The aide-de-camp general lived at the Hotel Continental, much frequented by Russians of distinction. Henri found his friend just dressing for dinner, and well disposed to accept his proposition.
As they descended the stairs, they passed an imposing elderly man, with white moustache and imperial, still very erect in his long redingote with military buttons—a perfect type of the German officer who gets himself up to look like the late Emperor William I. This officer and the French general stopped on the stairs, each eyeing the other without deciding whether he ought to salute or not, as often happens with people who think they recognize some one, but without being able to recall where or in what circumstances they have met before.
It was Henri whose memory was first revived.
“Captain, you are my prisoner!” he said, gayly, seizing the stranger by the collar.
“What! The Commandant de Prerolles!” cried the elderly man, in a reproachful tone, from which fifteen years had not removed the bitterness.
“I know who he is!” said Lenaieff. “Monsieur is your former jailer of the frontier fortress!”
The officer of the landwehr attempted to withdraw from the hand that held him.
“Oh, I don’t intend to let you escape! You are coming to dine with us, and we will sign a treaty of peace over the dessert,” said Henri, clasping the officer’s hand affectionately.
His tone was so cordial that the stranger allowed himself to be persuaded. A quarter of an hour later all three were seated at a table in the Cafe Anglais.
“I present to you General Lenaieff,” said Henri to his guest. “You should be more incensed against him than against me, for, if he had done his duty, you would probably have had me imprisoned again.”
“Not imprisoned—shot!” the Captain replied, with conviction.
“In that case I regret my complicity still less,” said Lenaieff, “for otherwise I should have lost an excellent friend, and, had Prerolles been shot, he never could have made me acquainted with the delicious Mademoiselle de Vermont!”
“Ah! So that is what you are thinking of?” Henri said to himself.
“I do not know the young lady of whom you speak,” the German interrupted; “but I know that, for having allowed the Commandant to escape, I was condemned to take his place in the prison, and was shut up there for six months, in solitary confinement, without even seeing my wife!”
“Poor Captain! How is the lady?” Henry inquired.
“Very well, I thank you.”
“Will you permit us to drink her health?”
“Hock! hoch!” said Henri, lifting his glass.
“Hock! hoch!” responded the ex-jailer, drinking with his former prisoner.
This delicate toast began to appease the bitterness of the good man; while the memories of his escape, offering a diversion to Henri’s mind, put him in sympathetic humor with the stranger.