"The subject of Love, notwithstanding all that has been said about it, is but little understood, and far from being exhausted." "Love-Maxims," London Chronicle, Sept. 11-13, 1759.
It was a cold spring morning, but the London parks were a verdant green with bright beds of sturdy daffodils. The day was full of promise as I took a taxi from Hyde Park to Number 25 Duke St. I was at last to interview a Mrs. Ida Reynolds (International) Marriage Bureau.
It appears that Mrs. Reynolds has been successfully matchmaking English ladies with English and American gentlemen for over 18 years. Her betrothal business would surely provide interesting reading material for anyone concerned with love and marriage.
But my heart sank when the taxi stopped at her address. It was not what one might call an impressive entrance. By the time I climbed up two flights and reached the tiny narrow waiting room with only two small metal chairs facing the door and not even a magazine in sight, I began to doubt the nature of Mrs. Reynolds' business.
Fortunately there was little time to be skeptical, for promptly at 10 a young lady secretary brought me in to Mrs. Reynolds' office. It was, as far as I could see, a simple and spotless L-shaped room of twos -- two desks placed in L shape, two filing cabinets, two pictures and two windows. Obviously the lady saw things in pairs and she certainly didn't believe in extravagance.
Interviewing a potential suitor in such stark surroundings would certainly be an honest and telling endeavor for all parties concerned.
The single sparkle in the room proved to be Mrs. Reynolds herself -- "My dear how good to meet you, do sit down and we wil talk," -- she greeted me warmly with a voice rich in tone and inflection that suggested experience on the stage.
Mrs. Reynolds indeed looked like a matchmaker, or even a fairy godmother with a smile that captured her entire face and a manner that immediately evoked confidence. She must be in her 50s (it didn't seem right to ask), yet she wore little or no makeup and her fine yellow hair with a slight pastel tint was brushed back so that one looked mostly at her clear blue eyes. One could not help but wonder how many suitors were in her past.
As her secretary took a seat at the adjoining desk, Mrs. Reynolds asked to see my press papers and passport. After all, she said, she had no idea what my purpose was and she didn't want someone taking ideas from her business.
"And what exactly is this business?" I asked delicately.
"It's friendship with a view to marriage, my dear." Her hands gracefully gestured to the two large file cabinets. "These are all suitors, dear, these are all in my suitor files. . . . Maria bring me the box of letters."
Her secretary, whom I assumed was Maria -- we were never properly introduced -- set a large wooden box clearly marked "satisfied clients" on the desk. The box was filled with perhaps 30 to 40 letters and post cards.
With great pride Mrs. Reynolds produced several postcards with idyllic scenes of sparkling blue seas and sailboats. They all carried brief but warm messages of love (from newly married couples) to the lady who brought them together.
It was terribly impressive, as was Mrs. Reynolds. I happily dismissed the waiting room's first and bad impression.
"What kinds of clients do you have Mrs. Reynolds?"
"All kinds, my dear . . . all ages, all walks of life. You see it's very difficult in London to meet the right person. It's a big city and today there aren't the facilities there used to be. There used to be tea dances and everything . . . and now it's very restricted. I think since we've had so many wars, two wars at least. I remember when I was a girl I used to go every Saturday to a very nice hotel where there was a band and everything. . . . sWe haven't got that anymore.Nothing at all."
"How do you possibly keep account of your clients and decide who should meet whom?"
Mrs. Reynolds swept a registration form in front of me. "It's an ordinary form, dear, nothing spectacular . . . and if I don't like them . . . I don't think they're right . . ." she paused and asked if her words would be recorded. "Yes, well then," she reconsidered, "it's left to my decision whether or not I will register them."
Each client's "personal description, characteristics, hobbies and interests" is required to fit on just one side of Mrs. Reynolds' simple form. There is one crucial requirement: "I meet them all . . . and no photographs."
Most of Reynolds' gentleman clients are English, but many are Americans who must travel across the ocean to meet her, as well as their "new lady friend." And if that initial introduction doesn't work, the client usually stays in the registraton until the right suitor comes along. All this loving attention is done for a "reasonable fee."
"One of my favorite American clients -- who is very well known -- hasn't had any luck yet," said Mrs. Reynolds as she moved her morning's glass of creamy coffee back and forth across her desk. "He just called me last night from America to say he was coming to England in a fortnight and hoped that we would help him. He stays at a fine hotel . . . and he's only 30 years old."
"Why would an English woman want to marry an American man?" I ventured.
"The reason is," she replied with no hesitation, "it's something different to an Englishman and the ladies want to go to America without a doubt. It's just adventure I suppose . . . and an American man has a . . . in my opinion . . . a nicer way of treating his woman. Don't you agree, my dear?"
It was clearly a moment for fresh opinion to bow to experience. I discreetly changed the subject, but to one equally delicate.
"Do you ever have clients who have the wrong idea about your services?"
"What do you mean 'the wrong idea' dear, with all due respect, if you don't appeal to a man that way . . . then there's something wrong . . . they don't come in here and ask me for somebody for sex if that's what you mean . . . and if they do, I show them out the door, dear. 'Look, I would say, 'you are in the wrong place . . . second door on the right please.'"
"How did you," I soothed, "begin this business, Mrs. Reynolds?"
"I was in the film business," she now blossomed. "I was married to a man in films. It was fascinating, but unfortunately he was too spoiled by our sex. So it went wrong, but nevertheless we had 21 cinemas . . . run by me . . ." She laughed, but briefly. "We had to break up and then I thought I would help people."
There was an awkward silence. This lovely lady obviously used her misfortune as an inspiration to bring happiness to others.
At last it was she who put us at ease. "Before you go dear, did you read this letter carefully? she asked as she offered a two-page handwritten letter on blue stationery. It was from an English woman who had met her American man through Mrs. Reynolds and was inviting her to their wedding.
As I read the letter aloud, Mrs. Reynolds leaned forward and rested her chin on her hands. She beamed over every word as if she were listening to the letter for the first time.
". . . After 10 lonely years of never meeting anyone suitable, suddenly it all seems so easy, thanks to one lady -- you. As in Victorian times, the only way to meet a suitable partner is to be introduced.
"May I wish you every success with your business. You're doing a great job -- making people happy. God bless you -- Isabelle."