The Busy Bee” provides a glimpse of the sterner lessons of early stories for children: Fanny’s odd meal has parallels in many 18th-century works, where children were firmly taken to task for their whims and whimseys. Unfortunately, as The Youth’s Companion doesn’t print the section describing what Fanny did to deserve her punishment, it’s difficult to understand what moral lesson readers were to draw from the story.
[Nursery] “The Busy Bee” (originally published by the American Sunday School Union; reprinted Youth’s Companion, 10 August 1831; p. 47)

One afternoon, at tea, the lady said to the little girls, “To-morrow will be my birth day, and I mean to give you a feast, in which I intended to consult the taste of each of you.”

The little girls said they were very glad to hear it, and the lady told them to come the next evening into her dressing room, where she said the feast would be set out.

When Fanny and Jane came, at the hour which the lady had fixed upon, to the dressing room, they found their mother sitting reading by the fire, and two little round tables were placed in the middle of the room. One of these tables was covered with a neat white napkin and a little dessert set out upon it in doll’s dishes, made of white china with blue edges. There were four little dishes on this table: one contained an orange, another a few yellow apples, another a roasted apple, and a fourth a few biscuits; and in the middle was a little covered china cup, made in the shape of a bee-hive, which contained honey in the honey-comb.

The little girls had scarcely time to examine this table, so neatly laid out, before their eyes were caught by the other table, which was set out in a manner so strange, that they stood still with surprise, and were not able to move. This second table was covered with straw instead of a table cloth, and instead of dishes, there was a great empty wooden bowl.

The lady got up when the little girls came in, and, drawing her chair between the two tables, she said, “Come, Fanny; come, Jane; come and enjoy yourselves[.] I have been trying to make a feast suitable to the taste of each of you.” She then pointed to the table neatly set out with china and fine linen, and invited Jane to seat herself at it, and directed Fanny to place herself by the other table.

The little girls did as they were bid; but they were so surprised, that neither of them could say one word.

“And now,” said the lady, as soon as they were seated, “I will divide the feast.” So saying she began to peel the oranges, pare the apples, take the roasted apple out of its skin, and pour the honey from the comb. And, as she went on doing these things, she threw the rind of the orange, the parings of the apple, and the other refuse of the feast, into the wooden bowl, while she placed the best parts again on the dishes before Jane. When all this was done she invited the children to begin to eat.

The lady was obliged to repeat her invitation two or three times before the children moved: at last Jane, looking at Fanny, said, “What shall I send you, Fanny?”

“Not any thing from your table,” answered the lady. “She has got her share served up in a manner which she cannot but like; so, pray, do not trouble yourself about her, but begin to eat and enjoy yourself.”

The tears came into Jane’s eyes, when she heard these words, and Fanny looked very red, and, at last, broke out into a violent fit of crying.

“What do you cry for?” said the lady. “I know that you heartily love, and have for a long time sought after every thing that is hurtful, filthy, and bad; and, like a pig, you have delighted in wallowing in mire. I therefore am resolved to indulge you. As you love what is filthy, you shall enjoy it, and shall be treated like a pig.”

Fanny looked very much ashamed; and throwing herself on her knees before her mother, begged her to forgive her, and promised that she would never again seek after wickedness, and delight in it, as she had done.

“Fanny,” said the lady, “it is very easy for little girls to make fine promises, and to say, ‘I will be good,’ and, ‘I am sorry I have behaved ill.’ But I am not a person who can be satisfied with words, any more than you can be with orange-peel and skins of apples. I must have deeds, not words. Turn away from your sins, and call upon your God to help you to repent of your past evil life. If you do not wish to partake of the portion of dogs and swine and unclean creatures in the world to come, you must learn to hate sin in this present world.”

The lady then, seeing that Fanny’s tears and cries made Jane so uneasy that she could not enjoy her feast, sent Fanny out of the room, saying, “I hope when my birth-day comes again, that I shall have two Busy Bees to eat my honey, instead of one.”

I am happy to say, that this day was the beginning of better things to Fanny; for, she at once forsook her evil habits, and, with God’s blessing upon her endeavours, and the care of the good lady, she so far overcame her faults, as to be allowed, by the next birth-day, to feast with little Jane.

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
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