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Chapter 4

Miss Bürstner's Friend

For some time after this, K. found it impossible to exchange even
just a few words with Miss Bürstner. He tried to reach her in many and
various ways but she always found a way to avoid it. He would come
straight home from the office, remain in her room without the light on,
and sit on the sofa with nothing more to distract him than keeping watch
on the empty hallway. If the maid went by and closed the door of the
apparently empty room he would get up after a while and open it again.
He got up an hour earlier than usual in the morning so that he might
perhaps find Miss Bürstner alone as she went to the office. But none of
these efforts brought any success. Then he wrote her a letter, both to
the office and the flat, attempting once more to justify his behaviour,
offered to make whatever amends he could, promised never to cross
whatever boundary she might set him and begged merely to have the chance
to speak to her some time, especially as he was unable to do anything
with Mrs. Grubach either until he had spoken with Miss Bürstner, he
finally informed her that the following Sunday he would stay in his room
all day waiting for a sign from her that there was some hope of his
request being fulfilled, or at least that she would explain to him why
she could not fulfil it even though he had promised to observe whatever
stipulations she might make. The letters were not returned, but there
was no answer either. However, on the following Sunday there was a sign
that seemed clear enough. It was still early when K. noticed, through
the keyhole, that there was an unusual level of activity in the hallway
which soon abated. A French teacher, although she was German and called
Montag, a pale and febrile girl with a slight limp who had previously
occupied a room of her own, was moving into Miss Bürstner's room. She
could be seen shuffling through the hallway for several hours, there was
always another piece of clothing or a blanket or a book that she had
forgotten and had to be fetched specially and brought into the new home.

When Mrs. Grubach brought K. his breakfast - ever since the time
when she had made K. so cross she didn't trust the maid to do the
slightest job - he had no choice but to speak to her, for the first time
in five days. "Why is there so much noise in the hallway today?" he
asked as she poured his coffee out, "Can't something be done about it?
Does this clearing out have to be done on a Sunday?" K. did not look up
at Mrs. Grubach, but he saw nonetheless that she seemed to feel some
relief as she breathed in. Even sharp questions like this from Mr. K.
she perceived as forgiveness, or as the beginning of forgiveness.
"We're not clearing anything out, Mr. K.," she said, "it's just that
Miss Montag is moving in with Miss Bürstner and is moving her things
across." She said nothing more, but just waited to see how K. would
take it and whether he would allow her to carry on speaking. But K.
kept her in uncertainty, took the spoon and pensively stirred his coffee
while he remained silent. Then he looked up at her and said, "What
about the suspicions you had earlier about Miss Bürstner, have you given
them up?" "Mr. K.," called Mrs. Grubach, who had been waiting for this
very question, as she put her hands together and held them out towards
him. "I just made a chance remark and you took it so badly. I didn't
have the slightest intention of offending anyone, not you or anyone
else. You've known me for long enough, Mr. K., I'm sure you're
convinced of that. You don't know how I've been suffering for the past
few days! That I should tell lies about my tenants! And you, Mr. K.,
you believed it! And said I should give you notice! Give you notice!"
At this last outcry, Mrs. Grubach was already choking back her tears,
she raised her apron to her face and blubbered out loud.

"Oh, don't cry Mrs. Grubach," said K., looking out the window, he
was thinking only of Miss Bürstner and how she was accepting an unknown
girl into her room. "Now don't cry," he said again as he turned his
look back into the room where Mrs. Grubach was still crying. "I meant
no harm either when I said that. It was simply a misunderstanding
between us. That can happen even between old friends sometimes." Mrs.
Grubach pulled her apron down to below her eyes to see whether K. really
was attempting a reconciliation. "Well, yes, that's how it is," said
K., and as Mrs. Grubach's behaviour indicated that the captain had said
nothing he dared to add, "Do you really think, then, that I'd want to
make an enemy of you for the sake of a girl we hardly know?" "Yes,
you're quite right, Mr. K.," said Mrs. Grubach, and then, to her
misfortune, as soon as she felt just a little freer to speak, she added
something rather inept. "I kept asking myself why it was that Mr. K.
took such an interest in Miss Bürstner. Why does he quarrel with me
over her when he knows that any cross word from him and I can't sleep
that night? And I didn't say anything about Miss Bürstner that I hadn't
seen with my own eyes." K. said nothing in reply, he should have chased
her from the room as soon as she had opened her mouth, and he didn't
want to do that. He contented himself with merely drinking his coffee
and letting Mrs. Grubach feel that she was superfluous. Outside, the
dragging steps of Miss Montag could still be heard as she went from one
side of the hallway to the other. "Do you hear that?" asked K. pointing
his hand at the door. "Yes," said Mrs. Grubach with a sigh, "I wanted
to give her some help and I wanted the maid to help her too but she's
stubborn, she wants to move everything in herself. I wonder at Miss
Bürstner. I often feel it's a burden for me to have Miss Montag as a
tenant but Miss Bürstner accepts her into her room with herself."
"There's nothing there for you to worry about" said K., crushing the
remains of a sugar lump in his cup. "Does she cause you any trouble?"
"No," said Mrs. Grubach, "in itself it's very good to have her there, it
makes another room free for me and I can let my nephew, the captain,
occupy it. I began to worry he might be disturbing you when I had to
let him live in the living room next to you over the last few days.
He's not very considerate." "What an idea!" said K. standing up,
"there's no question of that. You seem to think that because I can't
stand this to-ing and fro-ing of Miss Montag that I'm over-sensitive -
and there she goes back again." Mrs. Grubach appeared quite powerless.
"Should I tell her to leave moving the rest of her things over till
later, then, Mr. K.? If that's what you want I'll do it immediately."
"But she has to move in with Miss Bürstner!" said K. "Yes," said Mrs.
Grubach, without quite understanding what K. meant. "So she has to take
her things over there." Mrs. Grubach just nodded. K. was irritated all
the more by this dumb helplessness which, seen from the outside, could
have seemed like a kind of defiance on her part. He began to walk up
and down the room between the window and the door, thus depriving Mrs.
Grubach of the chance to leave, which she otherwise probably would have
done.

Just as K. once more reached the door, someone knocked at it. It
was the maid, to say that Miss Montag would like to have a few words
with Mr. K., and therefore requested that he come to the dining room
where she was waiting for him. K. heard the maid out thoughtfully, and
then looked back at the shocked Mrs. Grubach in a way that was almost
contemptuous. His look seemed to be saying that K. had been expecting
this invitation for Miss Montag for a long time, and that it was
confirmation of the suffering he had been made to endure that Sunday
morning from Mrs. Grubach's tenants. He sent the maid back with the
reply that he was on his way, then he went to the wardrobe to change his
coat, and in answer to Mrs. Grubach's gentle whining about the nuisance
Miss Montag was causing merely asked her to clear away the breakfast
things. "But you've hardly touched it," said Mrs. Grubach. "Oh just
take it away!" shouted K. It seemed to him that Miss Montag was mixed
up in everything and made it repulsive to him.

As he went through the hallway he looked at the closed door of
Miss Bürstner's room. But it wasn't there that he was invited, but the
dining room, to which he yanked the door open without knocking.

The room was long but narrow with one window. There was only
enough space available to put two cupboards at an angle in the corner by
the door, and the rest of the room was entirely taken up with the long
dining table which started by the door and reached all the way to the
great window, which was thus made almost inaccessible. The table was
already laid for a large number of people, as on Sundays almost all the
tenants ate their dinner here at midday.

When K. entered, Miss Montag came towards him from the window
along one side of the table. They greeted each other in silence. Then
Miss Montag, her head unusually erect as always, said, "I'm not sure
whether you know me." K. looked at her with a frown. "Of course I do,"
he said, "you've been living here with Mrs. Grubach for quite some time
now." "But I get the impression you don't pay much attention to what's
going on in the lodging house," said Miss Montag. "No," said K.
"Would you not like to sit down?" said Miss Montag. In silence, the two
of them drew chairs out from the farthest end of the table and sat down
facing each other. But Miss Montag stood straight up again as she had
left her handbag on the window sill and went to fetch it; she shuffled
down the whole length of the room. When she came back, the handbag
lightly swinging, she said, "I'd like just to have a few words with you
on behalf of my friend. She would have come herself, but she's feeling
a little unwell today. Perhaps you'll be kind enough to forgive her and
listen to me instead. There's anyway nothing that she could have said
that I won't. On the contrary, in fact, I think I can say even more
than her because I'm relatively impartial. Would you not agree?" "What
is there to say, then?" answered K., who was tired of Miss Montag
continuously watching his lips. In that way she took control of what he
wanted to say before he said it. "Miss Bürstner clearly refuses to
grant me the personal meeting that I asked her for." "That's how it
is," said Miss Montag, " or rather, that's not at all how it is, the way
you put it is remarkably severe. Generally speaking, meetings are
neither granted nor the opposite. But it can be that meetings are
considered unnecessary, and that's how it is here. Now, after your
comment, I can speak openly. You asked my friend, verbally or in
writing, for the chance to speak with her. Now my friend is aware of
your reasons for asking for this meeting - or at least I suppose she is
- and so, for reasons I know nothing about, she is quite sure that it
would be of no benefit to anyone if this meeting actually took place.
Moreover, it was only yesterday, and only very briefly, that she made it
clear to me that such a meeting could be of no benefit for yourself
either, she feels that it can only have been a matter of chance that
such an idea came to you, and that even without any explanations from
her, you will very soon come to realise yourself, if you have not done
so already, the futility of your idea. My answer to that is that
although it may be quite right, I consider it advantageous, if the
matter is to be made perfectly clear, to give you an explicit answer. I
offered my services in taking on the task, and after some hesitation my
friend conceded. I hope, however, also to have acted in your interests,
as even the slightest uncertainty in the least significant of matters
will always remain a cause of suffering and if, as in this case, it can
be removed without substantial effort, then it is better if that is done
without delay." "I thank you," said K. as soon as Miss Montag had
finished. He stood slowly up, looked at her, then across the table,
then out the window - the house opposite stood there in the sun - and
went to the door. Miss Montag followed him a few paces, as if she did
not quite trust him. At the door, however, both of them had to step
back as it opened and Captain Lanz entered. This was the first time
that K. had seen him close up. He was a large man of about forty with a
tanned, fleshy face. He bowed slightly, intending it also for K., and
then went over to Miss Montag and deferentially kissed her hand. He was
very elegant in the way he moved. The courtesy he showed towards Miss
Montag made a striking contrast with the way she had been treated by K.
Nonetheless, Miss Montag did not seem to be cross with K. as it even
seemed to him that she wanted to introduce the captain. K. however, did
not want to be introduced, he would not have been able to show any sort
of friendliness either to Miss Montag or to the captain, the kiss on the
hand had, for K., bound them into a group which would keep him at a
distance from Miss Bürstner whilst at the same time seeming to be
totally harmless and unselfish. K. thought, however, that he saw more
than that, he thought he also saw that Miss Montag had chosen a means of
doing it that was good, but two-edged. She exaggerated the importance
of the relationship between K. and Miss Bürstner, and above all she
exaggerated the importance of asking to speak with her and she tried at
the same time to make out that K. was exaggerating everything. She
would be disappointed, K. did not want to exaggerate anything, he was
aware that Miss Bürstner was a little typist who would not offer him
much resistance for long. In doing so he deliberately took no account
of what Mrs. Grubach had told him about Miss Bürstner. All these things
were going through his mind as he left the room with hardly a polite
word. He wanted to go straight to his room, but a little laugh from
Miss Montag that he heard from the dining room behind him brought him to
the idea that he might prepare a surprise for the two of them, the
captain and Miss Montag. He looked round and listened to find out if
there might be any disturbance from any of the surrounding rooms,
everywhere was quiet, the only thing to be heard was the conversation
from the dining room and Mrs. Grubach's voice from the passage leading
to the kitchen. This seemed an opportune time, K. went to Miss
Bürstner's room and knocked gently. There was no sound so he knocked
again but there was still no answer in reply. Was she asleep? Or was
she really unwell? Or was she just pretending as she realised it could
only be K. knocking so gently? K. assumed she was pretending and
knocked harder, eventually, when the knocking brought no result, he
carefully opened the door with the sense of doing something that was not
only improper but also pointless. In the room there was no-one. What's
more, it looked hardly at all like the room K. had known before.
Against the wall there were now two beds behind one another, there were
clothes piled up on three chairs near the door, a wardrobe stood open.
Miss Bürstner must have gone out while Miss Montag was speaking to him
in the dining room. K. was not greatly bothered by this, he had hardly
expected to be able to find Miss Bürstner so easily and had made this
attempt for little more reason than to spite Miss Montag. But that made
it all the more embarrassing for him when, as he was closing the door
again, he saw Miss Montag and the captain talking in the open doorway of
the dining room. They had probably been standing there ever since K.
had opened the door, they avoided seeming to observe K. but chatted
lightly and followed his movements with glances, the absent minded
glances to the side such as you make during a conversation. But these
glances were heavy for K., and he rushed alongside the wall back into
his own room.

Franz Kafka

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