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15/03/2017 ACountryDoctor

ACountryDoctor
byFranzKafka(/author/franzkafka/biobooksstories)

TranslationbyIanJohnston

Iwasingreatdifficulty.Anurgentjourneywasfacingme.Aseriouslyillmanwaswaitingformeinavillagetenmilesdistant.A
severesnowstormfilledthespacebetweenhimandme.Ihadacarriagealightone,withlargewheels,entirelysuitableforour
countryroads.Wrappedupinfurswiththebagofinstrumentsinmyhand,Iwasalreadystandinginthecourtyardreadyforthe
journeybutthehorsewasmissingthehorse.Myownhorsehaddiedthepreviousnight,asaresultofoverexertioninthisicy
winter.Myservantgirlwasatthatverymomentrunningaroundthevillagetoseeifshecouldborrowahorse,butitwashopeless
IknewthatandIstoodthereuseless,increasinglycoveredwithsnow,becomingallthetimemoreimmobile.Thegirlappearedat
thegate,alone.Shewasswingingthelantern.Ofcourse,whoisnowgoingtolendhishorseforsuchajourney?Iwalkedonce
againacrossthecourtyard.Icouldntseewhattodo.Distractedandtormented,Ikickedmyfootagainstthecrackeddoorofthepig
stywhichhadnotbeenusedforyears.Thedooropenedandbangedtoandfroonitshinges.Awarmthandsmellasiffromhorses
cameout.Adimstalllanternonaropeswayedinside.Amanhuddleddowninthestallbelowshowedhisopenblueeyedface.
ShallIhitchup?heasked,crawlingoutonallfours.Ididntknowwhattosayandmerelybentdowntoseewhatwasstillinthe
stall.Theservantgirlstoodbesideme.Onedoesntknowthesortsofthingsonehasstoredinonesownhouse,shesaid,andwe
bothlaughed.Hey,Brother,heySister,thegroomcriedout,andtwohorses,powerfulanimalswithstrongflanks,shovedtheir
wayonebehindtheother,legsclosetothebodies,loweringtheirwellformedheadslikecamels,andgettingthroughthedoor
space,whichtheycompletelyfilled,onlythroughthepowerfulmovementsoftheirrumps.Butrightawaytheystoodupstraight,
longlegged,withthicksteamingbodies.Helphim,Isaid,andthegirlobedientlyhurriedtohandthewagonharnesstothegroom.
Butassoonasshewasbesidehim,thegroomputshisarmsaroundherandpusheshisfaceagainsthers.Shescreamsoutand
runsovertome.Onthegirlscheekareredmarksfromtworowsofteeth.Youbrute,Icryoutinfury,doyouwantthewhip?But
Iimmediatelyrememberthatheisastranger,thatIdontknowwherehecomesfrom,andthatheshelpingmeoutofhisownfree
will,wheneveryoneelseisrefusingto.AsifheknowswhatIamthinking,hetakesnooffenceatmythreat,butturnsaroundtome
oncemore,stillbusywiththehorses.Thenhesays,Climbin,and,infact,everythingisready.InoticethatIhaveneverbefore
traveledwithsuchabeautifulteamofhorses,andIclimbinhappily.ButIlltakethereins.Youdontknowtheway,Isay.Of
course,hesaysImnotgoingwithyou.ImstayingwithRosa.No,screamsRosaandrunsintothehouse,withanaccurate
premonitionoftheinevitabilityofherfate.Ihearthedoorchainrattlingasshesetsitinplace.Ihearthelockclick.Iseehowin
additionshechasesdownthecorridorandthroughtheroomsputtingoutallthelightsinordertomakeherselfimpossibletofind.
Yourecomingwithme,Isaytothegroom,"orIllgiveupthejourney,nomatterhowurgentitis.Itsnotmyintentiontogiveyou
thegirlasthepriceofthetrip.Giddyup,hesaysandclapshishands.Thecarriageistornaway,likeapieceofwoodina
current.Istillhearhowthedoorofmyhouseisbreakingdownandsplittingapartunderthegroomsonslaught,andthenmyeyes
andearsarefilledwitharoaringsoundwhichoverwhelmsallmysensesatonce.Butonlyforamoment.ThenIamalreadythere,
asifthefarmyardofmyinvalidopensupimmediatelyinfrontofmycourtyardgate.Thehorsesstandquietly.Thesnowfallhas
stopped,moonlightallaround.Thesickmansparentsrushoutofthehouse,hissisterbehindthem.Theyalmostliftmeoutofthe
carriage.Igetnothingfromtheirconfusedtalking.Inthesickroomonecanhardlybreathetheair.Theneglectedcookingstoveis
smoking.Iwanttopushopenthewindow,butfirstIlllookatthesickman.Thin,withoutfever,notcold,notwarm,withemptyeyes,
withoutashirt,theyoungmanunderthestuffedquiltheaveshimselfup,hangsaroundmythroat,andwhispersinmyear,Doctor,
letmedie.Ilookaround.Noonehasheard.Theparentsstandsilently,leaningforward,andwaitformyjudgment.Thesisterhas
broughtastoolformyhandbag.Iopenthebagandlookamongmyinstruments.Theyoungmanconstantlygropesatmefromthe
bedtoremindmeofhisrequest.Itakesometweezers,testtheminthecandlelight,andputthemback.Yes,Ithink
blasphemously,insuchcasesthegodsdohelp.Theysendthemissinghorse,evenaddasecondonebecauseitsurgent,and
eventhrowinagroomasabonus.NowforthefirsttimeIthinkoncemoreofRosa.WhatamIdoing?HowamIsavingher?How
doIpullheroutfromunderthisgroom,tenmilesawayfromher,withuncontrollablehorsesinthefrontofmycarriage?These
horses,whohavenowsomehowloosenedtheirstraps,arepushingopenthewindowfromoutside,Idontknowhow.Eachoneis
stickingitsheadthroughawindowand,unmovedbythecryingofthefamily,isobservingtheinvalid.Illgobackrightaway,I

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15/03/2017 ACountryDoctor

think,asifthehorseswereorderingmetojourneyback,butIallowthesister,whothinksIaminadazebecauseoftheheat,to
takeoffmyfurcoat.Aglassofrumispreparedforme.Theoldmanclapsmeontheshoulderthesacrificeofhistreasurejustifies
thisfamiliarity.Ishakemyhead.InthenarrowcircleoftheoldmansthinkingIwasnotwellthatstheonlyreasonIrefusetodrink.
Themotherstandsbythebedandenticesmeover.Ifollowand,asahorseneighsloudlyattheceiling,laymyheadontheyoung
manschest,whichtremblesundermywetbeard.ThatconfirmswhatIknow:theyoungmanishealthy.Hiscirculationisalittleoff,
saturatedwithcoffeebyhiscaringmother,butheshealthyandbestpushedoutofbedwithashove.Imnoimproveroftheworld
andlethimliethere.Iamemployedbythedistrictanddomydutytothefull,righttothepointwhereitsalmosttoomuch.Badly
paid,butImgenerousandreadytohelpthepoor.IstillhavetolookafterRosa,andthentheyoungmanmayhavehisway,andI
wanttodie,too.WhatamIdoinghereinthisendlesswinter!Myhorseisdead,andthereisnooneinthevillagewholllendmehis.
Ihavetodragmyteamoutofthepigsty.Iftheyhadnthappenedtobehorses,Idhavehadtotravelwithpigs.Thatsthewayitis.
AndInodtothefamily.Theyknownothingaboutit,andiftheydidknow,theywouldntbelieveit.Incidentally,itseasytowrite
prescriptions,butdifficulttocometoanunderstandingwithpeople.Now,atthispointmyvisitmighthavecometoanendthey
haveoncemorecalledformyhelpunnecessarily.Imusedtothat.Withthehelpofmynightbelltheentireregiontormentsme,but
thatthistimeIhadtosacrificeRosaaswell,thisbeautifulgirl,wholivesinmyhouseallyearlongandwhomIscarcelynoticethis
sacrificeistoogreat,andImustsomehowinmyownheadsubtlyrationalizeitawayforthemoment,inordernottoleavethis
familywhocannot,evenwiththeirbestwill,givemeRosabackagain.ButasIamclosingupbyhandbagandcallingformyfur
coat,thefamilyisstandingtogether,thefathersniffingtheglassofruminhishand,themother,probablydisappointedinmewhat
moredothesepeoplereallyexpect?tearfullybitingherlips,andthesisterflappingaverybloodyhandtowel,Iamsomehow
ready,inthecircumstances,toconcedethattheyoungmanisperhapsnonethelesssick.Igotohim.Hesmilesupatme,asifI
wasbringinghimthemostnourishingkindofsoupah,nowbothhorsesarewhinnying,thenoiseisprobablysupposedtocome
fromhigherregionsinordertoilluminatemyexaminationandnowIfindoutthat,yesindeed,theyoungmanisill.Onhisright
side,intheregionofthehip,awoundthesizeofthepalmofoneshandhasopenedup.Rosecoloured,inmanydifferent
shadings,darkinthedepths,brighterontheedges,delicatelygrained,withunevenpatchesofblood,opentothelightlikeamining
pit.Thatswhatitlookslikefromadistance.Closeupacomplicationisapparent.Whocanlookatthatwithoutwhistlingsoftly?
Worms,asthickandlongasmylittlefinger,themselvesrosecolouredandalsospatteredwithblood,arewrigglingtheirwhite
bodieswithmanylimbsfromtheirstrongholdintheinnerofthewoundtowardsthelight.Pooryoungman,theresnohelpingyou.I
havefoundoutyourgreatwound.Youaredyingfromthisfloweronyourside.Thefamilyishappytheyseemedoingsomething.
Thesistersaysthattothemother,themothertellsthefather,thefathertellsafewguestswhoarecominginontiptoethroughthe
moonlightoftheopendoor,balancingthemselveswithoutstretchedarms.Willyousaveme?whisperstheyoungman,sobbing,
quiteblindedbythelifeinsidehiswound.Thatshowpeopleareinmyregion.Alwaysdemandingtheimpossiblefromthedoctor.
Theyhavelosttheoldfaith.Thepriestsitsathomeandtearshisreligiousrobestopieces,oneaftertheother.Butthedoctoris
supposedtoachieveeverythingwithhisdelicatesurgeonshand.Well,itswhattheyliketothink.Ihavenotofferedmyself.Ifthey
usemeforsacredpurposes,Iletthathappentomeaswell.WhatmoredoIwant,anoldcountrydoctor,robbedofmyservantgirl!
Andtheycome,thefamilyandthevillageelders,andaretakingmyclothesoff.Achoirofschoolchildrenwiththeteacheratthe
headstandsinfrontofthehouseandsingsanextremelysimplemelodywiththewords

Takehisclothesoff,thenhellheal,
andifhedoesntcure,thenkillhim.
Itsonlyadoctoritsonlyadoctor.

ThenIamstrippedofmyclothesand,withmyfingersinmybeardandmyheadtiltedtooneside,Ilookatthepeoplequietly.Iam
completelycalmandclearabouteverythingandstaythatway,too,althoughitisnothelpingmeatall,fortheyarenowtakingme
bytheheadandfeetanddraggingmeintothebed.Theylaymeagainstthewallonthesideofwound.Thentheyallgooutofthe
room.Thedoorisshut.Thesingingstops.Cloudsmoveinfrontofthemoon.Thebedclothesliewarmlyaroundme.Intheopen
spaceofthewindowsthehorsesheadsswaylikeshadows.Doyouknow,Ihearsomeonesayinginmyear,myconfidencein
youisverysmall.Youwereonlyshakenoutfromsomewhere.Youdontcomeonyourownfeet.Insteadofhelping,yougiveme
lessroomonmydeathbed.ThebestthingwouldbeifIscratchyoureyesout.Right,Isay,itsadisgrace.ButnowImadoctor.
WhatamIsupposedtodo?Believeme,thingsarenoteasyformeeither.ShouldIbesatisfiedwiththisexcuse?Alas,Ill
probablyhavetobe.Ialwayshavetomakedo.IcameintotheworldwithabeautifulwoundthatwasallIwasfurnishedwith.
Youngfriend,Isay,yourmistakeisthatyouhavenoperspective.Ivealreadybeeninallthesickrooms,farandwide,andItell
youyourwoundisnotsobad.Madeinatightcornerwithtwoblowsfromanaxe.Manypeopleoffertheirsideandhardlyhearthe
axeintheforest,tosaynothingofthefactthatitscomingclosertothem.Isthatreallyso,orareyoudeceivingmeinmyfever?

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15/03/2017 ACountryDoctor

Itistrulyso.Takethewordofhonourofamedicaldoctor.Hetookmywordandgrewstill.Butnowitwastimetothinkaboutmy
escape.Thehorseswerestillstandingloyallyintheirplace.Clothes,furcoat,andbagwerequicklygatheredup.Ididntwantto
delaybygettingdressedifthehorsesrushedastheyhadonthejourneyout,Ishould,infact,bespringingoutofthatbedintomy
own,asitwere.Onehorseobedientlypulledbackfromthewindow.Ithrewthebundleintothecarriage.Thefurcoatflewtoofar
andwascaughtonahookbyonlyonearm.Goodenough.Iswungmyselfupontothehorse.Thereinsdraggingloosely,one
horsebarelyharnessedtotheother,thecarriageswayingbehind,lastofallthefurcoatinthesnow.Giddyup,Isaid,butthere
wasnogiddyingupaboutit.Wedraggedslowlythroughthesnowydesertlikeoldmenforalongtimethefreshbutinaccurate
singingofthechildrenresoundedbehindus:

Enjoyyourselves,youpatients.
Thedoctorslaidinbedwithyou.

Illnevercomehomeatthisrate.Myflourishingpracticeislost.Asuccessorisrobbingme,buttonoavail,forhecannotreplace
me.Inmyhousethedisgustinggroomiswreakinghavoc.Rosaishisvictim.Iwillnotthinkitthrough.Naked,abandonedtothe
frostofthisunhappyage,withanearthlycarriageandunearthlyhorses,Idrivearoundbymyself,anoldman.Myfurcoathangs
behindthewagon,butIcannotreachit,andnoonefromthenimblerabbleofpatientsliftsafinger.Betrayed!Betrayed!Onceone
respondstoafalsealarmonthenightbell,theresnomakingitgoodagainnotever.

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