The Trial By Franz Kafka Chapter 9

K. now considered whether he should leave as quickly as possible, if he did not do it now there would be no chance of doing so during the sermon and he would have to stay there for as long as it lasted, he had lost so much time when he should have been in his office, there had long been no need for him to wait for the Italian any longer, he looked at his watch, it was eleven. But could there really be a sermon given? Could K. constitute the entire congregation? How could he when he was just a stranger who wanted to look at the church? That, basically, was all he was. The idea of a sermon, now, at eleven o'clock, on a workday, in hideous weather, was nonsense. The priest — there was no doubt that he was a priest, a young man with a smooth, dark face — was clearly going up there just to put the lamp out after somebody had lit it by mistake.

But there had been no mistake, the priest seemed rather to check that the lamp was lit and turned it a little higher, then he slowly turned to face the front and leant down on the balustrade gripping its angular rail with both hands. He stood there like that for a while and, without turning his head, looked around. K. had moved back a long way and leant his elbows on the front pew. Somewhere in the church — he could not have said exactly where — he could make out the man in the cassock hunched under his bent back and at peace, as if his work were completed. In the cathedral it was now very quiet! But K. would have to disturb that silence, he had no intention of staying there; if it was the priest's duty to preach at a certain time regardless of the circumstances then he could, and he could do it without K.'s taking part, and K.'s presence would do nothing to augment the effect of it. So K. began slowly to move, felt his way on tiptoe along the pew, arrived at the broad aisle and went along it without being disturbed, except for the sound of his steps, however light, which rang out on the stone floor and resounded from the vaulting, quiet but continuous at a repeating, regular pace. K. felt slightly abandoned as, probably observed by the priest, he walked by himself between the empty pews, and the size of the cathedral seemed to be just at the limit of what a man could bear. When he arrived back at where he had been sitting he did not hesitate but simply reached out for the album he had left there and took it with him. He had nearly left the area covered by pews and was close to the empty space between himself and the exit when, for the first time, he heard the voice of the priest. A powerful and experienced voice. It pierced through the reaches of the cathedral ready waiting for it! But the priest was not calling out to the congregation, his cry was quite unambiguous and there was no escape from it, he called "Josef K.!"

K. stood still and looked down at the floor. In theory he was still free, he could have carried on walking, through one of three dark little wooden doors not far in front of him and away from there. It would simply mean he had not understood, or that he had understood but chose not to pay attention to it. But if he once turned round he would be trapped, then he would have acknowledged that he had understood perfectly well, that he really was the Josef K. the priest had called to and that he was willing to follow. If the priest had called out again K. would certainly have carried on out the door, but everything was silent as K. also waited, he turned his head slightly as he wanted to see what the priest was doing now. He was merely standing in the pulpit as before, but it was obvious that he had seen K. turn his head. If K. did not now turn round completely it would have been like a child playing hide and seek. He did so, and the priest beckoned him with his finger. As everything could now be done openly he ran — because of curiosity and the wish to get it over with — with long flying leaps towards the pulpit. At the front pews he stopped, but to the priest he still seemed too far away, he reached out his hand and pointed sharply down with his finger to a place immediately in front of the pulpit. And K. did as he was told, standing in that place he had to bend his head a long way back just to see the priest. "You are Josef K.," said the priest, and raised his hand from the balustrade to make a gesture whose meaning was unclear. "Yes," said K., he considered how freely he had always given his name in the past, for some time now it had been a burden to him, now there were people who knew his name whom he had never seen before, it had been so nice first to introduce yourself and only then for people to know who you were. "You have been accused," said the priest, especially gently. "Yes," said K., "so I have been informed." "Then you are the one I am looking for," said the priest. "I am the prison chaplain." "I see," said K. "I had you summoned here," said the priest, "because I wanted to speak to you." "I knew nothing of that," said K. "I came here to show the cathedral to a gentleman from Italy." "That is beside the point," said the priest. "What are you holding in your hand? Is it a prayer book?" "No," answered K., "it's an album of the city's tourist sights." "Put it down," said the priest. K. threw it away with such force that it flapped open and rolled across the floor, tearing its pages. "Do you know your case is going badly?" asked the priest. "That's how it seems to me too," said K. "I've expended a lot of effort on it, but so far with no result. Although I do still have some documents to submit." "How do you imagine it will end?" asked the priest. "At first I thought it was bound to end well," said K., "but now I have my doubts about it. I don't know how it will end. Do you know?" "I don't," said the priest, "but I fear it will end badly. You are considered guilty. Your case will probably not even go beyond a minor court. Provisionally at least, your guilt is seen as proven." "But I'm not guilty," said K., "there's been a mistake. How is it even possible for someone to be guilty. We're all human beings here, one like the other." "That is true," said the priest, "but that is how the guilty speak." "Do you presume I'm guilty too?" asked K. "I make no presumptions about you," said the priest. "I thank you for that," said K. "but everyone else involved in these proceedings has something against me and presumes I'm guilty. They even influence those who aren't involved. My position gets harder all the time." "You don't understand the facts," said the priest, "the verdict does not come suddenly, proceedings continue until a verdict is reached gradually." "I see," said K., lowering his head. "What do you intend to do about your case next?" asked the priest. "I still need to find help," said K., raising his head to see what the priest thought of this. "There are still certain possibilities I haven't yet made use of." "You look for too much help from people you don't know," said the priest disapprovingly, "and especially from women. Can you really not see that's not the help you need?" "Sometimes, in fact quite often, I could believe you're right," said K., "but not always. Women have a lot of power. If I could persuade some of the women I know to work together with me then I would be certain to succeed. Especially in a court like this that seems to consist of nothing but woman-chasers. Show the examining judge a woman in the distance and he'll run right over the desk, and the accused, just to get to her as soon as he can." The priest lowered his head down to the balustrade, only now did the roof over the pulpit seem to press him down. What sort of dreadful weather could it be outside? It was no longer just a dull day, it was deepest night. None of the stained glass in the main window shed even a flicker of light on the darkness of the walls. And this was the moment when the man in the cassock chose to put out the candles on the main altar, one by one. "Are you cross with me?" asked K. "Maybe you don't know what sort of court it is you serve." He received no answer. "Well, it's just my own experience," said K. Above him there was still silence. "I didn't mean to insult you," said K. At that, the priest screamed down at K.: "Can you not see two steps in front of you?" He shouted in anger, but it was also the scream of one who sees another fall and, shocked and without thinking, screams against his own will.

The two men, then, remained silent for a long time. In the darkness beneath him, the priest could not possibly have seen K. distinctly, although K. was able to see him clearly by the light of the little lamp. Why did the priest not come down? He had not given a sermon, he had only told K. a few things which, if he followed them closely, would probably cause him more harm than good. But the priest certainly seemed to mean well, it might even be possible, if he would come down and cooperate with him, it might even be possible for him to obtain some acceptable piece of advice that could make all the difference, it might, for instance, be able to show him not so much to influence the proceedings but how to break free of them, how to evade them, how to live away from them. K. had to admit that this was something he had had on his mind quite a lot of late. If the priest knew of such a possibility he might, if K. asked him, let him know about it, even though he was part of the court himself and even though, when K. had criticised the court, he had held down his gentle nature and actually shouted at K.

"Would you not like to come down here?" asked K. "If you're not going to give a sermon come down here with me." "Now I can come down," said the priest, perhaps he regretted having shouted at K. As he took down the lamp from its hook he said, "to start off with I had to speak to you from a distance. Otherwise I'm too easily influenced and forget my duty."

K. waited for him at the foot of the steps. While he was still on one of the higher steps as he came down them the priest reached out his hand for K. to shake. "Can you spare me a little of your time?" asked K. "As much time as you need," said the priest, and passed him the little lamp for him to carry. Even at close distance the priest did not lose a certain solemnity that seemed to be part of his character. "You are very friendly towards me," said K., as they walked up and down beside each other in the darkness of one of the side naves. "That makes you an exception among all those who belong to the court. I can trust you more than any of the others I've seen. I can speak openly with you." "Don't fool yourself," said the priest. "How would I be fooling myself?" asked K. "You fool yourself in the court," said the priest, "it talks about this self-deceit in the opening paragraphs to the law. In front of the law there is a doorkeeper. A man from the countryside comes up to the door and asks for entry. But the doorkeeper says he can't let him in to the law right now. The man thinks about this, and then he asks if he'll be able to go in later on. 'That's possible,' says the doorkeeper, 'but not now'. The gateway to the law is open as it always is, and the doorkeeper has stepped to one side, so the man bends over to try and see in. When the doorkeeper notices this he laughs and says, 'If you're tempted give it a try, try and go in even though I say you can't. Careful though: I'm powerful. And I'm only the lowliest of all the doormen. But there's a doorkeeper for each of the rooms and each of them is more powerful than the last. It's more than I can stand just to look at the third one.' The man from the country had not expected difficulties like this, the law was supposed to be accessible for anyone at any time, he thinks, but now he looks more closely at the doorkeeper in his fur coat, sees his big hooked nose, his long thin tartar-beard, and he decides it's better to wait until he has permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down to one side of the gate. He sits there for days and years. He tries to be allowed in time and again and tires the doorkeeper with his requests. The doorkeeper often questions him, asking about where he's from and many other things, but these are disinterested questions such as great men ask, and he always ends up by telling him he still can't let him in. The man had come well equipped for his journey, and uses everything, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. He accepts everything, but as he does so he says, 'I'll only accept this so that you don't think there's anything you've failed to do'. Over many years, the man watches the doorkeeper almost without a break. He forgets about the other doormen, and begins to think this one is the only thing stopping him from gaining access to the law. Over the first few years he curses his unhappy condition out loud, but later, as he becomes old, he just grumbles to himself. He becomes senile, and as he has come to know even the fleas in the doorkeeper's fur collar over the years that he has been studying him he even asks them to help him and change the doorkeeper's mind. Finally his eyes grow dim, and he no longer knows whether it's really getting darker or just his eyes that are deceiving him. But he seems now to see an inextinguishable light begin to shine from the darkness behind the door. He doesn't have long to live now. Just before he dies, he brings together all his experience from all this time into one question which he has still never put to the doorkeeper. He beckons to him, as he's no longer able to raise his stiff body. The doorkeeper has to bend over deeply as the difference in their sizes has changed very much to the disadvantage of the man. 'What is it you want to know now?' asks the doorkeeper, 'You're insatiable.' 'Everyone wants access to the law,' says the man, 'how come, over all these years, no- one but me has asked to be let in?' The doorkeeper can see the man's come to his end, his hearing has faded, and so, so that he can be heard, he shouts to him: 'Nobody else could have got in this way, as this entrance was meant only for you. Now I'll go and close it'."

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