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Chapter 5

The whip-man

One evening, a few days later, K. was walking along one of the
corridors that separated his office from the main stairway - he was
nearly the last one to leave for home that evening, there remained only
a couple of workers in the light of a single bulb in the dispatch
department - when he heard a sigh from behind a door which he had
himself never opened but which he had always thought just led into a
junk room. He stood in amazement and listened again to establish
whether he might not be mistaken. For a while there was silence, but
then came some more sighs. His first thought was to fetch one of the
servitors, it might well have been worth having a witness present, but
then he was taken by an uncontrollable curiosity that make him simply
yank the door open. It was, as he had thought, a junk room. Old,
unusable forms, empty stone ink-bottles lay scattered behind the
entrance. But in the cupboard-like room itself stood three men,
crouching under the low ceiling. A candle fixed on a shelf gave them
light. "What are you doing here?" asked K. quietly, but crossly and
without thinking. One of the men was clearly in charge, and attracted
attention by being dressed in a kind of dark leather costume which left
his neck and chest and his arms exposed. He did not answer. But the
other two called out, "Mr. K.! We're to be beaten because you made a
complaint about us to the examining judge." And now, K. finally
realised that it was actually the two policemen, Franz and Willem, and
that the third man held a cane in his hand with which to beat them.
"Well," said K., staring at them, "I didn't make any complaint, I only
said what took place in my home. And your behaviour was not entirely
unobjectionable, after all." "Mr. K.," said Willem, while Franz clearly
tried to shelter behind him as protection from the third man, "if you
knew how badly we get paid you wouldn't think so badly of us. I've got
a family to feed, and Franz here wanted to get married, you just have to
get more money where you can, you can't do it just by working hard, not
however hard you try. I was sorely tempted by your fine clothes,
policemen aren't allowed to do that sort of thing, course they aren't,
and it wasn't right of us, but it's tradition that the clothes go to the
officers, that's how it's always been, believe me; and it's
understandable too, isn't it, what can things like that mean for anyone
unlucky enough to be arrested? But if he starts talking about it openly
then the punishment has to follow." "I didn't know about any of this
that you've been telling me, and I made no sort of request that you be
punished, I was simply acting on principle." "Franz," said Willem,
turning to the other policeman, "didn't I tell you that the gentleman
didn't say he wanted us to be punished? Now you can hear for yourself,
he didn't even know we'd have to be punished." "Don't you let them
persuade you, talking like that," said the third man to K., "this
punishment is both just and unavoidable." "Don't listen to him," said
Willem, interrupting himself only to quickly bring his hand to his mouth
when it had received a stroke of the cane, "we're only being punished
because you made a complaint against us. Nothing would have happened to
us otherwise, not even if they'd found out what we'd done. Can you call
that justice? Both of us, me especially, we'd proved our worth as good
police officers over a long period - you've got to admit yourself that
as far as official work was concerned we did the job well - things
looked good for us, we had prospects, it's quite certain that we
would've been made whip-men too, like this one, only he had the luck not
to have anyone make a complaint about him, as you really don't get many
complaints like that. Only that's all finished now, Mr. K., our careers
are at an end, we're going to have to do work now that's far inferior to
police work and besides all this we're going to get this terrible,
painful beating." "Can the cane really cause so much pain, then?" asked
K., testing the cane that the whip-man swang in front of him. "We're
going to have to strip off totally naked," said Willem. "Oh, I see,"
said K., looking straight at the whip-man, his skin was burned brown
like a sailor's, and his face showed health and vigour. "Is there
then no possibility of sparing these two their beating?" he asked him.
"No," said the whip-man, shaking his head with a laugh. "Get
undressed!" he ordered the policemen. And to K. he said, "You shouldn't
believe everything they tell you, it's the fear of being beaten, it's
already made them a bit weak in the head. This one here, for instance,"
he pointed at Willem, "all that he told you about his career prospects,
it's just ridiculous. Look at him, look how fat he is - the first
strokes of the cane will just get lost in all that fat. Do you know
what it is that's made him so fat? He's in the habit of, everyone that
gets arrested by him, he eats their breakfast. Didn't he eat up your
breakfast? Yeah, I thought as much. But a man with a belly like that
can't be made into a whip-man and never will be, that is quite out of
the question." "There are whip-men like that," Willem insisted, who had
just released the belt of this trousers. "No," said the whip-man,
striking him such a blow with the cane on his neck that it made him
wince, "you shouldn't be listening to this, just get undressed." "I
would make it well worth your while if you would let them go," said K.,
and without looking at the whip-man again - as such matters are best
carried on with both pairs of eyes turned down - he pulled out his
wallet. "And then you'd try and put in a complaint against me, too,"
said the whip-man, "and get me flogged. No, no!" "Now, do be
reasonable," said K., "if I had wanted to get these two punished I would
not now be trying to buy their freedom, would I. I could simply close
the door here behind me, go home and see or hear nothing more of it.
But that's not what I'm doing, it really is of much more importance to
me to let them go free; if I had realised they would be punished, or
even that they might be punished, I would never have named them in the
first place as they are not the ones I hold responsible. It's the
organisation that's to blame, the high officials are the ones to blame."
"That's how it is!" shouted the policemen, who then immediately received
another blow on their backs, which were by now exposed. "If you had a
senior judge here beneath your stick," said K., pressing down the cane
as he spoke to stop it being raised once more, "I really would do
nothing to stop you, on the contrary, I would even pay you money to give
you all the more strength." "Yeah, that's all very plausible, what
you're saying there," said the whip-man , "only I'm not the sort of
person you can bribe. It's my job to flog people, so I flog them."
Franz, the policeman, had been fairly quiet so far, probably in
expectation of a good result from K.'s intervention, but now he stepped
forward to the door wearing just his trousers, kneeled down hanging on
to K.'s arm and whispered, "Even if you can't get mercy shown for both
of us, at least try and get me set free. Willem is older than me, he's
less sensitive than me in every way, he even got a light beating a
couple of years ago, but my record's still clean, I only did things the
way I did because Willem led me on to it, he's been my teacher both for
good and bad. Down in front of the bank my poor bride is waiting for me
at the entrance, I'm so ashamed of myself, it's pitiful." His face was
flowing over with tears, and he wiped it dry on K.'s coat. "I'm not
going to wait any longer," said the whip-man, taking hold of the cane in
both hands and laying in to Franz while Willem cowered back in a corner
and looked on secretly, not even daring to turn his head. Then, the
sudden scream that shot out from Franz was long and irrevocable, it
seemed to come not from a human being but from an instrument that was
being tortured, the whole corridor rang with it, it must have been heard
by everyone in the building. "Don't shout like that!", called out K.,
unable to prevent himself, and, as he looked anxiously in the direction
from which the servitor would come, he gave Franz a shove, not hard, but
hard enough for him to fall down unconscious, clawing at the ground with
his hands by reflex; he still did not avoid being hit; the rod still
found him on the floor; the tip of the rod swang regularly up and down
while he rolled to and fro under its blows. And now one of the
servitors appeared in the distance, with another a few steps behind him.
K. had quickly thrown the door shut, gone over to one of the windows
overlooking the yard and opened it. The screams had completely stopped.
So that the servitor wouldn't come in, he called out, "It's only me!"
"Good evening, chief clerk," somebody called back. "Is there anything
wrong?" "No, no," answered K., "it's only a dog yelping in the yard."
There was no sound from the servitors so he added, "You can go back to
what you were doing." He did not want to become involved with a
conversation with them, and so he leant out of the window. A little
while later, when he looked out in the corridor, they had already gone.
Now, K. remained at the window, he did not dare go back into the junk
room, and he did not want to go home either. The yard he looked down
into was small and rectangular, all around it were offices, all the
windows were now dark and only those at the very top caught a reflection
of the moon. K tried hard to see into the darkness of one corner of the
yard, where a few handcarts had been left behind one another. He felt
anguish at not having been able to prevent the flogging, but that was
not his fault, if Franz had not screamed like that - clearly it must
have caused a great deal of pain but it's important to maintain control
of oneself at important moments - if Franz had not screamed then it was
at least highly probable that K. would have been able to dissuade the
whip-man. If all the junior officers were contemptible why would the
whip-man, whose position was the most inhumane of all, be any exception,
and K. had noticed very clearly how his eyes had lit up when he saw the
banknotes, he had obviously only seemed serious about the flogging to
raise the level of the bribe a little. And K. had not been ungenerous,
he really had wanted to get the policemen freed; if he really had now
begun to do something against the degeneracy of the court then it was a
matter of course that he would have to do something here as well. But
of course, it became impossible for him to do anything as soon as Franz
started screaming. K. could not possibly have let the junior bank
staff, and perhaps even all sorts of other people, come along and catch
him by surprise as he haggled with those people in the junk room.
Nobody could really expect that sort of sacrifice of him. If that had
been his intention then it would almost have been easier, K. would have
taken his own clothes off and offered himself to the whip-man in the
policemen's place. The whip-man would certainly not have accepted this
substitution anyway, as in that way he would have seriously violated his
duty without gaining any benefit. He would most likely have violated
his duty twice over, as court employees were probably under orders not
to cause any harm to K. while he was facing charges, although there may
have been special conditions in force here. However things stood, K.
was able to do no more than throw the door shut, even though that would
still do nothing to remove all the dangers he faced. It was regrettable
that he had given Franz a shove, and it could only be excused by the
heat of the moment.

In the distance, he heard the steps of the servitors; he did not
want them to be too aware of his presence, so he closed the window and
walked towards the main staircase. At the door of the junk room he
stopped and listened for a little while. All was silent. The two
policemen were entirely at the whip-man's mercy; he could have beaten
them to death. K. reached his hand out for the door handle but drew it
suddenly back. He was no longer in any position to help anyone, and the
servitors would soon be back; he did, though, promise himself that he
would raise the matter again with somebody and see that, as far as it
was in his power, those who really were guilty, the high officials whom
nobody had so far dared point out to him, received their due punishment.
As he went down the main stairway at the front of the bank, he looked
carefully round at everyone who was passing, but there was no girl to be
seen who might have been waiting for somebody, not even within some
distance from the bank. Franz's claim that his bride was waiting for
him was thus shown to be a lie, albeit one that was forgivable and
intended only to elicit more sympathy.

The policemen were still on K.'s mind all through the following
day; he was unable to concentrate on his work and had to stay in his
office a little longer than the previous day so that he could finish it.
On the way home, as he passed by the junk room again, he opened its door
as if that had been his habit. Instead of the darkness he expected, he
saw everything unchanged from the previous evening, and did not know how
he should respond. Everything was exactly the same as he had seen it
when he had opened the door the previous evening. The forms and
bottles of ink just inside the doorway, the whip-man with his cane, the
two policemen, still undressed, the candle on the shelf, and the two
policemen began to wail and call out "Mr. K.!" K. slammed the door
immediately shut, and even thumped on it with his fists as if that would
shut it all the firmer. Almost in tears, he ran to the servitors
working quietly at the copying machine. "Go and get that junk room
cleared out!" he shouted, and, in amazement, they stopped what they were
doing. "It should have been done long ago, we're sinking in dirt!" They
would be able to do the job the next day, K. nodded, it was too late in
the evening to make them do it there and then as he had originally
intended. He sat down briefly in order to keep them near him for a
little longer, looked through a few of the copies to give the impression
that he was checking them and then, as he saw that they would not dare
to leave at the same time as himself, went home tired and with his mind
numb.

Franz Kafka

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