Why Mabel Altered Her Will
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 first of five parts:
The rain was streaming down the windows, the wind was whistling round the corners of the house, then moaning and sobbing as though it prayed to be let in, but the little Glynns took no notice ; they were seated at a table that was littered with books and papers, so intent on what they were at, that a stranger might have thought they were diligently preparing their lessons : they were not, but they were greatly engrossed in what they thought a much more important matter, for Mab was making her will.
It was a rule with the little Glynns that as each child became the possessor of a writing-desk she should make her will, for, as Alice said, people in books keep their wills and important papers in their desks.
Désirée, a friend of Alice’s, made a faint suggestion that a desk was the place in which to keep paper, envelopes, pens, and such things.
‘ Any drawer will do for that,’ said Alice ; ‘ people in books keep their wills in their desks.’
This, with the Glynns, was an unanswerable argument.
Mab’s godmother had lately been spending a week with Mrs. Glynn, and before she left she bought and fitted up a very pretty desk for her godchild.
This morning, at ten o’clock, when the children had got their books out ready for their lessons, Mrs. Glynn looked into the dining-room, and said, ‘I cannot come to you, children, yet ; Dottie has a feverish cold, and has had so little sleep, that I am very uneasy about her. I am going to put a linseed poultice on her chest, and if she is not better in an hour or so I shall send for Mr. Rodney ; so you must amuse yourselves quietly till I can come to you. And, Alice, try and keep the doors from being slammed ; I wish the house to be quiet, if possible.’
So saying, Mrs. Glynn left the room, and Alice and Jessie at once exclaimed, ‘ What a capital opportunity, Mab, for you to make your will !’
‘ So it is,’ said Mab, and, fetching her desk, she produced a sheet of foolscap which her father had given her, and handed it to Alice to be ruled in round hand. This done, she set herself to her important task, Alice taking up a story-book, that she might be at hand to help her, and Jessie busying herself with illuminating of a text as a birthday present for Ruth their nurse.
But before I go on you will like to know something about the Glynns, big and little.
Mr. Glynn was a clergyman, who had a very poor and populous parish in the heart of the town. For the health of his children he had taken a house in the suburbs, where he had a good garden and a way out at the back, so that the children could easily get into the fields, and have pretty country walks.
The two eldest children, Bobbie and Charlie, went daily with some other boys to a tutor, who was preparing them for a public school. Then came Alice, Jessie, and Mabel, or Mab, as they always called her, who were their mother’s pupils. Then Dottie, the two-years-old pet and plaything, who was still in the nursery. The little girls were taught in a rather uncertain fashion. Mr. Glynn was not rich ; there was a great deal to be done in his very poor parish, and he could only afford to have one curate, so Mrs. Glynn helped him greatly in visiting and caring for the sick, and in many other ways which were all good and helpful for the parish, but, in some respects, unfortunate for the children, who were left too much to themselves. In some things they were more backward than many children of their age in their father’s day school—in writing, spelling, and certainly in arithmetic ; they had excellent books and maps, and were forward in history and geography, which they liked ; of French and music they knew very little ; of needle work next to nothing, and as they all disdained dolls they were not likely to gain the skill which some little girls show in dressing their babies, of wax or china ; but in one thing (general knowledge) you would scarcely have found children of their years to equal them.
Mr. and Mrs. Glynn were highly educated people with cultivated tastes, and the house overflowed with books ; wherever shelves could be put up there were books, and to these all the children had access, and were great readers.
Alice, like the eldest boy Bobbie, was sweet tempered but somewhat indolent ; these two read chiefly stories, or books that were easily understood.
Charlie was studious, and excelled in whatever he studied, though he was very fond of legends or fairy-tales.
Jessie took after her father, and was devoted to natural history. Mr. Glynn thought her knowledge of geology and botany quite remarkable for a little girl.
As for Mab, she simply devoured books, biographies, travels : nothing came amiss to her ; she passed over what she did not understand, but always found plenty to interest her, in travels especially. She was a strong, active child, and, when it was fine, she worked or clambered about in the garden a good deal ; but on a wet day she would sit on the floor, in a favourite corner by the window, and read for hours together.
The others, taking them all in all, were very good children ; but Mab was selfish, domineering, and ill-tempered, and as she grew older she seemed to be worse rather than better.
However, we will return to the dining-room, where she will speak for herself. She was left-handed, and wrote slowly and badly.
‘ You must begin “I give and bequeath,”’ said Alice.
‘ Of course,’ replied Mab, impatiently ; ‘I know that.’
There was a silence for a time ; then Mab asked, ‘Ku for bequeath ?’
‘ No ; qu.’
Presently Mab threw down her pen on the cloth, which, to judge from its many inkspots, was quite accustomed to such usage, and exclaimed, ‘ There, the first part is done! “I, Mabel Glynn, give and bequeath my new shilling to my father.”’
As no remark was made, Mab asked rather angrily, ‘Why don't you say something ?’
‘ I’ve no objection,’ answered Alice, laughing.
But Jessie remarked with some hesitation, ‘I like best to leave something very pretty or useful as a keepsake to my friends. Then, when I am dead, they will use it, and be reminded of me. It seems so strange to leave a shilling as a keepsake in your will.’
‘ That’s all you know about it !’ exclaimed Mab, scornfully. ‘It so happens that people make wills on purpose to say what they will have done with their property; and my shilling is my property—so there!’
Jessie was silent, and Mab took up her pen.
‘ I think I shall make on “Give and bequeath” do for all.’
‘ Then it won’t sound a bit like a will,’ observed Alice. ‘In a real will, “give and bequeath” comes about every other line.’
‘ Oh, very well,’ said Mab. ‘ Little or capital c for church ?’
This led to a small debate, as Jessie observed a church must be as good as a town, or a river, and therefore deserved a capital.
‘ It doesn't matter,’ remarked Mab. ‘ Little c is easiest, so I shall put it.’
‘ Sweet William, one word or two ?’
Opinions were divided.
‘ I’ll make one word of it,’ said Mab, ‘ and then I shan't have to make a capital w.’
Presently Mab threw down her pen again with something very like a groan.
‘ What a bother making one's will is ! I’m glad it only comes once in one’s life. I must rest myself a little.’
Here she took up a book, and there was a long silence. At last a door was opened, and footsteps were heard upstairs.
‘ You have better finish your will, Mab,’ said Alice, ‘ or perhaps mother will come before you have done.’
Mab said nothing, but took up her pen, and stopped no more till her task was ended. Presently she inquired, ‘ Don't you want to hear my will?’
‘ Oh, yes, please,’ said the other two, who felt very curious, but did not venture to ask Mab to gratify their curiosity.
Mab read in a solemn voice befitting the occasion : ‘ I, Mabel Glynn, give and bequeath my new shilling to my father ; and I give and bequeath my church-service with the silver clasp to mother ; and I give and bequeath my three sweetwilliams to Bobbie ; and I give and bequeath all the rest of my things to be equally divided between my sisters, Alice to choose first.’
There was a long pause ; then Jessie said in a tone of dismay, ‘ Oh, Mab ! you have forgotten Charlie !’
‘ No, I haven’t,’ said Mab. ‘I don't mean to leave him anything.’
‘ Oh, Mab ! poor dear Charlie ! your own brother !’
‘ I can't help that !’ exclaimed Mab, looking the picture of obstinacy. ‘ He's always vexing me, and I shan't leave him anything !’
‘ But, Mab,’ replied Jessie, the tears starting to her eyes, ‘ when people are dying, if they have been ever so much vexed, they try to feel kind and forgiving, and all that.’
‘ When you're dying you may feel how you like, and when I'm dying I'll feel how I like,’ said Mab, savagely.
Here Alice gave Jessie a warning kick under the table ; but Jessie was too much in earnest to be silent, and went on : ‘ I know people are often angry when they are alive, but when they are dead—Oh, Mab !’
‘ I’m not dead,’ said Mab in the same tone.
‘ But you will be dead when your will is read, and then poor Charlie—‘ Tears choked her voice.
‘ How do you know he won't die first ?’ asked Mab. ‘But I shan't alter it any way. When people in books want to punish their tiresome relations they disinherit them in their will, and I made up my mind ever do long ago that I would disinherit Charlie, and now I’ve done it.’
Mab dearly loved a long word, and she looked now very triumphant and very vindictive. Jessie was about to make a last effort when a vigorous kick from Alice warned her to be silent. Mab folded up her will, slammed rather than shut it up in her desk, and then left the room.
This story is continued in Why Mabel Altered Her Will, Part 2.
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16 March 2020
16 April 2020
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