An Atherton’s Artificial Artifact
1 A surprisingly well-documented curse, as these things go.
2 Collected Letters of Thaddeus Carrington (1744)
3 The Raven of the Wessex Carringtons: origins of the curse unknown, but said by some to be the result of a pact with the Devil.
4 Many seem to have seen a raven following the steps of a Wessex Carrington who shortly thereafter met with a sudden death. It is sometimes mistaken for a living bird, and more so as the time of death draws near. For example, in his Reminiscences of a Country Parson (1801), the Reverend Jacob Whistling writes …on a visit to some cousins in Wessex, I was Much Charmed to see, walking down a rustic lane, a prosperous Gentleman, and behind him a bird, very large and entirely black, who seemed so much like a dog following at his master’s heels that I ventured to congratulate the man on his remarkable pet. The man did not understand me at first, and when he did, he turned alarmingly pale, and, as if to cover some inner perturbation, grew also very angry. “Sir, you must be mad! What bird? There’s no bird here, sir!” And when I looked, the bird had gone. I later found out that the man was one Cecil Carrington, for I attended his funeral but a few days later.
5 The Mortshire Carringtons have, if possible, a curse more sinister even than their Wessex cousins. One needs only to consult the legal records of Mouldering, county town of Mortshire, to find its bloody record. For, you see, the curse of the Mortshire Carringtons is fratricide. Here, the origins of the curse are known (or, at any rate, taken to be true by all persons informed on the subject). In the 13th century, two Carrington brothers quarreled over a woman, and came to blows over her. The older brother, one Geoffrey Carrington, was the victor in the contest, and Osbert, the younger brother, was mortally wounded. Geoffrey was summoned to his brother’s death-bed, and Osbert looked up at him with dimming eyes and a horrible smile. “Will ye marry her, brother?” He asked. “Aye, I will,” said Geoffrey. “Then your sons, and their sons, from now to the doom of the house of Carrington, shall serve each other as you have served me.” And, saying this, Osbert died. This story was recorded by the priest who attended Osbert’s death-bed; Geoffrey also makes contemptuous reference to it in his will, telling his two sons of the curse and assuring them that it was merely the feeble utterance of a dying man. Less than a year after Geoffrey’s death, however, one of his two sons disappears from the historical record after a violent quarrel with the other.
6 The marriage of Arabella Carrington, of Wessex, and Godfrey Carrington, of Mortshire, took place in May of 1840
7 Godfrey Carrington was always much attached to his younger brother Albert, and was heard to joke more than once about the curse when Albert, having come to grief in the city, came to live with him and his young bride at the family seat in Mortshire in 1843. “Well, Albert,” said Godfrey, “you and I’ll about be the death of that old curse, won’t we? Imagine people believing in that in this day and age!” (Testimony of Arabella Carrington, The Trial of Albert Carrington). By 1845, the mood had darkened. In January of 1846, little Henry Carrington, age 5, asked his father why he permitted a nasty old raven in the house. By February, several other members of the family had seen the bird. The Wessex Raven had come to Mortshire.
8 When I say that the mingling of the two branches of the Carrington family seems to have changed the behavior of the Wessex Raven, I am merely using the only words I know that seem to fit the case. To speak of the behavior of a supernatural animal may be an absurdity; to speak of a change in that behavior must be so. And yet- well! Many people saw the Wessex Raven in the weeks preceding the dreadful events of the 27th of February, 1846; it was not, however, following Godfrey Carrington along the Mortshire lanes, as was its wont in Wessex. It would appear only when the two brothers were together; it would then stand between the two, turning its beady eyes first on one brother, then on the other- almost as if unsure which one it was to follow. As Albert was hanged for his brother’s murder, this confusion was perhaps understandable. Both Carringtons were, after all, to die suddenly, and at no very distant date.
9 Again, I must apologize for any lack of precision in my language. I find no precedent to guide me in the literature on the subject of the family curse. Perhaps the Carrington case is truly unique. When I say that the two curses have interacted, I mean that each seems to have influenced the other, and that rather strangely. It is said that the appearance of the Wessex Raven brought tensions between Albert and Godfrey to a head, especially since it seemed to be unsure about which of the two brothers was soon to die. In fact, Arabella Carrington believed that there would have been no murder “if not for that wretched bird!” So, the Raven was confused by the fact of coming fratricide, and the fratricide may never have come but for the Raven. The brothers each knew, because of the Raven, that one of them would soon die, and they each must have conjectured that the obvious source of danger was his brother. Each must have therefore felt that killing the other would be in some sense an act of self-defense.
10 The Wessex Raven, taking a definite shape, was perhaps more open to changes in behavior (again, the word seems inevitable) than the less manifest curse of fratricide.