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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Saturday, 12 March 2016

Oh Lena!

75 Cadogan Square, London
March 12th., 1924

I lost my heart to Miss Ashwell on first meeting her in 1914. She was then in charge of the Womens Emergency Corps at Old Bedford College, Baker Street. How exhilarating her femininity, its effect amplified by the two lines of young women, badged as messengers, in the outer hall, earnest, eager and braced for action. I am not a man who has inspired much devotion from women - I fear my looks and mannerisms are against me - and to be the centre of such attention was novel indeed. It is an experience I have never forgotten, and at its centre was Miss Ashwell as she was known, though in fact married to the surgeon Henry Simpson. Was there a spark in her eye when we spoke? Possibly I imagined what I wished to see.

Regrettably, in spite of the fact that we are both 'theatre people', we have had no contact in the intervening years but last evening I saw her again at a performance of Shaw's "The Devil's Disciple" by her "Once a week players". It was at the Century Theatre, Arch Street, North Kensington. She is only a few years younger than myself, so over 50, but still beautiful. She has a way of looking, beneath her heavy lids, which seems to turn my insides into a form of pap. How I wish I had had the courage to pursue an acquaintance with her a decade ago, husband or no, but it is wishful thinking. I lack courage for affairs of the heart.

The "Once a week players" specialised in the presentation of plays with minimal scenery and props in village and suburban halls. They were in fact an extension of Miss Ashwell's troop entertainments from the war. But now she is managing the Century Theatre and that is their base. Still they dispensed practically with props and scenery. Just a few tables, chairs, window-frames, door-frames, and curtain. Same furniture throughout, whether for a general's headquarters or a widow's modest home. Everything very poor and cheap; but nicely done - not overstepping the modesty of nature. I complimented Miss Ashwell on the performance at the end and she rewarded me with one of her enigmatic smiles. I could expect no more and might have received much less.

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