Punch, January 28, 1914
I am not legal adviser to Miranda’s family; nevertheless she came to see me on business the other day. I saw at once by her serious air that it was something of first-rate importance.
“I want a will,” she said; “one of those things that people leave when they die.”
“Some people leave them and some don’t,” I said.
“I mean the things that show who is to have your belongings.”
“Undoubtedly you mean wills.”
“Do you sell them?”
“I should like to see some.”
“What size?” I asked facetiously.
“Sixes... long ones,” said Miranda, looking at her hands.
“I remember,” I murmured.
Miranda looked up with a start and assumed her severest expression.
“I’m afraid you’re not treating the matter seriously. Perhaps I had better go to father’s solicitor; he’s older and quite serious. But then he’s rather bald and uninteresting. I think he takes snuff.”
I retorted in my most professional manner. “I beg your pardon; I think you must have misunderstood me. I meant that all wills are not quite the same; some are longer than others.”
“Not too long, then,” she said. “You might show me some medium size ones. I should like to do the thing fairly well.”
“We don’t exactly stock them; they’re generally made to order.”
“I’m sorry; I wanted one at once. You know I was twenty-one the other day.” (I knew it to my cost.) “Father says that everyone over twenty-one ought to make a will.”
“Your father’s views on the subject are very sound. If you’ll give me your instructions, I’ll make you one.” I spread a sheet of paper in front of me.
“But surely you can make a will without my help?”
“Not very easily. It’s something like being measured for a gown. I must know what you have to leave and to whom you wish to leave it.”
“But I don’t want anybody to know.”
“I’m not anybody.”
“I know. I don’t think, though, that I quite care to tell you.”
“Then I’m afraid there’ll be some little difficulty about executing your wishes in the matter.”
“How much do wills cost?” she asked irrelevantly.
“It depends on the length.”
“How much a yard?”
“We mostly sell them by the folio, not by the yard.”
“How many feet are there in a folio?”
“You’ll have to ask a law-stationer that.”
“How much would a medium-sized will cost? Half-a-crown?”
“More than that,” I said.
“Much more?” She turned over some coins in her purse.
“A good deal more.”
“But I saw some in a chemist’s for ninepence. Perhaps I’d better buy one of those.”
“You might,” I said doubtfully.
“You said that as though you didn’t think that chemists sell very good wills.”
“There’s nothing really the matter with them. They consist of some printed words and spaces... mostly spaces. If you happen to execute them the right way the Judge afterwards decides what they mean.”
“But how does he know?”
“He doesn’t. That’s what makes it so interesting. After a number of barristers have explained what they might mean, the Judge says what they ought to mean, and they mean that.”
“So there would have to be a law-suit?”
“And you make good wills?”
“My wills are all of the very best quality.”
“Then I suppose I must let you make me one. What sort of things do people leave?”
“All sorts of things. Anything they’ve got and quite often things they haven’t got.”
“Animals? Dogs? Can I will away Bobs, for instance?”
“Can I leave anything to anyone I like?”
“Yes, to anyone you like or don’t like.” I was thinking of Bobs. He is not a very amiable dog and no friend of mine.
“I think I’ll leave Bobs to you.” I had felt it coming.
“But I might die before Bobs. Bobs being a specific legacy would then lapse and fall into residue,” I hurriedly explained.
“That doesn’t sound nice.”
“It isn’t nice. Bobs would never be happy there. You had better leave him to someone younger.”
After we had settled Bobs on a young cousin we got on quite quickly. We left her old dance programmes and several unimportant things of doubtful ownership to her greatest rival; her piano (with three notes missing), on which she had learnt to play as a child, to her Aunt in Australia, said Aunt to pay carriage and legacy duty; her violin to the people in the next flat; her French novels to the church library; her golf clubs and tennis racket to her old nurse; her Indian clubs to the Olympic Games Committee; her early water-colour sketches to the Nation. We divided up all her goods. Everybody got something appropriate. It was a good will. And when I suggested that there should be no immediate charge, but that the cost should be paid out of the estate in due season, Miranda very cheerfully agreed; and even went so far as to express a generous hope that I should outlive her.
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Punch, January 28, 1914
We were not able to find information about the authors of individual stories, so this author will have to remain anonymous. Project Gutenberg has the complete text of many Punch magazines, and you can find this issue here.
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