A loud hurrah broke from the people as Herzberg finished and left the balcony. Now there was no room for doubt. The enemy was overwhelmed and had fled to his last intrenchment. Would the king leave him unmolested, and would he not still drive the hated enemy further?
While groups of men were assembled here and there, discussing these weighty questions, and others, intoxicated, drunk with joy at this great victory over their hereditary enemy, were making eloquent addresses to the people, a third courier appeared in sight.
Breathless with expectation and anxiety, they would not give him time to reach the castle. They must--they would know the news he brings. There should be no delay, no temporizing, no mysteries. The people were one great family. They awaited the message of their father. They demanded news of their distant sons and brothers.
The third courier brings renewed assurances. The Russians are routed. The king will give them no rest. He will drive them from their last stronghold. With his whole army, with cavalry and militia, with all his cannon, he was in the act of storming Gudenberg. This is the message of the third courier.
The people are proud and happy. No one thinks of going home. In fact, they have no home but the streets. Every house would be too small for this great family which feels a thirst to express its joy and its rapture to each other. And then it was possible the king might send another courier. Who could go home till they knew that the Russians were driven from their last stronghold, that Gudenberg was drenched in Russian blood?
No one doubted that this news would come--must come. Not the slightest fear, the least doubt troubled the proud, pure joy of this hour. The victory was achieved, but it was still charming to hear it confirmed; to receive these heavenly messages. Every open space was filled with men. Each one would see and hear for himself. No man thought himself too distinguished, too sick, too weak, to stand for hours in the burning sun, carried about involuntarily by this fluctuating wave of humanity. Side by side with the laborer stood the elegant lady in her silk robes; near the poor beggar in his ragged jacket were seen the high official and the wealthy banker in their rich dresses.
Move than fifty thousand men were now assembled and waiting--waiting for what they knew not--for news--for a courier who could give the details. It was not enough to know that the king had conquered; they wished to know the extent and the significance of this victory; and lastly, they would know the bloody offering which this victory had cost. The dinner-hour was passed. What cared this happy people for dinner? They hungered for no earthly food; they thirsted for no earthly drink; they were satisfied with the joy of victory. The clock struck three. Yes, there comes a horseman, his bridle is hanging loose--he is covered with dust--but how, what means this? His face is pale as death; his eyes are misty; he looks around shame-faced and confused. No happy news is written upon this dark and clouded brow. What means this messenger of death in the midst of joy, triumph, and proud consciousness of victory? They seek to hold him, to question him, but he gives no answer. He spurs his wearied horse till he springs aloft, and the men in rash terror are crushed against each other; but the horseman makes no sign. Silently he dashes on through the laughing, chatting crowd, but wherever he passes, laughter and smiles disappear, and speech is silenced.
It seemed as if the angel of death had touched his brow, and the happy ones shuddered at his untimely presence. Now he has reached the castle, he descends from his horse. In breathless silence, pallid, trembling they know not why, those who have seen this dumb messenger look up shudderingly to the balcony. At last, after long waiting, the Minister Herzberg appeared once more.