Blumfeld, on the other hand, can't stand dirt in his room.
To him cleanliness is essential, and several times a week
he is obliged to have words with his charwoman, who is unfortunately
not very painstaking in this respect. Since she is hard of
hearing he usually drags her by the arm to those spots in
the room which he finds lacking in cleanliness. By this strict
discipline he has achieved in his room a neatness more or
less commensurate with his wishes.
By acquiring a dog, however, he would be almost deliberately
introducing into his room the dirt which hitherto he had been
so careful to avoid. Fleas, the dog's constant companions,
would appear. And once fleas were there, it would not be long
before Blumfeld would be abandoning his comfortable room to
the dog and looking for another one.
Uncleanliness, however, is but one of the drawbacks of dogs.
Dogs also fall ill and no one really understands dogs' diseases.
Then the animal sits in a corner or limps about, whimpers,
coughs, chokes from some pain; one wraps it in a rug, whistles
a little melody, offers it milk-in short, one nurses it in
the hope that this, as indeed is possible, is a passing sickness
while it may be a serious, disgusting, and contagious disease.
And even if the dog remains healthy, one day it will grow
old, one won't have the heart to get rid of the faithful animal
in time, and then comes the moment when one's own age peers
out at one from the dog's oozing eyes. Then one has to cope
with the half-blind, weak-lunged animal all but immobile with
fat, and in this way pay dearly for the pleasures the dog
once had given.
Much as Blumfeld would like to have a dog at this moment,
he would rather go on climbing the stairs alone for another
thirty years than be burdened later on by such an old dog
which, sighing louder than he, would drag itself up, step
So Blumfeld will remain alone, after all; he really feels
none of the old maid's longing to have around her some submissive
living creature that she can protect, lavish her affection
upon, and continue to serve-for which purpose a cat, a canary,
even a goldfish would suffice-or, if this cannot be, rest
content with flowers on the window sill. Blumfeld only wants
a companion, an animal to which he doesn't have to pay much
attention, which doesn't mind an occasional kick, which even,
in an emergency, can spend the night in the street, but which
nevertheless, when Blumfeld feels like it, is promptly at
his disposal with its barking, jumping, and licking of hands.
This is what Blumfeld wants, but since, as he realizes, it
cannot be had without serious drawbacks, he renounces it,
and yet-in accordance with his thoroughgoing disposition-the
idea from time to time, this evening, for instance, occurs
to him again.
While taking the key from his pocket outside his room, he
is startled by a sound coming from within. A peculiar rattling
sound, very lively but very regular. Since Blumfeld has just
been thinking of dogs, it reminds him of the sounds produced
by paws pattering one after the other over a floor. But paws
don't rattle, so it can't be paws. He quickly unlocks the
door and switches on the light.
He is not prepared for what he sees. For this is magic-two
small white celluloid balls with blue stripes jumping up and
down side by side on the parquet; When one of them touches
the floor the other is in the air, a game they continue ceaselessly
to play. At school one day Blumfeld had seen some little pellets
jumping about like this during a well-known electrical experiment,
but these are comparatively large balls jumping freely about
in the room and no electrical experiment is being made.
Blumfeld bends down to get a good look at them. They are undoubtedly
ordinary balls, they probably contain several smaller balls,
and it is these that produce the rattling sound. Blumfeld
gropes in the air to find out whether they are hanging from
some threads-no, they are moving entirely on their own. A
pity Blumfeld isn't a small child, two balls like these would
have been a happy surprise for him, whereas now the whole
thing gives him rather an unpleasant feeling. It's not quite
pointless after all to live in secret as an unnoticed bachelor,
now someone, no matter who, has penetrated this secret and
sent him these two strange balls.
He tries to catch one but they retreat before him, thus luring
him on to follow them through the room. It's really too silly,
he thinks, running after balls like this; he stands still
and realizes that the moment he abandons the pursuit, they
too remain on the same spot. I will try to catch them all
the same, he thinks again, and hurries toward them. They immediately
run away, but Blumfeld, his legs apart, forces them into a
corner of the room, and there, in front of a trunk, he manages
to catch one ball. It's a small cool ball, and it turns in
his hand, clearly anxious to slip away. And the other ball,
too, as though aware of its comrade's distress, jumps higher
than before, extending the leaps until it touches Blumfeld's
hand. It beats against his hand, beats in ever faster leaps,
alters its angle of attack, then, powerless against the hand
which encloses the ball so completely, springs even higher
and is probably trying to reach Blumfeld's face. Blumfeld
could catch this ball too, and lock them both up somewhere,
but at the moment it strikes him as humiliating to take such
measures against two little balls. Besides, it's fun owning
these balls, and soon enough they'll grow tired, roll under
the cupboard, and be quiet.
Despite this deliberation, however, Blumfeld, near to anger,
flings the ball to the ground, and it is a miracle that in
doing so the delicate, all but transparent celluloid cover
doesn't break. Without hesitation the two balls resume their
former low, well-coordinated jumps.
Blumfeld undresses calmly, arranges his clothes in the wardrobe
which he always inspects carefully to make sure the charwoman
has left everything in order. Once or twice he glances over
his shoulder at the balls, which unpursued, seem to be pursuing
him; they have followed him and are now jumping close behind
him. Blumfeld puts on his dressing gown and sets out for the
opposite wall to fetch one of the pipes which are hanging
in a rack. Before turning around he instinctively kicks his
foot out backwards, but the balls know how to get out of its
way and remain untouched.
As Blumfeld goes off to fetch the pipe the balls at once follow
close behind him; he shuffles along in his slippers, taking
irregular steps, yet each step is followed almost without
pause by the sound of the balls; they are keeping pace with
To see how the balls manage to do this, Blumfeld turns suddenly
around. But hardly has he turned when the balls describe a
semicircle and are already behind him again, and this they
repeat every time he turns. Like submissive companions, they
try to avoid appearing in front of Blumfeld. Up to the present
they have evidently dared to do so only in order to introduce
themselves; now, however, it seems they have actually entered
into his service.
Hitherto, when faced with situations he couldn't master, Blumfeld
had always chosen to behave as thought he hadn't noticed anything.
It had often helped and usually improved the situation. This,
then, is what he does now; he takes up a position in front
of the pipe rack and, puffing out his lips, chooses a pipe,
fills it with particular care from the tobacco pouch close
at hand, and allows the balls to continue their jumping behind
him. But he hesitates to approach the, table, for to hear
the sound of the jumps coinciding with that of his own steps
almost hurts him. So there he stands, and while taking an
unnecessarily long time to fill his pipe he measures the distance
separating him from the table. At last, however, he overcomes
his faintheartedness and covers the distance with such stamping
of feet that he cannot hear the balls. But the moment he is
seated he can hear them jumping up and down behind his chair
as distinctly as ever.
Above the table, within reach, a shelf is nailed to the wall
on which stands the bottle of kirsch surrounded by little
glasses. Beside it, in a pile, lie several copies of the French
magazine. (This very day the latest issue has arrived and
Blumfeld takes it down. He quietly forgets the kirsch; he
even has the feeling that today he is proceeding with his
usual activities only to console himself, for he feels no
genuine desire to read. Contrary to his usual habit of carefully
turning one page after the other, he opens the magazine at
random and there finds a large photograph. He forces himself
to examine it in detail. It shows a meeting between the Czar
of Russia and the President of France. This takes place on
a ship. All about, as far as can be seen, are many other ships,
the smoke from their funnels vanishing in the bright sky.
Both Czar and President have rushed toward each other with
long strides and are clasping one another by the hand. Behind
the Czar as well as behind the President stand two men. By
comparison with the gay faces of the Czar and the President,
the faces of their attendants are very solemn, the eyes of
each group focused on their master. Lower down-the scene evidently
takes place on the top deck-stand long lines of saluting sailors
cut off by the margin.
Gradually Blumfeld contemplates the picture with more interest,
then holds it a little further away and looks at it with blinking
eyes. He has always had a taste for such imposing scenes.
The way the chief personages clasp each other's hand so naturally,
so cordially and lightheartedly, this he finds most lifelike.
And it's just as appropriate that the attendants-high-ranking
gentlemen, of course, with their names printed beneath-express
in their bearing the solemnity of the historical moment.)
And instead of helping himself to everything he needs, Blumfeld
sits there tense, staring at the bowl of his still unlit pipe.
He is lying in wait. Suddenly, quite unexpectedly, his numbness
leaves him and with jerk he turns around in his chair. But
the balls equally alert, or perhaps automatically following
the law governing them, also change their position the moment
Blumfeld turns, and hide behind his back.
Blumfeld now sits with his back to the table, the cold pipe
in his hand. And now the balls jump under the table and, since
there's a rug there, they are less audible. This is a great
advantage: only faint, hollow noises can be heard, one has
to pay great attention to catch their sound. Blumfeld, however,
does pay great attention, and hears them distinctly. But this
is so only for the moment, in a little while he probably won't
hear them any more. The fact that they cannot make themselves
more audible on the rug strikes Blumfeld as a great weakness
on the part of the balls. What one has to do is lay one or
better two rugs under them and they are all but powerless.
Admittedly only for a limited time, and besides, their very
existence wields a certain power.
Right now Blumfeld could have made good use of a dog, a wild
young animal would soon have dealt with these balls; he imagines
this dog trying to catch them with its paws, chasing them
from their positions, hunting them all over the room, and
finally getting hold of them between its teeth. It's quite
possible that before long Blumfeld will acquire a dog.
For the moment, however, the balls have no one to fear but
Blumfeld, and he has no desire to destroy them just now, perhaps
he lacks the necessary determination. He comes home in the
evening tired from work and just when he is in need of some
rest he is faced with this surprise. Only now does he realize
how tired he really is. No doubt he will destroy the balls,
and that in the near future, but not just yet, probably not
until tomorrow. If one looks at the whole thing with an unprejudiced
eye, the balls behave modestly enough.
From time to time, for instance, they could jump into the
foreground, show themselves, and then return again to their
positions, or they could jump higher so as to beat against
the tabletop in order to compensate themselves for the muffling
effect of the rug. But this they don't do, they don't want
to irritate Blumfeld unduly, they are evidently confining
themselves to what is absolutely necessary.
Even this measured necessity, however, is quite sufficient
to spoil Blumfeld's rest at the table. He has been sitting
there only a few minutes and is already considering going
to bed. One of his motives for this is that he can't smoke
here, for he has left the matches on his bedside table. Thus
he would have to fetch these matches, but once having reached
the bedside table he might as well stay there and lie down.
For this he has an ulterior motive: he thinks that the balls,
with their mania for keeping behind him, will jump onto the
bed, and that there, in lying down, on purpose or not, he
will squash them. The objection that what would then remain
of the balls could still go on jumping, he dismisses. Even
the unusual must have its limits. Complete balls jump anyway,
even if not incessantly, but fragments of balls never jump,
and consequently will not jump in this case, either.
"Up!" he shouts, having grown almost reckless from this reflection
and, the balls still behind him he stamps off to bed. His
hope seems to be confirmed, for when he purposely takes up
a position quite near the bed, one ball promptly springs onto
it. Then, however, the unexpected occurs: the other ball disappears
under the bed. The possibility that the balls could jump under
the bed as well had not occurred to Blumfeld. He is outraged
about the one ball, although he is aware how unjust this is,
for by jumping under the bed the ball fulfills its duty perhaps
better than the ball on the bed.
Now everything depends on which place the balls decide to
choose, for Blumfeld does not believe that they can work separately
for any length of time. And sure enough a moment later the
ball on the floor also jumps onto the bed. Now I've got them,
thinks Blumfeld, hot with joy, and tears his dressing gown
from his body to throw himself into bed. At that moment, however,
the very same ball jumps back under the bed.
Overwhelmed with disappointment, Blumfeld almost collapses.
Very likely the ball just took a good look around up there
and decided it didn't like it. And now the other one has followed,
too, and of course remains, for it's better down there.
"Now I'll have these drummers with me all night," thinks Blumfeld,
biting his lips and nodding his head. He feels gloomy, without
actually knowing what harm the balls could do him in the night.
He is a good sleeper, he will easily be able to ignore so
slight a noise. To make quite sure of this and mindful of
his past experience, he lays two rugs on the floor. It's as
if he owned a little dog for which he wants to make a soft
bed. And as though the balls had also grown tired and sleepy,
their jumping has become lower and slower than before. As
Blumfeld kneels beside the bed, lamp in hand, he thinks for
a moment that the balls might come to rest on the rug-they
fall so weakly, roll so slowly along. Then, however, they
dutifully rise again. Yet it is quite possible that in the
morning when Blumfeld looks under the bed he'll find there
two quiet, harmless children's balls. But it seems that they
may not even be able to keep up their jumping until the morning,
for as soon as Blumfeld is in bed he doesn't hear them anymore.
He strains his ears, leans out of bed to listen-not a sound.
The effect of the rugs can't be as strong as that; the only
explanation is that the balls are no longer jumping, either
because they aren't able to bounce themselves off the rug
and have therefore abandoned jumping for the time being or,
which is more likely, they will never jump again. Blumfeld
could get up and see exactly what's going on, but in his relief
at finding peace at last he prefers to remain where he is.
He would rather not risk disturbing the pacified balls even
with his eyes. Even smoking he happily renounces, turns over
on his side, and promptly goes to sleep.
But he does not remain undisturbed; as usual he sleeps without
dreaming, but very restlessly. Innumerable times during the
night he is startled by the delusion that someone is knocking
at his door. He knows quite well that no one is knocking;
who would knock at night and at his lonely bachelor's door?
Yet although he knows this for certain, he is startled again
and again and each time glances in suspense at the door, his
mouth open, eyes wide, a strand of hair trembling over his
damp forehead. He tries to count how many times he has been
woken but, dizzy from the huge numbers he arrives at, he falls
back to sleep again. He thinks he knows where the knocking
comes from; not from the door, but somewhere quite different;
being heavy with sleep, however, he cannot quite remember
on what his suspicions are based. All he knows is that innumerable
tiny unpleasant sounds accumulate before producing the great
strong knocking. He would happily suffer all the unpleasantness
of the small sounds if he could be spared the actual knocking,
but for some reason it's too late; he cannot interfere, the
moment has passed, he can't even speak, his mouth opens but
all that comes out is a silent yawn, and furious at this he
thrusts his face into the pillows. Thus the night passes.
In the morning he is awakened by the charwoman's knocking;
with a sigh of relief he welcomes the gentle tap on the door
whose inaudibility has in the past always been one of his
sources of complaint. He is about to shout "Come in!" when
he hears another lively, faint, yet all but belligerent knocking.
It's the balls under the bed. Have they woken up? Have they,
unlike him, gathered new strength overnight?
"Just a moment," shouts Blumfeld to the charwoman, jumps out
of bed, and, taking great care to keep the balls behind him,
throws himself on the floor, his back still toward them; then,
twisting his head over his shoulder, he glances at the balls
and-nearly lets out a curse. Like children pushing away blankets
that annoy them at night, the balls have apparently spent
all night pushing the rugs, with tiny twitching movements,
so far away from under the bed that they are now once more
on the parquet, where they can continue making their noise.
"Back onto the rugs!" says Blumfeld with an angry face, and
only when the balls, thanks to the rugs, have become quiet
again, does he call in the charwoman.
While she-a fat, dull-witted, stiff-backed woman-is laying
the breakfast on the table and doing the few necessary chores,
Blumfeld stands motionless in his dressing gown by his bed
so as to keep the balls in their place. With his eyes he follows
the charwoman to see whether she notices anything. This, since
she is hard of hearing, is very unlikely, and the fact that
Blumfeld thinks he sees the charwoman stopping here and there,
holding on to some furniture and listening with raised eyebrows,
he puts down to his overwrought condition caused by a bad
night's sleep. It would relieve him if he could persuade the
charwoman to speed up her work, but if anything she is slower
than usual. She loads herself laboriously with Blumfeld's
clothes and shuffles out with them into the corridor, stays
away a long time, and the din she makes beating the clothes
echoes in his ears with slow monotonous thuds.
And during all this time Blumfeld has to remain on the bed,
cannot move for fear of drawing the balls behind him, has
to let the coffee-which he likes to drink as hot as possible-get
cold, and can do nothing but stare at the drawn blinds behind
which the day is dimly dawning.
At last the charwoman has finished, bids him good morning,
and is about to leave; but before she actually goes she hesitates
by the door, moves her lips a little, and takes a long look
at Blumfeld. Blumfeld is about to remonstrate when she at
last departs. Blumfeld longs to fling the door open and shout
after her that she is a stupid, idiotic old woman. However,
when he reflects on what he actually has against her, he can
only think of the paradox of her having noticed nothing and
yet trying to give the impression that she has.
How confused his thoughts have become! And all on account
of a bad night. Some explanation for his poor sleep he finds
in the fact that last night he deviated from his usual habits
by not smoking or drinking any schnapps. When for once I don't
smoke or drink schnapps-and this is the result of his reflections-I
From now on he is going to take better care of his health,
and he begins by fetching some cotton wool from his medicine
chest which hangs over his bedside table and putting two little
wads of it into his ears. Then he stands up and takes a trial
step. Although the balls do follow he can hardly hear them;
the addition of another wad makes them quite inaudible. Blumfeld
takes a few more steps; nothing particularly unpleasant happens.
Everyone for himself, Blumfeld as well as the balls, and although
they are bound to one another they don't disturb each other.
Only once, when Blumfeld turns around rather suddenly and
one ball fails to make the countermovement fast enough, does
he touch it with his knee. But this is the only incident.
Otherwise Blumfeld calmly drinks his coffee; he is as hungry
as though, instead of sleeping last night, he had gone for
a long walk; he washes in cold, exceedingly refreshing water,
and puts on his clothes.
He still hasn't pulled up the blinds; rather, as a precaution,
he has preferred to remain in semidarkness; he has no wish
for the balls to be seen by other eyes.
But now that he is ready to go he has somehow to provide for
the balls in case they should dare-not that he thinks they
will-to follow him into the street.
He thinks of a good solution, opens the large wardrobe, and
places himself with his back to it. As though divining his
intention, the balls steer clear of the wardrobe's interior,
taking advantage of every inch of space between Blumfeld and
the wardrobe; when there's no other alternative they jump
into the wardrobe for a moment, but when faced by the dark
out they promptly jump again. Rather than be lured over the
edge further into the wardrobe, they neglect their duty and
stay by Blumfeld's side. But their little ruses avail them
nothing, for now Blumfeld himself climbs backward into the
wardrobe and they have to follow him. And with this their
fate has been sealed, for on the floor of the wardrobe lie
various smallish objects such as boots, boxes, small trunks
which although carefully arranged-Blumfeld now regrets this-nevertheless
considerably hamper the balls. And when Blumfeld, having by
now pulled the door to, jumps out of it with an enormous leap
such as he has not made for years, slams the door, and turns
the key, the balls are imprisoned.
"Well that worked," thinks Blumfeld, wiping the sweat from
his face. What a din the balls are making in the wardrobe!
It sounds as though they are desperate. Blumfeld, on the other
hand, is very contented. He leaves the room and already the
deserted corridor has a soothing effect on him. He takes the
wool out of his ears and is enchanted by the countless sounds
of the waking house. Few people are to be seen, it's still
Downstairs in the hall in front of the low door leading to
the charwoman's basement apartment stands that woman's ten
year-old son. The image of his mother, not one feature of
the woman has been omitted in this child's face. Bandy-legged,
hands in his trouser pockets, he stands there wheezing, for
he already has a goiter and can breathe only with difficulty.
But whereas Blumfeld, whenever the boy crosses his path, usually
quickens his step to spare himself the spectacle, today he
almost feels like pausing for a moment.
Even if the boy has been brought into the world by this woman
and shows every sign of his origin, he is nevertheless a child,
the thoughts of a child still dwell in this shapeless head,
and if one were to speak to him sensibly and ask him something,
he would very likely answer in a bright voice, innocent and
reverential, and after some inner struggle one could bring
oneself to pat these cheeks.
Although this is what Blumfeld thinks, he nevertheless passes
him by. In the street he realizes that the weather is pleasanter
than he had suspected from his room. The morning mist has
dispersed and patches of blue sky have appeared, brushed by
a strong wind. Blumfeld has the balls to thank for his having
left his room much earlier than usual; even the paper he has
left unread on the table; in any case he has saved a great
deal of time and can now afford to walk slowly.
It is remarkable how little he worries about the balls not
that he is separated from them. So long as they were following
him they could have been considered as something belonging
to him, something which, in passing judgment on his person,
had somehow to be taken into consideration. Now, however,
they were mere toys in his wardrobe at home. Ant it occurs
to Blumfeld that the best way of rendering the balls harmless
would be to put them to their original use. There in the hall
stands the boy; Blumfeld will give him the balls, not lend
them, but actually present them to him, which is surely tantamount
to ordering their destruction. And even if they were to remain
intact they would mean even less in the boy's hands than in
the wardrobe, the whole house would watch the boy playing
with them, other children would join in, and the general opinion
that the balls are things to play with and in no way life
companions of Blumfeld would be firmly and irrefutably established.
Blumfeld runs back into the house. The boy has just gone down
the basement stairs and is about to open the door. So Blumfeld
has to call the boy and pronounce his name, a name that to
him seems as ludicrous as everything else connected with the
"Alfred! Alfred!" he shouts. The boy hesitates for a long
time. "Come here!" shouts Blumfeld, "I've got something for
The janitor's two little girls appear from the door opposite
and, full of curiosity, take up positions on either side of
Blumfeld. They grasp the situation much more quickly than
the boy and cannot understand why he doesn't come at once.
Without taking their eyes off Blumfeld they beckon to the
boy, but cannot fathom what kind of present is awaiting Alfred.
Tortured with curiosity, they hop from one foot to the other.
Blumfeld laughs at them as well as at the boy.
The latter seems to have figured it all out and climbs stiffly,
clumsily up the steps. Not even in his gait can he manage
to belie his mother, who, incidentally, has appeared in the
basement doorway. To make sure that the charwoman also understands
and in hope that she will supervise the carrying out of his
instructions, should it be necessary, Blumfeld shouts excessively
"Up in my room," says Blumfeld, "I have two lovely balls.
Would you like to have them?" Not knowing how to behave, the
boy simply screws up his mouth, turns around, and looks inquiringly
down at his mother. The girls, however, promptly begin to
jump around Blumfeld and ask him for the balls. "You will
be allowed to play with them too," Blumfeld tells them, but
waits for the boy's answer.
He could of course give the balls to the girls, but they strike
him as too unreliable and for the moment he has more confidence
in the boy. Meanwhile, the latter, without having exchanged
a word, has taken counsel with his mother and nods his assent
to Blumfeld's repeated question. "Then listen," says Blumfeld,
who is quite prepared to receive no thanks for his gift. "Your
mother has the key of my door, you must borrow it from her.
But here is the key of my wardrobe, and in the wardrobe you
will find the balls. Take good care to lock the wardrobe and
the room again. But with the balls you can do what you like
and you don't have to bring them back. Have you understood
Unfortunately, the boy has not understood. Blumfeld has tried
to make everything particularly clear to this hopelessly dense
creature, but for this very reason has repeated everything
too often, has in turn too often mentioned keys, room, and
wardrobe, and as a result the boy stares at him as though
he were rather a seducer than his benefactor. The girls, on
the other hand, have understood everything immediately, press
against Blumfeld, and stretch out their hands for the key.
"Wait a moment," says Blumfeld, by now annoyed with them all.
Time, moreover, is passing, he can't sit about much longer.
If only the mother would say that she has understood him and
take matters in hand for the boy! Instead of which she still
stands down by the door, smiles with the affection of the
bashful deaf, and is probably under the impression that Blumfeld
up there has suddenly fallen for the boy and is hearing him
his lessons. Blumfeld on the other hand can't very well climb
down the basement stairs and shout into the charwoman's ear
to make her son for God's sake relieve him of the balls! It
had required enough of his self-control as it was to entrust
the key of his wardrobe for a whole day to this family. It
is certainly not in order to save himself trouble that he
is handing the key to the boy rather than himself leading
the boy up and there giving him the balls.
But he can't very well first give the balls away and then
immediately deprive the boy of them by-as would be bound to
happen-drawing them after him as his followers.
"So you still don't understand me?" asks Blumfeld almost wistfully
after having started a fresh explanation which, however, he
immediately interrupts at sight of the boy's vacant stare.
So vacant a stare renders one helpless. It could tempt one
into saying more than one intends, if only to fill the vacancy
with sense. Whereupon "We'll fetch the balls for him!" shout
They are shrewd and have realized that they can obtain the
balls only through using the boy as an intermediary, but that
they themselves have to bring about this mediation. From the
janitor's room a clock strikes, warning Blumfeld to hurry.
"Well, then, take the key," says Blumfeld, and the key is
more snatched from his hand than given by him. He would have
handed it to the boy with infinitely more confidence.
"The key to the room you'll have to get from the woman," Blumfeld
adds. "And when you return with the balls you must hand both
keys to her."
"Yes, yes!" shout the girls and run down the steps. They know
everything, absolutely everything; and as though Blumfeld
were infected by the boy's denseness, he is unable to understand
how they could have grasped everything so quickly from his
Now they are already tugging at the charwoman's skirt but,
tempting as it would be, Blumfeld cannot afford to watch them
carrying out their task, not only because it's already late,
but also because he has no desire to be present at the liberation
of the balls. He would in fact far prefer to be several streets
away when the girls first open the door of his room. After
all, how does he know what else he might have to expect from
And so for the second time this morning he leaves the house.
He has one last glimpse of the charwoman defending herself
against the girl's, and of the boy stirring his bandy legs
to come to his mother's assistance. It's beyond Blumfeld's
comprehension why a creature like this servant should prosper
and propagate in this world.
While on his way to the linen factory, where Blumfeld is employed,
thoughts about his work gradually get the upper hand. He quickens
his step and, despite the delay caused by the boy, he is the
first to arrive in his office.
This office is a glass-enclosed room containing a writing
desk for Blumfeld and two standing desks for the two assistants
subordinate to him. Although these standing desks are so small
and narrow as to suggest they are meant for schoolchildren,
this office is very crowded and the assistants cannot sit
down, for then there would be no place for Blumfeld's chair.
As a result they stand all day, pressed against their desks.
for them of course this is very uncomfortable, but it also
makes it very difficult for Blumfeld to keep an eye on them.
They often press eagerly against their desks not so much in
order to work as to whisper to one another or even to take
forty winks. They give Blumfeld a great deal of trouble; they
don't help him sufficiently with the enormous amount of work
that is imposed on him. This work involves supervising the
whole distribution of fabrics and cash among the women homeworker
who are employed by the factory for the manufacture of certain
fancy commodities. To appreciate the magnitude of this task
an intimate knowledge of the general conditions is necessary.
But since Blumfeld's immediate superior has died some years
ago, no one any longer possesses this knowledge, which is
also why Blumfeld cannot grant anyone the right to pronounce
an opinion on his work.
The manufacturer, Herr Ottomar, for instance, clearly underestimates
Blumfeld's work; no doubt he recognizes that in the course
of twenty years Blumfeld has deserved well of the factory,
and this he acknowledges not only because he is obliged to,
but also because he respects Blumfeld as a loyal, trustworthy
person. He underestimates his work, nevertheless, for he believes
it could be conducted by methods more simple and therefore
in every respect more profitably than those employed by Blumfeld.
It is said, and it is probably not incorrect, that Ottomar
shows himself so rarely in Blumfeld's department simply to
spare himself the annoyance that the sight of Blumfeld's working
methods causes him. To be so unappreciated is undoubtedly
sad for Blumfeld, but there is no remedy, for he cannot very
well compel Ottomar to spend let us say a whole month on end
in Blumfeld's department in order to study the great variety
of work being done accomplished there, to apply his own allegedly
better methods, and to let himself be convinced of Blumfeld's
soundness by the collapse of the department-which would be
the inevitable result. And so Blumfeld carries on his work
undeterred as before, gives gives a little start whenever
Ottomar appears after a long absence, then with the subordinate's
sense of duty makes a feeble effort to explain to Ottomar
this or that arrangement, whereupon the latter, his eyes lowered
and giving a silent nod, passes on.
But what worries Blumfeld more than this lack of appreciation
is the thought that one day he will be compelled to leave
his job, the immediate consequence of which will be pandemonium,
a confusion no one will be able to straighten out because
so far as he knows there isn't a single soul in the factory
capable of replacing him and of carrying on his job in a manner
that could be relied upon to prevent months of the most serious
interruptions. Needless to say, if the boss underestimates
an employee the latter's colleagues try their best to surpass
him in this respect. In consequence everyone underestimates
Blumfeld's work; no one considers it necessary to spend any
time training in Blumfeld's department, and when new employees
are hired not one of them is ever assigned to Blumfeld. As
a result Blumfeld's department lacks a younger generation
to carry on.
When Blumfeld, who up to then had been managing the entire
department with the help of only one servant, demanded an
assistant, weeks of bitter fighting ensued. Almost every day
Blumfeld appeared in Ottomar's office and explained to him
calmly and in minute detail why an assistant was needed in
his department. He was needed not by any means because Blumfeld
wished to spare himself, Blumfeld had no intention of sparing
himself, he was doing more than his share of work and this
he had no desire to change, but would Herr Ottomar please
consider how in the course of time the business had grown,
how every department had been correspondingly enlarged, with
the exception of Blumfeld's department, which was invariably
forgotten! And would he consider too how much the work had
increased just there!
When Blumfeld had entered the firm, a time Herr Ottomar probably
could not remember, they had employed some ten seamstresses,
today the number varied between fifty and sixty. Such a job
requires great energy; Blumfeld could guarantee that he was
completely wearing himself out in this work, but that he will
continue to master it completely he can henceforth no longer
guarantee. True, Herr Ottomar had never flatly refused Blumfeld's
requests, this was something he could not do to an old employee,
but the manner in which he hardly listened, in which he talked
to others over Blumfeld's head, made halfhearted promises
and had forgotten everything in a few days-this behavior was
insulting, to say the least. Not actually to Blumfeld, Blumfeld
is no romantic, pleasant as honor and recognition may be,
Blumfeld can do without them, in spite of everything he will
stick to his desk as long as it is at all possible, in any
case he is in the right, and right, even though on occasion
it may take a long time, must prevail in the end.
True, Blumfeld has at last been given two assistants, but
what assistants! One might have thought Ottomar had realized
he could express his contempt for the department even better
by granting rather than by refusing it these assistants. It
was even possible that Ottomar had kept Blumfeld waiting so
long because he was looking for two assistants just like these,
and-as may be imagined-took a long time to find them. And
now of course Blumfeld could no longer complain; if he did,
the answer could easily be foreseen; after all, he had asked
for one assistant and had been given two, that's how cleverly
Ottomar had arranged things.
Needless to say, Blumfeld complained just the same, but only
because his predicament all but forced him to do so, not because
he still hoped for any redress. Nor did he complain emphatically,
but only by the way, whenever the occasion arose. Nevertheless,
among his spiteful colleagues the rumor soon spread that someone
had asked Ottomar if it were really possible that Blumfeld,
who after all had been given such unusual aid, was still complaining.
To which Ottomar answered that this was correct, Blumfeld
was still complaining, and rightly so. He, Ottomar, had at
last realized this and he intended gradually to assign to
Blumfeld one assistant for each seamstress, in other words
some sixty in all. In case this number should prove insufficient,
however, he would let him have even more and would not cease
until the bedlam, which had been developing for years in Blumfeld's
department, was complete.
Now it cannot be denied that in this remark Ottomar's manner
of speech had been cleverly imitated, but Blumfeld had no
doubts whatever that Ottomar would not dream of speaking about
him in such a way. The whole thing was a fabrication of the
loafers in the offices on the first floor. Blumfeld ignored
it-if only he could as calmly have ignored the presence of
the assistants! But there they stood, and could not be spirited
away. Pale, weak children. According to their credentials
they had already passed school age, but in reality this was
difficult to believe. In fact their rightful place was so
clearly at their mother's knee that one would hardly have
dared to entrust them to a teacher. They still couldn't even
stand properly; standing up for any length of time tired them
inordinately, especially when they first arrived. When left
to themselves they promptly doubled up in their weakness,
standing hunched and crooked in their corner. Blumfeld tried
to point out to them that if they went on giving in to their
indolence they would become cripples for life.
To ask the assistants to make the slightest move was to take
a risk; once when one of them had been ordered to carry something
a short distance, he had run so eagerly that he had banged
his knee against a desk. The room had been full of seamstresses,
the desks covered in merchandise, but Blumfeld had been obliged
to neglect everything and take the sobbing assistant into
the office and there bandage his wound. Yet even this zeal
on the part of the assistant was superficial; like actual
children they tried once in a while to excel, but far more
often-indeed almost always-they tried to divert their superior's
attention and to cheat him.
Once, at a time of the most intensive work, Blumfeld had rushed
past them, dripping with sweat, and had observed them secretly
swapping stamps among the bales of merchandise. He had felt
like banging them on the head with his fists, it would have
been the only possible punishment for such behavior, but they
were after all only children and Blumfeld could not very well
knock children down. And so he continued to put up with them.
Originally he had imagined that the assistants would help
him with the essential chores which at the moment of the distribution
of goods required so much effort and vigilance. He had imagined
himself standing in the center behind his desk, keeping an
eye on everything, and making the entries in the books while
the assistants ran to and for, distributing everything according
to his orders. He had imagined that his supervision, which,
sharp as it was, could not cope with such a crowd, would be
complemented by the assistants' attention; he had hoped that
these assistants would gradually acquire experience, cease
depending entirely on his orders, and finally learn to discriminate
on their own between the seamstresses as to their trustworthiness
Blumfeld soon realized that all these hopes had been in vain
and that he could not afford to let them even talk to the
seamstresses. From the beginning they had ignored some of
the seamstresses, either from fear or dislike; others to whom
they felt partial they would sometimes run to meet at the
door. To them the assistants would bring whatever the women
wanted, pressing it almost secretly into their hands, although
the seamstresses were perfectly entitled to receive it, would
collect on a bare shelf for these favorites various cuttings,
worthless remnants, but also a few still useful odds and ends,
waving them blissfully at the women behind Blumfeld's back
and in return having sweets popped into their mouths. Blumfeld
of course soon put an end to this mischief and the moment
the seamstresses arrived he ordered the assistants back into
their glass-enclosed cubicles.
But for a long time they considered this to be a grave injustice,
they sulked, willfully broke their nibs, and sometimes, although
not daring to raise their heads, even knocked loudly against
the glass panes in order to attract the seamstresses' attention
to the bad treatment that in their opinion they were suffering
at Blumfeld's hands. The wrong they do themselves the assistants
For instance, they almost always arrive late at the office.
Blumfeld, their superior, who from his earliest youth has
considered it natural to arrive half an hour before the office
opens-not from ambition or an exaggerated sense of duty but
simply from a certain feeling of decency-often has to wait
more than an hour for his assistants. Chewing his breakfast
roll he stands behind his desk, looking through the accounts
in the seamstresses' little books. Soon he is immersed in
his work and thinking of nothing else when suddenly he receives
such a shock that his pen continues to tremble in his hand
for some while afterwards. One of the assistants has dashed
in, looking as though he is about to collapse; he is holding
on to something with one hand while the other is pressed against
his heaving chest. All this, however, simply means that he
is making excuses for being late, excuses so absurd that Blumfeld
purposely ignores them, for if he didn't he would have to
give the young man a well-deserved thrashing. As it is he
just glances at him for a moment, points with outstretched
hand at the cubicle, and turns back to his work.
Now one really might expect the assistant to appreciate his
superior's kindness and hurry to his place. No, he doesn't
hurry, he dawdles about, he walks on tiptoe, slowly placing
one foot in front of the other. Is he trying to ridicule his
superior? No. Again it's just that mixture of fear and self-complacency
against which one is powerless. How else explain the fact
that even today Blumfeld, who has himself arrived unusually
late in the office and now after a long wait-he doesn't feel
like checking the books-sees, through the clouds of dust raised
by the stupid servant with his broom, the two assistants sauntering
peacefully along the street? Arm in arm, they appear to be
telling one another important things which, however, are sure
to have only the remotest and very likely irreverent connections
with the office. The nearer they approach the glass door,
the slower they walk. One of them seizes the door handle but
fails to turn it; they just go on talking, listening, laughing.
"Hurry out and open the door for our gentlemen!" shouts Blumfeld
at the servant, throwing up his hands. But when the assistants
come in, Blumfeld no longer feels like quarreling, ignores
their greetings, and goes to his desk. He starts doing his
accounts, but now and again glances up to see what his assistants
are up to. One of them seems to be very tired and rubs his
eyes. When hanging up his overcoat he takes the opportunity
to lean against the wall. On the street he seemed lively enough,
but the proximity of work tires him. The other assistant,
however, is eager to work, but only work of a certain kind.
For a long time it has been his wish to be allowed to sweep.
But this is work to which he is not entitled; sweeping is
exclusively the servant's job; in itself Blumfeld would have
nothing against the sweeping, let the assistant sweep, he
can't make a worse job of it than the servant, but if the
assistant wants to sweep then he must come earlier, before
the servant begins to sweep, and not spend on it time that
is reserved exclusively for office work. But since the young
man is totally deaf to any sensible argument, at least the
servant-that half-blind old buffer whom the boss would certainly
not tolerate in any department but Blumfeld's and who is still
alive only by the grace of the boss and God-at least the servant
might be sensible and hand the broom for a moment to the young
man who, being clumsy, would soon lose his interest and run
after the servant with the broom in order to persuade him
to go on sweeping.
It appears, however, that the servant feels especially responsible
for the sweeping; one can see how he, the moment the young
man approaches him, tries to grasp the broom more firmly with
his trembling hands; he even stands still and stops sweeping
so as to direct his full attention to the ownership of the
broom. The assistant doesn't actually plead in words, for
he is afraid of Blumfeld, who is ostensibly doing his accounts;
moreover, ordinary speech is useless, since the servant can
be made to hear only by excessive shouting. So at first the
assistant tugs the servant by the sleeve. The servant knows,
of course, what it is about, glowers at the assistant, shakes
his head, and pulls the broom nearer up to his chest. Whereupon
the assistant folds his hands and pleads. Actually, he has
no hope of achieving anything by pleading, but the pleading
amuses him and so he pleads. The other assistant follows the
goings-on with low laughter and seems to think, heaven knows
why, that Blumfeld can't hear him. The pleading makes not
the slightest impression on the servant, who turns around
and thinks he can safely use the broom again. The assistant,
however, has skipped after him on tiptoe and, rubbing his
hands together imploringly, now pleads from another side.
This turning of the one and skipping of the other is repeated
several times. Finally the servant feels cut off from all
sides and realizes-something which, had he been slightly less
stupid, he might have realized from the beginning- that he
will be tired out long before the assistant. So, looking for
help elsewhere, he wags his finger at the assistant and points
at Blumfeld, suggesting that he will lodge a complaint if
the assistant refuses to desist. The assistant realizes that
if he is to get the broom at all he'll have to hurry, so he
impudently makes a grab for it. An involuntary scream from
the other assistant heralds the imminent decision. The servant
saves the broom once more by taking a step back and dragging
it after him. But now the assistant is up in arms: with open
mouth and flashing eyes he leaps forward, the servant tries
to escape, but his old legs wobble rather than run, the assistant
tugs at the broom and though he doesn't succeed in getting
it he nevertheless causes it to drop and in this way it is
lost to the servant. Also apparently to the assistant for,
the moment the broom falls, all three, the two assistants
and the servant, are paralyzed, for now Blumfeld is bound
to discover everything. And sure enough Blumfeld at his peephole
glances up as though taking in the situation only now. He
stares at each one with a stern and searching eye, even the
broom on the floor does not escape his notice. Perhaps the
silence has lasted too long or perhaps the assistant can no
longer suppress his desire to sweep, in any case he bends
down-albeit very carefully, as though about to grab an animal
rather than a broom-seizes it, passes it over the floor, but,
when Blumfeld jumps up and steps out of his cubicle, promptly
casts it aside in alarm.