But the coachman who had driven Misha reported to me, on his return, that he had taken him to the first drinking establishment on the highway, and that there he “had got stranded,” had begun to stand treat to every one without distinction, and had soon arrived at a state of inebriation.
Since that time I have never met Misha, but I learned his final fate in the following manner.
Three years later I again found myself in the country; suddenly a servant entered and announced that Madame Polteff was inquiring for me. I knew no Madame Polteff, and the servant who made the announcement was grinning in a sarcastic sort of way, for some reason or other. In reply to my questioning glance he said that the lady who was asking for me was young, poorly clad, and had arrived in a peasant-cart drawn by one horse which she was driving herself! I ordered that Madame Polteff should be requested to do me the favour to step into my study.
I beheld a woman of five-and-twenty,—belonging to the petty burgher class, to judge from her attire,—with a large kerchief on her head. Her face was simple, rather round in contour, not devoid of agreeability; her gaze was downcast and rather melancholy, her movements were embarrassed.
“Are you Madame Polteff?” I asked, inviting her to be seated.
“Just so, sir,” she answered, in a low voice, and without sitting down.—“I am the widow of your nephew, Mikhail Andreevitch Polteff.”
“Is Mikhail Andreevitch dead? Has he been dead long?—But sit down, I beg of you.”
She dropped down on a chair.
“This is the second month since he died.”
“And were you married to him long ago?”
“I lived with him one year in all.”
“And whence come you now?”
“I come from the vicinity of Tula.... There is a village there called Znamenskoe-Glushkovo—perhaps you deign to know it. I am the daughter of the sexton there. Mikhail Andreitch and I lived there.... He settled down with my father. We lived together a year in all.” The young woman’s lips twitched slightly, and she raised her hand to them. She seemed to be getting ready to cry, but conquered herself, and cleared her throat.
“The late Mikhail Andreitch, before his death,” she went on, “bade me go to you. ‘Be sure to go,’ he said. And he told me that I was to thank you for all your goodness, and transmit to you ... this ... trifle” (she drew from her pocket a small package), “which he always carried on his person.... And Mikhail Andreitch said, Wouldn’t you be so kind as to accept it in memory—that you must not scorn it.... ’I have nothing else to give him,’ ... meaning you ... he said....”
In the packet was a small silver cup with the monogram of Mikhail’s mother. This tiny cup I had often seen in Mikhail’s hands; and once he had even said to me, in speaking of a pauper, that he must be stripped bare, since he had neither cup nor bowl, “while I have this here,” he said.