Read A MAY DAY of Strife and Peace , free online book, by Fredrika Bremer, on

The first time, yes, the first time flings
A glory even on trivial things;
It passes soon, a moment’s falling,
Then it is also past recalling.

The grass itself has such a prime;
Man prizes most spring’s flowery time,
When first the verdure decks earth’s bosom,
And the heart-leaf foretels the blossom.

Thus God lets all, however low,
In “the first time” a triumph know;
Even in the hour when death impendeth,
And life itself to heaven ascendeth.


It was in the beginning of May. A heavy shower of rain had just ceased. The wind sprang up in the south, blew mild and fresh, and chased herds of white clouds over the brightening heaven.

The court at Semb, which had been desolate during the rain, now began to be full of life and movement.

Six ducks paddled up and down with great delight in a puddle of water, bathing and beautifying themselves.

The chanticleer, called the Knight, scratched in the earth, and thereupon began to crow merrily, in order to make it known that he had something nice to invite to, and as two neat grey-speckled hens sprang towards him, he let first one grain of corn and then another fall out of his beak, of which, agreeably to a clever hen-instinct, they availed themselves without ceremony or compliments. How easily the creatures live!

The turkey-cock was in great perplexity, and had a deal of trouble to keep his countenance. His white lady had accepted the invitation of the chanticleer (which she probably thought was general), and sprang forward as fast as she could with her long legs, and stuck her head between the two hens to have a share of their treat. The knightly young chanticleer on this, with some surprise and a certain astonished sound in his throat, drew himself a little proudly back, but for all that was too much of the “gentleman” to mortify, in the least, the foreign presumptuous beauty. But the grey-speckled hens turned their backs upon her. Her neglected spouse gobbled in full desperation, and swelled himself out, his countenance flaming with anger, by the side of his black wife, who was silent, and cast deprecating eyes up to heaven.

By the kitchen-wall, the black cat and her kittens romped amid a thousand twists and turns; whilst above them the mice, in the waterspout, peeped peeringly and curiously forth, drank of the rain-water, snuffed in the fresh air, and afterwards crept quietly again under the house tiles.

The flies stretched their legs, and began to walk about in the sunshine.

In the court stood a tall ash, in whose top waved a magpie nest. A many magpies, candidates for the airy palace, made their appearance there, flew screaming round about, wished to get possession of it, and chased one another away. At length two remained as conquerors of the nest. There laughed they and kissed under the spring-blue heaven, rocked by the south wind. Those that were chased away consoled themselves by fluttering down upon the yard-dog’s provision-trough, and plucking out of it, whilst the proud Alfiero, sitting outside his kennel, contemplated them in dignified repose.

The starlings struck up their quaver, and sent forth their melodious whistling, whilst they congregated together on the edge of the roof.

The grapes shook from themselves the rain-drops in the wind, and the little stellaria, which is so dear to the singing birds, raised again its head to the sun, and was saluted by the jubilant song of the lark.

The geese waddled, gabbling over the grassy fields, biting the young green herbage. In this way, a change was revealed, which had taken place in the company. The bully, the white gander, had by accident become lame, and had with this lost his power and his respect. The grey gander had now an opportunity of exhibiting a beautiful character, a noble disposition; but no! The grey gander showed nothing of that; but as the white gander had done to him, did he now in return; stretching out his neck against him, and keeping him at a distance with cries and blows; and the geese-madams troubled themselves not about it, and the white gander must now think himself well off to see his rival ruling the assembly, whilst he himself crept behind, hapless and forsaken. Susanna, who saw this, lost now all regard for the grey gander, without having any higher respect for the white one. She found the one no better than the other.

Just now Susanna returned from a visit to a peasant’s cottage, where some time ago she had helped the wife to set up a piece of weaving, and now had been assisting her in taking it down, and her countenance beamed with pleasure at the scene which she had witnessed there. The cow had calved there that same morning, and the milk ran in foaming and abundant streams, to the unspeakable joy of four small pale boys, who now were divided in their joy over this, and their admiration of the little, lively, black-and-white spotted calf; which admiration, however, in the mind of the youngest, was mixed with fear. The web, also, had turned out beyond expectation: Susanna helped the housewife to cut out the piece of cloth in the most advantageous manner, and her cheerful words and cordial sympathy were like the cream to the milk breakfast. It was with this glad impression on her soul, that Susanna entered the court at Semb, and was saluted by Alfiero and all the poultry with great joy. In the mean time she heard the cries and lamentations of birds, and this led her to the orchard. Here she saw a pair of starlings, which with anxiety and screams were flying about the lowest branches of an oak. In the grass below, something black was hopping about, and Susanna saw that it was a young starling, which had ventured itself too early out of the nest and had fallen down. It now raised its weak cries to its parents, which, as it appeared, sought by their fluttering to keep at a respectful distance a grey cat, whose greedy eyes gleamed forth from under a hawthorn-bush. Susanna drove away the cat, and took up and warmed the little bird in her breast. But this did not at all pacify the starling papa and mamma; their uneasiness seemed rather to increase. Susanna would gladly from her heart have allayed it; but when she looked up and saw the starling nest high up in the oak trunk, many ells above her head, she was quite in despair. With that the noon-day bell rang; Alfiero howled to it in his tragical manner, and Harald, at the head of his workpeople, returned from the field. Susanna hastened to ask counsel from him, and showed him the young one. “Give it here,” said Harald, “I will twist its neck, and so we can have a nice little roast for dinner.”

“No! can you be so cruel?” replied Susanna.

Harald laughed without answering, looked up to the oak to see where the starling nest was, and swung himself with great agility up the tree. Standing now upon the lowest boughs, he bent himself down to Susanna, and said, “Give it here to me, I will manage it.” And Susanna now gave him the bird, without any further remark. Lightly and nimbly sprang Harald now from bough to bough, holding the bird in his left hand, and accompanied by the crying starling-parents, who flew terrified around his head. It was certainly a surprise to them when the young one was placed uninjured in the nest, but it was no longer so for Susanna; and as Harald, glowing and warm, sprang down from the tree, he was received by Susanna’s most friendly glances and cordial thanks.

At this moment came several travelling tradespeople with their packs into the court, and were observed by Harald, who said that he had some little purchases to make, and besought Susanna’s advice. Susanna was a woman, and women give advice willingly. Always good, of course!

After some time Harald had made various purchases, and had always asked counsel of Susanna, who thereby felt herself somewhat flattered, but could not help thinking the while of Harald “yet he must be a regular egotist. He always thinks about himself, and always buys for himself, and never anything for his sister, of whom he, however, talks so much, and seems to love so well! But the Norwegian men, they love themselves most!”

And this time it did not seem without reason that Susanna thought so, for it was terrible how thoughtful Harald was for himself, and what a deal he needed for this self.

This piece of damask he would have for his table; this muslin for his curtains; these pocket-handkerchiefs for his nose; and so on.

Susanna could not avoid saying, on purpose to try him, when they came to a handsome piece for a dress

“How pretty that is! Certainly that would become your sister very nicely!”

“What? my sister!” returned Harald. “No; it is best that she clothe herself. This is exactly the thing that I want for my sofa. One is always nearest to oneself. One must care a little for oneself.”

“Then care you for yourself! I have no time!” said Susanna, quite excited, as she turned her back upon him and his wares, and went.