ON AN exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out
of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as
though in hesitation, towards K. bridge.
He had successfully avoided meeting his landlady on the staircase.
His garret was under the roof of a high, five-storied house and was
more like a cupboard than a room. The landlady who provided him with
garret, dinners, and attendance, lived on the floor below, and every
time he went out he was obliged to pass her kitchen, the door of which
invariably stood open. And each time he passed, the young man had a
sick, frightened feeling, which made him scowl and feel ashamed. He
was hopelessly in debt to his landlady, and was afraid of meeting her.
This was not because he was cowardly and abject, quite the contrary;
but for some time past he had been in an overstrained irritable
condition, verging on hypochondria. He had become so completely
absorbed in himself, and isolated from his fellows that he dreaded
meeting, not only his landlady, but any one at all. He was crushed
by poverty, but the anxieties of his position had of late ceased to
weigh upon him. He had given up attending to matters of practical
importance; he had lost all desire to do so. Nothing that any landlady
could do had a real terror for him. But to be stopped on the stairs,
to be forced to listen to her trivial, irrelevant gossip, to pestering
demands for payment, threats and complaints, and to rack his brains
for excuses, to prevaricate, to lie- no, rather than that, he would
creep down the stairs like a cat and slip out unseen.
This evening, however, on coming out into the street, he became
acutely aware of his fears.
"I want to attempt a thing like that and am frightened by these
trifles," he thought, with an odd smile. "Hm... yes, all is in a man's
hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, that's an axiom. It
would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of. Taking
a new step, uttering a new word is what they fear most.... But I am
talking too much. It's because I chatter that I do nothing. Or perhaps
it is that I chatter because I do nothing. I've learned to chatter
this last month, lying for days together in my den thinking... of Jack
the Giant-killer. Why am I going there now? Am I capable of that? Is
that serious? It is not serious at all. It's simply a fantasy to amuse
myself; a plaything! Yes, maybe it is a plaything."
The heat in the street was terrible: and the airlessness, the bustle
and the plaster, scaffolding, bricks, and dust all about him, and that
special Petersburg stench, so familiar to all who are unable to get
out of town in summer- all worked painfully upon the young man's
already overwrought nerves. The insufferable stench from the
pot-houses, which are particularly numerous in that part of the
town, and the drunken men whom he met continually, although it was a
working day, completed the revolting misery of the picture. An
expression of the profoundest disgust gleamed for a moment in the
young man's refined face. He was, by the way, exceptionally
handsome, above the average in height, slim, well-built, with
beautiful dark eyes and dark brown hair. Soon he sank into deep
thought, or more accurately speaking into a complete blankness of
mind; he walked along not observing what was about him and not
caring to observe it. From time to time, he would mutter something,
from the habit of talking to himself, to which he had just
confessed. At these moments he would become conscious that his ideas
were sometimes in a tangle and that he was very weak; for two days
he had scarcely tasted food.
He was so badly dressed that even a man accustomed to shabbiness
would have been ashamed to be seen in the street in such rags. In that
quarter of the town, however, scarcely any shortcoming in dress
would have created surprise. Owing to the proximity of the