The Knock at the Manor Gate

Franz Kafka (1946)

(translated by Willa and Edwin Muir)

 

It was summer, a hot day. With my sister I was passing the gate of a great house on our way home. I cannot now tell whether she knocked on the gate out of mischief or out of absence of mind, or merely threatened it with her hand and did not knock at all. A hundred paces further on along the road, which here turned to the left, began the village. We did not know it very well, but no sooner had we passed the first house when people appeared and made friendly or warning signs to us; they were themselves apparently terrified, bowed down with terror. They pointed towards the manor house that we had passed and reminded us of the knock on the gate. The proprietor of the manor would charge us with it, the interrogation would begin immediately. I remained quite calm and also tried to calm my sisterís fears. Probably she had not struck the door at all, and if she had it could never be proved. I tried to make this clear to the people round us; they listened to me but refrained from passing any opinion. Later they told me that not only my sister, but I too, as her brother, would be charged. I nodded and smiled. We all gazed back at the manor, as one watches a distant smoke cloud and waits for the flames to appear. And right enough we presently saw horsemen riding in through the wide-open gate. Dust rose, concealing everything, only the tops of the tall spears glittered. And hardly had the troop vanished into the manor courtyard before they seemed to have turned their horses again, for they were already on their way to us. I urged my sister to leave me, I myself would set everything right. She refused to leave me. I told her that she should at least change, so as to appear in better clothes before these gentlemen. At last she obeyed and set out on the long road to our home. Already the horsemen were beside us, and even before dismounting they enquired alter my sister. She wasnít here at the moment, was the apprehensive reply, but she would come later. The answer was received with indifference; the important thing seemed their having found me. The chiefmembers of the party appeared to he a young lively fellow, who was a judge, and his silent assistant, who was called Assmann. I was commanded to enter the village inn. Shaking my head and hitching un my trousers, I slowly began my statement, while the sharp eyes of the party scrutinized me. I still half-believed that a word would be enough to free me, a city man, and with honor too, from this peasant folk. But when I had stepped over the threshold of the inn the judge, who had hastened in front and was already awaiting me, said:ĒIím really sorry for this man.Ē And it was beyond all possibility of doubt that by this he did not mean my present state, but something that was to happen to me. The room looked more like a prison cell than an inn parlor. Great stone flags on the floor, dark, quite bare walls, into one of which an iron ring was fixed, in the middle something that looked half a pallet, half an operation table.

 

Could I endure any other air than prison air now? That is the great question, or rather it would be if I still had any prospect of release.

 

 

 

Franz Kafka

(translated by Willa and Edwin Muir)