Previously on: Charles Holland, provoked beyond reason, has challenged Varney to a duel; Varney has pointed out to the Admiral that lol, he’s the bestest swordfighter that ever swordfought; Charles has snuck out for his midnight appointment with swordfighty death, apparently leaving behind mysterious letters to the Bannerworths saying “fuck all y’all and your vampyre shit, I’m out.”
A point I forgot to mention in the previous episode: Dr. Chillingworth provides evidence that Varney is the vampyre, the vampyre, because he actually sent for Chillingworth:
“When I was introduced to him I found him lying on a couch, and looking pale and unwell. In the most respectful manner, he asked me to be seated, and when I had taken a chair, he added,—
"'Mr. Chillingworth, I have sent for you in consequence of a slight accident which has happened to my arm. I was incautiously loading some fire-arms, and discharged a pistol so close to me that the bullet inflicted a wound on my arm.'
"'If you will allow me," said I, 'to see the wound, I will give you my opinion.'
"He then showed me a jagged wound, which had evidently been caused by the passage of a bullet, which, had it gone a little deeper, must have inflicted serious injury. As it was, the wound was but trifling.
"He had evidently been attempting to dress it himself, but finding some considerable inflammation, he very likely got a little alarmed."
"You dressed the wound?"
"And what do you think of Sir Francis Varney, now that you have had so capital an opportunity," said Henry, "of a close examination of him?"
"Why, there is certainly something odd about him which I cannot well define, but, take him altogether, he can be a very gentlemanly man indeed."
Chillingworth is the only one of them who’s a trained observer, and he mentions that the likeness to the portrait is noticeable but that in his opinion Varney can to some extent control how obvious it is. Henry’s like DID U ASK HIM ABOUT BEING A VAMPYRE and the doctor rolls his eyes:
"It was all one to me whether he was a vampyre or not, professionally, and however deeply I might feel, personally, interested in the matter, I said nothing to him about it, because, you see, if I had, he would have had a fair opportunity of saying at once, 'Pray, sir, what is that to you?' and I should have been at a loss what to reply."
"Can we doubt," said Henry, "but that this very wound has been inflicted upon Sir Francis Varney, by the pistol-bullet which was discharged at him by Flora?"
"Everything leads to such an assumption certainly," said Charles Holland.
I love Chillingworth. Unfortunately this is his last screen appearance for some time, because now we have to have an operatic-level Misunderstanding Sequence. Our heroes open the letters purportedly signed by the absent Charles Holland, and lose their collective shit:
"The scoundrel—the cold-blooded villain! I renounce him for ever! he is no nephew of mine; he is some d——d imposter! Nobody with a dash of my family blood in his veins would have acted so to save himself from a thousand deaths."
"Who shall we trust now," said Henry, "when those whom we take to our inmost hearts deceive us thus? This is the greatest shock I have yet received. If there be a pang greater than another, surely it is to be found in the faithlessness and heartlessness of one we loved and trusted."
"He is a scoundrel!" roared the admiral. "D—n him, he'll die on a dunghill, and that's too good a place for him. I cast him off—I'll find him out, and old as I am, I'll fight him—I'll wring his neck, the rascal; and, as for poor dear Miss Flora, God bless her! I'll—I'll marry her myself, and make her an admiral.—I'll marry her myself. Oh, that I should be uncle to such a rascal!"
And so on. They show Marchdale the letters and he’s all “ha, I knew that guy was an asshole”:
The fact is, I never did entertain a favourable opinion of the young man, and he knew it. I have been accustomed to the study of human nature under a variety of aspects; I have made it a matter of deep, and I may add, sorrowful, contemplation, to study and remark those minor shades of character which commonly escape observation wholly. And, I repeat, I always had a bad opinion of Charles Holland, which he guessed, and hence he conceived a hatred to me, which more than once, as you cannot but remember, showed itself in little acts of opposition and hostility."
"You much surprise me."
"I expected to do so. But you cannot help remembering that at one time I was on the point of leaving here solely on his account. I only suspected from little minute shades of character, that would peep out in spite of him, that Charles Holland was not the honourable man he would fain have had everybody believe him to be."
"And had you from the first such a feeling?"
"It is very strange."
"Yes; and what is more strange still, is that he from the first seemed to know it; and despite a caution which I could see he always kept uppermost in his thoughts, he could not help speaking tartly to me at times."
"I have noticed that," said George.
"You may depend it is a fact," added Marchdale, "that nothing so much excites the deadly and desperate hatred of a man who is acting a hypocritical part, as the suspicion, well grounded or not, that another sees and understands the secret impulses of his dishonourable heart."
Which — okay, I don’t know about you but I don’t get this at all. Charles Holland is a boring twit, like the Bannerworth brothers, but all the sequences in his POV show him to be a perfectly ordinary and reasonably trustworthy dude; I never understood why Marchdale hated his guts from the start, unless it’s because Marchdale secretly wanted to marry Flora himself, which is possible but a bit of a stretch. The only sketchy thing Holland has done is fail to stick out his two years of semi-enforced exile, and even that is basically just a function of being 21 and missing his girlfriend a whole lot. He had a little bit of angst regarding whether or not he could/should marry Flora given the vampyre thing, but seems to have gotten over it and is squarely on the heroes’ side, so I don’t know what Marchdale’s deal is. If this book were written by someone else, someone I trust to be basically competent, I’d assume this unexplained weirdness has some purpose, but…it’s Varney the Vampire.
Anyway, they show Flora the letters and give her the one addressed to her; she opens it; her reaction is somewhat different:
She read the whole of the letters through, and then, as the last one dropped from her grasp, she exclaimed,—
"Oh, God! oh, God! what is all that has occurred compared to this? Charles—Charles—Charles!"
"Flora!" exclaimed Henry, suddenly turning from the window. "Flora, is this worthy of you?"
"Heaven now support me!"
"Is this worthy of the name you bear Flora? I should have thought, and I did hope, that woman's pride would have supported you."
"Let me implore you," added Marchdale, "to summon indignation to your aid, Miss Bannerworth."
"Charles—Charles—Charles!" she again exclaimed, as she wrung her hands despairingly.
"Flora, if anything could add a sting to my already irritated feelings," said Henry, "this conduct of yours would."
What the fuck, dude.
"Henry—brother, what mean you? Are you mad?"
"Are you, Flora?"
"God, I wish now that I was."
"You have read those letters, and yet you call upon the name of him who wrote them with frantic tenderness."
"Yes, yes," she cried; "frantic tenderness is the word. It is with frantic tenderness I call upon his name, and ever will.—Charles! Charles!—dear Charles!"
YOU ARE NOT RESPONDING THE WAY THE MEN EXPECT YOU TO, FLORA, STOP IT AT ONCE AND BEHAVE CORRECTLY
"This surpasses all belief," said Marchdale.
"It is the frenzy of grief," added George; "but I did not expect it of her. Flora—Flora, think again."
"Think—think—the rush of thought distracts. Whence came these letters?—where did you find these most disgraceful forgeries?"
"Forgeries!" exclaimed Henry; and he staggered back, as if someone had struck him a blow.
"Yes, forgeries!" screamed Flora. "What has become of Charles Holland? Has he been murdered by some secret enemy, and then these most vile fabrications made up in his name? Oh, Charles, Charles, are you lost to me for ever?"
"Good God!" said Henry; "I did not think of that."
BECAUSE YOU ARE A COMPLETE DINGBAT, HENRY, you did not think of this thing, you never think of any things. The only halfway intelligent people in this book are the vampyre, the doctor, and the woman, and again if this were written by somebody else I’d salute that as a deliberate authorial choice, but…nah.
There is now a lot of emotional discussion; the admiral and Flora agree with great vigor and a number of tears that Charles did not write these letters, that some evil must have befallen him, and that they will seek him out. Henry is confused. Marchdale continues to be an inexplicable dick.
"As God is my judge," said Henry, holding up his hands, "I know not what to think, but my heart and feelings all go with you and with Flora, in your opinion of the innocence of Charles Holland."
"I knew you would say that, because you could not possibly help it, my dear boy. Now we are all right again, and all we have got to do is to find out which way the enemy has gone, and then give chase to him."
"Mr. Marchdale, what do you think of this new suggestion," said George to that gentleman.
"Pray, excuse me," was his reply; "I would much rather not be called upon to give an opinion."
The admiral and the Bannerworth brothers trundle off to figure out how to locate the missing Charles, leaving Marchdale alone with Flora and her barely-there mother. He insists his point of view is justified:
"Those letters," said Flora, "were not written by Charles Holland."
"That is your opinion."
"It is more than an opinion. He could not write them."
"Well, then, of course, if I felt inclined, which Heaven alone knows I do not, I could not hope successfully to argue against such a conviction. But I do not wish to do so. All I want to impress upon you is, that I am not to be blamed for doubting his innocence; and, at the same time, I wish to assure you that no one in this house would feel more exquisite satisfaction than I in seeing it established."
She’s like “dude, I don’t care what you think, he’s innocent,” and Marchdale is all “well if you REALLY BELIEVE that clearly inaccurate thing I disagree with, then of course I will help everybody search for him, despite the fact that I’m right and you are wrong,” and Flora’s mom is all for him:
"My dear," said the mother, "rely on Mr. Marchdale."
"I will rely on any one who believe Charles Holland innocent of writing those odious letters, mother—I rely upon the admiral. He will aid me heart and hand."
"And so will Mr. Marchdale."
"I am glad to hear it."
"And yet doubt it, Flora," said Marchdale, dejectedly. "I am very sorry that such should be the case; I will not, however, trouble you any further, nor, give me leave to assure you, will I relax in my honest endeavours to clear up this mystery."
He rejoins Henry and the admiral, and they continue to have an incredibly boring and pointless conversation in which it is made ever more clear that Marchdale disagrees with the others but is Helping Them Because Flora, and eventually even Henry has had enough:
"Come," now interposed Henry, "let me hope that, for my sake as well as for Flora's, this dispute will proceed no further."
"I have not courted it," said Marchdale. "I have much temper, but I am not a stick or a stone."
"D——e, if I don't think," said the admiral, "you are a bit of both."
"Mr. Henry Bannerworth," said Marchdale, "I am your guest, and but for the duty I feel in assisting in the search for Mr. Charles Holland, I should at once leave your house."
"You need not trouble yourself on my account," said the admiral; "if I find no clue to him in the neighbourhood for two or three days, I shall be off myself."
"I am going," said Henry, rising, "to search the garden and adjoining meadows; if you two gentlemen choose to come with me, I shall of course be happy of your company; if, however, you prefer remaining here to wrangle, you can do so."
This had the effect, at all events, of putting a stop to the dispute for the present, and both the admiral and Mr. Marchdale accompanied Henry on his search. That search was commenced immediately under the balcony of Charles Holland's window, from which the admiral had seen him emerge.
FINALLY SOMEONE IS ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING
They locate a particular stretch of the wall where the ivy is disturbed, and go around to see what’s on the other side, and there’s obvious signs of a struggle:
The moment they reached it, they were panic-stricken by the appearances which it presented. The grass was for some yards round about completely trodden up, and converted into mud. There were deep indentations of feet-marks in all directions, and such abundance of evidence that some most desperate struggle had recently taken place there, that the most sceptical person in the world could not have entertained any doubt upon the subject.
Henry was the first to break the silence with which they each regarded the broken ground.
"This is conclusive to my mind," he said, with a deep sigh. "Here has poor Charles been attacked."
"God keep him!" exclaimed Marchdale, "and pardon me my doubts—I am now convinced."
Writing Tip: this is not how you set up and resolve conflict.
Seriously. All the business with Marchdale Dislikes Holland And Doesn’t Believe Him For Unknown Reasons, which has stretched on for most of the narrative thus far, is now apparently resolved by…looking at a patch of churned-up ground. We don’t know what this dude has against Holland, we don’t know why he’s so mistrustful and has been ever since they met, and we don’t know why all those doubts suddenly vanish as soon as Marchdale sees this particular evidence of a fight having taken place. Rymer/Prest, you suck and your technique sucks and your characters are unbelievable.
Anyway, they are like “omg what if he met the vampyre” and what I do not get here is since the admiral KNEW he was planning to fight Varney, why they didn’t start with that supposition. The proposed duel seems to have completely vanished from the collective radar. Charles had asked his uncle not to do anything regarding the duel until the next morning, and snuck out that night; his uncle saw him sneaking out; he’s missing in the morning; why the hell wouldn’t they start out by thinking “maybe he went to fight the vampyre and lost”? I do not understand these people in the least.
They find A Clue, a crumpled-up bit of paper in the mud, but can make no sense of it:
When freed from the mixture of clay and mud which had obscured it, they made out the following words,—
"—it be so well. At the next full moon seek a convenient spot, and it can be done. The signature is, to my apprehension, perfect. The money which I hold, in my opinion, is much more in amount than you imagine, must be ours; and as for—"
Here the paper was torn across, and no further words were visible upon it.
This reminds me of the note from the Lead Masks Case, because my brain is weird like that, and also presents a good place to pause. Next time: Flora has the vapors and Weird Shit Happens to Varney.