The winter went quickly by under amusements of all kinds. Loulou had never known it so pleasant. The theater season was brilliant, the weather for skating lasted longer than usual, and balls succeeded each other in her father’s and friends’ houses in rapid succession. Wilhelm only went once or twice, and then he firmly declined any more, to the great astonishment of Frau Ellrich, and the vexation of Loulou, whose pretty face always lit up with pleasure when she saw his dark eyes watching her from the doorways or window recesses while she danced. He said that the sight of social frivolity bored him, and she thought in her naive way, “It is always like that. Men must have some fad.” Paul was just the other way. He accepted every invitation, and he had a great many. He had always some new acquaintances to tell Wilhelm of, and often spoke of Fraulein Malvine Marker, who appeared to be Loulou’s dearest friend, and no feeling of jealousy prevented him from repeating to Wilhelm that the pretty girl had often inquired about him, always regretting his absence from the Ellrichs’ dances.
The beautiful time of the year drew near. Outside the gates of the city, where open places were free to her, the spring triumphed in the budding trees of the Thiergarten. Arrangement of plans for the summer was the chief occupation with most people. The Ellrichs talked of Switzerland, and Wilhelm thought timidly of the charms of the Black Forest. He longed to be back at Hornberg, and he spoke often of being there together in the near future. He did not mention marriage, however, and his formal offer had not yet been made. Loulou thought this very odd, and one day she spoke to her mother about it. Frau Ellrich, however, caressed her pretty child, and kissing her on the forehead said:
“It is nothing but modesty. I think it is very nice of him to leave you in freedom for the whole season.”
“I am not free, however.”
“I mean before the world, dear child. You are both so young that it would not matter if you did not take the cares of marriage upon you for another year.”
And to Loulou that was evident.
All over Germany the corn stood high in the fields, ripe for the sickle. Then suddenly the threatening shadow of war rose in the west like a black thundercloud in the blue summer sky, filling the harvest gatherers with anxious forebodings. For fourteen days the people waited in painful suspense, not knowing whether to take up the sword or the scythe. Then the cry of destiny came crashing through the country, terrifying and relieving at the same time: “The French have declared War!”