"Third Person Singular: by "Clemence Dane" (Winifred Ashton); first published in the collection The Babyons: The Chronicles of a Family, Heinemann, 1927; reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, October 1946
The Babyons is a collection of four stories that follow and English family through five generations from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. "Third Person Singular" is the first story in the book.
The year is 1750 and Jamie Babyon is engaged to his cousin Hariot -- a contract of intent had been signed, she brings money to the marriage, and his family's pressure is great. But Hariot is the Maiden of Nuremburg; beautiful, tempting, but with a greedy voice and of the type who would destroy whomever she married.
Hariot scared him. On the other hand, Hariot's companion Menella Traill was far more suited to Jamie's tastes. Three years before, when Jamie was eighteen and penniless, he thought himself in love with Hariot but as the years went by he grew more and more to dislike her. Now at twenty-one, having unexpectedly coming in to his mother's inheritance after the sudden deaths of his two elder brothers, Jamie can afford to spurn his cousin.
During the years of their engagement Jamie had seen little of Hariot. She was six years older than him and her family (wisely) kept them apart. It turned out that Hariot was insane and much of their time apart was spent being locked up in an asylum. Only recently had she been returned to her family and deemed to be sane once again. Hariot did not like that Jamie broke it off with her; she had plans to guide a young, gullible husband to the highest seats of power. Now she cursed him and threatened him, stating that he might go away from her but she would never go away from him:
"You won't see me; but I'll see you: nor will you hear me; but I'll hear you. I warn you, Jamie, I'll creep into your brain. I'll hear your thoughts before you think them. I'll suck your soul out, I tell you: and in the hollow places where your soul was, there I'll live!"
That same day Sir James Babyon and Miss Menella Traill eloped. The marriage ceremony was briefly interrupted when the parson thought he heard someone in the outer chamber intent on stopping the marriage. A quick investigation showed there was no one there. Then, when the newlyweds rode off in their carriage, the parson thought he saw a long shadow following them. For their honeymoon the couple travelled to several European cities. While in Milan, an acquaintance asked Menella about her companion, saying he saw a female companion with her the day before. This came as a complete shock to Menella and Jamie. As the married couple travel through Europe they find that Jamie's friends are becoming afraid of them, soon their servants are, too. On returning to England, Jamie discovers that Hariot has committed suicide and he begins to fear her unearthly presence.
How does it end? Not happily.
A supernatural thread runs through the Babyon saga, although the three stories that follow are much lighter in tone. The second story takes place in 1775; the third, from 1820 to 1873; and the concluding story, from 1902 to 1906.
Winifred Ashton (1888-1965) took her pseudonym from the London church. St. Clemence Danes. Over her literary career she wrote at least 30 plays and 16 novels, and was considered by some to the most successful all-around British writer during the period between the World Wars. Her hit 1921 play, A Bill of Divorcement, was adapted for the movies three times. She also co-wrote the screen play for Anna Karenina, featuring Greta Garbo. She won an Academy Award for co-writing Perfect Strangers (U.S. title Vacation from Marriage).
Her novels were varied and often covered social issues. Her 1926 novel The Woman's Side concerned issues of women's independence. 1919's Legend debated the meaning of a dead friend's life and work. Broome Stages (1931), concerning a mutigenerational acting family, was a surprise success. Co-writing with Helen de Guerry Simpson, she wrote three detective novels featuring Sir John Suamarez, including the classic Enter Sir John, filmed by Alfred Hitchcock as Murder! A member of Britain's Detection Club, she also contributed to their volumes The Scoop and The Floating Admiral. In 1955, she edited Novels of Tomorrow, a series of science fiction books for publisher Michael Joseph, which included works by John Wyndham, C. M. Kornbluth, and Robert Sheckley.
Ashton/Dane was also famish for her completely innocent use of indecent words. Totally unaware of their meaning in the vernacular, she would use terms like "cock," "erection," "tool", and "spunk," while also referring herself to be "randy" -- she would use these terms in unfortunate sentences, never realizing the double entendres.
"Third Person Singular," as well as the other three stories in The Babyons, can be read online at Faded Page. The October 1946 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries can also be found online.