Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species - if separate species we be - for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world. H.P. Lovecraft, "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn"
The coach pauses along the cliffs above Robin Hoods Bay and the group take in the view. The bay is a wide bite taken out of the granite and limestone of the Yorkshire coast. The town occupies a sloping vale carved into the rock and stretches from the plateau down to the water along one long winding road.
They pull up before The Smugglers' Retreat, the inn recommended by the coachman. While the women organise accommodation, the men walk into the 'snug,' the public bar. All conversation ceases immediately they enter the smoke-filled room. All head turn as one to regard the strangers.
William Thatcher is cowed by the ferocity of the gaze of the local inhabitants. Samuel Tyler strides purposefully to the bar and orders two pints of best as conversation begins again. William soon joins him. Samuel asks about tales of dragons and is told by the barkeep that they are true and that they're "punishments agin the wicked."
After lunch, the group decides it's time to visit the Museum. Walking down the road towards the museum and the bay, they see the storm brewing dark and nasty on the horizon. The channel is visible through the shelf of half-submerged rocks out in the bay.
At the museum they meet Mr Eccles - a scientific educator, caretaker and administrative assistant at the town hall, where the museum is situated. He believes that education is the basis of moral and social improvement and is more than happy to explain his philosophy to anyone who would listen. He is a local man, born and raised in the village before winning a scholarship to boarding school and university.
There is more in the museum of interest than just the fossil Paley sent them to examine. Samuel and Dr Imogen Wentworth discuss relics of the village's history of fishing and farming since roman times with Mr Eccles, the caretaker. Eccles major concern is to show the public the richness and significance of Robin Hoods Bay in the larger history of the region.
While thus distracted, Dr Elizabeth Plummer examines the bone. It was, line many of the items in the collection, donated by Colonel C.H.R. Swann from his collection. The bone is the thigh of a reptilian creature standing upright at about six feet in height. Strangely, there is no evidence of fossilisation. Perhaps, thinks Dr Plummer, if she were a trained zoologist rather than a doctor she might recognise the species. To her eyes, the evidence states that the creature to whom the bone belonged died no more than 60 years ago.
William takes advantage of time by examining the time-line of stone decoration on display. The dragon is a common motif in the village throughout time. In fact, some depictions look more like a reptilian man wearing a cloak than a beast with wings. Rather than breathing fire, it may be imagined that the flames are more accurately described as mental emanations of some kind.
A well-worn path along the cliffs leads to the church. They pass through a landscape of bent and wind-twisted trees. It's nothing like the romantic notions of moorland of the Bronte sisters. Dark clouds boil on the horizon. The wind threatens to pluck them from the land and throw them into the sea. The half-submerged rock shelf in the bay which has claimed so many victims is plainly visible.
Moss clings and buries itself into the crevice between the ancient stones. Dragon decorations similar to those at the museum, dulled and half effaced by the ever-present wind, are carved into the lintels and window frames. As they approach, the heavy oaken door slowly opens of its own accord. They hesitate then step inside into the cool darkness of the stone church and the door slams closed behind them. The sense of foreboding is a tangible presence in their midst.
As their eyes adjust to the gloom, they see that there are dragon decorations all about the church and memorial stones, large plaques of stone engraved with a name and date, in the floor stretching back to 1244. Some (one or two per batch) have dragon motifs on them. There are no dragon motif-ed stones after about 1560.
As Dr Wentworth is trying to prise one up with a knife, Father Ogilvie bursts into the building prepared to confront vandals and outsiders. Soon, they are discussing the history of the place. It's been here since Celtic (pre-roman) times, says Father Ogilvie. The dragon motif-ed stones are prominent people in the village's history. Samuel mentions the barkeep's comment of dragons being 'punishment for the wicked' and Ogilvie attributes this to the previous parish priest, Father Roland, a very stern man indeed.
Father Ogilvie mentions something about a shipwreck that Paley was interested in as well as his more overt interest in a parishioner, R. Kreigh, who once came to Father Roland for advice. The group ask to look over the records and he invites them to visit tomorrow afternoon at the rectory.
It's now dusk and the group make their way back to the The Smugglers Retreat, hoping to reach the safety and warmth of the bar before the storm breaks. On the way, they see a man on the beach raging at the sky - or is it the cliffs? His words are whipped away by the wind and cannot be heard.
The group reaches The Smugglers Retreat just as the storm clouds boil over the town and the deluge begins. The tavern has limited fare. The choices basically come down to lamb and mashed potato or fish and mashed potato. The fire in the parlor struggles to fight against the creeping cold.
The lightning reveals a man in shirtsleeves walking up the hill past the tavern. William Thatcher recognises him as the man on the beach screaming at the cliffs. The men make their way into the bar to ask about him. They meet the stone wall of the villagers resistance to outsiders. The women have more luck with the woman of the house.
"That's our Reggie. He's been touched. Us keep an eye over him but leave him be."
Samuel Tyler and William dive into the deluge and spot Reggie opening the door and entering a house further up the street. Fighting against the overflowing gutters, they reach the house and while Samuel tries the door, William peers in the window - coming face to face with Reggie screaming back at him in wide-eyed madness.
"Bastards! I'll search ye out! I'll strip ye gizzards from ye and hang with 'em! Hang ye high! Bastards!"
William starts backwards, trips and sits into the overflowing gutter. Samuel drags him to his feet and they hurry back to the tavern. All eyes in the fire lit snug follow them.
In the comfort of the room he shares with Samuel , William medicates his fear away. The visions which assault him are less than salutary. Two huge staring eyes bore into his soul. He feels the layers of civilisation and civility being stripped from his. Whatever he does, he cannot avoid their gaze.
The next morning is bright and clear. After an early breakfast, the investigators walk the shingle beach where looking both for where they saw Reggie yesterday and for what he may have been yelling at on the cliffs. Other than the shingle and a few fossilised shells in the limestone, they find nothing.
After lunch (more fish), they visit Fr Ogilvie at the Rectory in town. Reggie, they discover during the conversation, was involved in a ship wreck 30-odd years ago. Once they exhaust Fr Ogilvie's memory, he suggests they consult Fr Roland's journal. The relevant entry reads:
"4 July 1852: Reginald Kreigh, a parishioner of St Jude's, visited me today in a state of high anxiety. He claimed many incredible things including the veritable existence of dragons and a terrifying encounter with these beasts. He has not told another soul of his encounter. I advised him him to seek medical as well as spiritual assistance."
Towards the middle of the afternoon, they try to pay a visit to Reggie's house. Because he doesn't answer the door they break in. Samuel and William stand guard while the women explore the house.
The place is a mess with pieces of driftwood from the beach and the remains of broken furniture littering the downstairs rooms. While Dr Elizabeth Plummer explores the door to the back of the house in search of a safe escape route should it be required, Dr Imogen Wentworth climbs the stairs to the two large white eyes painted on the wall of the landing, pierced repeatedly by knives and nails with evidence of many other piercings in the past. She calls softly trying not to startle the madman if he is in the house.
One of the two rooms on the upper storey is flooded. The hole pulled through the ceiling and roof allowed the rain to pour through last night. A ladder allows access to the hole and the rooftop. Imogen calls out to Reggie and, receiving no response, leaves her visiting card on a rung for him.
Outside, a line of villagers, all burly trawler-men, file out of the tavern and stand guard over the doings at Reggie's place. William leans against the door with a an air of studied casualness to ensure that the women do not open it. Samuel marches down to confront the men.
"What business do you have with our Reggie?" their leader demands.
"My business is my own."
"That's as may be but know that we keep an eye on our Reggie and we'll see no harm come to him. Best be warned."
"Can't say fairer than that. Shall I fight you one at a time or all at once?" says Samuel . "It seems a waste of effort over nought but a couple of questions for the man."
The leader of the local lads is more than a little surprised and worried that he and his five men do not intimidate Samuel .
"Questions, ye say?"
"Let's step indoors for a quite chat."
Samuel explains the situation to the trawler-man. The group are doing some follow up research for Professor Paley and only wish to ask Reggie about his experiences with the dragons. Although he views the whole enterprise with suspicious, the trawler-man finds no reason to object. He offers to tell Reggie of the investigators' intent and let him decide whether or not he wants to talk to the outsiders. If so, he'll be in the tavern tonight. If not, they'd best leave him alone, he says.
The two women leave through he backdoor and emerge from the alley behind the trawler-men. They wave to William and Samuel who meet them in the parlor to exchange information.
There are still several hours until sundown so the group decides to investigate the Swann manor. Its proximity to the cliffs, the church and the presumed scene of Reggie's shipwreck cannot be a co-incidence, they reason. The place has been abandoned for year and is slowly collapsing. There are no curtains in the windows and not s stick of furniture inside. The bare walls and bare boards tell them nothing of the house's former lavishness. A small family plot behind the building holds the mortal remains of the Swann family - except of course, for Colonel Swann who died in Egypt fighting the Mahdi.
During their rambles over the Swann grounds, they discuss various theories of the mystery of Robin Hoods Bay. William has heard stories swapped between gravediggers at their grim task that the true purpose of the holy wells of the Druid was to leave human sacrifices for the dragons which lived underground to appease them and prevent the monster lizards from wreaking havoc in the sunlight lands of men.
At dusk, Reggie comes to the tavern willing to talk. He and the women sits before the fire in the parlor while William and Samuel wait in the public bar where the mood is one of tension as the trawler-men look for some sign of Reggie's misuse by the outsiders. In the parlor, Imogen and Elizabeth ask Reggie about the shipwreck. He stares into the flame and takes a long time to answer. Finally, he says:
"Johnny Leigh, Bob 'n' Ian Carter and me'sen hired t' Saucy Lass off a Pete Low to go a-fishin'. I knows us'd been out all-a-day and caught nought but a few tiddlers when storm brewed up. Soon us could not see nought. I thought I spied the lights o' t' town and were making fer 'em when us hit Laeding Scar. We were starved cauld and could not fathom nought but us spies people - leastways us thought 'em to be people - walking 'bout below t' lights. We cried and hollered and heard nought back. The boat were done fer so us skipped out ashore. As us got there, we could see nought and them people had fled alike.
Johnny kenned the bluffs and told us we were way south o' town. Ian climbed the bluffs to search out them lights and some help. We could just hear him screaming above the blow and scrambled up to see what were the matter. It were a long hall lit with gadgets on long poles and filled t' brim with gear and stuff - all o' it with drakes on 't. Ian were just standing there screaming as a handful of drakes came at him. I saw two big'uns tear his arms without t' sockets afore turning to us. Johnny Leigh lost his footing and crash back down t' scar leaving Bob and me'sen t' fend 'em off. Bobby was sent darn fast with a rod to his noggin. I fetch all as I could see and started a-swinging and made fer the windows. I thought me the storm be safer than them wrong-uns.
On t' rocks, I saw Johnny lying still but moaning a little. I yellowed up and ran for t' town. I didn't make it but skipped on the rocks and fell. I woke to t' dawn chorus and ran for town. I roused 'em and started 'em searching for Johnny and the rest o' t' lads but no one could find nought but the boat made kindling among t' rocks.
I told them as asked what happened but nought'd believe me. I gang Father Roland's house and he didn't believe me neither. He said us were mad. I took to walking the scar to search out them lights but could find nought. Old Man Winstanley searched me out and started asking me question until he writ a bit o' paper saying I were mad. He soon had me shunted off t' looney bin - not as I blame him.I got out in '54. I still look for them lights, you know, and sometime I think I spy me a light in cliffs but I'm never sure. Anywys, nought believe me."
They all sit in silence for some time before Reggie excuses himself and disappears into the night.