Despite the Prinzessin's morbid certainty of her inevitable humiliation, Sophie-Vittoria's debut ball remains the talk of a dazzled Hunsruck. Beautiful ladies and dashing gallants from throughout the Rheinland made a sparkling eclat across the city as their gilded and ornate carriages rattled through the winding streets of Hunsruck to the ducal palace overlooking the Herzogpark, bathed in the silvery light of the stars throughout the cloudless night.
Arriving at the palace, the badinage and bons mots of the gay aristos provoked musical laughter from the ladies gathered in the receiving line forming in the Duke's great hall abutting the grand ballroom from which the chamber ensemble's initial tunings could be heard. After the guests had been given proper time to see and be seen, the Duke's dancemaster called the guests to the ball and the crowd formed itself into its proper precedence and began filing into the ballroom.
As the precedences were being worked out in the great hall, a great commotion arose out on the grounds, as a gilded sedanca drawn by six prancing white Scandalusian stallions wheeled to the porte-cochere before the palace, with 4 scarlet-liveried Ethiope footmen riding on the back and sides of the coach. The footmen descended and readied the carriage step, opening the carriage door to permit the descent of a handsome gentleman tailored in the Italianate fashion. Striding briskly up the stairs, the gentleman nodded an acknowledgement to the doormen,tossing them his walking stick as his footmen explained, "His Highborn, the Comte de St. Germain."
Entering the ballroom, the Comte attracted only slight notice as the opening allemande began, with Duke Ignaz, dramatically returned from the his army along the Waldreck frontier, drawing all eyes dancing the first dance with his daughter, the belle of the ball. Examining the Prinzessin intently through his quizzing glass, the Comte remained thus transfixed throughout most of the courante, which the Prinzessin danced with the male guest of honour, Prinz Franz von Sachsen-Veldenz. Walking over to the Duke of Birkenstock with an affable familiarity during the sarabande, the Comte engaged him in a short conversation swiftly concluding with the Duke and Comte approaching the Prinzessin just before the gigue, the Duke presenting the Comte to the Prinzessin and the Count engaging the Prinzessin for the gigue.
Stepping gracefully through the forms of the gigue, the Comte struck up an easy conversation with the Prinzessin, provoking at first a blushing giggle from the young lady, then an animated exchange throughout the piece. At the conclusion of the gigue, the ensemble took its first break, permitting the Comte to escort the Prinzessin onto the esplanade adjoining the ballroom to take the night air. When the ensemble recommenced for its next set, few people noticed the prolonged absence of the Prinzessin and Comte, although some of the older ladies in attendance were attempting to rehearse the various rumours of the Comte's ancestry and provenance. When the ensemble sounded the minuet in the second set, though, the Prinzessin and Comte returned to the ballroom, dancing the piece with somewhat less conversation, the Prinzessin glancing repeatedly at her father, engaged in a prolonged interview with the Duchess of Birkenstock and the Prinz von Pfalz-Zwiebacken across the ballroom.
The Comte took his leave of the Prinzessin then, relinquishing her to the young Duke of Nassau-Sauerbraten for the second gigue, while the Comte retired to the drawing room adjacent, where many of the older gentlemen were playing at whist and quadrille. Making a few polite greetings to some of the gentlemen, the comte took an unobtrusive survey of the games and gamers for perhaps a quarter of an hour, but declined when offered a seat at a whist table upon the somewhat voluble collapse of the luck of another gentleman, the newly apparent heir to the County of Sickingen. Pleading another engagement, the Comte excused himself and returned to the ballroom, where he took his leave of the Duke and Duchess of Birkenstock, a few other, mostly French or Alsatian gentlemen who seemed now to recognise him, and the Prinzessin whom he saluted with a courtly bow and baisemain before striding briskly back to the doormen and his carriage waiting beyond. As more than a few heads turned to watch him on his way, the Prinzessin regarded her gloved hand, into the palm of which the Comte, in his baisemain, had pressed a small, ornately warded brass key...