Tales of Two Countries/Hope's clad in April Green

 

"HOPE'S CLAD IN APRIL GREEN."


"You're kicking up the dust!" cried Cousin Hans.

Ola did not hear.

"Hes quite as deaf as Aunt Maren," thought Hans. "You're kicking up the dust!" he shouted, louder.

"Oh, I beg your pardon!" said Cousin Ola, and lifted his feet high in air at every step. Not for all the world would he do anything to annoy his brother; he had too much on his conscience already.

Was he not at this very moment thinking of her whom he knew that his brother loved? And was it not sinful of him to be unable to conquer a passion which, besides being a wrong towards his own brother, was so utterly hopeless?

Cousin Ola took himself sternly to task; and while he kept to the other side of the way, so as not to make a dust, he tried with all his might to think of the most indifferent things. But however far away his thoughts might start, they always returned by the strangest short-cuts to the forbidden point, and began once more to flutter around it, like moths around a candle.

The brothers, who were paying a holiday visit to their uncle, the Pastor, were now on their way to the Sheriff's house, where there was to be a dancing-party for young people. There were many students paying visits in the neighbourhood, so that these parties passed like an epidemic from house to house.

Cousin Hans was thus in his very element; he sang, he danced, he was entertaining from morning to night; and if his tone had been a little sharp when he declared that Ola was kicking up the dust, it was really because of his annoyance at being unable, by any means, to screw his brother up to the same pitch of hilarity.

We already know what was oppressing Ola. But even under ordinary circumstances he was more quiet and retiring than his brother. He danced "like a pair of nut-crackers," said Hans; he could not sing at all (Cousin Hans even declared that his speaking voice was monotonous and unsympathetic); and, in addition to all this, he was rather absent and ill-at-ease in the society of ladies.

As they approached the Sheriff's house, they heard a carriage behind them.

"That's the Doctor's people," said Hans, placing himself in position for bowing; for the beloved one was the daughter of the district physician.

"Oh, how lovely she is—in light pink!" said Cousin Hans.

Cousin Ola saw at once that the beloved one was in light green; but he dared not say a word lest he should betray himself by his voice, for his heart was in his throat.

The carriage passed at full speed; the young men bowed, and the old Doctor cried out, "Come along!"

"Why, I declare, that was she in light green!" said Cousin Hans; he had barely had time to transfer his burning glance from the light-pink frock to the light-green. "But wasn't she lovely, Ola?"

"Oh yes," answered Ola with an effort.

"What a cross-grained being you are!" exclaimed Hans, indignantly. "But even if you're devoid of all sense for female beauty, I think you might at least show more interest in—in your brother's future wife."

"If you only knew how she interests me," thought the nefarious Ola, hanging his head.

But meanwhile this delightful meeting had thrown Hans into an ecstatic mood of amorous bliss; he swung his stick, snapped his fingers, and sang at the pitch of his voice.

As he thought of the fair one in the light-green frock—fresh as spring, airy as a butterfly, he called it—the refrain of an old ditty rose to his lips, and he sang it with great enjoyment:

"Hope's clad in April green—
Trommelommelom, trommelommelom,
Tender it's vernal sheen—
Trommelommelom, trommelommelom."

This verse seemed to him evidently suited to the situation, and he repeated it over and over again—now in the waltz-time of the old melody, now as a march, and again as a serenade—now in loud, jubilant tones, and then half whispering, as if he were confiding his love and his hope to the moon and the silent groves.

Cousin Ola was almost sick; for, great as was his respect for his brother's singing, he became at last so dog-tired of this April-green hope and this eternal "Trommelommelom" that it was a great relief to him when they at last arrived at the Sheriff's.

The afternoon passed as it always does on such occasions; they all enjoyed themselves mightily. For most of them were in love, and those who were not found almost a greater pleasure in keeping an eye upon those who were.

Some one proposed a game of "La Grace" in the garden. Cousin Hans rushed nimbly about and played a thousand pranks, threw the game into confusion, and paid his partner all sorts of attentions.

Cousin Ola stood at his post and gave his whole mind to his task; he caught the ring and sent it off again with never-failing precision. Ola would have enjoyed himself, too, if only his conscience had not so bitterly upbraided him for his nefarious love for his brother's "future wife."

When the evening began to grow cool the party went in-doors, and the dancing began.

Ola did not dance much at any time, but to-day he was not at all in the humour. He occupied himself in observing Hans, who spent the whole evening in worshipping his lady love. A spasm shot through Ola's heart when he saw the light green frock whirl away in his brother's arms, and it seemed to him that they danced every dance together.

At last came the time for breaking up. Most of the older folks had already taken their departure in their respective carriages, the young people having resolved to see each other home in the delicious moonlight.

But when the last galop was over, the hostess would not hear of the young ladies going right out into the evening air, while they were still warm with dancing. She therefore decreed half-an-hour for cooling down, and, to occupy this time in the pleasantest manner, she begged Cousin Hans to sing a little song.

He was ready at once; he was not one of those foolish people who require pressing; he knew quite well the value of his talent.

There was, however, this peculiarity about Hans's singing, or rather about its reception, that opinion was more than usually divided as to its merits. By three persons in the world his executionwas admired as something incomparable. These three persons were, first, Cousin Ola, then Aunt Maren, and lastly Cousin Hans himself. Then there was a large party which thought it great fun to hear Cousin Hans sing. "He always makes something out of it." But lastly there came a few evil-disposed people who asserted that he could neither sing nor play.

It was with respect to the latter point, the accompaniment, that Cousin Ola always cherished a secret reproach against his brother—the only shadow upon his admiration for him.

He knew how much labour it had cost both Hans himself and his sisters to get him drilled in these accompaniments, especially in the three minor chords with which he always finished up, and which he practised beforehand every time he went to a party.

So, when he saw his brother seated at the piano, letting his fingers run lightly and carelessly over the key-board, and then looking up to the ceiling and muttering, "What key is it in again?" as if he were searching for the right one, a shiver always ran through Cousin Ola. For he knew that Hans had mastered three accompaniments, and no more — one minor and two major.

And when the singer, before rising from the piano, threw in these three carefully-practised minor chords so lightly, and with such an promptu air, as if his fingers had instinctively chanced upon them, then Ola shook his head and said to himself, "This is not quite straightforward of Hans."

In the mean time his brother sang away at his rich repertory. Schumann and Kierulf were his favourites, so he performed "Du bist die Ruh," "My loved one, I am prisoned," "Ich grolle nicht," "Die alten bosen Lieder," "I lay my all, love, at thyfeet," "Aus meinen grossen Schmerzen mach' ich die kleinen Lieder" — all with the same calm superiority, and that light, half-sportive accompaniment. The only thing that gave him a little trouble was that fatal point, "Ich legt' auch meine Liebe, Und meinen Schmerz hinein;" but even of this he made something.

Then Ola, who knew to a nicety the limits of his brother's musical accomplishment, noticed that he was leaving the beaten track, and beginning to wander among the keys; and presently he was horrified to find that Hans was groping after that unhappy "Hope's clad in April green." But fortunately he could not hit upon it, so he confined himself to humming the song half aloud, while he threw in the three famous minor chords.

"Now we're quite cool again," cried the fair one in light green, hastily.

There was a general burst of laughter at her eagerness to get away, and she was quite crimson when she said good-night.

Cousin Ola, who was standing near the hostess, also took his leave. Cousin Hans, on the other hand, was detained by the Sheriff, who was anxious to learn under what teachers he had studied music; and that took time.

Thus it happened that Ola and the fair one in the light green passed out into the passage at the same time. There the young folks were crowding round the hat-pegs, some to find their own wraps, some to take down other people's.

"I suppose it's no good trying to push our way forward," said the fair one.

Ola's windpipe contracted in such a vexatious way that he only succeeded in uttering a meaningless sound. They stood close to each other in the crush, and Ola would gladly have given a finger to be able to say something pleasant to her, or at least something rational; but he found it quite impossible.

"Of course you've enjoyed the evening?" said she, in a friendly tone.

Cousin Ola thought of the pitiful part he had been playing all the evening; his unsociableness weighed so much upon his mind that he answered—the very stupidest thing he could have answered, he thought, the moment the words were out of his lips — "I'm so sorry that I can't sing."

"I suppose it's a family failing," answered the fair one, with a rapid glance.

"N—n—no," said Ola, exceedingly put out, "my brother sings capitally."

"Do you think so?" she said, drily.

This was the most astounding thing that had ever happened to Ola: that there could be more than one opinion about his brother's singing, and that she, his "future wife," did not seem to admire it! And yet it was not quite unpleasant to him to hear it.

Again there was a silence, which Ola sought in vain to break.

"Don't you care for dancing?" she asked.

"Not with every one," he blurted out.

She laughed: "No, no; but gentlemen have the right to choose."

Now Ola began to lose his footing. He felt like a man who is walking, lost in thought, through the streets on a winter evening, and who suddenly discovers that he has got upon a patch of slippery ice. There was nothing for it but to keep up and go ahead ; so, with the courage of despair, he said: "If I knew—or dared to hope—that one of the ladies—no—that the lady I wanted to dance with—that she would care to—hm—that she would dance with me, then—then—" he could get no further, and after saying "then" two or three times over, he came to a stand-still.

"You could ask her," said the fair one.

Her bracelet had come unfastened, and its clasp was so stiff that she had to bend right forward and pinch it so hard that she became quite red in the face, in order to fasten it again.

"Would you, for example, dance with me?" Ola's brain was swimming.

"Why not?" she answered. She stood pressing the point of her shoe into a crack in the floor.

"We're to have a party at the Parsonage on Friday—would you give me a dance then?"

"With pleasure; which would you like?" she answered, trying her best to assume a "society" manner.

"A quadrille?" said Ola; thinking: "Quadrilles are so long."

"The second quadrille is disengaged," answered the lady.

"And a galop?"

"Yes, thank you; the first galop," she replied, with a little hesitation.

"And a polka?"

"No, no! no more," cried the fair one, looking at Ola with alarm.

At the same moment, Hans came rushing along at full speed.

"Oh, how lucky I am to find you! but in what company!"

Thereupon he took possession of the fair one in his amiable fashion, and drew her away with him to find her wraps and join the others.

"A quadrille and a galop; but no more—so so! so so!" repeated Cousin Ola. He stood as though rooted to the spot. At last he became aware that he was alone. He hastily seized a hat, slunk out by the back way, sneaked through the garden, and clambered with great difficulty over the garden fence not far from the gate which stood ajar.

He struck into the first foot-path through the fields, fixing his eyes upon the Parsonage chimneys. He was vaguely conscious that he was getting wet up to the knees in the long grass; but on the other hand, he was not in the least aware that the Sheriff's old uniform cap, which he had had the luck to snatch up in his haste, was waggling about upon his head, until at last it came to rest when the long peak slipped down over his ear.

"A quadrille and a galop; but no more—so so! so so!—"

—It was pretty well on in the night when Hans approached the Parsonage. He had seen the ladies of the Doctor's party home, and was now making up the accounts of the day as he went along.

"She's a little shy; but on the whole I don't dislike that."

When he left the road at the Parsonage garden, he said, "She's dreadfully shy—almost more than I care for."

But as he crossed the farm-yard, he vowed that coy and capricious girls were the most intolerable creatures he knew. The thing was that he did not feel at all satisfied with the upshot of the day. Not that he for a moment doubted that she loved him; but, just on that account, he thought her coldness and reserve doubly annoying. She had never once thrown the ring to him; she had never once singled him out in the cotillion; and on the way home she had talked to every one but him. But he would adopt a different policy the next time; she should soon come to repent that day.

He slipped quietly into the house, so that his uncle might not hear how late he was. In order to reach his own and his brother's bedroom he had to pass through a long attic. A window in this attic was used by the young men as a door through which to reach a sort of balcony, formed by the canopy over the steps leading into the garden.

Cousin Hans noticed that this window was standing open; and out upon the balcony, in the clear moonlight, he saw his brother's figure.

Ola still wore his white dancing-gloves; he held on to the railing with both hands, and stared the moon straight in the face.

Cousin Hans could not understand what his brother was doing out there at that time of night; and least of all could he understand what had induced him to put a flower-pot on his head.

"He must be drunk," thought Hans, approaching him warily.

Then he heard his brother muttering something about a quadrille and a galop; after which he began to make some strange motions with his hands.

Cousin Hans received the impression that he was trying to snap his fingers; and presently Ola said, slowly, and clearly, in his monotonous and unsympathetic speaking voice: "Hope's clad in April green—trommelommelom, trommelomme om;" you see, poor fellow, he could not sing.