Nefarious Woodworking and Unwelcome Hangmen: Varney the Vampire Gets Interesting Again

Previously on: the mysterious stranger who showed up while everyone was challenging Varney to a duel shows up again, and it is revealed that he is (oh horror) or at least was A HANGMAN; he and Chillingworth know one another of old, but it is not yet given to the reader to understand why (or, in fact, why they both recognized Varney), but the reader will probably work that part out on their own.

The next bit is very dull indeed and involves a lot of people telling each other what’s just happened, which technically they need to do because they don’t know the answer, but is boring as hell for the reader to experience. Charles tells everybody about his capture and imprisonment and how Marchdale is currently taking his place in the dungeon; everybody tells Charles about the forged letters, and there’s a lot of unnecessary and potentially triggering discussion of the admiral's and Jack’s alcoholism which appears to be intended as comic relief.

The admiral, Jack, and Henry, apprised of Marchdale’s villainy and his current location, set forth with the aim of letting Marchdale go, and instead find him dead from smush. On their return to the Cottage of Undisclosed Location they share this information with the group, to general horror and disgust.

Charles has one of the most completely bloody verbose lines that could be distilled into three words and instead contains all of the following:

 “I tell you what, Master Charley, it will take a good lot of roast beef to get up your good looks again."

"It will, indeed, uncle; and I require, now, rest, for I am thoroughly exhausted. The great privations I have undergone, and the amount of mental excitement which I have experienced, in consequence of the sudden and unexpected release from a fearful confinement, have greatly weakened all my energies. A few hours' sleep will make quite a different being of me."


The being paid by the word thing is more obvious at certain times in the text. So does the scorching lack of attention paid to continuity, because Rymer/Prest show us Charles going to bed after having been told about Marchdale and then immediately flip back to the others on the way to the goddamn ruins to let Marchdale out and discovering that he is, in fact, dead from smush. If this were even slightly better framed or in the correct verb tense it would work just fine (okay, badly but functionally) as a flashback in which to explore the admiral’s state of mind during the previously described journey and discovery, but it sodding isn’t, it’s just the same scene again with added information that the admiral had intended to challenge Marchdale to a duel when they let him out, but as we have seen, dead from smush. Whyyyyy.

Meanwhile, back at the Hall, Chillingworth is having trouble getting Mr. Hangman (whom I will call Ketch, because I can) to take a goddamn hint:

"Sir," he said, to the hangman, "now that you have so obligingly related to me your melancholy history, I will not detain you."

"Oh, you are not detaining me."

"Yes, but I shall probably remain here for a considerable time."

"I have nothing to do; and one place is about the same as another to me."

"Well, then, if I must speak plainly, allow me to say, that as I came here upon a very important and special errand, I desire most particularly to be left alone. Do you understand me now?"

"Oh! ah!—I understand; you want me to go?"

"Just so."

"Well, then, Dr. Chillingworth, allow me to tell you, I have come here on a very special errand likewise."

"You have?"


(hint: it’s for once not the vampyre, the vampyre)

"I have. I have been putting one circumstance to another, and drawing a variety of conclusions from a variety of facts, so that I have come to what I consider an important resolve, namely, to have a good look at Bannerworth Hall, and if I continue to like it as well as I do now, I should like to make the Bannerworth family an offer for the purchase of it."

"The devil you would! Why all the world seems mad upon the project of buying this old building, which really is getting into such a state of dilapidation, that it cannot last many years longer."

"It is my fancy."

"No, no; there is something more in this than meets the eye. The same reason, be it what may, that has induced Varney the vampyre to become so desirous of possessing the Hall, actuates you."

Okay, the Transformers fan in me is tickled by both more than meets the eye and the verb actuate in the same paragraph. It is not clear where Ketch intends to get the cash for buying the Hall, unless it’s the reason he’s been sucking money out of Varney. He is quite evasive on the subject:


"And what is that reason? You may as well be candid with me."

"Yes, I will, and am. I like the picturesque aspect of the place."

"No, you know that that is a disingenuous answer, that you know well. It is not the aspect of the old Hall that has charms for you. But I feel, only from your conduct, more than ever convinced, that some plot is going on, having the accomplishment of some great object as its climax, a something of which you have guessed."

Ten points to you, Chillingworth, yet again the only sane person in this entire mess. There is very clearly something in the Hall that both Varney and Ketch (and the deceased Marchdale) want very much, and I bet you know as well as I do at the moment where it is probably hidden.

Ketch is like “uh…of course not,” and proceeds to make no sense:

"How much you are mistaken!"

"No, I am certain I am right; and I shall immediately advise the Bannerworth family to return, and to take up their abode again here, in order to put an end to the hopes which you, or Varney, or any one else may have, of getting possession of the place."

"If you were a man," said the hangman, "who cared a little more for yourself, and a little less for others, I would make a confidant of you."

"What do you mean?"

"Why, I mean, candidly, that you are not selfish enough to be entitled to my confidence."

"That is a strange reason for withholding confidence from any man."

"It is a strange reason; but, in this case, a most abundantly true one. I cannot tell you what I would tell you, because I cannot make the agreement with you that I would fain make."

"You talk in riddles."

"To explain which, then, would be to tell my secret."

Chillingworth can’t get rid of Ketch, who can probably bench-press him without too much effort. It is vexing. So is what happens next:

"If you are determined upon remaining, I cannot help it; but, when some one, as there assuredly will, comes from the Bannerworths, here, to me, I shall be under the necessity of stating candidly that you are intruding."

"Very good. As the morning air is keen, and as we now are not likely to be as good company to each other as we were, I shall go inside the house."

This was a proposition which the doctor did not like, but he was compelled to submit to it; and he saw, with feelings of uneasiness, the hangman make his way into the Hall by one of the windows.

Then Dr. Chillingworth sat down to think. Much he wondered what could be the secret of the great desire which Varney, Marchdale, and even this man had, all of them to be possessors of the old Hall.

That there was some powerful incentive he felt convinced, and he longed for some conversation with the Bannerworths, or with Admiral Bell, in order that he might state what had now taken place. That some one would soon come to him, in order to bring fresh provisions for the day, he was certain, and all he could do, in the interim, was, to listen to what the hangman was about in the Hall.

Not a sound, for a considerable time, disturbed the intense stillness of the place; but, now, suddenly, Mr. Chillingworth thought he heard a hammering, as if some one was at work in one of the rooms of the Hall.


At this point Henry and the admiral arrive, and the doctor catches them up to speed on what’s just happened, while the hammering and sawing continue from inside.

"Why it sounds," said the admiral, "like the ship's carpenter at work."

"It does, indeed, sound like a carpenter; it's only the new tenant making, I dare say, some repairs."

"D—n his impudence!"

"Why, it certainly does look like a very cool proceeding, I must admit."

"Who, and what is he?"

"Who he is now, I cannot tell you, but he was once the hangman of London, at a time when I was practising in the metropolis, and so I became acquainted with him. He knows Sir Francis Varney, and, if I mistake not, has found out the cause of that mysterious personage's great attachment to Bannerworth Hall, and has found the reasons so cogent, that he has got up an affection for it himself."

Henry’s like I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS THING, I DON’T UNDERSTAND ANY THINGS, and Chillingworth tells him it’s all okay: he has a plan. It’s a pretty good one, too:

"Then allow this gentleman who is carpentering away so pleasantly within the house, to do so to his heart's content, but don't let him leave it. Show yourselves now in the garden, he has sufficient prudence to know that three constitute rather fearful odds against one, and so he will be careful, and remain where he is. If he should come out, we need not let him go until we thoroughly ascertain what he has been about."

So they do, and Ketch sees them and retreats hurriedly from the window, and goes back to whatever the fuck he’s doing in there. I am reminded of the off-screen mysterious sound effects in Monty Python animations. And then Rymer/Prest give us a sentence that is George W. Bush levels of what the hell does that mean:

He thought probably that he could but he stopped in what he was about, and, until he was so, that he might as well go on.

You try parsing that, I have given up. Eventually Ketch emerges from the house, all but whistling a jaunty tune, and is like “good day, gentleman” and the admiral is all NOT SO FAST and pulls a gun on him. This causes Ketch to dive back into the house through the window, because apparently people in this book are allergic to front doors. And gates:

There was a very gentle ring at the bell which hung over the garden gate.

"That's an experiment, now, I'll be bound," said the doctor, "to ascertain if any one is here; let us hide ourselves, and take no notice."

The ring in a few moments was repeated, and the three confederates hid themselves effectually behind some thick laurel bushes and awaited with expectation what might next ensue.

Not long had they occupied their place of concealment, before they heard a heavy fall upon the gravelled pathway, immediately within the gate, as if some one had clambered to the top from the outside, and then jumped down.

Oh, Varney. You keep falling off things.

That this was the case the sound of footsteps soon convinced them, and to their surprise as well as satisfaction, they saw through the interstices of the laurel bush behind which they were concealed, no less a personage than Sir Francis Varney himself.

"It is Varney," said Henry.

Here Henry violates protocol by not appending “the vampyre” to his Statement of the Obvious. No points at all, Henry, straighten up and fly right.

"Yes, yes," whispered the doctor. "Let him be, do not move for any consideration, for the first time let him do just what he likes."

"D—n the fellow!" said the admiral; "there are some points about him that like, after all, and he's quite an angel compared to that rascal Marchdale."

"He is,—he saved Charles."

"He did, and not if I know it shall any harm come to him, unless he were terribly to provoke it by becoming himself the assailant."

"How sad he looks!"

"Hush! he comes nearer; it is not safe to talk. Look at him."

One more time for the people in the back: Chillingworth is the only rational human being in this entire goddamn book except sort of for Flora. The others are apparently about to do something stupid like call out to Varney:

"For Heaven's sake, be still, fortune, you see, favours us most strangely. Leave Varney alone. You have no other mode whatever of discovering what he really wants at Bannerworth Hall."

Tune in next time to find out why it’s Varney’s turn to have Sad Feelings and the real reason Chillingworth knows Varney of old (it’s gross and also marks one of the major turning points in the narrative regarding the nature of Varney himself).

All the Varney recaps, in order