Change by Arthur Machen
"Here," said old Mr. Vincent Rimmer, fumbling in the pigeon-holes
of his great and ancient bureau, "is an oddity which may interest
He drew a sheet of paper out of the dark place where it had been
hidden, and handed it to Reynolds, his curious guest. The oddity was
an ordinary sheet of notepaper, of a sort which has long been
popular; a bluish grey with slight flecks and streaks of a darker
blue embedded in its substance. It had yellowed a little with age at
the edges. The outer page was blank; Reynolds laid it open, and
spread it out on the table beside his chair. He read something like
Reynolds scanned it with stupefied perplexity.
"What on earth is it?" he said. "Does it mean anything? Is it a
cypher, or a silly game, or what?"
Mr. Rimmer chuckled. "I thought it might puzzle you," he remarked.
"Do you happen to notice anything about the writing; anything out of
the way at all?"
Reynolds scanned the document more closely.
"Well, I don't know that there is anything out of the way in the
script itself. The letters are rather big, perhaps, and they are
rather clumsily formed. But it's difficult to judge handwriting by a
few letters, repeated again and again. But, apart from the writing,
what is it?"
"That's a question that must wait a bit. There are many strange
things related to that bit of paper. But one of the strangest things
about it is this; that it is intimately connected with the Darren
"What Mystery did you say? The Darren Mystery? I don't think I
ever heard of it."
"Well, it was a little before your time. And, in any case, I don't
see how you could have heard of it. There were, certainly, some very
curious and unusual circumstances in the case, but I don't think that
they were generally known, and if they were known, they were not
understood. You won't wonder at that, perhaps, when you consider that
the bit of paper before you was one of those circumstances."
"But what exactly happened?"
"That is largely a matter of conjecture. But, anyhow, here's the
outside of the case, for a beginning. Now, to start with, I don't
suppose you've ever been to Meirion? Well, you should go. It's a
beautiful county, in West Wales, with a fine sea-coast, and some very
pleasant places to stay at, and none of them too large or too
popular. One of the smallest of these places, Trenant, is just a
village. There is a wooded height above it called the Allt; and down
below, the church, with a Celtic cross in the churchyard, a dozen or
so of cottages, a row of lodging-houses on the slope round the
corner, a few more cottages dotted along the road to Meiros, and
that's all. Below the village are marshy meadows where the brook that
comes from the hills spreads abroad, and then the dunes, and the sea,
stretching away to the Dragon's Head in the far east and enclosed to
the west by the beginnings of the limestone cliffs. There are fine,
broad sands all the way between Trenant and Porth, the market-town,
about a mile and a half away, and it's just the place for
"Well, just forty-five years ago, Trenant was having a very
successful season. In August there must have been eighteen or
nineteen visitors in the village. I was staying in Porth at the time,
and, when I walked over, it struck me that the Trenant beach was
quite crowded—eight or nine children castle-building and
learning to swim, and looking for shells, and all the usual
diversions. The grown-up people sat in groups on the edge of the
dunes and read and gossiped, or took a turn towards Porth, or perhaps
tried to catch prawns in the rock-pools at the other end of the
sands. Altogether a very pleasant, happy scene in its simple way,
and, as it was a beautiful summer, I have no doubt they all enjoyed
themselves very much. I walked to Trenant and back three or four
times, and I noticed that most of the children were more or less in
charge of a very pretty dark girl, quite young, who seemed to advise
in laying out the ground-plan of the castle, and to take off her
stockings and tuck up her skirts—we thought a lot of Legs in
those days—when the bathers required supervision. She also
indicated the kinds of shells which deserved the attention of
collectors: an extremely serviceable girl.
"It seemed that this girl, Alice Hayes, was really in charge of
the children—or of the greater part of them. She was a sort of
nursery-governess or lady of all work to Mrs. Brown, who had come
down from London in the early part of July with Miss Hayes and little
Michael, a child of eight, who refused to recover nicely from his
attack of measles. Mr. Brown had joined them at the end of the month
with the two elder children, Jack and Rosamund. Then, there were the
Smiths, with their little family, and the Robinsons with their three;
and the fathers and mothers, sitting on the beach every morning, got
to know each other very easily. Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Robinson soon
appreciated Miss Hayes's merits as a child-herd; they noticed that
Mrs. Brown sat placid and went on knitting in the sun, quite safe and
unperturbed, while they suffered from recurrent alarms. Jack Smith,
though barely fourteen, would be seen dashing through the waves, out
to sea, as if he had quite made up his mind to swim to the Dragon's
Head, about twenty miles away, or Jane Robinson, in bright pink,
would appear suddenly right away among the rocks of the point, ready
to vanish into the perilous unknown round the corner. Hence, alarums
and excursions, tiring expeditions of rescue and remonstrance,
through soft sand or over slippery rocks under a hot sun. And then
these ladies would discover that certain of their offspring had
entirely disappeared or were altogether missing from the landscape;
and dreadful and true tales of children who had driven tunnels into
the sand and had been overwhelmed therein rushed to the mind. And all
the while Mrs. Brown sat serene, confident in the overseership of her
Miss Hayes. So, as was to be gathered, the other two took counsel
together. Mrs. Brown was approached, and something called an
arrangement was made, by which Miss Hayes undertook the joint
mastership of all three packs, greatly to the ease of Mrs. Smith and
It was about this time, I suppose, that I got to know this group
of holiday-makers. I had met Smith, whom I knew slightly in town, in
the street of Porth, just as I was setting out for one of my morning
walks. We strolled together to Trenant on the firm sand down by the
water's edge, and introductions went round, and so I joined the
party, and sat with them, watching the various diversions of the
children and the capable superintendence of Miss Hayes.
"Now there's a queer thing about this little place," said Brown, a
genial man, connected, I believe, with Lloyd's. "Wouldn't you say
this was as healthy a spot as any you could find? Well sheltered from
the north, southern aspect, never too cold in winter, fresh
sea-breeze in summer: what could you have more?"
"Well," I replied, "it always agrees with me very well: a little
relaxing, perhaps, but I like being relaxed. Isn't it a healthy
place, then? What makes you think so?"
"I'll tell you. We have rooms in Govan Terrace, up there on the
hill-side. The other night I woke up with a coughing fit. I got out
of bed to get a drink of water, and then had a look out of the
windows to see what sort of night it was. I didn't like the look of
those clouds in the south-west after sunset the night before. As you
can see, the upper windows of Govan Terrace command a good many of
the village houses. And, do you know, there was a light in almost
every house? At two o'clock in the morning. Apparently the village is
full of sick people. But who would have thought it?"
We were sitting a little apart from the rest. Smith had brought a
London paper from Porth and he and Robinson had their heads together
over the City article. The three women were knitting and talking
hard, and down by the blue, creaming water Miss Hayes and her crew
were playing happily in the sunshine.
"Do you mind," I said to Brown, "if I swear you to secrecy? A
limited secrecy: I don't want you to speak of this to any of the
village people. They wouldn't like it. And have you told your wife or
any of the party about what you saw?"
"As a matter of fact, I haven't said a word to anybody. Illness
isn't a very cheerful topic for a holiday, is it? But what's up? You
don't mean to say there's some sort of epidemic in the place that
they're keeping dark? I say! That would be awful. We should have to
leave at once. Think of the children."
"Nothing of the kind. I don't think that there's a single case of
illness in the place—unless you count old Thomas Evans, who has
been in what he calls a decline for thirty years. You won't say
anything? Then I'm going to give you a shock. The people have a light
burning in their houses all night to keep out the fairies."
I must say it was a success. Brown looked frightened. Not of the
fairies; most certainly not; rather at the reversion of his
established order of things. He occupied his business in the City; he
lived in an extremely comfortable house at Addiscombe; he was a keen
though sane adherent of the Liberal Party; and in the world between
these points there was no room at all either for fairies or for
people who believed in fairies. The latter were almost as fabulous to
him as the former, and still more objectionable.
"Look here!" he said at last. "You're pulling my leg. Nobody
believes in fairies. They haven't for hundreds of years. Shakespeare
didn't believe in fairies. He says so."
I let him run on. He implored me to tell him whether it was
typhoid, or only measles, or even chicken-pox. I said at last:
"You seem very positive on the subject of fairies. Are you sure
there are no such things?"
"Of course I am," said Brown, very crossly.
"How do you know?"
It is a shocking thing to be asked a question like that, to which,
be it observed, there is no answer. I left him seething
"Remember," I said, "not a word of lit windows to anybody; but if
you are uneasy as to epidemics, ask the doctor about it."
He nodded his head glumly. I knew he was drawing all sorts of
false conclusions; and for the rest of our stay I would say that he
did not seek me out—until the last day of his visit. I had no
doubt that he put me down as a believer in fairies and a maniac; but
it is, I consider, good for men who live between the City and Liberal
Politics and Addiscombe to be made to realize that there is a world
elsewhere. And, as it happens, it was quite true that most of the
Trenant people believed in the fairies and were horribly afraid of
But this was only an interlude. I often strolled over and joined
the party. And I took up my freedom with the young members by
contributing posts and a tennis net to the beach sports. They had
brought down rackets and balls, in the vague idea that they might be
able to get a game somehow and somewhere, and my contribution was
warmly welcomed. I helped Miss Hayes to fix the net, and she marked
out the court, with the help of many suggestions from the elder
children, to which she did not pay the slightest attention. I think
the constant disputes as to whether the ball was "in" or "out"
brightened the game, though Wimbledon would not have approved. And
sometimes the elder children accompanied their parents to Porth in
the evening and watched the famous Japanese Jugglers or Pepper's
Ghost at the Assembly Rooms, or listened to the Mysterious Musicians
at the De Barry Gardens—and altogether everybody had, you would
say, a very jolly time.
It all came to a dreadful end. One morning when I had come out on
my usual morning stroll from Porth, and had got to the camping ground
of the party at the edge of the dunes, I found somewhat to my
surprise that there was nobody there. I was afraid that Brown had
been in part justified in his dread of concealed epidemics, and that
some of the children had "caught something" in the village. So I
walked up in the direction of Govan Terrace, and found Brown standing
at the bottom of his flight of steps, and looking very much
I hailed him.
"I say," I began, "I hope you weren't right, after all. None of
the children down with measles, or anything of that sort?"
"It's something worse than measles. We none of us know what has
happened. The doctor can make nothing of it. Come in, and we can talk
Just then a procession came down the steps leading from a house a
few doors further on. First of all there was the porter from the
station, with a pile of luggage on his truck. Then came the two elder
Smith children, Jack and Millicent, and finally, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Mr. Smith was carrying something wrapped in a bundle in his arms.
"Where's Bob?" He was the youngest; a brave, rosy little man of
five or six.
"Smith's carrying him," murmured Brown. "What's happened? Has he
hurt himself on the rocks? I hope it's nothing serious."
I was going forward to make my enquiries, but Brown put a hand on
my arm and checked me. Then I looked at the Smith party more closely,
and I saw at once that there was something very much amiss. The two
elder children had been crying, though the boy was doing his best to
put up a brave face against disaster—whatever it was. Mrs.
Smith had drawn her veil over her face, and stumbled as she walked,
and on Smith's face there was a horror as of ill dreams.
"Look," said Brown in his low voice.
Smith had half-turned, as he set out with his burden to walk down
the hill to the station. I don't think he knew we were there; I don't
think any of the party had noticed us as we stood on the bottom step,
half-hidden by a blossoming shrub. But as he turned uncertainly, like
a man in the dark, the wrappings fell away a little from what he
carried, and I saw a little wizened, yellow face peering out;
I turned helplessly to Brown, as that most wretched procession
went on its way and vanished out of sight.
"What on earth has happened? That's not Bobby. Who is it?"
"Come into the house," said Brown, and he went before me up the
long flight of steps that led to the terrace.
There was a shriek and a noise of thin, shrill, high-pitched
laughter as we came into the lodging-house.
"That's Miss Hayes in blaspheming hysterics," said Brown grimly.
"My wife's looking after her. The children are in the room at the
back. I daren't let them go out by themselves in this awful place."
He beat with his foot on the floor and glared at me, awe-struck, a
solid man shaken.
"Well," he said at last, "I'll tell you what we know; and as far
as I can make out, that's very little. However.... You know Miss
Hayes, who helps Mrs. Brown with the children, had more or less taken
over the charge of the lot; the young Robinsons and the Smiths, too.
You've seen how well she looks after them all on the sands in the
morning. In the afternoon she's been taking them inland for a change.
You know there's beautiful country if you go a little way inland;
rather wild and woody; but still very nice; pleasant and shady. Miss
Hayes thought that the all-day glare of the sun on the sands might
not be very good for the small ones, and my wife agreed with her. So
they took their teas with them and picnicked in the woods and enjoyed
themselves very much, I believe. They didn't go more than a couple of
miles or three at the outside; and the little ones used to take turns
in a go-cart. They never seemed too tired.
"Yesterday at lunch they were talking about some caves at a place
called the Darren, about two miles away. My children seemed very
anxious to see them, and Mrs. Probert, our landlady, said they were
quite safe, so the Smiths and Robinsons were called in, and they were
enthusiastic, too; and the whole party set off with their
tea-baskets, and candles and matches, in Miss Hayes's charge. Somehow
they made a later start than usual, and from what I can make out they
enjoyed themselves so much in the cool dark cave, first of all
exploring, and then looking for treasure, and winding up with tea by
candlelight, that they didn't notice how the time was
going—nobody had a watch—and by the time they'd packed up
their traps and come out from underground, it was quite dark. They
had a little trouble making out the way at first, but not very much,
and came along in high spirits, tumbling over molehills and each
other, and finding it all quite an adventure.
"They had got down in the road there, and were sorting themselves
out into the three parties, when somebody called out: 'Where's Bobby
Smith?' Well, he wasn't there. The usual story; everybody thought he
was with somebody else. They were all mixed up in the dark, talking
and laughing and shrieking at the top of their voices, and taking
everything for granted—I suppose it was like that. But poor
little Bob was missing. You can guess what a scene there was.
Everybody was much too frightened to scold Miss Hayes, who had no
doubt been extremely careless, to say the least of it—not like
her. Robinson pulled us together. He told Mrs. Smith that the little
chap would be perfectly all right: there were no precipices to fall
over and no water to fall into, the way they'd been, that it was a
warm night, and the child had had a good stuffing tea, and he would
be as right as rain when they found him. So we got a man from the
farm, with a lantern, and Miss Hayes to show us exactly where they'd
been, and Smith and Robinson and I went off to find poor Bobby,
feeling a good deal better than at first. I noticed that the farm man
seemed a good deal put out when we told him what had happened and
where we were going. 'Got lost in the Darren,' he said, 'indeed, that
is a pity.' That set Smith off at once; and he asked Williams what he
meant; what was the matter with the place? Williams said there was
nothing the matter with it at all whatever but it was 'a tiresome
place to be in after dark.' That reminded me of what you were saying
a couple of weeks ago about the people here. 'Some damned
superstitious nonsense,' I said to myself, and thanked God it was
nothing worse. I thought the fellow might be going to tell us of a
masked bog or something like that. I gave Smith a hint in a whisper
as to where the land lay; and we went on, hoping to come on little
Bob any minute. Nearly all the way we were going through open fields
without any cover or bracken or anything of that sort, and Williams
kept twirling his lantern, and Miss Hayes and the rest of us called
out the child's name; there didn't seem much chance of missing
"However, we saw nothing of him—till we got to the Darren.
It's an odd sort of place, I should think. You're in an ordinary
field, with a gentle upward slope, and you come to a gate, and down
you go into a deep, narrow valley; a regular nest of valleys as far
as I could make out in the dark, one leading into another, and the
sides covered with trees. The famous caves were on one of these steep
slopes, and, of course, we all went in. They didn't stretch far;
nobody could have got lost in them, even if the candles gave out. We
searched the place thoroughly, and saw where the children had had
their tea: no signs of Bobby. So we went on down the valley between
the woods, till we came to where it opens out into a wide space, with
one tree growing all alone in the middle. And then we heard a
miserable whining noise, like some little creature that's got hurt.
And there under the tree was—what you saw poor Smith carrying
in his arms this morning.
"It fought like a wild cat when Smith tried to pick it up, and
jabbered some unearthly sort of gibberish. Then Miss Hayes came along
and seemed to soothe it; and it's been quiet ever since. The man with
the lantern was shaking with terror; the sweat was pouring down his
I stared hard at Brown. "And," I thought to myself, "you are very
much in the same condition as Williams."
Brown was obviously overcome with dread. We sat there in
"Why do you say 'it'?" I asked. "Why don't you say 'him'?"
"Do you mean to tell me seriously that you don't believe that
child you helped to bring home was Bobby? What does Mrs. Smith
"She says the clothes are the same. I suppose it must be Bobby.
The doctor from Porth says the child must have had a severe shock. I
don't think he knows anything about it."
He stuttered over his words, and said at last: "I was thinking of
what you said about the lighted windows. I hoped you might be able to
help. Can you do anything? We are leaving this afternoon; all of us.
Is there nothing to be done?"
"I am afraid not."
I had nothing else to say. We shook hands and parted without more
The next day I walked over to the Darren. There was something
fearful about the place, even in the haze of a golden afternoon. As
Brown had said, the entrance and the disclosure of it were sudden and
abrupt. The fields of the approach held no hint of what was to come.
Then, past the gate, the ground fell violently away on every side,
grey rocks of an ill shape pierced through it, and the ash trees on
the steep slopes overshadowed all. The descent was into silence,
without the singing of a bird, into a wizard shade. At the farther
end, where the wooded heights retreated somewhat, there was the open
space, or circus, of turf; and in the middle of it a very ancient,
twisted thorn tree, beneath which the party in the dark had found the
little creature that whined and cried out in unknown speech. I turned
about, and on my way back I entered the caves, and lit the carriage
candle I had brought with me. There was nothing much to see—I
never think there is much to see in caves. There was the place where
the children and others before them had taken their tea, with a ring
of blackened stones within which many fires and twigs had been
kindled. In caves or out of caves, townsfolk in the country are
always alike in leaving untidy and unseemly litter behind; and here
were the usual scraps of greasy paper, daubed with smears of jam and
butter, the half-eaten sandwich, and the gnawed crust. Amidst all
this nastiness I saw a piece of folded notepaper, and in sheer
idleness picked it up and opened it. You have just seen it. When I
asked you if you saw anything peculiar about the writing, you said
that the letters were rather big and clumsy. The reason of that is
that they were written by a child. I don't think you examined the
back of the second leaf. Look: "Rosamund"—Rosamund Brown, that
is. And beneath; there, in the corner.
Reynolds looked, and read, and gaped aghast.
"That was—her other name; her name in the dark."
"Name in the dark?"
"In the dark night of the Sabbath. That pretty girl had caught
them all. They were in her hands, those wretched children, like the
clay images she made. I found one of those things, hidden in a cleft
of the rocks, near the place where they had made their fire. I ground
it into dust beneath my feet."
"And I wonder what her name was?"
"They called her, I think, the Bridegroom and the Bride."
"Did you ever find out who she was, or where she came from?"
"Very little. Only that she had been a mistress at the Home for
Christian Orphans in North Tottenham, where there was a hideous
scandal some years before."
"Then she must have been older than she looked, according to your
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Then Reynolds said:
"But I haven't asked you about this formula, or whatever you may
call it—all these vowels, here. Is it a cypher?"
"No. But it is really a great curiosity, and it raises some
extraordinary questions, which are outside this particular case. To
begin with—and I am sure I could go much farther back than my
beginning, if I had the necessary scholarship—I once read an
English rendering of a Greek manuscript of the second or third
century—I won't be certain which. It's a long time since I've
seen the thing. The translator and editor of it was of the opinion
that it was a Mithraic Ritual; but I have gathered that weightier
authorities are strongly inclined to discredit this view. At any
rate, it was no doubt an initiation rite into some mystery; possibly
it had Gnostic connections; I don't know. But our interest lies in
this, that one of the stages or portals, or whatever you call them,
consisted almost exactly of that formula you have in your hand. I
don't say that the vowels and double vowels are in the same order; I
don't think the Greek manuscript has any aes or aas.
But it is perfectly clear that the two documents are of the same kind
and have the same purpose. And, advancing a little in time from the
Greek manuscript, I don't think it is very surprising that the final
operation of an incantation in mediæval and later magic
consisted of this wailing on vowels arranged in a certain order.
"But here is something that is surprising. A good many years ago I
strolled one Sunday morning into a church in Bloomsbury, the
headquarters of a highly respectable sect. And in the middle of a
very dignified ritual, there rose quite suddenly, without preface or
warning, this very sound, a wild wail of vowels. The effect was
astounding, anyhow; whether it was terrifying or merely funny, is a
matter of taste. You'll have guessed what I heard: they call it
'speaking with tongues,' and they believe it to be a heavenly
language. And I need scarcely say that they meant very well. But the
problem is: how did a congregation of solid Scotch Presbyterians hit
on that queer, ancient and not over-sanctified method of expressing
spiritual emotion? It is a singular puzzle.
"And that woman? That is not by any means so difficult. The good
Scotchmen—I can't think how they did it—got hold of
something that didn't belong to them: she was in her own tradition.
And, as they say down there: asakai dasa: the darkness is