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Chapter 15

ALTHOUGH I had promised to marry Lewis Ransome, I am sure he never thought I would come up to the scratch, and the only time I ever saw him excited and beyond himself was the night before our wedding, when he realized that he had got me at last. And even then, little wretch that I was, I gave him another fright!

We were to be married at nine o’clock in the morning, at The Boltons church; Lewis lived in Edwardes Square and I in the Palace Mansions, so we were both of that parish. I wanted a registry office wedding, but Lewis’s parents would not hear of it. They had not at first welcomed me as a member of their family, that was one reason why I held off; I had no wish, and there was certainly no need, to force myself on anybody. They were Quakers and I was an actress, so their attitude was natural enough. But poor Lewis was so unhappy and made himself such a nuisance at home that his sister came to me as ambassador at last and begged me to marry him, because he really was getting impossible to live with! So I was supposed to take him on!

All this time I’m leaving the poor man waiting for me in the church. I was quite punctual, perhaps even a minute or so more than punctual, so the naughty idea struck me of giving my patient suitor a last shock, and I told the driver to go two or three times round the square before stopping. They told me afterwards that Lewis got into a dreadful state when I didn’t arrive, and thought all was over between us! But we were duly married, and lived together for twenty-five happy years, so a few shocks to begin with only made him more thankful for the peace which came after.

As I got into the carriage to drive away, my new father-in-law said to me, “I hope you are going to be faithful to Lewis, Jessie.” Such a tactful remark – but then, I was an actress, you see, a “very abandoned person,” and they were Quakers. My costume at least was unobjectionable; I was married in a serge coat and skirt and straw hat, so it could hardly have been quieter, and we left our respective families hoping for the best but fearing the worst on the steps of the church, and by eleven o’clock were well on our way to Paris.

Our first home was in Gilston Road, The Boltons, but when we had been there about four months we had to turn out of it, because the drains were defective and we all became ill. Our furniture was stored, and we went to live with my husband’s parents, my Quaker parents-in-law, and there we stayed for eighteen months. Yes, and we never had one unpleasant word! I do think that deserves to be recorded, and put of the credit of Jessie Bond, actress, as well as to that of Mr. and Mrs. Ransome, senior, Quakers. There had to be forbearance on both sides, of course, but never did the slightest breeze ruffle the calm current of our lives. They had objected to me at first, but seeing Lewis so set on the marriage, and afterwards so happy in it, they took me to their hearts like sensible people, and showed me what stuff God-fearing, quiet-living Quakers were made of.

Lewis Ransome

Lewis was very proud of his family record, especially of that final “e” of his name, and it annoyed him very much when people omitted it in writing. It seems that the Ransomes were all Quakers, as distinguished from the common or garden Ransoms, and in the days when Quakers were persecuted some of the less steadfast of them dropped the final “e” for the sake of safety and obscurity. But that my husband’s family never would do, they stood their ground and took their hard knocks like men and Quakers.

When we had been married about two years the business (of manufacturing wood-working machinery) in which my husband and his father were interested was moved down to Newark-on-Trent. The lease of their factory in King’s Road, Chelsea, had run out, and land so near London had become too valuable for them to renew it, or to rent other premises. So down we went to Newark with our furniture and all our belongings, and I did not fail to assure my long-suffering husband that I never would have married him if I had known he would take me away from London.

Farndon, our new home at Newark-on-Trent, was quite a country place, three miles out of the town, and the garden was a great delight to us both after our long residence in London. All our new interests kept us very happy and busy, my husband was fond of country life, and was now able to indulge his sporting tastes, as well as the taste for home and domesticity so long thwarted. He hunted with the Belvoir, Rufford, and Lord Harrington’s hounds, and all the hunt lunches and shooting parties made a gay life for me also. We entertained a good deal, and gave hunt lunches and shooting parties of our own, so my time was well filled up, and I missed London less than I could have believed.

One of my devices for imparting a London flavour to the new surroundings was to buy a hansom cab and drive about the country in it, to the astonishment of the natives, and it was always my impulse to go and pay the driver when I alighted – another little joke that helped to brighten our lives.

It was indeed a change for a hard-working actress, but I settled well into my new rôle, and played it, I believe, with success; indeed, I know that my husband was a happy and much-envied man, in spite of my vagaries and my love of teasing.

“I never know what you’ll do next, Jessie,” the poor man used to exclaim in despair.

“My dear, I don’t want you to,” was my reply.

“Spirits in Bond,” they used to call me in London, and with renewed health, leisure, and everything I needed to make me happy, I kept my husband alive and our friends amused.

Nor was our life one-sided, for Lewis was a churchwarden and interested in parish affairs, and I did my share in helping him there also. One of my interests was the founding of an Amateur Dramatic Club, and it was a great pleasure to organize the performances, and to teach and direct the local players. Our productions were sometimes on quite an ambitious scale, as you will realize when I tell you that among them were “Sweet Lavender” and “Milestones,” so that I was able at last to gratify my love of serious acting by training others, if not by acting myself. We used to give very charming little entertainments, the source of much pleasure to both actors and audiences, and of profit to local charities.

My husband was himself very musical in an amateur way, he sang and played by ear with delightful sweetness and taste, and even composed little songs and melodies, though, as he did not know the notes or rules of music, I had to write them down for him. For one of his songs he wrote the words as well as the music, but I must tell you in my own despite that he wrote the verses before we were married, and never composed a single ode to me afterwards!

This effort of his was kept for home use, but at a charity concert in Newark I sang it as an encore, to his great astonishment. I can see him now, as he sat just below the platform, leaning forward in surprise when he heard the first few notes of the introduction, and his dear big eyes opening wider and wider. There was a tremendous encore, which pleased him immensely, and I am so glad to remember that my own rendering of it gave him such pride and pleasure. These are the words:

Sleep, darling, sleep, Night draws her mantle round,
Hushed is the world and still, wrapped in a peace profound.
  Darkening shadows close, hiding the earth from sight,
Nature invites repose, sweet be thy dreams, good night.
Sleep then and take thy rest now the day’s toil is done,
Slumber and wake refreshed, and when the morning sun
  Gilds the pale heavens with light, wake, my love, wake once more –
    Till then, good night.

My dear husband, the memory of his deep and tender love for me is the most abiding joy of my life. The triumph and the shouting dies, but his constant and devoted love warms my heart and comforts me even now. I have been greatly blessed and greatly honoured, and to have won such affection is more to me than all my laurels.

He admired me so, he thought there was no one like me, and my music was to him an inexhaustible delight. “Sing, Little Mother, sing,” he used to say, and in his last illness I would leave his door open and sing and play to him for hours.

“Little Mother,” he often called me, and it was a name used by many of my friends from the time when Iolanthe, Strephon’s young and lovely mother, caused such heart-burning and scepticism among his intimate circle.

Happiness has no history, and you would not be interested in detailed description of a life that we both found entirely satisfactory. We spent many winters abroad, that my husband might enjoy the skating and mountain sports at which he was an adept (he had won both the Great and the Little Bear). We went often to London, and kept ourselves in touch with the world of the stage and society. Naturally visits to the theatre were my greatest joy, but Lewis did not always appreciate them as much as I did. He had settled down as a quiet country gentleman himself, and liked to think that I was an equally inconspicuous country lady; so that when we entered a theatre together and there was a whispering, a nudging, cries of “Jessie !” and then a burst of cheering from all over the house, the poor man used to get quite upset.

“Hang it all, I wish they wouldn’t,” he would mutter uncomfortably.

“You can sit down, my dear man, it’s nothing to do with you,” I would say airily, and push him into his seat, while I stood bowing and kissing my hand and thoroughly enjoying myself.

Such receptions were not very surprising while I was still comparatively young and had not long left the stage; but one night quite lately, since my husband’s death, I was in London and went to a performance of “Ruddigore” at the Princes Theatre. Dame Madge Kendal had gone in just before me, and she was followed by Mr. Baldwin, then Prime Minister, accompanied by the Premier of Canada. These great people were greeted with applause; but when Jessie Bond appeared, a little white-haired woman quietly dressed in black, the whole house rose to its feet, and there was a hurricane of cheers. And that after thirty years! London audiences have long memories and affectionate hearts. It was all I could do to face them and keep my self-possession, I was deeply touched and quite overcome.

Still more recently I received a letter from a country village in far-away Australia, thanking me for the pleasure I had given to an old playgoer in the palmy days of the Savoy. Parts of this letter are sufficiently interesting to the public to be quoted, and I hope that my friend in Glenorchy, Victoria, will see this book and know that his letter made me feel proud and pleased.

“I was a first-nighter at the production of ‘The Gondoliers,’” he says, “and saw it and the others many times. Perhaps you will remember that, on the night of the production of ‘The Gondoliers,’ the two kings sang the duet ‘Replying we sing as one individual’ as a duet, and not in the comical way they afterwards sang it. I suppose I am the only man in Australia who was in the Savoy that night. I shall never forget till my dying day the inspiration of the music, singing, and dancing of the Castanet chorus. If it was exhausting to you, it was exhilarating to your eager listeners.

“It always seemed to me a pity that ‘Ruddigore’ was not a more pronounced success. Your part and Mr. Rutland Barrington’s were very fine, and there were many lyrics in it, that should not be lost. I especially recollect your comical duet, near the close of the opera, ‘I once was a most abandoned person,’ in which you finish with

‘And now I rule a national school,
The duties are dull, but I am not complaining.’

“The truth expresses itself sometimes, as I find myself as an old man of nearly sixty seven, after a very bright and happy life, quite alone in a very out-of-the-way hamlet, working for the uplift of society, and sometimes saying to myself ‘the duties are dull, but I’m not complaining.’”

My correspondent concludes with a sentence that greatly touched me. “I thought that before I passed on to the great unknown, I should endeavour to express to you the joy that Miss Jessie Bond’s singing, dancing and acting brought into my life.”

Tributes like these, and others that still come my way, make me feel that I have not lived in vain.

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