Like "The Reverend Mr. Trotty," the following excerpt (from Fanny's Birthday Gift) again shows the Sunday activity of children playing at giving sermons. In this case, the "minister" is Fanny's younger brother Robbie; the peanuts segment of the sermon sets up a later plot development wherein Fanny gives up her birthday present to help purchase a peanut stand for a poverty-stricken and handicapped young boy (hence, the book's title). The audience for Robbie's sermon includes his younger sister Dot (also a member of the nursery set), his older sister Fanny, and two servants ("Aunt Sylvia" and "Aunt Becky").

Peanuts and a Sermon.

Excerpt from Chapter VIII of Fanny's Birthday Gift
by Joanna H. Mathews
Boston: De Wolfe, Fiske & Co., 1878

Scanned by Deidre Johnson for her 19th-Century Girls' Series website; please do not use on other sites without permission

Sunday proved damp and rainy, too much so for Fanny to go out, as she was not yet altogether strong, or fit to be exposed to disagreeable weather.

Robbie was allowed to face the storm, clad in little waterproof and rubber boots, a costume in which he much delighted; indeed he preferred a rainy Sunday on this account ; and, in the afternoon, he professed his intention of having " a church " in the nursery for the edification of Fanny, Dot, and whoever else might choose to attend.

Robbie was fond of hearing himself speak ; " sermons " gave free opportunity for this, since he could go on for a length of time having all the talk to himself without interruption ; hence his " churches " were lengthy and frequent.

Aunt Sylvia delighted in these services, which were always conducted with great solemnity and dignity ; she would not otherwise have allowed them to take place on her premises on the sabbath; and so did Aunt Becky, who was always invited to become a member of the congregation, in case it assembled when she was off duty in the kitchen. Robbie was always particularly eloquent on these occasions, for his vanity was flattered by the attention and gravity with which she and Aunt Sylvia listened, and he always kept one corner of his eye upon the two old women, so that he might see the frequent nudges and approving shakes of the head with which they favored one another at any particularly telling point of Ins discourse.

Dot was apt to prove a restless hearer if the sermon were too long, nor could Fanny always be persuaded to remain as long as he would have had her; but the two old colored women never tired, let him " preach " as long as he chose.

On this particular Sunday afternoon, he announced his intention of having " a grand, long church, very real indeed ; " and invited any and all of the family to attend.

Going into the nursery at the appointed hour, Fanny found him with the usual arrangements all made: he mounted upon a chair, with an apron tied about his neck, and hanging back over his shoulders; before him a table, with another chair upon it, doing duty as a pulpit; Aunt Sylvia and Aunt Becky duly seated,--beside the former the cradle with the sleeping baby, by the latter Dot, with a face of grave expectation. The rest of the congregation was composed of Dot's three dolls, her woolly lamb, and Robbie's rocking-horse.

The last comer, Fanny, being seated, the preacher began his sermon at once, without any preliminary exercises.

" Ladies and gentlemen, my teks is a ark, the ark what Noah had. He builded it 'cause God told him to, 'cause He was going to drown up all the other people; God didn't like the other people, but He liked Noah, so He told him go into the ark, and He gave him a whole lot of blessings to go along with him. His blessings were animals, and peanuts, and wives too; pigs, and snakes, and cows, and horses, and Spitz dogs, and blacks-and-tans. But his worst blessing was a pig what wouldn't go in the ark when the pouring rain was coming, and Noah had to pull him in by the tail, 'cause that's the way you have to do to pigs when you want to make 'em go. If you want to

Robbie preaching to the nursery crowd

make 'em go a way, you have to make 'em think they're going another way. Noah was a wise man, and he knew that; but, oh, wasn't he awful mad at that pig! He had to he, you see, 'cause the pig squealed so hard he woke up all the little animals that had gone to sleep, and all the sick animals he made their head aches, and they had to grunt; and oh, wasn't there an awful row in that ark! And Noah had to call his wives to help him, and pull the pig's tail too, so at last they pulled him in, and Noah put him in the ark pigsty, but he wouldn't let him have a bit of swill for his supper. And the pig was hungry, and he grew squealeder and squealeder all the night, and Noah was so mad he jumped up and killed him. You would too. You wouldn't like it if a pig of yours squealed all the night when you wanted to go to sleep, and your animals and wives too. So in the morning that pig was dead,--he was all pork, 'cause pork is dead pigs and dead pigs is pork. And Noah didn't like pork, he thought it was too fat; and one of his wives,- she's an awful affected lady, if she is in the Bible, - she said the smell of pork dead pig's made her sick, - she didn't be sensible like Aunt Becky, - so Noah he threw that pig out of the ark to be drownded up in the water, with the bad people. Noah felt awful bad about his pork pig though, 'cause some of his wives didn't think pork was too fat. They liked it, and they eat such a lot he didn't have enough to feed 'em, and he wanted to keep the dead pork pig for 'em, - and there wasn't any markets either, the markets were all drownded,-but his affected wife she made such a fuss he had to throw him away.

" And a monschous whale, him that. was Jonah's whale neks week, he came along and swallowed him up one mou'full, and so that pig- was pretty dead, being killed, and then drownded, and then eat up; and he wished he hadn't squealed so. And that's to teach you to do as you are bid. And that's the pig that used to live at Sam Bliss's when we were in the country last summer, and me and Dot-I mean the minister and Dot-- used to poke him; once we did. but mamma said it was mischief to take Dot in such a dirty place, and she put the minister to bed 'cause he disobeyed; and the minister kicked and hollered; sometimes ministers do: they have to if their mammas put 'em to bed when the sun is shinin', and you wouldn't like it if your mamma did.

" There's a lady in this congration, she's named Miss Dot, and she sits still and don't make any noise and is very good, so the minister is going to give her a piece of his taffy when the church is done; but it's not done yet, not near. But that's all the part of the sermon 'bout pigs, there's more 'bout peanuts ; but first we'll sing a little; we'll sing the seventy-three psalm ; but, ladies and gentlemen, please to sing in a whisper, 'cause there's a gentleman in the congration what's asleep in the cradle, and if we wake him up singin' loud, he'll cry, and Aunt Sylvia'll have to go and get his bottle, and if you was a minister, you wouldn't like it if babies cried, and bottles was brought in your church. Seventy-three psalm, ' I want to be an angel,' and then I'll do the rest of the sermon; and if Miss Dot wants to, she can take a little walk cut in the hall 'cause she's so good and still."

Dot quickly availed herself of the clerical permission. She had tried not to look too conscious at the preacher's first very personal allusion to herself, and had been in a state of embarrassment ever since; so that she was glad to hide her blushes, and recover her composure by taking a little excursion. about the nursery and hall while the congregation sang "I want to be an angel," Fanny taking the part of choir and leader.

" Now we're coming to peanuts," began Minister Robbie, when he took up the second head of his discourse. " Some day this minister is going to keep a peanut stand. Ministers do sometimes; they think it's fun, and they can eat the peanuts, too; if their mammas let 'em, but my mamma won't. She thinks nuts are bad for ministers : she don't know any better."

This was a sentiment of which Dot could not approve; to question mamma's wisdom was treason in her eyes, and she felt obliged to express her opinion on that point.

" You mustn't say so. Mamma does know better; betterer 'an anybody," she exclaimed. " Nuts is bad for 'ittle chillens."

" People that speak out loud in church have to be took up by the police," said the minister, severely. "I'm 'fraid that lady won't have that piece of taffy after all: Yes, she will, too,"-as Dot's head went down in utter shame and regret, -'"yes, she will, if she don't mitterrupt the minister again. Ministers don't like to have people say their mammas know better 'an they do. They think it's saucy; and then some time you might go and die, you know, and then your mamma'd be sorry she didn't let you have nuts. Well, Noah, when he came out of the ark, he thought he'd have a peanut stand too, 'cause lie was pretty poor, 'cause his greedy wifes, they eat so much he had hardly any groceries left for his animals, and he had to get some money somehow. He didn't want to steal it, you know, 'cause he was 'fraid the police would take him to prison; 'sides, Noah was good, and he knew God saw him too, and he didn't want to make God provoked when He was good to him, and gave him the ark not to be drownded in. So Noah, he thought he better have a peanut stand to make the money; but, first, he thanked God, and so he ought to thank Him a great deal, and then he made the peanut stand on the school- corner. The boys wanted to buy peanuts, and the minister knows what papa said last night, and I heard what Charge said too. He said it to Felix; he thinks Felix is a mean chap, and so does the minister. He was horrid to the minister, Felix was, and you wouldn't like it if some one was horrid to you. He went and said he'd give me his kite and five pennies for the new kite Uncle Joe gave me, and the minister did, and the kite was bad, it didn't go up, and the minister cried; he couldn't help it: oh! didn't I holler ? and Harold came ; and he said it was a shame, and he made Felix give me my own kite. First, Felix wouldn't till Harry said he'd tell papa ; and Harry cuffed his ear, he did. So the minister was glad, and he stopped crying. That was - Fan, was that cheating?"

The sense of his wrongs had diverted Robbie's attention for the moment from his assumed character, and he paused for Fanny's answer.

"I'm afraid it was-a little," answered Fanny, reluctantly. She had heard the story of the kite, and of Felix's attempt to take advantage of his baby brother ; but she could not bear to give it the ugly name that Robbie did.

Aunt Sylvia felt it her duty to reprimand. " 'Cheatin ' ain't a word for little boys to use, speshally 'bout deir brudders," she remarked.

" Now you stop talkin' out loud in church," said Robbie, in an aggrieved tone. " You're not a bit real. You oughtn't to speak loud if the minister don't tell you to. You've got to hear 'bout Noah. So Noah, he bought his peanuts ; all the money that was in his money jug he took to buy peanuts; and somebody roasted 'em; I b'lieve it was his fat cook, Aunt Becky; and the boys came an' bought 'em, so Noah had a lot of money."

Here Aunt Becky, having been spoken of by the " minister," felt herself at liberty to remonstrate upon this departure from the facts of sacred history.

" Dere wasn't no boys, Master Robbie," she said. " De boys was all drownded. You's forgettin', chile."

Robbie was for a moment dumfounded at this criticism and his own forgetfulness; but he never was at a loss for an answer, and, quickly recovering himself, he replied,-

" No, I'm not: I mean Noah's boys. Didn't he have boys ? He took 'em in the ark with him, an' he let 'em come out when it stopped raining. I saw 'em in the Bible picture. And they could eat peanuts; their mammas did not say nuts were bad for 'em. Now, Aunt Becky, do you suppose you know more 'an the minister, what knows such a lot? Aunt Becky, I'm 'fraid you're a Philistine. Noah had a great deal of bother with the Philistines, just like the minister does with you. But he never let 'em have any peanuts; and he was going to keep that peanut stand till he died, on'y it was burned up in the great Chicago fire. And if I was a poor lame boy-if the minister was - like Jerry Scott, and my people were so hungry, I'd keep a peanut stand on the school corner, and make money for 'em to eat, like Noah. Fanny told the minister 'bout Jerry and his family; and I'm sorry for 'em, and Dot is too. We're going to give Fanny some of our pennies to send to lame Jerry's sick people. That's what good Noah did, and so you better do as you be done by. Then Noah thought he better see after those ole Philistines a little, 'cause they did bother him so: so he told Samson he'd better kill a few. You would too. You wouldn't like it if Philistines made you a lot of trouble. So Samson he just took a donkey's gum,* and he killed, oh more 'an this congration could count ! "

Here the gravity of a part of the " congration " gave way; and a suppressed giggle from the other side of the door leading into mamma's room, and .the sound of feet scuffling through the passage, told that there had been unsuspected listeners to the discourse.

Robbie was - to tell the truth - somewhat discomfited, - not by the knowledge that his congregation had been larger than he supposed, but by the laughter, which he thought both unbecoming the occasion, and insulting to himself. But he was not going to allow that; no, indeed, not he. And turning a severe eye towards the door, he raised his voice as he continued, -

" The minister 'spects some rude loafer boy came roun' the church door and tried to 'sturb him. They'd better not have let Samson catch 'em! He'd have given it to 'em ! Amen. Ninety-two hymn, - ' I am Jesus' little lamb,' - and then the church is out."

" Wasn't quite so improvin' as ordinary to-day," whispered Aunt Becky to her sister, as Robbie descended from his perch, and returned to common life.

Aunt Becky had not been altogether pleased at being classed among the enemies of the House of Israel; and so she did not find the sermon as edifying as usual.

" Dun no," answered Aunt Sylvia. " Mobbe he wasn't quite so strong on his fac's as ordinary: did get 'em kinder mixed up, but dere's a powerful deal of good to be got out of dat 'ere sermon. Sister Becky. Do as you'd be done by; an.' do as yer bid. Sure dat's good teachin' for anybody. He is got de gift amazin', dat boy, for certain. You might get some improvin' idees out of dat, if you like."

Fanny was quite of Aunt Sylvia's opinion. She, too, thought that some "improvin'', idees," or, rather, good hints, might be drawn from Robbie's discourse.

What the bright little fellow had said about Jerry Scott had given her a thought. Why could not he keep a peanut stand ? Why should not Harold " set him up " in this business, which, as it seemed to her, called for so little exertion or fatigue ? Warm and pleasant weather might be looked for now; Jerry might take some sunny corner,-the very school corner it might be, - and drive a thriving business there. She actually forgot to imagine any difficulties in the way ; and went on, picturing to herself Jerry's success, his mother's restoration to health, and the general prosperity of his family.

She felt as if she could hardly wait until Harold came home to tell him of her fine plans, and planted herself by the window where she could look down the street and see him as he came near the house. Then she flew out, and opened the door for him, before he had time to mount the steps.


* This mistake was actually made [footnote in original]

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