It is often difficult enough to do one's duty when that duty lies plain before one, but it becomes ten thousand times more difficult when one does not know in which direction the duty lies. It is not always that the path becomes obscured, but sometimes the duty seems to lie in two opposite directions.
This sounds like a paradox, but, unfortunately, it can often be only too true. A married woman with children has a double duty, the duty of the wife and the duty of the mother. As a rule, these two run happily side by side, but this is often not the case when the woman is married to a man whose profession or calling obliges him to live abroad. It may be that the place is not healthy for children, or the necessities of their education render it desirable that they should be sent home, and at once a terrible problem confronts the mother. Is she to remain at the side of her husband or come to England to take care of her little ones ?
A Crucial Point
It is a difficult question, and as far as concerns both lives, momentous issues are at stake. The woman, wife and mother, has to decide who has the greater need of her - the children of tender years, to whom the mother-influence means so much, or the grown-up man-child, who is even more dependent on his wife than the children on their mother.
A bachelor is quite capable of taking care of himself - that is, while he is content to remain a bachelor; but when a man is married, or falls in love, he changes. He loses something of his self-sufficiency, a new-need is born in him, the need of the woman he has chosen to be his wife ; his tastes and disposition also alter to a great degree, and the things that pleased him in his bachelor days have now lost their relish, and he cannot go back to what he was before he became a married man.
It is a very grave responsibility for a woman to take upon herself if she decides to sacrifice the father for the children. It may turn out all right ; it may turn out all wrong. Besides, a woman's first duty is to her husband.
Hundreds of women every year are called upon to make choice between their loved ones, and very many of them choose to go with the children. It is wrong ! Looked at without prejudice, there can be no question about that.
There is nearly always someone at home who can look after the little ones. There is never anyone who can look after the husband. The children, at the worst, can be sent to school if there is no relative who can make a home for them, but the man out in a far country must eat his heart out alone. If his wife leaves him, too, he is bereft of everything at once. Life that has been so full of joy becomes barren and a desert. When his day's work is done, he will come back to his empty house or bungalow, and the very silence will strike him as with a chill. There will be no loving woman to greet him, no laughing welcome from the little ones he has cherished.
The house is like a habitation of the dead, and it is full of ghosts, who mock and gibe at him. He may stand it for a few days and nights, perhaps, but in all probability he will become moody and depressed ; then his friends will try and cheer him up, and he himself will endeavour to fill the void that has been made in his life. Evil of some sort or other is sure to overtake him. It may be a lesser evil, or it may be a greater ; it may be only that he will get into the habit of smoking and drinking too much, and thereby undermining his constitution and ruining his digestion, or he may fall into more disastrous ways. Not the least of all the evil is that he must necessarily become independent of his wife, and for a man and wife to be independent of each other is not a condition conducive to their happiness.
A Mistaken Sacrifice
Then there is another factor in the case. Slowly and surely the man will begin to realise that he has been sacrificed for his children. It will not be a pleasant reflection, and though it may not make him bitter, it will certainly leave a little sore feeling that it will take a long, long time to eradicate.
No, it is not good for man to be alone. It has been so decreed since the making of the first man, and through all the generations that have come and gone there has been no great fundamental change.
The mother may argue that her children cannot get on without her, that it is her first duty to be with them always, and guide their footsteps in the right way, that she cannot be parted from them, that they will miss her so.
It is all quite true - they will miss her, and that right sorely, but that does not alter the' fact that her first duty is to her husband. There are others who can take care of the children. It is a duty that can be relegated into other hands. There are many homes to be found with gentlewomen, nearly all of them children-lovers, who add to their slender incomes by. the taking charge of " Indian children," and because it is done for money it does not necessarily follow that it is not done for love also.
There are many childless women who are never happy unless there are children in the house. " It is the only thing that makes a house like home," said one of them once, and to the children it was in truth a second home. Always, in after years, when their own parents were in England again, they used to come and pay long visits to the gentlewoman who had " mothered " them when they were motherless.
A woman came home from India with her children, and left her husband abroad with his regiment. Naturally, he went back to live at the mess, but he realised that he didn't appreciate the life as he had done when he was an unmarried subaltern. He was bored and restless, and all the other women in the station wanted to take pity upon him ; but, fortunately for him, that only seemed to make matters worse. Then he took to card-playing, and in that he found the panacea for loneliness, and the demon of play crept in and took possession of him body and soul.
Someone wrote to the wife in England, and she did what she should have done in the first instance - left the children with a relative, and went back to her husband.
But the mischief had already been wrought. He had learnt how to do without her, and he thirsted for the excitement of the gamingtables as a drunkard craves for drink.
Of course, it may be argued that the man was weak, and would probably have become a gambler in any case sooner or later, but that does not follow at all. Everyone becomes more or less weak when they are feeling lonely and miserable. It is at times like these that they most easily fall victims to the temptations of any vice or folly that may be inherent in them, and which, under different circumstances, might never be developed.
It is old-fashioned, perhaps, to quote the Marriage Service, but one line runs, Till death us do part," not, " Till the wants of our children necessitate that I should live in one quarter of the globe and you in another," but " till death us do part." Certainly the separation may be only for a matter of a few years, but a great many changes can be brought about in less time than that, and a great many things can be done that can never be undone, and afterwards a great many tears may be shed which might never have dimmed the eyes.