There are an impressive number of children who uncomplainingly hand over their weekly wages to their parents, sometimes receiving back ten cents or a quarter for spending-money but quite as often nothing at all; and the writer knows one daughter of twenty-five who for six years has received two cents a week from the constantly falling wages which she earns in a large factory. Is it habit or virtue which holds her steady in this course? If love and tenderness had items substituted for parental despotism, would he mother have had enough affection, enough power of expression, to hold her daughter's sense of money obligation through all these years? This young woman, who spends her paltry two cents on chewing-gum, and goes plainly clad in clothes of her mother's choosing, while many of her friends spend their entire wages on clothes which factory girls love so well, must he held by some powerful force.
It is these subtle and elusive problems which, after all, the charity visitor finds most harassing. The head of a family she is visiting is a man who has become blacklisted in a strike. He is not a very good workman, and this, added to his reputation as an agitator, keeps him out of work for a long time. The fatal result of being long out of work follows. He becomes less and less eager for it, and "gets a job" less and less frequently. In order to keep up his self-respect, and still more to keep his wife's respect for him, he yields to the little self-deception that this prolonged idleness is due to his having been blacklisted, and he gradually becomes a martyr. Deep down in his heart, perhaps—But who knows what may be deep down in his heart? Whatever may be in his wife's, she does not show for an instant that she thinks he has grown lazy, and accustomed to see her earn, by sewing and cleaning, most of the scanty income for the family. The charity visitor does see this, and she also sees that the other men who were in the strike have gone back to work. She further knows, by inquiry and a little experience, that the man is not skillful. She cannot, however, call him lazy and good-for-nothing, and denounce him as worthless, because of certain intellectual conceptions at which she has arrived. She sees other workmen come to him for shrewd advice; she knows that he spends many more hours in the public library, reading good books, than the average workman has time to do. He has formed no bad habits, and has yielded only to those subtle temptations toward a life of leisure which come to the intellectual man. He lacks the qualifications which would induce his union to engage him as a secretary or an organizer, but he is a constant speaker at workingmen's meetings, and takes a high moral attitude to the questions discussed there. He contributes a kind of intellectuality to his friends, and he has undoubted social value. The neighborhood women confide to the charity visitor their sympathy with his wife, because she has to work so hard, and because her husband does not "provide." Their remarks are sharpened by a certain resentment toward the superiority of the husband's education and gentle manners.
The charity visitor is ashamed to take this narrow point of view, for she knows that it is not altogether fair. She is reminded of a college friend of here, who told her that she was not going to allow her literary husband to write unworthy pot-boilers, for the sake of earning a living. "I insist that we shall live within my own income; that he shall not publish until he is ready, and can give his genuine message." The charity visitor recalls what she has heard of another acquaintance who urged her husband to decline a lucrative position as a railroad attorney, because she wished him to be free to take municipal positions and handle public questions without the inevitable suspicion which attaches itself in a corrupt city to a corporation attorney. The action of these two women had seemed noble to her, but they merely lived on lesser incomes. In the case of the workingman's wife, she faced living on no income at all, or on the precarious income which she might be able to get together. She sees that this third woman has made the greatest sacrifice, and she is utterly unwilling to condemn her while praising the friends of her own social position. She realizes, of course, that the situation is changed, by the fact that the third family need charity while the other two do not; but, after all, they have not asked for it, and their plight was only discovered through an accident to one of the children. The charity visitor has been taught that her mission is to preserve the finest traits to be found in her visited family, and she shrieks from the thought of convincing the wife that her husband is worthless, and she suspects that she might turn all this beautiful devotion into complaining drudgery. To be sure, she could give up visiting the family altogether, but she has become much interested in the progress of the crippled child, who eagerly anticipates her visits, and she also suspects that she will never know many finer women than the mother. She is unwilling, therefore, to give up the friendship, and goes on, bearing her perplexities as best she may.