Previously on: we met Admiral Bell and his associate Jack Pringle, to general dismay and regret; Flora and Charles dithered; Varney showed up at the Hall again, apparently bent on freaking Flora out sufficiently to make the Bannerworths move so he can get their house (or possibly just to be a dick, which he likes doing). It is not clear why he wants the house, but boy does he ever, as we’ll see.
Charles has just escorted Flora indoors while she continued to complain about the vampyre, the vampyre, and returns to find Henry, George, Marchdale, and Varney heading for the Hall to get out of the rain. Social awkwardness ensues:
Charles felt himself compelled to behave with courtesy, although his mind was so full of conflicting feelings as regarded Varney; but there was no avoiding, without such brutal rudeness as was inconsistent with all his pursuits and habits, replying in something like the same strain to the extreme courtly politeness of the supposed vampyre.
"I will watch him closely," thought Charles. "I can do no more than watch him closely."
Sir Francis Varney seemed to be a man of the most general and discursive information. He talked fluently and pleasantly upon all sorts of topics, and notwithstanding he could not but have heard what Flora had said of him, he asked no questions whatever upon that subject.
This silence as regarded a matter which would at once have induced some sort of inquiry from any other man, Charles felt told much against him, and he trembled to believe for a moment that, after all, it really might be true.
"Is he a vampyre?" he asked himself. "Are there vampyres, and is this man of fashion—this courtly, talented, educated gentleman one?" It was a perfectly hideous question.
Henry is like “wait, didn’t I tell you not to come over here?” and Varney says he’s super curious about this portrait that he’s supposed to resemble:
"Did you hear, sir," added Henry, "that my sister was alarmed at your likeness to that portrait?"
Nah, she just screams and faints like that all the time for no reason.
"I pray you walk in, and we will talk more at large upon that matter."
"With great pleasure. One leads a monotonous life in the country, when compared with the brilliancy of a court existence. Just now I have no particular engagement. As we are near neighbours I see no reason why we should not be good friends, and often interchange such civilities as make up the amenities of existence, and which, in the country, more particularly, are valuable."
Henry grits his teeth and lies that yes, that sounds wonderful, and Varney apparently realizes he hasn’t been sufficiently creepy during the course of the conversation and takes steps to correct this:
"Oh, yes, of course—certainly. My time is very much occupied, and my sister and mother see no company."
"Oh, now, how wrong."
"Yes, surely. If anything more than another tends to harmonize individuals, it is the society of that fairer half of the creation which we love for their very foibles. I am much attached to the softer sex—to young persons full of health. I like to see the rosy cheeks, where the warm blood mantles in the superficial veins, and all is loveliness and life."
Charles shrank back, and the word "Demon" unconsciously escaped his lips.
We haven’t had a Let’s State the Obvious session for a little while, so Rymer/Prest provide us with one of the best so far:
"Do you know, sir, that Miss Bannerworth declares the vampyre she fancies to have visited this chamber to be, in features, the exact counterpart of this portrait?"
"Does she indeed?"
"She does, indeed."
"And perhaps, then, that accounts for her thinking that I am the vampyre, because I bear a strong resemblance to the portrait."
"I should not be surprised," said Charles.
"How very odd."
"And yet entertaining. I am rather amused than otherwise. The idea of being a vampyre. Ha! ha! If ever I go to a masquerade again, I shall certainly assume the character of a vampyre."
"You would do it well."
"I dare say, now, I should make quite a sensation."
"I am certain you would. Do you not think, gentlemen, that Sir Francis Varney would enact the character to the very life? By Heavens, he would do it so well that one might, without much difficulty, really imagine him a vampyre."
"Bravo—bravo," said Varney, as he gently folded his hands together, with that genteel applause that may even be indulged in in a box at the opera itself. "Bravo. I like to see young persons enthusiastic; it looks as if they had some of the real fire of genius in their composition. Bravo—bravo."
Very occasionally Varney can approach Havelock Vetinari levels of ambiguous irony. This isn’t on the order of “do not let me detain you” or “I think it is quite possible that I will never forget you said that” but it’s close. I like to see young persons enthusiastic; it looks as if they had some of the real fire of genius in their composition, DAMN.
Back to business: the actual plot is addressed, to wit, Varney really really really wants this house:
"You seem anxious to possess the Hall," remarked Mr. Marchdale, to Varney.
"Is it new to you?"
"Not quite. I have some boyish recollections connected with this neighbourhood, among which Bannerworth Hall stands sufficiently prominent."
"May I ask how long ago that was?" said Charles Howard, rather abruptly.
"I do not recollect, my enthusiastic young friend," said Varney. "How old are you?"
"Just about twenty-one."
"You are, then, for your age, quite a model of discretion."
Again with the irony. They press Varney to a glass of wine, which he accepts but doesn’t actually partake of, and note that he appears to have a bandage on his arm underneath his coat: evidence of the wound he received when Flora shot him the other night in a fit of uncharacteristic badassery. At this point our heroes can take no more (I sympathize) and address the vampyre in the room:
"Will you drink it?"
"Not at any man's bidding, most certainly. If the fair Flora Bannerworth would grace the board with her sweet presence, methinks I could then drink on, on, on."
"Hark you, sir," cried Charles, "I can bear no more of this. We have had in this house most horrible and damning evidence that there are such things as vampyres."
"Have you really? I suppose you eat raw pork at supper, and so had the nightmare?"
"A jest is welcome in its place, but pray hear me out, sir, if it suit your lofty courtesy to do so."
"Then I say we believe, as far as human judgment has a right to go, that a vampyre has been here."
"Go on, it's interesting. I always was a lover of the wild and the wonderful."
"We have, too," continued Charles, "some reason to believe that you are the man."
Varney tapped his forehead as he glanced at Henry, and said,—
"Oh, dear, I did not know. You should have told me he was a little wrong about the brain; I might have quarreled with the lad. Dear me, how lamentable for his poor mother."
"This will not do, Sir Francis Varney alias Bannerworth."
"Oh—oh! Be calm—be calm."
"I defy you to your teeth, sir! No, God, no! Your teeth!"
At this point Varney has spent the past forty-five minutes deliberately antagonizing the fuck out of these people, relying on their manners and sense of propriety to stop them from retaliating; when Henry and Charles snap he gets all huffy about it:
Sir Francis Varney drew himself up to his full height, and that was immense, as he said to Henry,—
"I pray you, Mr. Bannerworth, since I am thus grievously insulted beneath your roof, to tell me if your friend here be mad or sane?"
"He's not mad."
"Hold, sir! The quarrel shall be mine. In the name of my persecuted sister—in the name of Heaven. Sir Francis Varney, I defy you."
Sir Francis, in spite of his impenetrable calmness, appeared somewhat moved, as he said,—
"I have already endured insult sufficient—I will endure no more. If there are weapons at hand—"
"My young friend," interrupted Mr. Marchdale, stepping between the excited men, "is carried away by his feelings, and knows not what he says. You will look upon it in that light, Sir Francis."
"We need no interference," exclaimed Varney, his hitherto bland voice changing to one of fury. "The hot-blooded fool wishes to fight, and he shall—to the death—to the death."
Now, the case can be made that he’s doing this deliberately in order to put Henry in a position where he, Varney, can dispatch him and take the Hall through fair means or foul, but — having read this thing before, and knowing a little more about Varney’s character and tendencies — I think it’s more along the lines of he can’t stop himself from needling people until they snap. I’ve seen this in humans, too: it’s a function of wanting attention and not knowing how to get it and not liking the kind of attention it ends up being. Varney is not a well-adjusted sanguivore, news at eleven.
Anyway, he stalks off with his nose in the air, and Marchdale follows him, at which point there is a mad banging upon the door and George answers it to discover Admiral Bell and Jack Pringle, at your service. The admiral has some decent lines, in particular
"Come along, then; yet, stop a bit. I say, young fellow, just before we go any further, tell us if he has maimed the vampyre?"
Just in passing, you know, like you do, has he maimed the vampyre yet? Cause if not, we can totally do that on the way to pick up a couple things at the convenience store this afternoon. George plays dumb and refuses to answer any more questions; the admiral spies the distant figures of Varney and Marchdale just in time for the former to deck the latter and leg it with all speed, which is a fine place to pause in my opinion. :D