Why Mabel Altered Her Will, Part 5
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 fifth of five parts:
Mab had a new story that had been lent her ; but her parents had not been long gone when she looked up from her book and remarked, rather carelessly, ‘ What a bore it must be to make a new will !’
‘ Yes, indeed,’ answered Alice ; ‘ more bother than ever I would have : but I add a codicil to mine now and then.’
‘ I don’t know what that is,’ said Mab, rather fretfully.
‘Oh ! Just a little bit added,’ replied Alice, with the utmost good humour. ‘ I have had two or three beautiful things given me since I made my will, so I just added to it who was to have them. You know my lovely work-box, Mab, that Aunt Alice sent me, fitted up for every sort of work one could think of ? Great pity it ever came to me, for I detest work ; so in the last codicil to my will I have left it to Désirée, who works so beautifully ; she will make good use of it.’
A thought came to Jessie like an inspiration, ‘ Should you like to put a codicil to you will, Mab ?’ she asked, eagerly.
‘ Yes, I think I should,’ was the answer.
Jessie at once started for Mab’s desk and put it before her. There was silence for some time ; at last Mab inquired, ‘ Should you like to know what I have put ?’
They were what Alice called dying with curiosity, and they answered at once, ‘ Oh, yes, please !’
Mab read in a grave voice, ‘ I give and bequeath my Grimm with the red and gold cover to Charlie.’
Jessie clapped her hands with delight, and exclaimed, ‘ I am so glad ! I could not bear—’
A little punch from Alice, which meant ‘ Be prudent,’ made her stop short ; but Mab to no notice, and the three had a pleasant evening.
The following Saturday, which was the boys’ half-holiday, the rain was pouring down so heavily that the children amused themselves indoors. Presently Alice threw down on the table a book she had just finished, and said, —
‘ I think, after all, I like The Daisy-Chain best of the books Miss George lent me. I shall choose it for my Christmas present.’
‘ I thought you meant to have The Water Babies?’ observed Jessie.
‘ Then I think I will,’ said Jessie ; ‘ unless father knows of some book on geology, not too difficult, nor too expensive.’
‘ I shall have two or three new tools for my box,’ observed Bobbie, who was carving a picture frame ; ‘ you girls use my tools till you have quite taken off the edge of two or three. When I have some new ones I shall lock them up.’
‘ Of course you will give us the old ones ?’ remarked Alice.
‘ On condition you never want the new ones.’
‘ A book is the best thing for one’s Christmas present,’ interrupted Charlie. ‘I shall have old Grimm. I want one of my own.’
‘ You need not,’ exclaimed Jessie, eagerly ; ‘ Mab has left you her beauty in her will.’
‘ Has she ? Have you Mab ?’ inquired Charlie, in the greatest surprise. ‘ How very jolly of you ! Thank you !’ But after a pause he went on, astonished more than ever at Mab’s heightened colour, —‘ But I think I should like one of my own for daily use ; you see, Mab, you will perhaps live a hundred years. I hope you will, and then your Grimm will do capitally for my little son ; but almost every day I read one of Grimm’s tales or one of Percy’s ballads, and I can’t ask you to fetch your Grimm for me now you are so lame, so I think it would be best to have one for common use.’
I must explain that Mab had always been very selfish about her books ; she had some hiding-place for her best ones, and if the other children asked for the loan of one of these she was sure to say, in the most ungracious manner, ‘ I can’t fetch it now ; can’t you wait till I leave to room ?’
Naturally, they had almost entirely ceased to borrow anything of her. Still flushed, and speaking not without effort, Mab said, ‘ Father tells me I can have part of the lowest shelf in his big, carved book-case—the end nearest the fire-place ; so you can go and get it back when you have done with it.’
‘ A thousand thanks,’ said Charlie, merrily. ‘ I’ll have it this minute, then.’
And he soon returned book in hand, and was for the present too much engrossed for further conversation.
My little readers will see that Mab is no longer refusing to listen to the Holy Dove that whispers to each Christian child ; she is listening, and, though often with much difficulty, striving to obey, and so we might be well content to leave her ; but for those who are interested in the little Glynns, I will give a scene from their life more than a year after the events narrated in my story.
It was a lovely summer evening. Alice and her favorite friend, Désirée, were walking up and down the lawn, greatly engrossed in conversation.
Désirée Hamilton was the child of an English father and a French mother. The latter had been very ill the previous year, and after the air of several English seaside places had been tried without any good result the doctors had advised that she should spend the winter in her native air near Cannes.
This had answered so well that a few weeks before this time the Hamiltons had returned to Hastings ; Mrs. Hamilton being so far recovered, it was hoped one more winter abroad would make her quite strong.
Désirée was now come to spend a fortnight with Alice, and the friends had so much to talk about they scarcely knew where to begin.
‘ And so your brothers are gone to school ?’ observed Désirée. ‘ How much you must have missed them ! Were you not dreadfully dull ?’
‘ Oh, yes ! at first we left off playing our old favorite games, and have scarcely ever taken to them again ; but after a time there were the holidays to look forward to. We counted the days, and when they came at last they were so delightful it almost made up for everything.’
‘ Ah ! I know all about it,’ exclaimed Désirée; ‘ for when we went to Cannes my brothers went to Harrow, and mother seemed to pine for her boys. Father declared she got better from the very day they came to us for the Christmas holidays. But, oh, Alice ! she was so ill—she seemed to grow thinner and paler every day, and her large dark eyes looked so mournful, and yet she was really the brightest of us all. Father always said she seemed to be more in Heaven than on earth already. Pauvre petit père ! he tried to be cheerful with her, but away from her he could scarcely bear up sometimes. Mother was sorrowful when she saw his anxious face, or thought how much the boys and I should miss her ; but for that, all was so bright and peaceful—darling mother !’ Désirée's dark eyes filled with tears.
Alice did not then know what she afterwards heard from her own mother, that during all that long sad time Désirée had been her mother’s devoted little nurse, her father's greatest comfort, his sunbeam as he always called her, helping and cheering both parents by her sweet, loving ways, her tact, and a thoughtfulness far beyond her years.
She seemed now to be thinking of the past, and Alice respected her silence. Presently Désirée, smiling through her tears, exclaimed, gaily, —
‘ And you, too, have a morning governess. That is quite a change. How do you like it ?’
‘ Oh, I scarcely know ! Pretty well. I don’t care much any way. Of course, I know it is better for us. We are so much more regular, and punctual, and we work twice as hard ; but then I am not devoted to books.’
‘ How can you say so, Alice ?’ remarked Désirée ; ‘ you have almost always a book in your hand.’
‘ An amusing book, or a story, my dear ; that is a very different thing. I dislike trouble, and shall never be a scholar.’
‘ But you like her—your gouvernante ? Miss Marshall, is it not ?’
‘ Oh, yes ! she is kind and clever ; rather strict about lessons. I rather think Mab is her favorite.’
‘ Est-il possible?’ exclaimed Désirée, with a look of such unbounded astonishment that for some time Alice could not reply for laughing. At last she said, ‘You know Mab is very clever, and always took to lessons and liked them.’
‘ But surely Jessie is far more clever ?’
‘ Jessie knows a great deal about some things ; father even is surprised at her knowledge of natural history. I wish I knew my Bible as well as she does ; but some of the regular school-room things she dislikes. Arithmetic, for instance : she scarcely ever does a sum right ; and music she hates, and is always begging to leave it off. Miss Marshall is a good musician, and of course this vexes her. Mab rarely loses a mark. Of course I don’t know that she is a favourite , for Miss Marshall is kind and fair to all three, but I fancy she is ; and I heard her say to mother that she could fancy Mab had a bad temper, but she had never seen any proof of it.’
As Désirée looked as if could not believe it, Alice went on : ‘ She is really very much improved, Désirée, and I think when you have been here a fortnight you will say so. Since she hurt her foot, and was laid up for some time, she had never been so domineering and disagreeable as when you knew her.’
‘ Then I suppose the boys no longer speak of her as “Ursa Major” ?’ inquired Désirée.
Alice laughed and observed, ‘ She has lost that title a long time ; sometimes if she gets too much opposition she runs off. Mother said we were to take no notice when she did this. I suppose poor Mab wishes to fight the battle out by herself, for she is sure to come back all right. I can’t help respecting poor little Mab sometimes. She struggles against her temper far more bravely than I do against my idleness.’
At this moment Mab, who had been working in her garden, came up to them.
‘ Will you have a game of croquet ?’ she asked. ‘ I know where Jessie is, and I will soon get out the balls and mallets.’
’ Oh ! please not this evening, Mab,’ answered Alice. ‘ Désirée and I have so much to talk about ; we have not said a tenth part.’
‘ But if you can wait till to-morrow we will play with pleasure,’ said Désirée, in her pretty, courteous way.
‘ All right,’ said Mab, nodding and walking off towards the house.
‘ Oh, Mab !’ called out Alice, ‘if you would water my garden it would be such a charity.’
‘ I am going in to practice,’ answered Mab, walking on quickly ; but when she reached the door she turned and said rather loudly, ‘ I shall be watering my own garden when the sun is off, and then I will water yours.’
‘ Thanks, dear, good, benevolent creature !’ exclaimed Alice.
Désirée was silent for some time, and seemed lost in thought. At last she observed, ‘ How many things can happen in a year ! how very many things !’
As Alice did not reply, Désirée went on : ‘ In a year your brothers have gone to school, and so have mine. In a year you have a morning governess, —so have I. In a year we have lived at four or five different places— Torquay, the Isle of Wight, Bournemouth. Then we took dear mother to Cannes so ill, almost dying, and now we have brought her to Hastings almost well. And most wonderful of all, Mab has grown pleasant ! All this in a year !’
Désirée was right : among all the changes and chances that happen to us in this mortal life, is anything so wonderful as that which takes place in the heart of grown person or child who, after long resistance, yields to the sweet influence of the Holy Spirit, and so passes from darkness into light, from the love of self to the love of God and man ?
How To Cite
An MLA-format citation will be added after this entry has completed the VSFP editorial process.
18 March 2020
11 August 2020
A version of this entry marked-up in TEI will be available for download after this entry has completed the VSFP editorial process.