Suddenly the rooms began to fill; everywhere gold-embroidered uniforms, orders, stars, and flashing gems were to be seen; a promiscuous and strange crowd was moving through these lofty saloons, illuminated by thousands of lights and odorous with the fragrance of flowers.
Side by side with the rich, fantastic uniform of the Russian, was seen the light and active French chasseur; here was to be seen the Hungarian hussar, whose variegated and tasteful costume contrasted curiously with the dark and simple uniform of the Spaniard, who stood near him, both conversing gayly with an Italian, dressed in the white coat of an Austrian officer.
It seemed as if every nation in Europe had arranged a rendezvous for this day in the royal palace at Berlin, or as it the great Frederick had sent specimens to his people of all the various nations against whom he had undertaken this gigantic war.
There were not only Germans from all the provinces, but Italians, Spaniards, Russians, Swedes, Hungarians, Netherlanders, and Frenchmen. All these were prisoners of war--their swords had been stained with the blood of Prussians; the fate of war now confined them to the scabbard, and changed the enemies of the king into guests at his court.
Hundreds of captive officers were now waiting in the saloon for the appearance of the queen, but the Prussian army was scarcely represented. All who were fit for service were in the field, only the invalids and the old warriors, too infirm for active duty had remained at the capital; even the youths who had not attained the legal age for military duty, had hastened to the army, full of courage and enthusiasm, inspired by the example of their fathers and brothers.
The dazzling appearance of these royal saloons was therefore mostly owing to the flashing uniforms of the prisoners of war. Only a few old Prussian generals, and the courtiers, whose duties prevented them from being heroes, were added to the number.
Herr von Giurgenow, and his friend Captain Belleville, were invited to the ball, and were well pleased to offer their homage to the majesty of Prussia. Count Ranuzi, who, reserved and silent as usual, had been wandering through the saloons, now joined them, and they had all withdrawn to a window, in order to observe quietly and undisturbed the gay crowd passing before them.
"Look you," said Ranuzi, laughing, "this reminds me of the frantic confusion in the anterooms of hell, which Dante has described in such masterly style. We all wear our glittering masks, under which our corpses are hidden; one word from our master and this drapery would fall off, and these grinning death-heads be brought to ruin. It depends solely upon the will of Frederick of Prussia to speak this word. He is our master, and when he commands it, we must lay aside our swords and exchange our uniforms for the garments of a malefactor."