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Life and Reminiscences of Jessie Bond > Chapter 2
A NEW era began for me under Schotlaender’s influence. I joined his Choral Society and found the training and experience most valuable, my voice improved rapidly and I was soon appearing at concerts in Liverpool as “the new local contralto.”
At that time what were called “Penny Readings” and “Sixpenny Readings” – mixed entertainments of music, recitations, and readings – were popular institutions in almost every town and village of England, and excellent were the programmes provided for those small sums. One day a gentleman called at our house and asked me if I would like to sing at a Penny Reading which was being arranged in Liverpool. There was perhaps a certain tone of patronage in the question which put my naughty little back up, for I answered pertly that I did not mind singing, but that it would have to be at a Sixpenny Reading!
At a Sixpenny Reading I did appear in due course, and piped a pretty little trifle called “Maggie’s Secret,” to the great content of the audience. My voice must have been very slender in those days, but it evidently pleased. The chairman when thanking the performers especially mentioned me, saying, “I predict a great future for little Miss Jessie Bond.”
While still in my early teens I began to give concerts on my own, and my efforts were most kindly received by the Press. I don’t know whether it was the work of my management or my own bright idea, but the concerts were advertised as under the patronage of an imposing list of local magnates; M.P.’s, J .P.’s, and T.C.’s – even one F.S.A.! I am sure they were all very kind and rather amused, but glad to give a helping hand to an audacious little girl whose ambition had no limits.
Looking back to that period, I remember with grateful affection my teacher, Pilotti, whose method of voice production did so much to improve and strengthen mine. While he taught me singing I was still studying the piano under Praeger, who was not married, and perhaps that was the reason my parents thought it necessary for me to have an escort at my lessons. For this purpose one of my father’s apprentices was told off, a gawky youth much older than myself, who probably resented me as I despised him. For, as you will have already perceived, the Lord early gave me a good conceit of myself, and I said, “I won’t have him walking beside me, he must walk behind”; so he was constrained to trudge humbly in the rear, carrying the music of the cocky little songstress.
In those days women and non-Catholics frequently sang in Roman Catholic church choirs, and the story of my admission to the Seel Street Benedictine Church Choir is a curious one, intimately connected with the after-course of my life. One day a well-known solicitor, leader of the choir, called on me at my parents’ house. He had received a letter from me, he said, and understood from it that I needed help in my profession. I had written no such letter, and neither I nor my parents had ever thought of applying to him; but the conversation which followed drew us together and, though not a Catholic, I was engaged to sing in his choir.
We discovered afterwards that it was Schotlaender, director of the Choral Society, who had written the letter and was working in this underhand manner to give me another chance of proving my abilities. All this time he had been making love to me in his dominating, egotistical way; and I, being young, was proud of having attracted a man of his age and attainments. My father made inquiries about him and told me he was a bad lot – which information I promptly passed on to Schotlaender! He became more wary and secret in his dealings with me; but even that did not warn me of my danger. I was not yet seventeen; only an ignorant child, dazzled by the man’s intellectual qualities and hypnotized by his personality, but by no means in love with him. He was persistent; but I put him off and my father forbade our engagement, at any rate until I had grown a little in years and wisdom.
For two years I sang in the Seel Street Choir. Those years comprised the unhappiest period of my life, though my associations with the church itself were most happy. From all connected with it, priests and laymen alike, I met with the greatest kindness, although I was a heretic. The leader was a thorough musician and very interested in me, he worked me hard and tested my powers remorselessly. He used to compose melodies while the service was going on and jot them roughly down; then stick them up in front of me to sing at sight during the offertory!
One curious thing I remember about that choir is that among its members were a Miss Pepper and a Miss Salt; a Miss Haddock and a Mr. Jelly.
In the early days of my connection with the choir, before my reputation was fully established, I was given a part in a trio to be sung at an important service. My father and mother were to be there to hear it, and I was full of hope and excitement in my rising fortunes. On the great day I arrived at the side door leading to the organ loft. A cab was drawn up to the kerb, and Schotlaender stood in the doorway of the church; waiting, as I thought, to encourage me and wish me success.
To my astonishment he pushed me into the cab. “Why – why –” I protested incoherently, “I shall be late,” but my angry resistance was unheeded. There was another man with him – I think he drove the cab – anyhow, off it went, and my cries and protestations were drowned by the noise of the wheels. We went to the other man’s house, where his sister received me, and there I was kept for the night.
After all these years I forget what were Schotlaender’s arguments and plausible reasons, how he overbore my will and persuaded me that I was compromised or something – anything – to convince me that marriage was inevitable. I was only a child, knowing nothing of the world, an easy prey to a man of that character. I forget much of the past, but I remember as if it were yesterday my anguish at the thought of my parents’ sorrow, waiting there in the church to hear me sing; and I not there, snatched from their dear arms and from my home.
Next day I was taken to Manchester, and there we were married. I suppose I had sense enough left to insist upon that. I wrote to my parents – what a story their unhappy daughter had to tell! After a short interval we returned to Liverpool, Schotlaender had his professional engagements to fulfil, and I had mine. His programme was, of course, that I should rise to fame and fortune and bear him with me.
We lived in misery. His pretence of love-making soon came to an end, he only wanted me to work for him; and I no doubt was sullen, bitter, tempestuous – rebellious in every possible way. He ill-treated both my mind and my body, he denied me every comfort, often I had not even enough to eat. To add to my wretchedness, the inevitable baby was coming, and even my youth and splendid health could not support that added burden. My sister came to see me one day and found me in the throes of domestic tragedy. He had been violently ill-treating me, I was a broken, pitiful creature.
She went home and told my parents; they came and found me in bed, worn out and despairing. My dear parents, what grief for them to see their petted child in such a case!
“This can’t go on,” my father said, and I sobbed:
“No, I can bear no more of it.”
So, stealing away from him as furtively as once he had stolen me, I left Schotlaender after ten miserable months, and went home to my parents’ house.
Never, never shall I forget their welcome. Old as I am, tears rain down my cheeks still when I recall that scene. My father took me by the shoulders and strained me to him in such an agony of love and pity, I can feel the pressure yet.
Soon after, my baby was born. I was very ill and almost demented; when it died at three months old I did not greatly care. Poor little victim of brutality, cruelty and lust!
It may seem an almost incredible piling up of misery, but before I had recovered from the birth of my child smallpox was added to my other ills. The doctor who attended me had smallpox patients as well; he neglected the proper precautions, and passed the disease on to me. It was a wonder I had strength enough left to battle through that also, but I did, and even escaped without disfigurement, fortunately for my future.
Then came a time of calm and recovery. I was surrounded by love and care, my bruised spirit revived. Schotlaender faded from my life, only once was he admitted to see me, soon after the child was born.
“When will you be ready to get up and sing?” he asked.
“Never, Never again for you,” I answered, and I kept my word. My father’s protection was too strong for him; public opinion also, perhaps. At any rate he did not trouble me again until long afterwards, when fame and fortune had really arrived and I was singing at the Savoy. No doubt his fingers itched to close on my fees, and he cursed his senseless cruelty, and the ill-luck of having killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. He wrote, he tried to see me. I went to my father and told him the danger that threatened.
Often, during those years of separation, my father had urged me to sue for a divorce; but in those days divorces were rare and disgraceful. I shrank from the publicity and the whole dirty business; and, as for freedom to re-marry, I wanted none of it. I was sick and tired of men, and of so-called love in all its manifestations. But now danger threatened me just as I had the ball at my feet, for in law my husband could compel me to live with him, and could take all my earnings.
So I consented to sue for a divorce; and it was granted easily enough, the evidence was overwhelming.
19 November, 2008