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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Hilda’s Little Hood

By Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen (1848–1895)

[Idyls of Norway, and Other Poems. 1882.]

IN sooth I have forgotten, for it is long ago,

And winters twelve have hid it beneath their shrouds of snow;

And ’tisn’t well, the parson says, o’er bygone things to brood,

But, sure, it was the strangest tale, this tale of Hilda’s hood.

For Hilda was a merry maid, and wild as wild could be,

Among the parish maidens was none so fair as she;

Her eyes they shone with wilful mirth, and like a golden flood

Her sunny hair rolled downward from her little scarlet hood.

I once was out a-fishing, and, though sturdy at the oar,

My arms were growing weaker, and I was far from shore;

And angry squalls swept thickly from out the lurid skies,

And every landmark that I knew was hidden from mine eyes.

The gull’s shrill shriek above me, the sea’s strong bass beneath,

The numbness grew upon me with its chilling touch of death,—

And blackness gathered round me; then through the night’s dark shroud

A clear young voice came swiftly as an arrow cleaves the cloud.

It was a voice so mellow, so bright and warm and round,

As if a beam of sunshine had been melted into sound;

It fell upon my frozen nerves and thawed the springs of life;

I grasped the oar and strove afresh; it was a bitter strife.

The breakers roared about me, but the song took bolder flight,

And rose above the darkness like a beacon in the night;

And swift I steered and safely, struck shore, and by God’s rood,

Through gloom and spray I caught the gleam of Hilda’s scarlet hood.

The moon athwart the darkness broke a broad and misty way,

The dawn grew red beyond the sea and sent abroad the day;

And loud I prayed to God above to help me, if He could,

For deep into my soul had pierced that gleam from Hilda’s hood.

I sought her in the forest, I sought her on the strand,

The pine trees spread their dusky roof, bleak lay the glittering sand,

Until one Sabbath morning at the parish church I stood,

And saw, amid a throng of maids, the little scarlet hood.

Then straight my heart ran riot, and wild my pulses flew;

I strove in vain my flutter and my blushes to subdue;

“Why, Eric!” laughed a roguish maid, “your cheeks are red as blood;”

“It is the shine,” another cried, “from Hilda’s scarlet hood.”

I answered not, for ’tis not safe to banter with a girl;

The trees, the church, the belfry danced about me in a whirl;

I was as dizzy as a moth that flutters round the flame;

I turned about, and twirled my cap, but could not speak for shame.

But that same Sabbath evening, as I sauntered o’er the beach

And cursed that foolish heart of mine for choking up my speech,

I spied, half wrapped in shadow at the margin of the wood,

The wavy mass of sunshine that broke from Hilda’s hood.

With quickened breath on tiptoe across the sand I stepped;

Her face was hidden in her lap, as though she mused or slept;

The hood had glided backward o’er the hair that downward rolled,

Like some large petal of a flower upon a stream of gold.

“Fair Hilda,” so I whispered, as I bended to her ear;

She started up and smiled at me without surprise or fear.

“I love you, Hilda,” said I; then in whispers more subdued:

“Love me again, or wear no more that little scarlet hood.”

“Why, Eric,” cried she, laughing, “how can you talk so wild?

I was confirmed last Easter, half maid and half a child,

But since you are so stubborn—no, no; I never could—

Unless you guess what’s written in my little scarlet hood.”

“I cannot, fairest Hilda,” quoth I with mournful mien,

While with my hand I gently, and by the maid unseen,

Snatched from the clustering wavelets the brightly flaming thing,

And saw naught there but stitches small, crosswise meandering.

“There’s nothing in your hood, love,” I cried with heedless mirth.

“Well,” laughed she, “out of nothing God made both heaven and earth;

But since the earth to you and me as heritage was given,

I’ll only try to make for you a little bit of heaven.”