At this moment, the queen and her ladies entered from the card-room, and, at her appearance, every word, every sound was hushed. Silently, and with a conciliatory smile, the queen passed through the saloon, and seated herself at the table; she then gave the sign to the grand-master, that her guests should be seated. And now the servants, in golden liveries, flew from side to side bearing silver plates, containing the rare and fragrant viands which the inventive head of Baron Pollnitz had ordered for the favored guests of her majesty the Queen of Prussia.
Nothing is so well calculated to quiet the perturbed soul as a costly and well-prepared feast. The haughty Frenchmen soon forgot their mortified vanity and resentment, and were well pleased to be seated at the table of the "great Frederick." They ate and drank right merrily in honor of the bold and brave prince who had sent them here from Rossbach; but if the rich dishes made them forget their mortification, the fiery wine excited yet more their presumptuous levity. They forgot that they were the guests of a queen. Louder and more extravagant was their gayety, more boisterous, more indiscreet their unrestrained laughter. In their frantic merriment they dared to sing aloud some of the little ambiguous, equivocal chansons, which belonged to the gamins of Paris, and at which the Marquise de Pompadour laughed till she shed tears when sung sometimes by the merry courtiers.
In vain the grand-master besought them, in his most polished manner, not to sing at table.
"We have been so long forced to listen to the dull, screeching discord of your singers, that we must have some compensation!" said they. "Besides," said Belleville, in a loud voice, "it belongs now to bon ton to sing at the table; and the Prussian court should thank us for introducing this new Parisian mode."
They sang, chatted, laughed, and almost overpowered the music by their boisterous levity. Their presumptuous revelry seemed to be every moment on the increase. The Austrian and Russian officers looked upon them with disgust and alarm, and entreated them to desist; but the French officers were regardless of all etiquette. During the dessert, Belleville and some of his friends arose and drew near the table at which the queen and the princesses were seated; this was in the middle of the room, and slightly separated from the other tables. They gazed at the princesses with insolent eyes, and, placing themselves behind the chair of the queen, they began to crack nuts with their teeth, and throw the shells carelessly upon the floor, near her majesty.
The queen continued a quiet conversation with the Princess Wilhelmina, and appeared wholly unconscious of this rudeness and vulgarity; but her face was pallid, and her eyes filled with tears.
"I pray your majesty to rise from the table!" said the Princess Wilhelmina. "Look at the Princess Amelia; her countenance glows with anger; there is a tempest on her brow, and it is about to burst upon us."
"You are right; that is the best way to end this torture." She rose from the table, and gave a sign for a general movement. When the queen and her suite had left the room, Baron Marshal drew near Count Belleville.