Previously on: Charles disappears; mysterious letters purporting to be from Charles are found, conveying the general theme of “fuck you I’m out”; everyone except Flora believes them to be legit, because they have the collective reasoning power of a novelty goldfish; an incomprehensible Clue is found.
Chapter 29 opens with some good old-fashioned purple description of a local well-known ruin of partly-ecclesiastical origin named Monks Hall:
The lingering rays of the setting sun are gilding the old ruins with a wondrous beauty. The edges of the decayed stones seem now to be tipped with gold, and as the rich golden refulgence of light gleams upon the painted glass which still adorned a large window of the hall, a flood of many-coloured beautiful light was cast within, making the old flag-stones, with which the interior was paved, look more like some rich tapestry, laid down to do honour to a monarch.
So picturesque and so beautiful an aspect did the ancient ruin wear, that to one with a soul to appreciate the romantic and the beautiful, it would have amply repaid the fatigue of a long journey now to see it.
And as the sun sank to rest, the gorgeous colours that it cast upon the mouldering wall, deepened from an appearance of burnished gold to a crimson hue, and from that again the colour changed to a shifting purple, mingling with the shadows of the evening, and so gradually fading away into absolute darkness.
I will give Rymer/Prest props where props are due: this is kinda gorgeous in its over-the-toppitude. It gets dark, everything is super quiet, suddenly the silence is broken by an anguished cry, which produces a truly wonderful phrase:
A few startled birds flew from odd holes and corners about the ruins, to seek some other place of rest. The owl hooted from a corner of what had once been a belfry, and a dreamy-looking bat flew out from a cranny and struck itself headlong against a projection.
A DREAMY-LOOKING BAT
I’m stealing that. A mysterious figure emerges from the shadows of the ruin, and then another mysterious figure shows up; they have a lengthy conversation before disappearing back into the dark. Cut to A Pathetic Prisoner in Durance Vile; many words are expended on describing the terrible dungeon in which he lies; there appears to be rising damp. Mysterious Figure A and Mysterious Figure B show up and try to get the Pathetic Prisoner to sign a lengthy document, but he is too Pathetic and lacks sufficient consciousness to manage:
In vain the pen is repeatedly placed in his grasp, and a document of some length, written on parchment, spread out before him to sign. In vain is he held up now by both the men, who have thus mysteriously sought him in his dungeon; he has not power to do as they would wish him. The pen falls from his nerveless grasp, and, with a deep sigh, when they cease to hold him up, he falls heavily back upon the stone couch.
Then the two men looked at each other for about a minute silently; after which he who was the shorter of the two raised one hand, and, in a voice of such concentrated hatred and passion as was horrible to hear, he said,—
Mysterious Figure A snickers at his companion’s discomfiture; as they leave, Mysterious Figure B apparently has another idea and returns to the swooning dude to give him a dose of something Mysterious from a bottle he has in his pocket. Dun dun dun. Rymer/Prest apparently assume their readers are as dim as their characters, because they add a tagline stating that ~time~ will reveal the identity of these people.
Off we go back to the Hall, where Flora and the admiral are engaging in some good old-fashioned sexism:
"Why, my dear, you see the case is this. In affairs of fighting, the less ladies interfere the better."
"Nay, why so?"
"Because—because, you see, a lady has no reputation for courage to keep up. Indeed, it's rather the other way, for we dislike a bold woman as much as we hold in contempt a cowardly man."
"But if you grant to us females that in consequence of our affections, we are not courageous, you must likewise grant how much we are doomed to suffer from the dangers of those whom we esteem."
"You would be the last person in the world to esteem a coward."
"Certainly. But there is more true courage often in not fighting than in entering into a contest."
She’s trying to get him to promise not to go fight Varney. He changes the subject and asks about their cash flow situation:
"I cannot deny it, sir."
"Then don't. It ain't worth denying, my dear. Poverty is no crime, but, like being born a Frenchman, it's a d——d misfortune.”
He basically offers to give them however much they need, which is nice of him, and then we’re off to Castle Varney Ratford Abbey, where OMG FINALLY SOMETHING IS BEGINNING TO HAPPEN I AM DELIRIOUS WITH JOY
(This bit is legitimately good. I think it’s a stopped-clock situation, but nonetheless it’s actually good. I’m going to be quoting quite a lot of text.)
Sir Francis Varney is in what he calls his own apartment. It is night, and a dim and uncertain light from a candle which has been long neglected, only serves to render obscurity more perplexing. The room is a costly one. One replete with all the appliances of refinement and luxury which the spirit and the genius of the age could possibly supply him with, but there is upon his brow the marks of corroding care, and little does that most mysterious being seem to care for all the rich furnishing of that apartment in which he sits.
His cadaverous-looking face is even paler and more death-like-looking than usual; and, if it can be conceived possible that such an one can feel largely interested in human affairs, to look at him, we could well suppose that some interest of no common magnitude was at stake.
He’s waiting for someone and has worked himself up into such a state over the impending visit that he forgets what time it is.
"Eleven! But eleven! How have I been deceived. I thought the hour of midnight was at hand."
He hastily consulted the watch he wore, and then he indeed found, that whatever he had been looking forward to with dread for some time past, as certain to ensue, at or about twelve o clock, had yet another hour in which to prey upon his imagination.
This is completely believable, and for the first time we actually kinda feel sorry for the guy. And finally, finally, at so long last, WE GET SOME INTERESTING SHIT:
"How could I have made so grievous an error?" he exclaimed. "Another hour of suspense and wonder as to whether that man be among the living or the dead. I have thought of raising my hand against his life, but some strange mysterious feeling has always staid me; and I have let him come and go freely, while an opportunity might well have served me to put such a design into execution. He is old, too—very old, and yet he keeps death at a distance. He looked pale, but far from unwell or failing, when last I saw him. Alas! a whole hour yet to wait. I would that this interview were over."
That extremely well known and popular disease called the fidgets, now began, indeed, to torment Sir Francis Varney. He could not sit—he could not walk, and, somehow or another, he never once seemed to imagine that from the wine cup he should experience any relief, although, upon a side table, there stood refreshments of that character. And thus some more time passed away, and he strove to cheat it of its weariness by thinking of a variety of subjects; but as the fates would have it, there seemed not one agreeable reminiscence in the mind of that most inexplicable man, and the more he plunged into the recesses of memory the more uneasy, not to say almost terrified, he looked and became. A shuddering nervousness came across him, and, for a few moments, he sat as if he were upon the point of fainting. By a vigorous effort, however, he shook this off, and then placing before him the watch, which now indicated about the quarter past eleven, he strove with a calmer aspect to wait the coming of him whose presence, when he did come, would really be a great terror, since the very thought beforehand produced so much hesitation and apparent dismay.
Of course because this is this book we are then treated to a completely unnecessary story-within-a-story that serves to knock out all our gathering interest and drop a giant boulder in the way of what was beginning to be interesting pacing. Writing Tip: When you are beginning a suspenseful sequence, with dread and anticipation and really well executed description and an actual mystery, don’t randomly insert several thousand words of digression.
When we finally cut back to Varney, the stranger arrives, and does not look particularly dreadful in any way except for his eyes, which display “a most ungracious and sinister expression, a kind of lurking and suspicions look, as if he were always resolving in his mind some deep laid scheme, which might be sufficient to circumvent the whole of mankind.”
They do a so-who-talks-first silence, and the stranger breaks it:
"I presume I was expected?"
"You were," said Varney. "It is the day, and it is the hour."
"You are right. I like to see you so mindful. You don't improve in looks since—"
"Hush—hush! no more of that; can we not meet without a dreadful allusion to the past! There needs nothing to remind me of it; and your presence here now shows that you are not forgetful. Speak not of that fearful episode. Let no words combine to place it in a tangible shape to human understanding. I cannot, dare not, hear you speak of that."
"It is well," said the stranger; "as you please. Let our interview be brief. You know my errand?"
"I do. So fearful a drag upon limited means, is not likely to be readily forgotten."
Aha, we think, Varney is being blackmailed for something! Or is something more serious going on?
"Oh, you are too ingenious—too full of well laid schemes, and to apt and ready in their execution, to feel, as any fearful drag, the conditions of our bargain. Why do you look at me so earnestly?"
"Because," said Varney—and he trembled as he spoke—"because each lineament of your countenance brings me back to the recollection of the only scene in life that made me shudder, and which I cannot think of, even with the indifference of contempt. I see it all before my mind's eye, coming in frightful panoramic array, those incidents, which even to dream of, are sufficient to drive the soul to madness; the dread of this annual visit, hangs upon me like a dark cloud upon my very heart; it sits like some foul incubus, destroying its vitality and dragging me, from day to day, nearer to that tomb, from whence not as before, I can emerge."
"You have been among the dead?" said the stranger.
"And yet are mortal."
"Yes," repeated Varney, "yes, and yet am mortal."
"It was I that plucked you back to that world, which, to judge from your appearance, has had since that eventful period but few charms for you. By my faith you look like—"
"Like what I am," interrupted Varney.
"This is a subject that once a year gets frightfully renewed between us. For weeks before your visit I am haunted by frightful recollections, and it takes me many weeks after you are gone, before I can restore myself to serenity. Look at me; am I not an altered man?"
"In faith you are," said the stranger "I have no wish to press upon you painful recollections. And yet 'tis strange to me that upon such a man as you, the event to which you allude should produce so terrible an impression."
"I have passed through the agony of death," said Varney, "and have again endured the torture—for it is such—of the re-union of the body and the soul; not having endured so much, not the faintest echo of such feelings can enter into your imagination."
"There may be truth in that, and yet, like a fluttering moth round a flame, it seems to me, that when I do see you, you take a terrific kind of satisfaction in talking of the past."
"That is strictly true," said Varney; "the images with which my mind is filled are frightful. Pent up do they remain for twelve long months. I can speak to you, and you only, without disguise, and thus does it seem to me that I get rid of the uneasy load of horrible imaginings. When you are gone, and have been gone a sufficient lapse of time, my slumbers are not haunted with frightful images—I regain a comparative peace, until the time slowly comes around again, when we are doomed to meet."
LOOK AT THAT, CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT OCCURS
"I dare not deceive you, although to keep such faith I may be compelled to deceive a hundred others."
"Of that I cannot judge. Fortune seems to smile upon you; you have not as yet disappointed me."
"And will not now," said Varney. "The gigantic and frightful penalty of disappointing you, stares me in the face. I dare not do so."
He took from his pocket, as he spoke, a clasped book, from which he produced several bank notes, which he placed before the stranger.
"A thousand pounds," he said; "that is the agreement."
"It is to the very letter. I do not return to you a thousand thanks—we understand each other better than to waste time with idle compliment. Indeed I will go quite as far as to say, truthfully, that did not my necessities require this amount from you, you should have the boon, for which you pay that price at a much cheaper rate."
"Enough! enough!" said Varney. "It is strange, that your face should have been the last I saw, when the world closed upon me, and the first that met my eyes when I was again snatched back to life! Do you pursue still your dreadful trade?"
"Yes," said the stranger, "for another year, and then, with such a moderate competence as fortune has assigned me, I retire, to make way for younger and abler spirits."
"And then," said Varney, "shall you still require of me such an amount as this?"
"No; this is my last visit but one. I shall be just and liberal towards you. You are not old; and I have no wish to become the clog of your existence. As I have before told you, it is my necessity, and not my inclination, that sets the value upon the service I rendered you."
"I understand you, and ought to thank you. And in reply to so much courtesy, be assured, that when I shudder at your presence, it is not that I regard you with horror, as an individual, but it is because the sight of you awakens mournfully the remembrance of the past."
"It is clear to me," said the stranger; "and now I think we part with each other in a better spirit than we ever did before; and when we meet again, the remembrance that it is the last time, will clear away the gloom that I now find hanging over you."
"It may! it may! With what an earnest gaze you still regard me!"
"I do. It does appear to me most strange, that time should not have obliterated the effects which I thought would have ceased with their cause. You are no more the man that in my recollection you once were, than I am like a sporting child."
The stranger takes his leave, after some more pleasantries, and Varney is enormously relieved — and shortly afterward sets off for Bannerworth Hall. Because it’s this book, Rymer/Prest feel the need to do some unnecessary editorializing on what’s just happened, which is neatly efficacious in throwing the reader out of the text again:
Whether or not this man, to whom he felt bound to pay annually so large a sum, was in the secret, and knew him to be something more than earthly, we cannot at present declare; but it would seem from the tenor of their conversation as if such were the fact.
Perchance he had saved him from the corruption of the tomb, by placing out, on some sylvan spot, where the cold moonbeams fell, the apparently lifeless form, and now claimed so large a reward for such a service, and the necessary secrecy contingent upon it.
That’s the end of the chapter; next time, Varney goes back to being creepy as fuck.