1. CHAPTER I
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 anyone 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."