Why Mabel Altered Her Will, Part 4
NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.
Introductory Note: The short story “Why Mabel Altered Her Will” appears sequentially in issues I - V of the 1884 volume of the children’s magazine The Prize. The magazine gives no information about the short story's origins except the author's pen name, "A*". This author contributed many works to the 1884 volume of The Prize. Most of the contributions were short stories, although he or she also contributed some poems. The story was published serially in five issues, and within each issue, the story was broken up by several black and white illustrations. Some of these illustrations pertained to the story while others were illustrations of Bible stories.
“Why Mabel Altered Her Will” is written to a boy and girl audience, much like the rest of the entries in The Prize. The author stops several times in the narrative to explain to the "littler readers" what is happening in the story. The narrative breaks also serve to point out the religious moral of the story.
Because of its young audience and religious content, “Why Mabel Altered Her Will” fits very nicely with the rest of the stories, poems and illustrations in The Prize. The religious theme and the moral are most easily seen in the closing remarks of the story, where the author points out that, like we see in the story, there is nothing more sweet than “that which takes place in the heart of grown person or child who, . . . yields to the sweet influence of the Holy Spirit, and so passes from darkness into light.”
“Why Mabel Altered Her Will” is important in the context of Victorian literature. The father of the family, Mr. Glynn, is a pastor who is also well versed in the “Natural Sciences”. During the Victorian period, the natural sciences (geology as it would be called today) played an important role in the development of new theories about the origins of the world and the origins of man. These new scientific answers often opposed traditional Biblical answers to questions. Interestingly, however, “Why Mabel Altered Her Will” speaks very highly about the natural sciences. There is no debate about its usefulness or its capacity to corrupt faith. This is even more interesting because this story was published after the publication of Charles Darwin’s treatise, The Descent of Man. The story does not, however, enter into a debate about the merit of the sciences. It is able to keep its young readers interested, and at the same time teach its religious message.
This entry was published as the fourth of five parts:
When Ruth came back to the nursery Bessie looked at her for a time in silence, and then she exclaimed, ‘ How patient you are, Ruth ! I am afraid I shall never be like you. I can hold my tongue, but I could not answer so good-humouredly as you do.’
Ruth was a good woman, and rather quaint.
‘ Why Bessie,’ she said, ‘ you would not have me demean myself to quarrel with a baby like that ! Poor little soul ! it seems terrible to start in life with such a temper ; she’s her own worst enemy. But mark my words, Bessie, she’ll be changed ; she’s got a good Christian father and mother, and some day their prayers for her will be heard.
One morning in the following week, when the boys came in for dinner, Charlie brought a pretty little geranium and put it on Mab’s table.
‘ For me !’ she exclaimed, in some surprise.
‘ Yes, if you would like it,’ answered Charlie. ‘ We came through the market-place to get something for mother, and there was the good-natured, funny little old woman. Have you ever seen her ?’
‘ I think so. Does she wear a black bonnet that quite shades her face ?’
‘ Yes, that is the one. Well, she had a lot of geraniums, besides fruits, to-day. There was a much better one than this, full-blown and larger, but it was ninepence, I had only sixpence. But this has several buds and perhaps it will be as pretty by-and-by.’
This was said in a very apologetic tone. To his surprise Mab answered brightly, ‘ I think I shall like this best ; it will be pleasant to watch the buds coming out. Thank you Charlie.’
The boy went off well pleased, and Mab looked at her flower with interest. Suddenly her slumbering conscience seemed to awake with a start.
‘ He spent his only sixpence for me, and I have disinherited him !’
The troublesome thought came again and again, darting through her mind like a flash of light. She took up her book, and after some time became engrossed in her story ; but no sooner did the geranium meet her sight than again came that worrying remembrance. Should she put away the geranium ? But, then, what reason could she give for doing so ? She could not vex Charlie who had been so kind. No ; it must stay. But all that afternoon, from time to time, the sight of it brought back that now hateful thought. If her conscience could have taken bodily shape, what a vicious kick she would have given it ! She became irritable, and in the evening was so cross that the others prudently kept away from her.
There was heavy rain in the evening and all six were in the room. Presently Dottie ran towards the window, and standing on tiptoe looked at Mab.
‘ Don’t come near my foot !’ said Mab, roughly. ‘ Go away !’
Dottie ran across the room to the others, her blue eyes wide open and looking much insulted.
‘ Dottie never touched Mab’s foot. Mab cross !’
‘ Come and hide behind my chair,’ said peace-loving Bobbie, ‘ and mother will come in and ask if any one has seen you.’
Dottie crept behind her brother, and in the pleasure of being lost and found forgot her wrongs.
That evening, after Mab was in bed, her mother went and talked to her, kindly but very seriously. At first she seemed to make no impression ; but at last Mab was softened. Her mother begged her always to add to her prayers the short petition, ‘ Make me a loving and unselfish child.’
‘ But it will be no use, my dear child, unless you try very hard yourself.’
‘ I will try,’ she replied firmly ; and Mrs. Glynn went away much happier ; for Mab, with all her faults, was truthful and kept her promises.
On Saturdays the little Glynns repeated the Church Catechism to their mother straight through. On Sundays she took a small portion and they looked out Scripture references and proofs. They had gone as far as the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, and on this Sunday they were dwelling on the clause, ‘ Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.’
‘ But mother,’ observed Jessie, ‘ it seems so strange to say that, “ as we forgive others.” I have nothing to forgive.’
Mrs. Glynn was somewhat surprised that this remark should come from Jessie, a sensitive child, more easily hurt than any of them. She looked at her with interest, and then replied, ‘ In a large family, my dear Jessie, there are constantly little rubs ; little calls for patience and forbearance. If you can learn to take these quite cheerfully, you will be preparing yourself to be forgiving and merciful if great offences should ever come.’
‘ I read somewhere,’ said Alice, —‘ I was trying to think where it was, —that people are sometimes more angry and unforgiving about fancied slights, than others are for real injuries. Do you think this it true, mother ?’
‘ I am afraid it is, Alice. I know one person who is always thinking herself slighted or neglected, when really the people she is indignant with do not even know how they have offended her. It is a most unhappy disposition to have ; for such persons not only meet trouble half-way, but make troubles where there need be none.’
Charlie then read the parable of the unmerciful servant. All tried to give examples of a loving and unmerciful temper, except Mab. She had taken little or no part in the lesson. From her intelligence and excellent memory she usually answered remarkably well ; but to-day she was silent. Her mother saw that it was not from inattention, and she took no notice.
At midnight Mr. Glynn awoke : his wife was getting a light.
‘ Where are you going dear ?’ said he, sleepily : ‘ what can be the matter ?’
‘ I hear one of the children crying, and I think it must be Mab.’
‘ Is your foot so painful, my poor child ?’ inquired Mrs. Glynn, as she went to the bedside of the sobbing child.
‘ No,’ said Mab ; ‘ I am so hot and uncomfortable, I can't go to sleep.’
Her mother bathed her hands and face, brushed her hair, and shook up her pillow. Mab ceased crying, but looked unhappy.
‘ Is anything troubling you, dear ?’ inquired Mrs. Glynn, tenderly.
Mab was silent, and her mother went on. ‘ Don’t you think if you could tell me you would be easier ? If you could make the effort, you would I am sure feel happier afterwards.’
Mab’s good angel whispered, ‘ Tell your mother ;’ still she was silent ; but presently she exclaimed, rather fretfully, ‘ I am so thirsty !’
Her mother gave her some water, sat down by her and repeated some of the child’s favorite hymns.
She neither spoke nor opened her eyes, and, though perfectly still, Mrs. Glynn was convinced she was not asleep, and after waiting some little time in vain she quietly left the room.
‘ I am not at all satisfied about Mab,’ said her husband, as she returned. ‘ I have quite resolved to have a second opinion to-morrow.’
‘ Mab says her foot is not in pain, and it seems to be going on quite well. I fancy something is troubling her ; but she is such a strange, reserved child, one does not know how to gain her confidence.’
Mr. Glynn was silent ; he had never seen Mab in one of her terrible tempers ; he fancied the other children exaggerated, or teased her : in fact, he persuaded himself that she could not be quite so bad as she really was.
However, the next morning he wrote a note to Mr. Rodney, and expressed a wish for a second opinion ; accordingly, that gentleman brought a skillful surgeon, who very carefully examined the foot and questioned Mab closely, after which he declared nothing more could be done. Mr. Rodney’s treatment had been excellent ; the foot was going on quite well, and in due time would be strong again ; she was to use it a little, resting it still very much, and she was not to be treated as an invalid.
From this time the improvement in Mab was decided ; possibly she felt more hopeful about herself ; but certainly she was far more patient. She now did all her lessons regularly except her music, and was the better for it. One morning her mother gave her Mrs. Alexander’s sweet little hymns for children, and told her to choose one for herself while she gave Jessie a music-lesson in the drawing-room. Mab knew many of these hymns ; she turned over the leaves rather listlessly at first, then came to one quite new to her, beginning, ‘ I knew a little sickly child.’ The last two verses came home to her heart with such power, I must transcribe them for you : —
‘ There is a Holy Dove that sings
To every Christian child,
That whispers to his little heart
A song so sweet and mild.
It is the Holy Sprit of God
That speaks his soul within,
That leads him on to all things good,
And holds him back from sin.
And he must hear that still, small voice,
Nor tempt it to depart,
The Spirit, great and wonderful,
That whispers to his heart.
He must be pure, and good, and true,
Must strive, and watch, and pray
For unresisted sin at last
Will drive that Dove away.’
‘ Has that Dove been speaking to me ?’ said a voice within her ; and then came the more startling question, ‘ Am I driving it away ? These were very good thoughts for Mab ; they came again and again, and she did not try to stifle them. Her mother returned and asked her to say her hymn.
‘ Oh, I forgot !’ said Mab, in some confusion.
‘ You should have done as I told you,’ observed her mother, gently.
‘ Yes, I am sorry,’ replied Mab ; ‘ I will learn it directly.’ And she speedily learnt two or three verses ; but not of the hymn that had struck her so much.
On Wednesday evenings Mr. Glynn had a service for men in their working clothes in a schoolroom in the poorest part of his district. Mrs. Glynn went with him to play the harmonium and lead the singing. This evening she asked Alice and Jessie if they would take care of Mab, as she wished to see two or three sick people before the service.
‘ Oh, yes, mother, do go !’ said the children ; ‘ we shall be very cosy.’
This story is continued in Why Mabel Altered Her Will, Part 5.
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18 March 2020
10 August 2020
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