to withdraw his defence from the lawyer. It was impossible to remove his doubts as to whether this was the right decision, but this was outweighed by his belief in its necessity. This decision, on the day he intended to go to see the lawyer, took a lot of the strength he needed for his work, he worked exceptionally slowly, he had to remain in his office a long time, and it was already past ten o’clock when he finally stood in front of the lawyer’s front door. Even before he rang he considered whether it might not be better to give the lawyer notice by letter or telephone, a personal conversation would certainly be very difficult. Nonetheless, K. did not actually want to do without it, if he gave notice by any other means it would be received in silence or with a few formulated words, and unless Leni could discover anything K. would never learn how the lawyer had taken his dismissal and what its consequences might be, in the lawyer’s not unimportant opinion. But sitting in front of him and taken by surprise by his dismissal, K. would be able easily to infer everything he wanted from the lawyer’s face and behaviour, even if he could not be induced to say very much. It was not even out of the question that K. might, after all, be persuaded that it would be best to leave his defence to the lawyer and withdraw his dismissal.
As usual, there was at first no response to K.’s ring at the door. “Leni could be a bit quicker,” thought K. But he could at least be glad there was nobody else interfering as usually happened, be it the man in his nightshirt or anyone else who might bother him. As K. pressed on the button for the second time he looked back at the other door, but this time it, too, remained closed. At last, two eyes appeared at the spy-hatch in the lawyer’s door, although they weren’t Leni’s eyes. Someone unlocked the door, but kept himself pressed against it as he called back inside, “It’s him!”, and only then did he open the door properly. K. pushed against the door, as behind him he could already hear the key being hurriedly turned in the lock of the door to the other flat. When the door in front of him finally opened, he stormed straight into the hallway. Through the corridor which led between the rooms he saw Leni, to whom the warning cry of the door opener had been directed, still running away in her nightshirt. He looked at her for a moment and then looked round at the person who had opened the door. It was a small, wizened man with a full beard, he held a candle in his hand. “Do you work here?” asked K. “No,” answered the man, “I don’t belong here at all, the lawyer is only representing me, I’m here on legal business.” “Without your coat?” asked K., indicating the man’s deficiency of dress with a gesture of his hand. “Oh, do forgive me!” said the man, and he looked at himself in the light of the candle he was holding as if he had not known about his appearance until then. “Is Leni your lover?” asked K. curtly. He had set his legs slightly apart, his hands, in which he held his hat, were behind his back. Merely by being in possession of a thick overcoat he felt his advantage over this thin little man. “Oh God,” he said and, shocked, raised one hand in front of his face as if in defence, “no, no, what can you be thinking?” “You look honest enough,” said K. with a smile, “but come along anyway.” K. indicated with his hat which way the man was to go and let him go ahead of him. “What is your name then?” asked K. on the way. “Block. I’m a businessman,” said the small man, twisting himself round as he thus introduced himself, although K. did not allow him to stop moving. “Is that your real name?” asked K. “Of course it is,” was the man’s reply, “why do you doubt it?” “I thought you might have some reason to keep your name secret,” said K. He felt himself as much at liberty as is normally only felt in foreign parts when speaking with people of lower standing, keeping everything about himself to himself, speaking only casually about the interests of the other, able to raise him to a level above one’s own, but also able, at will, to let him drop again. K. stopped at the door of the lawyer’s office, opened it and, to the businessman who had obediently gone ahead, called, “Not so fast! Bring some light here!” K. thought Leni might have hidden in here, he let the businessman search in every corner, but the room was empty. In front of the picture of the judge K. took hold of the businessman’s braces to stop him moving on. “Do you know him?” he asked, pointing upwards with his finger. The businessman lifted the candle, blinked as he looked up and said, “It’s a judge.” “An important judge?” asked K., and stood to the side and in front of the businessman so that he could observe what impression the picture had on him. The businessman was looking up in admiration. “He’s an important judge.” “You don’t have much insight,” said K. “He is the lowest of the lowest examining judges.” “I remember now,” said the businessman as he lowered the candle, “that’s what I’ve already been told.” “Well of course you have,” called out K., “I’d forgotten about it, of course you would already have been told.” “But why, why?” asked the businessman as he moved forwards towards the door, propelled by the hands of K. Outside in the corridor K. said, “You know where Leni’s hidden, do you?” “Hidden?” said the businessman, “No, but she might be in the kitchen cooking soup for the lawyer.” “Why didn’t you say that immediately?” asked K. “I was going to take you there, but you called me back again,” answered the businessman, as if confused by the contradictory commands. “You think you’re very clever, don’t you,” said K, “now take me there!” K. had never been in the kitchen, it was surprisingly big and very well equipped. The stove alone was three times bigger than normal stoves, but it was not possible to see any detail beyond this as the kitchen was at the time illuminated by no more than a small lamp hanging by the entrance. At the stove stood Leni, in a white apron as always, breaking eggs into a pot standing on a spirit lamp. “Good evening, Josef,” she said with a glance sideways. “Good evening,” said K., pointing with one hand to a chair in a corner which the businessman was to sit on, and he did indeed sit down on it. K. however went very close behind Leni’s back, leant over her shoulder and asked, “Who is this man?” Leni put one hand around K. as she stirred the soup with the other, she drew him forward toward herself and said, “He’s a pitiful character, a poor businessman by the name of Block. Just look at him.” The two of them looked back over their shoulders. The businessman was sitting on the chair that K. had directed him to, he had extinguished the candle whose light was no longer needed and pressed on the wick with his fingers to stop the smoke. “You were in your nightshirt,” said K., putting his hand on her head and turning it back towards the stove. She was silent. “Is he your lover?” asked K. She was about to take hold of the pot of soup, but K. took both her hands and said, “Answer me!” She said, “Come into the office, I’ll explain everything to you.” “No,” said K., “I want you to explain it here.” She put her arms around him and wanted to kiss him. K., though, pushed her away and said, “I don’t want you to kiss me now.” “Josef,” said Leni, looking at K. imploringly but frankly in the eyes, “you’re not going to be jealous of Mr. Block now, are you? Rudi,” she then said, turning to the businessman, “help me out will you, I’m being suspected of something, you can see that, leave the candle alone.” It had looked as though Mr. Block had not been paying attention but he had been following closely. “I don’t even know why you might be jealous,” he said ingenuously. “Nor do I, actually,” said K., looking at the businessman with a smile. Leni laughed out loud and while K. was not paying attention took the opportunity of embracing him and whispering, “Leave him alone, now, you can see what sort of person he is. I’ve been helping him a little bit because he’s an important client of the lawyer’s, and no other reason. And what about you? Do you want to speak to the lawyer at this time of day? He’s very unwell today, but if you want I’ll tell him you’re here. But you can certainly spend the night with me. It’s so long since you were last here, even the lawyer has been asking about you. Don’t neglect your case! And I’ve got some things to tell you that I’ve learned about. But now, before anything else, take your coat off!” She helped him off with his coat, took the hat off his head, ran with the things into the hallway to hang them up, then she ran back and saw to the soup. “Do you want me to tell him you’re here straight away or take him his soup first?” “Tell him I’m here first,” said K. He was in a bad mood, he had originally intended a detailed discussion of his business with Leni, especially the question of his giving the lawyer notice, but now he no longer wanted to because of the presence of the businessman. Now he considered his affair too important to let this little businessman take part in it and perhaps change some of his decisions, and so he called Leni back even though she was already on her way to the lawyer. “Bring him his soup first,” he said, “I want him to get his strength up for the discussion with me, he’ll need it.” “You’re a client of the lawyer’s too, aren’t you,” said the businessman quietly from his corner as if he were trying to find this out. It was not, however, taken well. “What business is that of yours?” said K., and Leni said, “Will you be quiet. – I’ll take him his soup first then, shall I?” And she poured the soup into a dish. “The only worry then is that he might go to sleep soon after he’s eaten.” “What I’ve got to say to him will keep him awake,” said K., who still wanted to intimate that he intended some important negotiations with the lawyer, he wanted Leni to ask him what it was and only then to ask her advice. But instead, she just promptly carried out the order he had given her. When she went over to him with the dish she deliberately brushed against him and whispered, “I’ll tell him you’re here as soon as he’s eaten the soup so that I can get you back as soon as possible.” “Just go,” said K., “just go.” “Be a bit more friendly,” she said and, still holding the dish, turned completely round once more in the doorway.
K. watched her as she went; the decision had finally been made that the lawyer was to be dismissed, it was probably better that he had not been able to discuss the matter any more with Leni beforehand; she hardly understood the complexity of the matter, she would certainly have advised him against it and perhaps would even have prevented him from dismissing the lawyer this time, he would have remained in doubt and unease and eventually have carried out his decision after a while anyway as this decision was something he could not avoid. The sooner it was carried out the more harm would be avoided. And moreover, perhaps the businessman had something to say on the matter.
K. turned round, the businessman hardly noticed it as he was about to stand up. “Stay where you are,” said K. and pulled up a chair beside him. “Have you been a client of the lawyer’s for a long time?” asked K. “Yes,” said the businessman, “a very long time.” “How many years has he been representing you so far, then?” asked K. “I don’t know how you mean,” said the businessman, “he’s been my business lawyer – I buy and sell cereals – he’s been my business lawyer since I took the business over, and that’s about twenty years now, but perhaps you mean my own trial and he’s been representing me in that since it started, and that’s been more than five years. Yes, well over five years,” he then added, pulling out an old briefcase, “I’ve got everything written down; I can tell you the exact dates if you like. It’s so hard to remember everything. Probably, my trial’s been going on much longer than that, it started soon after the death of my wife, and that’s been more than five and a half years now.” K. moved in closer to him. “So the lawyer takes on ordinary legal business, does he?” he asked. This combination of criminal and commercial business seemed surprisingly reassuring for K. “Oh yes,” said the businessman, and then he whispered, “They even say he’s more efficient in jurisprudence than he is in other matters.” But then he seemed to regret saying this, and he laid a hand on K.’s shoulder and said, “Please don’t betray me to him, will you.” K. patted his thigh to reassure him and said, “No, I don’t betray people.” “He can be so vindictive, you see,” said the businessman. “I’m sure he won’t do anything against such a faithful client as you,” said K. “Oh, he might do,” said the businessman, “when he gets cross it doesn’t matter who it is, and anyway, I’m not really faithful to him.” “How’s that then?” asked K. “I’m not sure I should tell you about it,” said the businessman hesitantly. “I think it’ll be alright,” said K. “Well then,” said the businessman, “I’ll tell you about some of it, but you’ll have to tell me a secret too, then we can support each other with the lawyer.” “You are very careful,” said K., “but I’ll tell you a secret that will set your mind completely at ease. Now tell me, in what way have you been unfaithful to the lawyer?” “I’ve …” said the businessman hesitantly, and in a tone as if he were confessing something dishonourable, “I’ve taken on other lawyers besides him.” “That’s not so serious,” said K., a little disappointed. “It is, here,” said the businessman, who had had some difficulty breathing since making his confession but who now, after hearing K.’s comment, began to feel more trust for him. “That’s not allowed. And it’s allowed least of all to take on petty lawyers when you’ve already got a proper one. And that’s just what I have done, besides him I’ve got five petty lawyers.” “Five!” exclaimed K., astonished at this number, “Five lawyers besides this one?” The businessman nodded. “I’m even negotiating with a sixth one.” “But why do you need so many lawyers?” asked K. “I need all of them,” said the businessman. “Would you mind explaining that to me?” asked K. “I’d be glad to,” said the businessman. “Most of all, I don’t want to lose my case, well that’s obvious. So that means I mustn’t neglect anything that might be of use to me; even if there’s very little hope of a particular thing being of any use I can’t just throw it away. So everything I have I’ve put to use in my case. I’ve taken all the money out of my business, for example, the offices for my business used to occupy nearly a whole floor, but now all I need is a little room at the back where I work with one apprentice. It wasn’t just using up the money that caused the difficulty, of course, it was much more to do with me not working at the business as much as I used to. If you want to do something about your trial you don’t have much time for anything else.” “So you’re also working at the court yourself?” asked K. “That’s just what I want to learn more about.” “I can’t tell you very much about that,” said the businessman, “at first I tried to do that too but I soon had to give it up again. It wears you out too much, and it’s really not much use. And it turned out to be quite impossible to work there yourself and to negotiate, at least for me it was. It’s a heavy strain there just sitting and waiting. You know yourself what the air is like in those offices.” “How do you know I’ve been there, then?” asked K. “I was in the waiting room myself when you went through.” “What a coincidence that is!” exclaimed K., totally engrossed and forgetting how ridiculous the businessman had seemed to him earlier. “So you saw me! You were in the waiting room when I went through. Yes, I did go through it one time.” “It isn’t such a big coincidence,” said the businessman, “I’m there nearly every day.” “I expect I’ll have to go there quite often myself now,” said K., “although I can hardly expect to be shown the same respect as I was then. They all stood up for me. They must have thought I was a judge.” “No,” said the businessman, “we were greeting the servant of the court. We knew you were a defendant. That sort of news spreads very quickly.” “So you already knew about that,” said K., “the way I behaved must have seemed very arrogant to you. Did you criticise me for it afterwards?” “No,” said the businessman, “quite the opposite. That was just stupidity.” “What do you mean, ‘stupidity’?” asked K. “Why are you asking about it?” said the businessman in some irritation. “You still don’t seem to know the people there and you might take it wrong. Don’t forget in proceedings like this there are always lots of different things coming up to talk about, things that you just can’t understand with reason alone, you just get too tired and distracted for most things and so, instead, people rely on superstition. I’m talking about the others, but I’m no better myself. One of these superstitions, for example, is that you can learn a lot about the outcome of a defendant’s case by looking at his face, especially the shape of his lips. There are lots who believe that, and they said they could see from the shape of your lips that you’d definitely be found guilty very soon. I repeat that all this is just a ridiculous superstition, and in most cases it’s completely disproved by the facts, but when you live in that society it’s hard to hold yourself back from beliefs like that. Just think how much effect that superstition can have. You spoke to one of them there, didn’t you? He was hardly able to give you an answer. There are lots of things there that can make you confused, of course, but one of them, for him, was the appearance of your lips. He told us all later he thought he could see something in your lips that meant he’d be convicted himself.” “On my lips?” asked K., pulling out a pocket mirror and examining himself. “I can see nothing special about my lips. Can you?” “Nor can I,” said the businessman, “nothing at all.” “These people are so superstitious!” exclaimed K. “Isn’t that what I just told you?” asked the businessman. “Do you then have that much contact with each other, exchanging each other’s opinions?” said K. “I’ve kept myself completely apart so far.” “They don’t normally have much contact with each other,” said the businessman, “that would be impossible, there are so many of them. And they don’t have much in common either. If a group of them ever thinks they have found something in common it soon turns out they were mistaken. There’s nothing you can do as a group where the court’s concerned. Each case is examined separately, the court is very painstaking. So there’s nothing to be achieved by forming into a group, only sometimes an individual will achieve something in secret; and it’s only when that’s been done the others learn about it; nobody knows how it was done. So there’s no sense of togetherness, you meet people now and then in the waiting rooms, but we don’t talk much there. The superstitious beliefs were established a long time ago and they spread all by themselves.” “I saw those gentlemen in the waiting room,” said K., “it seemed so pointless for them to be waiting in that way.” “Waiting is not pointless,” said the businessman, “it’s only pointless if you try and interfere yourself. I told you just now I’ve got five lawyers besides this one. You might think – I thought it myself at first – you might think I could leave the whole thing entirely up to them now. That would be entirely wrong. I can leave it up to them less than when I had just the one. Maybe you don’t understand that, do you?” “No,” said K., and to slow the businessman down, who had been speaking too fast, he laid his hand on the businessman’s to reassure him, “but I’d like just to ask you to speak a little more slowly, these are many very important things for me, and I can’t follow exactly what you’re saying.” “You’re quite right to remind me of that,” said the businessman, “you’re new to all this, a junior. Your trial is six months old, isn’t it? Yes, I’ve heard about it. Such a new case! But I’ve already thought all these things through countless times, to me they’re the most obvious things in the world.” “You must be glad your trial has already progressed so far, are you?” asked K., he did not wish to ask directly how the businessman’s affairs stood, but received no clear answer anyway. “Yes, I’ve been working at my trial for five years now,” said the businessman as his head sank, “that’s no small achievement.” Then he was silent for a while. K. listened to hear whether Leni was on her way back. On the one hand he did not want her to come back too soon as he still had many questions to ask and did not want her to find him in this intimate discussion with the businessman, but on the other hand it irritated him that she stayed so long with the lawyer when K. was there, much longer than she needed to give him his soup. “I still remember it exactly,” the businessman began again, and K. immediately gave him his full attention, “when my case was as old as yours is now. I only had this one lawyer at that time but I wasn’t very satisfied with him.” Now I’ll find out everything, thought K., nodding vigorously as if he could thereby encourage the businessman to say everything worth knowing. “My case,” the businessman continued, “didn’t move on at all, there were some hearings that took place and I went to every one of them, collected materials, handed all my business books to the court – which I later found was entirely unnecessary – I ran back and forth to the lawyer, and he submitted various documents to the court too …” “Various documents?” asked K. “Yes, that’s right,” said the businessman. “That’s very important for me,” said K., “in my case he’s still working on the first set of documents. He still hasn’t done anything. I see now that he’s been neglecting me quite disgracefully.” “There can be lots of good reasons why the first documents still aren’t ready,” said the businessman, “and anyway, it turned out later on that the ones he submitted for me were entirely worthless. I even read one of them myself, one of the officials at the court was very helpful. It was very learned, but it didn’t actually say anything. Most of all, there was lots of Latin, which I can’t understand, then pages and pages of general appeals to the court, then lots of flattery for particular officials, they weren’t named, these officials, but anyone familiar with the court must have been able to guess who they were, then there was self-praise by the lawyer where he humiliated himself to the court in a way that was downright dog-like, and then endless investigations of cases from the past which were supposed to be similar to mine. Although, as far as I was able to follow them, these investigations had been carried out very carefully. Now, I don’t mean to criticise the lawyer’s work with all of this, and the document I read was only one of many, but even so, and this is something I will say, at that time I couldn’t see any progress in my trial at all.” “And what sort of progress had you been hoping for?” asked K. “That’s a very sensible question,” said the businessman with a smile, “it’s only very rare that you see any progress in these proceedings at all. But I didn’t know that then. I’m a businessman, much more in those days than now, I wanted to see some tangible progress, it should have all been moving to some conclusion or at least should have been moving on in some way according to the rules. Instead of which there were just more hearings, and most of them went through the same things anyway; I had all the answers off pat like in a church service; there were messengers from the court coming to me at work several times a week, or they came to me at home or anywhere else they could find me; and that was very disturbing of course (but at least now things are better in that respect, it’s much less disturbing when they contact you by telephone), and rumours about my trial even started to spread among some of the people I do business with, and especially my relations, so I was being made to suffer in many different ways but there was still not the slightest sign that even the first hearing would take place soon. So I went to the lawyer and complained about it. He explained it all to me at length, but refused to do anything I asked for, no-one has any influence on the way the trial proceeds, he said, to try and insist on it in any of the documents submitted – like I was asking – was simply unheard of and would do harm to both him and me. I thought to myself: What this lawyer can’t or won’t do another lawyer will. So I looked round for other lawyers. And before you say anything: none of them asked for a definite date for the main trial and none of them got one, and anyway, apart from one exception which I’ll talk about in a minute, it really is impossible, that’s one thing this lawyer didn’t mislead me about; but besides, I had no reason to regret turning to other lawyers. Perhaps you’ve already heard how Dr. Huld talks about the petty lawyers, he probably made them sound very contemptible to you, and he’s right, they are contemptible. But when he talks about them and compares them with himself and his colleagues there’s a small error running through what he says, and, just for your interest, I’ll tell you about it. When he talks about the lawyers he mixes with he sets them apart by calling them the ‘great lawyers’. That’s wrong, anyone can call himself ‘great’ if he wants to, of course, but in this case only the usage of the court can make that distinction. You see, the court says that besides the petty lawyers there are also minor lawyers and great lawyers. This one and his colleagues are only minor lawyers, and the difference in rank between them and the great lawyers, who I’ve only ever heard about and never seen, is incomparably greater than between the minor lawyers and the despised petty lawyers.” “The great lawyers?” asked K. “Who are they then? How do you contact them?” “You’ve never heard about them, then?” said the businessman. “There’s hardly anyone who’s been accused who doesn’t spend a lot of time dreaming about the great lawyers once he’s heard about them. It’s best if you don’t let yourself be misled in that way. I don’t know who the great lawyers are, and there’s probably no way of contacting them. I don’t know of any case I can talk about with certainty where they’ve taken any part. They do defend a lot of people, but you can’t get hold of them by your own efforts, they only defend those who they want to defend. And I don’t suppose they ever take on cases that haven’t already got past the lower courts. Anyway, it’s best not to think about them, as if you do it makes the discussions with the other lawyers, all their advice and all that they do manage to achieve, seem so unpleasant and useless, I had that experience myself, just wanted to throw everything away and lay at home in bed and hear nothing more about it. But that, of course, would be the stupidest thing you could do, and you wouldn’t be left in peace in bed for very long either.” “So you weren’t thinking about the great lawyers at that time?” asked K. “Not for very long,” said the businessman, and smiled again, “you can’t forget about them entirely, I’m afraid, especially in the night when these thoughts come so easily. But I wanted immediate results in those days, so I went to the petty lawyers.”
“Well look at you two sat huddled together!” called Leni as she came back with the dish and stood in the doorway. They were indeed sat close together, if either of them turned his head even slightly it would have knocked against the other’s, the businessman was not only very small but also sat hunched down, so that K. was also forced to bend down low if he wanted to hear everything. “Not quite yet!” called out K., to turn Leni away, his hand, still resting on the businessman’s hand, twitching with impatience. “He wanted me to tell him about my trial,” said the businessman to Leni. “Carry on, then, carry on,” she said. She spoke to the businessman with affection but, at the same time, with condescension. K. did not like that, he had begun to learn that the man was of some value after all, he had experience at least, and he was willing to share it. Leni was probably wrong about him. He watched her in irritation as Leni now took the candle from the businessman’s hand – which he had been holding on to all this time – wiped his hand with her apron and then knelt beside him to scratch off some wax that had dripped from the candle onto his trousers. “You were about to tell me about the petty lawyers,” said K., shoving Leni’s hand away with no further comment. “What’s wrong with you today?” asked Leni, tapped him gently and carried on with what she had been doing. “Yes, the petty lawyers,” said the businessman, putting his hand to his brow as if thinking hard. K. wanted to help him and said, “You wanted immediate results and so went to the petty lawyers.” “Yes, that’s right,” said the businessman, but did not continue with what he’d been saying. “Maybe he doesn’t want to speak about it in front of Leni,” thought K., suppressing his impatience to hear the rest straight away, and stopped trying to press him.
“Have you told him I’m here?” he asked Leni. “Course I have,” she said, “he’s waiting for you. Leave Block alone now, you can talk to Block later, he’ll still be here.” K. still hesitated. “You’ll still be here?” he asked the businessman, wanting to hear the answer from him and not wanting Leni to speak about the businessman as if he weren’t there, he was full of secret resentment towards Leni today. And once more it was only Leni who answered. “He often sleeps here.” “He sleeps here?” exclaimed K., he had thought the businessman would just wait there for him while he quickly settled his business with the lawyer, and then they would leave together to discuss everything thoroughly and undisturbed. “Yes,” said Leni, “not everyone’s like you, Josef, allowed to see the lawyer at any time you like. Do don’t even seem surprised that the lawyer, despite being ill, still receives you at eleven o’clock at night. You take it far too much for granted, what your friends do for you. Well, your friends, or at least I do, we like to do things for you. I don’t want or need any more thanks than that you’re fond of me.” “Fond of you?” thought K. at first, and only then it occurred to him, “Well, yes, I am fond of her.” Nonetheless, what he said, forgetting all the rest, was, “He receives me because I am his client. If I needed anyone else’s help I’d have to beg and show gratitude whenever I do anything.” “He’s really nasty today, isn’t he?” Leni asked the businessman. “Now it’s me who’s not here,” thought K., and nearly lost his temper with the businessman when, with the same rudeness as Leni, he said, “The lawyer also has other reasons to receive him. His case is much more interesting than mine. And it’s only in its early stages too, it probably hasn’t progressed very far so the lawyer still likes to deal with him. That’ll all change later on.” “Yeah, yeah,” said Leni, looking at the businessman and laughing. “He doesn’t half talk!” she said, turning to face K. “You can’t believe a word he says. He’s as talkative as he is sweet. Maybe that’s why the lawyer can’t stand him. At least, he only sees him when he’s in the right mood. I’ve already tried hard to change that but it’s impossible. Just think, there are times when I tell him Block’s here and he doesn’t receive him until three days later. And if Block isn’t on the spot when he’s called then everything’s lost and it all has to start all over again. That’s why I let Block sleep here, it wouldn’t be the first time Dr. Huld has wanted to see him in the night. So now Block is ready for that. Sometimes, when he knows Block is still here, he’ll even change his mind about letting him in to see him.” K. looked questioningly at the businessman. The latter nodded and, although he had spoken quite openly with K. earlier, seemed to be confused with shame as he said, “Yes, later on you become very dependent on your lawyer.” “He’s only pretending to mind,” said Leni. “He likes to sleep here really, he’s often said so.” She went over to a little door and shoved it open. “Do you want to see his bedroom?” she asked. K. went over to the low, windowless room and looked in from the doorway. The room contained a narrow bed which filled it completely, so that to get into the bed you would need to climb over the bedpost. At the head of the bed there was a niche in the wall where, fastidiously tidy, stood a candle, a bottle of ink, and a pen with a bundle of papers which were probably to do with the trial. “You sleep in the maid’s room?” asked K., as he went back to the businessman. “Leni’s let me have it,” answered the businessman, “it has many advantages.” K. looked long at him; his first impression of the businessman had perhaps not been right; he had experience as his trial had already lasted a long time, but he had paid a heavy price for this experience. K. was suddenly unable to bear the sight of the businessman any longer. “Bring him to bed, then!” he called out to Leni, who seemed to understand him. For himself, he wanted to go to the lawyer and, by dismissing him, free himself from not only the lawyer but also from Leni and the businessman. But before he had reached the door the businessman spoke to him gently. “Excuse me, sir,” he said, and K. looked round crossly. “You’ve forgotten your promise,” said the businessman, stretching his hand out to K. imploringly from where he sat. “You were going to tell me a secret.” “That is true,” said K., as he glanced at Leni, who was watching him carefully, to check on her. “So listen; it’s hardly a secret now anyway. I’m going to see the lawyer now to sack him.” “He’s sacking him!” yelled the businessman, and he jumped up from his chair and ran around the kitchen with his arms in the air. He kept on shouting, “He’s sacking his lawyer!” Leni tried to rush at K. but the businessman got in her way so that she shoved him away with her fists. Then, still with her hands balled into fists, she ran after K. who, however, had been given a long start. He was already inside the lawyer’s room by the time Leni caught up with him. He had almost closed the door behind himself, but Leni held the door open with her foot, grabbed his arm and tried to pull him back. But he put such pressure on her wrist that, with a sigh, she was forced to release him. She did not dare go into the room straight away, and K. locked the door with the key.
“I’ve been waiting for you a very long time,” said the lawyer from his bed. He had been reading something by the light of a candle but now he laid it onto the bedside table and put his glasses on, looking at K. sharply through them. Instead of apologising K. said, “I’ll be leaving again soon.” As he had not apologised the lawyer ignored what K. said, and replied, “I won’t let you in this late again next time.” “I find that quite acceptable,” said K. The lawyer looked at him quizzically. “Sit down,” he said. “As you wish,” said K., drawing a chair up to the bedside table and sitting down. “It seemed to me that you locked the door,” said the lawyer. “Yes,” said K., “it was because of Leni.” He had no intention of letting anyone off lightly. But the lawyer asked him, “Was she being importunate again?” “Importunate?” asked K. “Yes,” said the lawyer, laughing as he did so, had a fit of coughing and then, once it had passed, began to laugh again. “I’m sure you must have noticed how importunate she can be sometimes,” he said, and patted K.’s hand which K. had rested on the bedside table and which he now snatched back. “You don’t attach much importance to it, then,” said the lawyer when K. was silent, “so much the better. Otherwise I might have needed to apologise to you. It is a peculiarity of Leni’s. I’ve long since forgiven her for it, and I wouldn’t be talking of it now, if you hadn’t locked the door just now. Anyway, perhaps I should at least explain this peculiarity of hers to you, but you seem rather disturbed, the way you’re looking at me, and so that’s why I’ll do it, this peculiarity of hers consists in this; Leni finds most of the accused attractive. She attaches herself to each of them, loves each of them, even seems to be loved by each of them; then she sometimes entertains me by telling me about them when I allow her to. I am not so astonished by all of this as you seem to be. If you look at them in the right way the accused really can be attractive, quite often. But that is a remarkable and to some extent scientific phenomenon. Being indicted does not cause any clear, precisely definable change in a person’s appearance, of course. But it’s not like with other legal matters, most of them remain in their usual way of life and, if they have a good lawyer looking after them, the trial doesn’t get in their way. But there are nonetheless those who have experience in these matters who can look at a crowd, however big, and tell you which among them is facing a charge. How can they do that, you will ask. My answer will not please you. It is simply that those who are facing a charge are the most attractive. It cannot be their guilt that makes them attractive as not all of them are guilty – at least that’s what I, as a lawyer, have to say – and nor can it be the proper punishment that has made them attractive as not all of them are punished, so it can only be that the proceedings levelled against them take some kind of hold on them. Whatever the reason, some of these attractive people are indeed very attractive. But all of them are attractive, even Block, pitiful worm that he is.” As the lawyer finished what he was saying, K. was fully in control of himself, he had even nodded conspicuously at his last few words in order to confirm to himself the view he had already formed; that the lawyer was trying to confuse him, as he always did, by making general and irrelevant observations, and thus distract him from the main question of what he was actually doing for K.’s trial. The lawyer must have noticed that K. was offering him more resistance than before, as he became silent, giving K. the chance to speak himself, and then, as K. also remained silent, he asked, “Did you have a particular reason for coming to see me today?” “Yes,” said K., putting his hand up to slightly shade his eyes from the light of the candle so that he could see the lawyer better, “I wanted to tell you that I’m withdrawing my representation from you, with immediate effect.” “Do I understand you rightly?” asked the lawyer as he half raised himself in his bed and supported himself with one hand on the pillow. “I think you do,” said K., sitting stiffly upright as if waiting in ambush. “Well we can certainly discuss this plan of yours,” said the lawyer after a pause. “It’s not a plan any more,” said K. “That may be,” said the lawyer, “but we still mustn’t rush anything.” He used the word ‘we’, as if he had no intention of letting K. go free, and as if, even if he could no longer represent him, he could still at least continue as his adviser. “Nothing is being rushed,” said K., standing slowly up and going behind his chair, “everything has been well thought out and probably even for too long. The decision is final.” “Then allow me to say a few words,” said the lawyer, throwing the bed cover to one side and sitting on the edge of the bed. His naked, white- haired legs shivered in the cold. He asked K. to pass him a blanket from the couch. K. passed him the blanket and said, “You are running the risk of catching cold for no reason.” “The circumstances are important enough,” said the lawyer as he wrapped the bed cover around the top half of his body and then the blanket around his legs. “Your uncle is my friend and in the course of time I’ve become fond of you as well. I admit that quite openly. There’s nothing in that for me to be ashamed of.” It was very unwelcome for K. to hear the old man speak in this touching way, as it forced him to explain himself more fully, which he would rather have avoided, and he was aware that it also confused him even though it could never make him reverse his decision. “Thank you for feeling so friendly toward me,” he said, “and I also realise how deeply involved you’ve been in my case, as deeply as possible for yourself and to bring as much advantage as possible to me. Nonetheless, I have recently come to the conviction that it is not enough. I would naturally never attempt, considering that you are so much older and more experienced than I am, to convince you of my opinion; if I have ever unintentionally done so then I beg your forgiveness, but, as you have just said yourself, the circumstances are important enough and it is my belief that my trial needs to be approached with much more vigour than has so far been the case.” “I see,” said the lawyer, “you’ve become impatient.” “I am not impatient,” said K., with some irritation and he stopped paying so much attention to his choice of words. “When I first came here with my uncle you probably noticed I wasn’t greatly concerned about my case, and if I wasn’t reminded of it by force, as it were, I would forget about it completely. But my uncle insisted I should allow you to represent me and I did so as a favour to him. I could have expected the case to be less of a burden than it had been, as the point of taking on a lawyer is that he should take on some of its weight. But what actually happened was the opposite. Before, the trial was never such a worry for me as it has been since you’ve been representing me. When I was by myself I never did anything about my case, I was hardly aware of it, but then, once there was someone representing me, everything was set for something to happen, I was always, without cease, waiting for you to do something, getting more and more tense, but you did nothing. I did get some information about the court from you that I probably could not have got anywhere else, but that can’t be enough when the trial, supposedly in secret, is getting closer and closer to me.” K. had pushed the chair away and stood erect, his hands in the pockets of his frock coat. “After a certain point in the proceedings,” said the lawyer quietly and calmly, “nothing new of any importance ever happens. So many litigants, at the same stage in their trials, have stood before me just like you are now and spoken in the same way.” “Then these other litigants,” said K., “have all been right, just as I am. That does not show that I’m not.” “I wasn’t trying to show that you were mistaken,” said the lawyer, “but I wanted to add that I expected better judgement from you than from the others, especially as I’ve given you more insight into the workings of the court and my own activities than I normally do. And now I’m forced to accept that, despite everything, you have too little trust in me. You don’t make it easy for me.” How the lawyer was humiliating himself to K.! He was showing no regard for the dignity of his position, which on this point, must have been at its most sensitive. And why did he do that? He did seem to be very busy as a lawyer as well a rich man, neither the loss of income nor the loss of a client could have been of much importance to him in themselves. He was moreover unwell and should have been thinking of passing work on to others. And despite all that he held on tightly to K. Why? Was it something personal for his uncle’s sake, or did he really see K.’s case as one that was exceptional and hoped to be able to distinguish himself with it, either for K.’s sake or – and this possibility could never be excluded – for his friends at the court? It was not possible to learn anything by looking at him, even though K. was scrutinizing him quite brazenly. It could almost be supposed he was deliberately hiding his thoughts as he waited to see what effect his words would have. But he clearly deemed K.’s silence to be favourable for himself and he continued, “You will have noticed the size of my office, but that I don’t employ any staff to help me. That used to be quite different, there was a time when several young lawyers were working for me but now I work alone. This is partly to do with changes in the way I do business, in that I concentrate nowadays more and more on matters such as your own case, and partly to do with the ever deeper understanding that I acquire from these legal matters. I found that I could never let anyone else deal with this sort of work unless I wanted to harm both the client and the job I had taken on. But the decision to do all the work myself had its obvious result: I was forced to turn almost everyone away who asked me to represent them and could only accept those I was especially interested in – well there are enough creatures who leap at every crumb I throw down, and they’re not so very far away. Most importantly, I became ill from over-work. But despite that I don’t regret my decision, quite possibly I should have turned more cases away than I did, but it did turn out to be entirely necessary for me to devote myself fully to the cases I did take on, and the successful results showed that it was worth it. I once read a description of the difference between representing someone in ordinary legal matters and in legal matters of this sort, and the writer expressed it very well. This is what he said: some lawyers lead their clients on a thread until judgement is passed, but there are others who immediately lift their clients onto their shoulders and carry them all the way to the judgement and beyond. That’s just how it is. But it was quite true when I said I never regret all this work. But if, as in your case, they are so fully misunderstood, well, then I come very close to regretting it.” All this talking did more to make K. impatient than to persuade him. From the way the lawyer was speaking, K. thought he could hear what he could expect if he gave in, the delays and excuses would begin again, reports of how the documents were progressing, how the mood of the court officials had improved, as well as all the enormous difficulties – in short all that he had heard so many times before would be brought out again even more fully, he would try to mislead K. with hopes that were never specified and to make him suffer with threats that were never clear. He had to put a stop to that, so he said, “What will you undertake on my behalf if you continue to represent me?” The lawyer quietly accepted even this insulting question, and answered, “I should continue with what I’ve already been doing for you.” “That’s just what I thought,” said K., “and now you don’t need to say another word.” “I will make one more attempt,” said the lawyer as if whatever had been making K. so annoyed was affecting him too. “You see, I have the impression that you have not only misjudged the legal assistance I have given you but also that that misjudgement has led you to behave in this way, you seem, although you are the accused, to have been treated too well or, to put it a better way, handled with neglect, with apparent neglect. Even that has its reason; it is often better to be in chains than to be free. But I would like to show you how other defendants are treated, perhaps you will succeed in learning something from it. What I will do is I will call Block in, unlock the door and sit down here beside the bedside table.” “Be glad to,” said K., and did as the lawyer suggested; he was always ready to learn something new. But to make sure of himself for any event he added, “but you do realise that you are no longer to be my lawyer, don’t you?” “Yes,” said the lawyer. “But you can still change your mind today if you want to.” He lay back down in the bed, pulled the quilt up to his chin and turned to face the wall. Then he rang.
Leni appeared almost the moment he had done so. She looked hurriedly at K. and the lawyer to try and find out what had happened; she seemed to be reassured by the sight of K. sitting calmly at the lawyer’s bed. She smiled and nodded to K., K. looked blankly back at her. “Fetch Block,” said the lawyer. But instead of going to fetch him, Leni just went to the door and called out, “Block! To the lawyer!” Then, probably because the lawyer had turned his face to the wall and was paying no attention, she slipped in behind K.’s chair. From then on, she bothered him by leaning forward over the back of the chair or, albeit very tenderly and carefully, she would run her hands through his hair and over his cheeks. K. eventually tried to stop her by taking hold of one hand, and after some resistance Leni let him keep hold of it. Block came as soon as he was called, but he remained standing in the doorway and seemed to be wondering whether he should enter or not. He raised his eyebrows and lowered his head as if listening to find out whether the order to attend the lawyer would be repeated. K. could have encouraged to enter, but he had decided to make a final break not only with the lawyer but with everything in his home, so he kept himself motionless. Leni was also silent. Block noticed that at least no-one was chasing him away, and, on tiptoe, he entered the room, his face was tense, his hands were clenched behind his back. He left the door open in case he needed to go back again. K. did not even glance at him, he looked instead only at the thick quilt under which the lawyer could not be seen as he had squeezed up very close to the wall. Then his voice was heard: “Block here?” he asked. Block had already crept some way into the room but this question seemed to give him first a shove in the breast and then another in the back, he seemed about to fall but remained standing, deeply bowed, and said, “At your service, sir.” “What do you want?” asked the lawyer, “you’ve come at a bad time.” “Wasn’t I summoned?” asked Block, more to himself than the lawyer. He held his hands in front of himself as protection and would have been ready to run away any moment. “You were summoned,” said the lawyer, “but you have still come at a bad time.” Then, after a pause he added, “You always come at a bad time.” When the lawyer started speaking Block had stopped looking at the bed but stared rather into one of the corners, just listening, as if the light from the speaker were brighter than Block could bear to look at. But it was also difficult for him to listen, as the lawyer was speaking into the wall and speaking quickly and quietly. “Would you like me to go away again, sir?” asked Block. “Well you’re here now,” said the lawyer. “Stay!” It was as if the lawyer had not done as Block had wanted but instead threatened him with a stick, as now Block really began to shake. “I went to see,” said the lawyer, “the third judge yesterday, a friend of mine, and slowly brought the conversation round to the subject of you. Do you want to know what he said?” “Oh, yes please,” said Block. The lawyer did not answer immediately, so Block repeated his request and lowered his head as if about to kneel down. But then K. spoke to him: “What do you think you’re doing?” he shouted. Leni had wanted to stop him from calling out and so he took hold of her other hand. It was not love that made him squeeze it and hold on to it so tightly, she sighed frequently and tried to disengage her hands from him. But Block was punished for K.’s outburst, as the lawyer asked him, “Who is your lawyer?” “You are, sir,” said Block. “And who besides me?” the lawyer asked. “No-one besides you, sir,” said Block. “And let there be no-one besides me,” said the lawyer. Block fully understood what that meant, he glowered at K., shaking his head violently. If these actions had been translated into words they would have been coarse insults. K. had been friendly and willing to discuss his own case with someone like this! “I won’t disturb you any more,” said K., leaning back in his chair. “You can kneel down or creep on all fours, whatever you like. I won’t bother with you any more.” But Block still had some sense of pride, at least where K. was concerned, and he went towards him waving his fists, shouting as loudly as he dared while the lawyer was there. “You shouldn’t speak to me like that, that’s not allowed. Why are you insulting me? Especially here in front of the lawyer, where both of us, you and me, we’re only tolerated because of his charity. You’re not a better person than me, you’ve been accused of something too, you’re facing a charge too. If, in spite of that, you’re still a gentleman then I’m just as much a gentleman as you are, if not even more so. And I want to be spoken to as a gentleman, especially by you. If you think being allowed to sit there and quietly listen while I creep on all fours as you put it makes you something better than me, then there’s an old legal saying you ought to bear in mind: If you’re under suspicion it’s better to be moving than still, as if you’re still you can be in the pan of the scales without knowing it and be weighed along with your sins.” K. said nothing. He merely looked in amazement at this distracted being, his eyes completely still. He had gone through such changes in just the last few hours! Was it the trial that was throwing him from side to side in this way and stopped him knowing who was friend and who was foe? Could he not see the lawyer was deliberately humiliating him and had no other purpose today than to show off his power to K., and perhaps even thereby subjugate K.? But if Block was incapable of seeing that, or if he so feared the lawyer that no such insight would even be of any use to him, how was it that he was either so sly or so bold as to lie to the lawyer and conceal from him the fact that he had other lawyers working on his behalf? And how did he dare to attack K., who could betray his secret any time he liked? But he dared even more than this, he went to the lawyer’s bed and began there to make complaints about K. “Dr. Huld, sir,” he said, “did you hear the way this man spoke to me? You can count the length of his trial in hours, and he wants to tell me what to do when I’ve been involved in a legal case for five years. He even insults me. He doesn’t know anything, but he insults me, when I, as far as my weak ability allows, when I’ve made a close study of how to behave with the court, what we ought to do and what the court practices are.” “Don’t let anyone bother you,” said the lawyer, “and do what seems to you to be right.” “I will,” said Block, as if speaking to himself to give himself courage, and with a quick glance to the side he kneeled down close beside the bed. “I’m kneeling now Dr. Huld, sir,” he said. But the lawyer remained silent. With one hand, Block carefully stroked the bed cover. In the silence while he did so, Leni, as she freed herself from K.’s hands, said, “You’re hurting me. Let go of me. I’m going over to Block.” She went over to him and sat on the edge of the bed. Block was very pleased at this and with lively, but silent, gestures he immediately urged her to intercede for him with the lawyer. It was clear that he desperately needed to be told something by the lawyer, although perhaps only so that he could make use of the information with his other lawyers. Leni probably knew very well how the lawyer could be brought round, pointed to his hand and pursed her lips as if making a kiss. Block immediately performed the hand-kiss and, at further urging from Leni, repeated it twice more. But the lawyer continued to be silent. Then Leni leant over the lawyer, as she stretched out, the attractive shape of her body could be seen, and, bent over close to his face, she stroked his long white hair. That now forced him to give an answer. “I’m rather wary of telling him,” said the lawyer, and his head could be seen shaking slightly, perhaps so that he would feel the pressure of Leni’s hand better. Block listened closely with his head lowered, as if by listening he were breaking an order. “What makes you so wary about it?” asked Leni. K. had the feeling he was listening to a contrived dialogue that had been repeated many times, that would be repeated many times more, and that for Block alone it would never lose its freshness. “What has his behaviour been like today?” asked the lawyer instead of an answer. Before Leni said anything she looked down at Block and watched him a short while as he raised his hands towards her and rubbed them together imploringly. Finally she gave a serious nod, turned back to the lawyer and said, “He’s been quiet and industrious.” This was an elderly businessman, a man whose beard was long, and he was begging a young girl to speak on his behalf. Even if there was some plan behind what he did, there was nothing that could reinstate him in the eyes of his fellow man. K. could not understand how the lawyer could have thought this performance would win him over. Even if he had done nothing earlier to make him want to leave then this scene would have done so. It was almost humiliating even for the onlooker. So these were the lawyer’s methods, which K. fortunately had not been exposed to for long, to let the client forget about the whole world and leave him with nothing but the hope of reaching the end of his trial by this deluded means. He was no longer a client, he was the lawyer’s dog. If the lawyer had ordered him to crawl under the bed as if it were a kennel and to bark out from under it, then he would have done so with enthusiasm. K. listened to all of this, testing it and thinking it over as if he had been given the task of closely observing everything spoken here, inform a higher office about it and write a report. “And what has he been doing all day?” asked the lawyer. “I kept him locked in the maid’s room all day,” said Leni, “so that he wouldn’t stop me doing my work. That’s where he usually stays. From time to time I looked in through the spyhole to see what he was doing, and each time he was kneeling on the bed and reading the papers you gave him, propped up on the window sill. That made a good impression on me; as the window only opens onto an air shaft and gives hardly any light. It showed how obedient he is that he was even reading in those conditions.” “I’m pleased to hear it,” said the lawyer. “But did he understand what he was reading?” While this conversation was going on, Block continually moved his lips and was clearly formulating the answers he hoped Leni would give. “Well I can’t give you any certain answer to that of course,” said Leni, “but I could see that he was reading thoroughly. He spent all day reading the same page, running his finger along the lines. Whenever I looked in on him he sighed as if this reading was a lot of work for him. I expect the papers you gave him were very hard to understand.” “Yes,” said the lawyer, “they certainly are that. And I really don’t think he understood anything of them. But they should at least give him some inkling of just how hard a struggle it is and how much work it is for me to defend him. And who am I doing all this hard work for? I’m doing it – it’s laughable even to say it – I’m doing it for Block. He ought to realise what that means, too. Did he study without a pause?” “Almost without a pause,” answered Leni. “Just the once he asked me for a drink of water, so I gave him a glassful through the window. Then at eight o’clock I let him out and gave him something to eat.” Block glanced sideways at K., as if he were being praised and had to impress K. as well. He now seemed more optimistic, he moved more freely and rocked back and forth on his knees. This made his astonishment all the more obvious when he heard the following words from the lawyer: “You speak well of him,” said the lawyer, “but that’s just what makes it difficult for me. You see, the judge did not speak well of him at all, neither about Block nor about his case.” “Didn’t speak well of him?” asked Leni. “How is that possible?” Block looked at her with such tension he seemed to think that although the judge’s words had been spoken so long before she would be able to change them in his favour. “Not at all,” said the lawyer. “In fact he became quite cross when I started to talk about Block to him. ‘Don’t talk to me about Block,’ he said. ‘He is my client,’ said I. ‘You’re letting him abuse you,’ he said. ‘I don’t think his case is lost yet,’ said I. ‘You’re letting him abuse you,’ he repeated. ‘I don’t think so,’ said I. ‘Block works hard in his case and always knows where it stands. He practically lives with me so that he always knows what’s happening. You don’t always find such enthusiasm as that. He’s not very pleasant personally, I grant you, his manners are terrible and he’s dirty, but as far as the trial’s concerned he’s quite immaculate.’ I said immaculate, but I was deliberately exaggerating. Then he said, ‘Block is sly, that’s all. He’s accumulated plenty of experience and knows how to delay proceedings. But there’s more that he doesn’t know than he does. What do you think he’d say if he learned his trial still hasn’t begun, if you told him they haven’t even rung the bell to announce the start of proceedings?’ Alright Block, alright,” said the lawyer, as at these words Block had begun to raise himself on his trembling knees and clearly wanted to plead for some explanation. It was the first time the lawyer had spoken any clear words directly to Block. He looked down with his tired eyes, half blankly and half at Block, who slowly sank back down on his knees under this gaze. “What the judge said has no meaning for you,” said the lawyer. “You needn’t be frightened at every word. If you do it again I won’t tell you anything else at all. It’s impossible to start a sentence without you looking at me as if you were receiving your final judgement. You should be ashamed of yourself here in front of my client! And you’re destroying the trust he has for me. Just what is it you want? You’re still alive, you’re still under my protection. There’s no point in worrying! Somewhere you’ve read that the final judgement can often come without warning, from anyone at any time. And, in the right circumstances, that’s basically true, but it’s also true that I dislike your anxiety and fear and see that you don’t have the trust in me you should have. Now what have I just said? I repeated something said by one of the judges. You know that there are so many various opinions about the procedure that they form into a great big pile and nobody can make any sense of them. This judge, for instance, sees proceedings as starting at a different point from where I do. A difference of opinion, nothing more. At a certain stage in the proceedings tradition has it that a sign is given by ringing a bell. This judge sees that as the point at which proceedings begin. I can’t set out all the opinions opposed to that view here, and you wouldn’t understand it anyway, suffice it to say that there are many reasons to disagree with him.” Embarrassed, Block ran his fingers through the pile of the carpet, his anxiety about what the judge had said had let him forget his inferior status towards the lawyer for a while, he thought only about himself and turned the judges words round to examine them from all sides. “Block,” said Leni, as if reprimanding him, and, taking hold of the collar of his coat, pulled him up slightly higher. “Leave the carpet alone and listen to what the lawyer is saying.”
This chapter was left unfinished.
The Trial by Franz Kafka