"Down with everything and everybody!", or Conversations with a Hangman: Varney the Vampire Does Backstory

Previously on: Angry Mob # 3 or 4, I’ve lost count, after being cheated of drama during the funeral of Random Dead Guy from the Inn, seizes on the opportunity offered by Mrs. Chillingworth in seeking her missing husband to go marauding through the countryside yet again, this time intending to burn down Bannerworth Hall, because oh why not, and Chillingworth is lying in wait for Varney at the Hall.

We pick up with Chillingworth, who is still the only sane person in this entire mess, and even Rymer/Prest acknowledge this to be the case: they make a point of mentioning how sensible and clear-headed he is and how he is much better at this game than the admiral or Jack: instead of hiding inside the building waiting for Varney to break in, he is observing the building from the storied summerhouse, waiting for Varney to approach it. Instead, he sees someone else — and at first he thinks it’s Varney anyway, but as a trained observer has to acknowledge this to be inaccurate. The stranger is making his way toward the Hall and Chillingworth decides to stop him by chucking a stone in his direction, which is met with a pistol shot:

 Affairs were now getting much too serious; and, accordingly, Dr. Chillingworth thought that, rather than stay there to be made a target of, he would face the intruder.

"Hold—hold!" he cried. "Who are you, and what do you mean by that?"

"Oh! somebody is there," cried the man, as he advanced. "My friend, whoever you are, you were very foolish to throw a stone at me."

"And, my friend, whoever you are," responded the doctor, "you were very spiteful to fire a pistol bullet at me in consequence."—

"Not at all."

"But I say yes; for, probably, I can prove a right to be here, which you cannot."

"Ah!" said the stranger, "that voice—why—you are Dr. Chillingworth?"

"I am; but I don't know you," said the doctor, as he emerged now from the summer-house, and confronted the stranger who was within a few paces of the entrance to it. Then he started, as he added,—

"Yes, I do know you, though. How, in the name of Heaven, came you here, and what purpose have you in so coming?"

"What purpose have you? Since we met at Varney's, I have been making some inquiries about this neighbourhood, and learn strange things."

"That you may very easily do here; and, what is more extraordinary, the strange things are, for the most part, I can assure you, quite true."

Yes, it is the mysterious stranger they encountered at Ratford Abbey, the man called Mortimer, whom Chillingworth apparently knows, and who has been blackmailing Varney.

"You, however," said the man, "I have no doubt, are fully qualified to tell me of more than I have been able to learn from other people; and, first of all, let me ask you why you are here?"

"Before I answer you that question, or any other," said the doctor, "let me beg of you to tell me truly, is Sir Francis Varney—"

The doctor whispered in the ear of the stranger some name, as if he feared, even there, in the silence of that garden, where everything conspired to convince him that he could not be overheard, to pronounce it in an audible tone.

"He is," said the other.

"You have no manner of doubt of it?"

"Doubt?—certainly not. What doubt can I have? I know it for a positive certainty, and he knows, of course, that I do know it, and has purchased my silence pretty handsomely, although I must confess that nothing but my positive necessities would have induced me to make the large demands upon him that I have, and I hope soon to be able to release him altogether from them."

See, this is cool. I actually care about these people’s secrets, and I want to know what it is they know. We are God knows how many pages into this narrative and Rymer/Prest have succeeded in interesting me.

The doctor shook his head repeatedly, as he said,—

"I suspected it; I suspected it, do you know, from the first moment that I saw you there in his house. His face haunted me ever since—awfully haunted me; and yet, although I felt certain that I had once seen it under strange circumstances, I could not identify it with—but no matter, no matter. I am waiting here for him."


"Ay, that I am; and I flung a stone at you, not knowing you, with hope that you would be, by such means, perhaps, scared away, and so leave the coast clear for him."

"Then you have an appointment with him?"

"By no means; but he has made such repeated and determined attacks upon this house that the family who inhabited it were compelled to leave it, and I am here to watch him, and ascertain what can possibly be his object."

The stranger acknowledges that he has heard all about Varney’s making a nuisance of himself to the Bannerworth family. Chillingworth is like “so what ELSE do you know, c’mon, tell me”:

"It would be difficult for any one really to exaggerate the horrors that have taken place in this house, so that any information which you can give respecting the motives of Varney will tend, probably, to restore peace to those who have been so cruelly persecuted, and be an act of kindness which I think not altogether inconsistent with your nature."

"You think so, and yet know who I am."

"I do, indeed."

"And what I am. Why, if I were to go into the market-place of yon town, and proclaim myself, would not all shun me—ay, even the very lowest and vilest; and yet you talk of an act of kindness not being altogether inconsistent with my nature!"

"I do, because I know something more of you than many."

awwww Chillingworth you are good people

There was a silence of some moments' duration, and then the stranger spoke in a tone of voice which looked as it he were struggling with some emotion.

"Sir, you do know more of me than many. You know what I have been, and you know how I left an occupation which would have made me loathed. But you—even you—do not know what made me take to so terrible a trade."

"I do not."

"Would it suit you for me now to tell you?"

Because this is the best possible time to play Here’s My Backstory, standing around on the lawn of Bannerworth Hall waiting for Varney to show up and do whatever it is he has in mind.

"Will you first promise me that you will do all you can for this persecuted family of the Bannerworths, in whom I take so strange an interest?"

"I will. I promise you that freely. Of my own knowledge, of course, I can say but little concerning them, but, upon that warranting, I well believe they deserve abundant sympathy, and from me they shall have it."

So they go sit in the summerhouse and the stranger begins his tale. Years ago, he and Chillingworth had known one another in London, and subsequently Bad Things happened to the stranger which caused him to shun Chillingworth’s company, as a pariah and outcast. Chillingworth recalls:

"You yourself told me once that I met you, and would not leave you, but insisted upon your dining with me. Then you told me, when you found that I would take no other course whatever, that you were no other than the—the——"

"Out with it! I can bear to hear it now better than I could then! I told you that I was the common hangman of London!"

"You did, I must confess, to my most intense surprise."

"Yes, and yet you kept to me; and, but that I respected you too much to allow you to do so, you would, from old associations, have countenanced me; but I could not, and I would not, let you do so. I told you then that, although I held the terrible office, that I had not been yet called upon to perform its loathsome functions. Soon—soon—come the first effort—it was the last!"

The amount of stigma attached to the position of executioner is perhaps a little surprising: someone’s gotta do it, one supposes. Chillingworth, being sensible, didn’t have a problem with the situation, which sounds like him.

The stranger apparently had the vapors after his first day at work:

"Indeed! You left the dreadful trade?"

"I did—I did. But what I want to tell you, for I could not then, was why I went ever to it. The wounds my heart had received were then too fresh to allow me to speak of them, but I will tell you now. The story is a brief one, Mr. Chillingworth. I pray you be seated."

Because it’s this book, the story is anything but brief: I will summarize. Dude became addicted to gambling, lost all his money, wife died, he was destitute, everything sucked forever, he needed a job; the only one he was offered happened to be that of hangman.

“The employment was disgusting and horrible; but, at the same time, it was all I could get, and that was a sufficient inducement for me to accept of it. I was, therefore, the common executioner; and in that employment for some time earned a living.


It was terrible; but necessity compelled me to accept the only thing I could obtain. You now know the reason why I became what I have told you."

Shrug emoji. The point is that he was, in fact, a hangman, and had, in fact, hanged somebody, which if you may recall centuries ago in the previous instance of their meeting he mentioned:

“Society at large is divided into two great classes."

"And what may they be?" said the admiral.

"Those who have been hanged, and those who have not.”

Dun dun dunnn. He goes on for a bit about how terrible a human he was and how he deserved the awfulness of the job and Chillingworth is like “okay, okay, fine, you suck”:

"I do not mean to say that your self-reproaches are unjust altogether, but—What noise is that? do you hear anything?"—


"What do you take it to be?"

"It seemed like the footsteps of a number of persons, and it evidently approaches nearer and nearer. I know not what to think."

"Shall I tell you?" said a deep-toned voice, and some one, through the orifice in the back of the summer-house, which, it will be recollected, sustained some damage at the time that Varney escaped from it, laid a hand upon Mr. Chillingworth's shoulder. "God bless me!" exclaimed the doctor; "who's that?" and he sprang from his seat with the greatest perturbation in the world.


"Varney, the vampyre!" added the voice, and then both the doctor and his companion recognised it, and saw the strange, haggard features, that now they knew so well, confronting them.

These three know each other of old, and if you’ve read enough horror lit you may be able to work out why.

There was a pause of surprise, for a moment or two, on the part of the doctor, and then he said, "Sir Francis Varney, what brings you here? I conjure you to tell me, in the name of common justice and common feeling, what brings you to this house so frequently? You have dispossessed the family, whose property it is, of it, and you have caused great confusion and dismay over a whole county. I implore you now, not in the language of menace or as an enemy, but as the advocate of the oppressed, and one who desires to see justice done to all, to tell me what it is you require."

"There is no time now for explanation," said Varney, "if explanations were my full and free intent. You wished to know what noise was that you heard?"

"I did; can you inform me?"

"I can. The wild and lawless mob which you and your friends first induced to interfere in affairs far beyond their or your control, are now flushed with the desire of riot and of plunder. The noise you hear is that of their advancing footsteps; they come to destroy Bannerworth Hall."

Welp. Chillingworth’s like “why the hell do they want to burn down the Hall” and Varney points out that an angry mob has very little brains, which is fair enough, and encourages them to run away (especially as now they can also hear the soldiers approaching from another direction). Chillingworth has no intention of abandoning the Hall to the vicissitudes of Varney, angry mob or no angry mob, and Varney’s all OK FINE SHEESH GET YOURSELF KILLED:

There could be no doubt now of the immediate appearance of the cavalry, and, before Sir Francis Varney could utter another word, a couple of the foremost of the soldiers cleared the garden fence at a part where it was low, and alighted not many feet from the summer-house in which this short colloquy was taking place. Sir Francis Varney uttered a bitter oath, and immediately disappeared in the gloom.

Chillingworth and the hangman make their presence known to the soldiers, and a magistrate they’ve brought recognizes the doctor as a fine upstanding member of society, and his friend too:

"And I," said the doctor's companion, "am likewise a respectable and useful member of society, and a great friend of Mr. Chillingworth."

I can’t not hear that line in the voice of Grisaille. The magistrate attempts to reason with the mob, which goes about as well as one could expect and features this excellent moment:

"Hurrah! hurrah!"' shouted the mob, "down with the Vampyre! down with the Hall!" and then one, more candid than his fellows, shouted,—"Down with everything and everybody!"

"Ah!" remarked the officer; "that fellow now knows what he came about."

I’m with you, dude. The soldiers fire over their heads and the entire goddamn mob goes OH SHIT and runs away, in one of the more noticeable anticlimactic moments of the book so far, leaving only one guy climbing over the fence toward the hall, who is quickly captured. For once it is not the vampyre, the vampyre: it’s Charles Holland, home at last. Chillingworth catches him up on what’s been happening, and at this point Jack Pringle also shows up, shitfaced as usual, having been dispatched thirty or forty chapters ago from the Cottage of Undisclosed Location to make sure the Hall was guarded against the likes of Varney. Chillingworth sends the pair of them back Undisclosed-Location-ward and vows to remain at the Hall, at which point the narrative shifts back to Marchdale, still in the dungeon and not having a nice time:

"Charles Holland!" he shouted; "oh! release me! Varney! Varney! why do you not come to save me? I have toiled for you most unrequitedly—I have not had my reward. Let it all consist in my release from this dreadful bondage. Help! help! oh, help!"

There was no one to hear him. The storm continued, and now, suddenly, a sudden and a sharper sound than any awakened by the thunder's roar came upon his startled ear, and, in increased agony, he shouted,—

"What is that? oh! what is that? God of heaven, do my fears translate that sound aright? Can it be, oh! can it be, that the ruins which have stood for so many a year are now crumbling down before the storm of to-night?"

Why yes, it can. Rocks fall, Marchdale dies:

Again came the crashing sound of falling stones, and he was certain that the old ruins, which had stood for so many hundred years the storm, and the utmost wrath of the elements, was at length yielding, and crumbling down.

What else could he expect but to be engulphed among the fragments—fragments still weighty and destructive, although in decay. How fearfully now did his horrified imagination take in at one glance, as it were, a panoramic view of all his past life, and how absolutely contemptible, at that moment, appeared all that he had been striving for.

But the walls shake again, and this time the vibration is more fearful than before. There is a tremendous uproar above him—the roof yields to some superincumbent pressure—there is one shriek, and Marchdale lies crushed beneath a mass of masonry that it would take men and machinery days to remove from off him.

All is over now. That bold, bad man—that accomplished hypocrite—that mendacious, would-be murderer was no more. He lies but a mangled, crushed, and festering corpse.

So that’s all right, then. On the road to the cottage, Jack misrepresents recent occurrences:

"Ay, ay, sir, just so; but would you believe it, Master Charlie, the admiral and the doctor got so blessed drunk that I could do nothing with 'em."


"Yes, they did indeed, and made all kinds of queer mistakes, so that the end of all that was, that the vampyre did come; but he got away again."

"He did come then; Sir Francis Varney came again after the house was presumed to be deserted?"

"He did, sir."

"That is very strange; what on earth could have been his object? This affair is most inexplicably mysterious. I hope the distance, Jack, is not far that you're taking me, for I'm incapable of enduring much fatigue."

Luckily they’re nearly there, and we are treated to the Lovers’ Reunion, which is as incoherent as one might expect (“Charles! Charles!” “Flora! Flora!” “Oh, Charles!” “My own!”), and is followed up by Rymer/Prest being severely creepy:

We won't go so far as to say it is the fact; but, from a series of singular sounds which reached even to the passage of the cottage, we have our own private opinion to the effect, that Charles began kissing Flora at the top of her forehead, and never stopped, somehow or another, till he got down to her chin—no, not her chin—her sweet lips—he could not get past them. Perhaps it was wrong; but we can't help it—we are faithful chroniclers. Reader, if you be of the sterner sex, what would you have done?—if of the gentler, what would you have permitted?

SIGH. Next time: the fate of Marchdale is revealed; Chillingworth’s pal the hangman sucks at taking hints and embarks on a program of vigorous carpentry work; Sir Francis Varney shows up yet again at Bannerworth Hall.