Chillingworth Loses Coveted "Only Sane Person" Status, or, Varney the Vampyre Steals Someone Else's Plot

Previously on: Holland returns to the bosom of the Bannerworths; rocks fall and Marchdale dies; the hangman disappears into the Hall and proceeds to make a great noise of woodworking, is prevented from leaving by the admiral, and Varney shows up unannounced.

We have been informed that there is something about Bannerworth Hall which makes it irresistible to not only Varney but Ketch the Hangman and the late Marchdale. WHAT CAN IT BE? What hides in the depths of this dilapidated manse? And where might it be hidden?

So far so good. After the admiral prevented Ketch from leaving, at gunpoint, he dove back into the Hall via the window because everybody in this goddamn book is allergic to doors, including Varney, who climbed over the gate to get in. Chillingworth and the admiral and Henry lurk in the bushes to find out what Varney’s going to do next. Chillingworth reminds them to stfu and watch.

"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."

"I am glad you have spoken," said Henry, as he drew a long breath. "If you had not, I feel convinced that in another moment I should have rushed forward and confronted this man who has been the very bane of my life."

That’s because you are an idiot, Henry. We know this to be true.

"And so should I," said the admiral; "although I protest against any harm being done to him, on account of some sort of good feeling that he has displayed, after all, in releasing Charles from that dungeon in which Marchdale has perished."

"At the moment," said Henry, "I had forgotten that; but I will own that his conduct has been tinctured by a strange and wild kind of generosity at times, which would seem to bespeak, at the bottom of his heart, some good feelings, the impulses of which were only quenched by circumstances."

"That is my firm impression of him, I can assure you," said Dr. Chillingworth.

We’re going to find out why. Varney is making very little effort to move stealthily: he’s apparently in enough of a hurry that he’s not bothering to sneak. YET AGAIN he gets into the Hall via a window. The watchers are like “…welp, what now?” and agree that Varney can probably take the hangman if they encounter one another in their perambulations.

"I, for one," said the doctor, "would not like to stand by and see the vampyre murdered; but I am inclined to think he is a good match for any mortal opponent."

"You may depend he is," said Henry.

"But how long, doctor, do you purpose that we should wait here in such a state of suspense as to what is going on within the house?"

"I hope not long; but that something will occur to make us have food for action. Hark! what is that?"

There was a loud crash within the building, as of broken glass. It sounded as if some window had been completely dashed in; but although they looked carefully over the front of the building, they could see no evidences of such a thing having happened, and were compelled, consequently, to come to the opinion that Varney and the other man must have met in one of the back rooms, and that the crash of glass had arisen from some personal conflict in which they had engaged.

"I cannot stand this," said Henry.

"Nay, nay," said the doctor; "be still, and I will tell you something, than which there can be no more fitting time than this to reveal it."

CHILLINGWORTH NOOOOO you had such a good track record of being the only sane person in the immediate vicinity. This is not a good time for this discussion, except inasmuch as it will serve to pass the time while various activities are presumably going on inside. Sigh.

"It is a circumstance concerning which I can be brief; for, horrible as it is, I have no wish to dress it in any adventitious colours. Sir Francis Varney, although under another name, is an old acquaintance of mine."

"Acquaintance!" said Henry.

"Why, you don't mean to say you are a vampyre?" said the admiral; "or that he has ever visited you?"

"No; but I knew him. From the first moment that I looked upon him in this neighbourhood, I thought I knew him; but the circumstance which induced me to think so was of so terrific a character, that I made some efforts to chase it from my mind. It has, however, grown upon me day by day, and, lately, I have had proof sufficient to convince me of his identity with one whom I first saw under most singular circumstances of romance."

"Say on,—you are agitated."

"I am, indeed. This revelation has several times, within the last few days, trembled on my lips, but now you shall have it; because you ought to know all that it is possible for me to tell you of him who has caused you so serious an amount of disturbance."

"You awaken, doctor," said Henry, "all my interest."

"And mine, too," remarked the admiral. "What can it be all about? and where, doctor, did you first see this Varney the vampyre?"

"In his coffin."

BOOM, there it is. To modern readers the term romance here might raise some eyebrows, but here Rymer/Prest are using it in its earlier sense to mean something like dramatic story.

It’s something of a huge reveal to say that all this time, while Chillingworth was being scientific and objective and refusing to go along with superstition, he was actually arguing with himself over whether this dude really was the one he’d encountered way back when, and if so, what to do about it, and I kind of feel for him even though this whole bloody situation is stupid to the core, and it was stupid to the core the first time somebody wrote it a whole lot better than these guys.

Chillingworth continues (and he is still the most precise, brief, and clear narrator in the whole mess; imagine Henry telling this story, or don’t, because it’d take three chapters and repeat itself more times than I want to think about):

“The reason why he became the inhabitant of a coffin was simply this:—he had been hanged,—executed at the Old Bailey, in London, before ever I set eyes upon that strange countenance of his. You know that I was practising surgery at the London schools some years ago, and that, consequently, as I commenced the profession rather late in life, I was extremely anxious to do the most I could in a very short space of time."

You can see where this is going. Chillingworth, he need the bodies. Dead guys were hard to get hold of, or at least dead guys of acceptable quality whom it was permitted to dissect:

"At that period, the difficulty of getting a subject for anatomization was very great, and all sorts of schemes had to be put into requisition to accomplish so desirable, and, indeed, absolutely necessary a purpose.”

Paging Burke and Hare, Burke and Hare please report to the local potter’s field with a shovel and a big hook. So far so good: in order to learn how to fix living people, you need to take apart some dead ones to get an idea of where things are.

However, at this point it all goes off the rails and smdh Chillingworth you could quite easily have prevented a great deal of unnecessary drama and death and gunshot wounds and so on if you had stopped for one second to think about the consequences of your actions should you succeed.

"I became acquainted with the man who, I have told you, is in the Hall, at present, and who then filled the unenviable post of public executioner. It so happened, too, that I had read a learned treatise, by a Frenchman, who had made a vast number of experiments with galvanic and other apparatus, upon persons who had come to death in different ways, and, in one case, he asserted that he had actually recovered a man who had been hanged, and he had lived five weeks afterwards.

"Young as I then was, in comparison to what I am now, in my profession, this inflamed my imagination, and nothing seemed to me so desirable as getting hold of some one who had only recently been put to death, for the purpose of trying what I could do in the way of attempting a resuscitation of the subject. It was precisely for this reason that I sought out the public executioner, and made his acquaintance, whom every one else shunned, because I thought he might assist me by handing over to me the body of some condemned and executed man, upon whom I could try my skill.”

Yup, he pulls a Victor F. Granted, his version is a little more sensible and requires less sewing-together of dead people, as it uses only one (1) dead person who is probably only mostly dead. The hangman’s like “hey, you’re nice to me and everyone else treats me like scum, sure, I’ll keep the next client for you, mister,” and lo and behold some weeks later a splendid candidate arrives:

"A man was apprehended for a highway robbery of a most aggravated character. He was tried, and the evidence against him was so conclusive, that the defence which was attempted by his counsel, became a mere matter of form.

"He was convicted, and sentenced. The judge told him not to flatter himself with the least notion that mercy would be extended to him. The crime of which he had been found guilty was on the increase it was highly necessary to make some great public example, to show evil doers that they could not, with impunity, thus trample upon the liberty of the subject, and had suddenly, just as it were, in the very nick of time, committed the very crime, attended with all the aggravated circumstances which made it easy and desirable to hang him out of hand.

"He heard his sentence, they tell me unmoved. I did not see him, but he was represented to me as a man of a strong, and well-knit frame, with rather a strange, but what some would have considered a handsome expression of countenance, inasmuch as that there was an expression of much haughty resolution depicted on it.”

So Chillingworth is all stoked about this and arranges with the hangman to have this guy hanged nicely, so his neck doesn’t snap. Remember when Ketch and Chillingworth first encountered one another skulking around on the Bannerworth Hall lawn and had their conversation about old times, Ketch claimed that the first time he hanged anyone was also the last, which cannot possibly be true if he’s the established executioner and has sufficient experience to judge the drop correctly for the intended results and I hate you Rymer/Prest.

Chillingworth continues:

"In my impatience I ran down stairs to meet that which ninety-nine men out of a hundred would have gone some distance to avoid the sight of, namely, a corpse, livid and fresh from the gallows. I, however, heralded it as a great gift, and already, in imagination I saw myself imitating the learned Frenchman, who had published such an elaborate treatise on the mode of restoring life under all sorts of circumstances, to those who were already pronounced by unscientific persons to be dead.

"To be sure, a sort of feeling had come over me at times, knowing as I did that the French are a nation that do not scruple at all to sacrifice truth on the altar of vanity, that it might be after all a mere rhodomontade; but, however, I could only ascertain so much by actually trying, so the suspicion that such might, by a possibility, be the end of the adventure, did not deter me.”

so close, dude, so very close and yet so far

"I officiously assisted in having the coffin brought into the room where I had prepared everything that was necessary in the conduction of my grand experiment; and then, when no one was there with me but my friend the executioner, I, with his help, the one of us taking the head and the other the feet, took the body from the coffin and laid it upon a table.

"Hastily I placed my hand upon the region of the heart, and to my great delight I found it still warm. I drew off the cap that covered the face, and then, for the first time, my eyes rested upon the countenance of him who now calls himself—Heaven only knows why—Sir Francis Varney."

Hey now, Varney is a fine name, Chillingworth, if you want to talk about weird names you might consider looking in the mirror. Incidentally Hawthorne’s book came out after Varney, interestingly enough.

The admiral’s like “are you absolutely sure it’s the same guy, couldn’t it be someone who looks a lot like him, if this was a long time ago” and Chillingworth says no, because the hangman himself had confirmed it. That was the mysterious little exchange they had a hundred chapters ago, along the lines of “Is Sir Francis Varney…?” “He is.” which nobody could make out at the time.

“I was most anxious to effect an immediate resuscitation, if it were possible, of the hanged man. A little manipulation soon convinced me that the neck was not broken, which left me at once every thing to hope for. The hangman was more prudent than I was, and before I commenced my experiments, he said,—

"'Doctor, have you duly considered what you mean to do with this fellow, in case you should be successful in restoring him to life?'

"'Not I,' said I.

"'Well,' he said, 'you can do as you like; but I consider that it is really worth thinking of.'

oh snap it’s KETCH’s turn to be the only sane person in the book (possibly because if Chillingworth succeeds he’s probably going to have to hang the dude again and as we have seen he is not super chuffed at his work environment or duties). Doesn’t matter; Chillingworth is in full-on Victor Mode:

"I was headstrong on the matter, and could think of nothing but the success or the non-success, in a physiological point of view, of my plan for restoring the dead to life; so I set about my experiments without any delay, and with a completeness and a vigour that promised the most completely successful results, if success could at all be an ingredient in what sober judgment would doubtless have denominated a mad-headed and wild scheme.”

(A brief aside: One of the things I like subverting most in classic horror lit is how stupid all the monsters are, how self-destructively dim, and in this particular section of this plot it’s Frankenstein/Chillingworth who’s the monster, doing the unthinkable without considering the results. (Shelley’s monster is by far the most sympathetic, intellectual, and worthwhile person in the whole damn book.) I want to read a version of this sequence where the Victor character does stop to think about it, very deliberately: imagines scenarios where they succeed and then have to destroy their creation, where they succeed and must care for their creation, where they partially succeed and have to quickly kill the result before it can suffer too unspeakably. And then, also very deliberately, make the decision to go ahead.

DAMMIT I made MYSELF want to write it)

Anyway, Chillingworth’s like HAHA NO FUCK EVERYTHING I MUST DO SCIENCE!!! and so he does science, and it doesn’t work. Rymer/Prest are silent on the topic of what exactly Chillingworth does, only that it has something to do with electricity.

"For more than half an hour I tried in vain, by the assistance of the hangman, who acted under my directions. Not the least symptom of vitality presented itself; and he had a smile upon his countenance, as he said in a bantering tone,—

"'I am afraid, sir, it is much easier to kill than to restore their patients with doctors.'

"Before I could make him any reply, for I felt that his observation had a good amount of truth in it, joined to its sarcasm the hanged man uttered a loud scream, and opened his eyes.

I’d scream too if I was being ministered to in such a fashion.

"I must own I was myself rather startled; but I for some moments longer continued the same means which had produced such an effect, when suddenly he sprang up and laid hold of me, at the same time exclaiming,—

"'Death, death, where is the treasure?'

"I had fully succeeded—too fully; and while the executioner looked on with horror depicted in his countenance, I fled from the room and the house, taking my way home as fast as I possibly could.

"A dread came over me, that the restored man would follow me if he should find out, to whom it was he was indebted for the rather questionable boon of a new life. I packed up what articles I set the greatest store by, bade adieu to London, and never have I since set foot within that city."

When you say too fully, Chillingworth, I think what you mean is to conscious and conversational awareness and independent ambulation, so presumably what you intended to achieve would have been a living breathing human that didn’t do anything alarming like talk to you. This is one of the things that annoys me most about this plot: the Victor character never seems to sit down and hammer out the experimental goals they are attempting to achieve. What would constitute a successful result? Pulse and respiration alone, or vocalization, or full independent range of motion? What the hell do they want to achieve, and what is the rationale for those specific goals, and what measures will be taken to either end the experiment humanely or to sustain it? This is really basic scientific method, guys. You’re sloppy and completely without ethics, your protocol would be laughed out of IRB, and no one would ever fund you even if you asked really nicely and batted your eyelashes. Even the weird foundations.

Having dropped this series of bombshells, Chillingworth proceeds to completely retcon the first damn section of the book all at once:

"You may have noticed about his countenance," said Dr. Chillingworth, "a strange distorted look?"

"Yes, yes."

"Well, that has arisen from a spasmodic contraction of the muscles, in consequence of his having been hanged. He will never lose it, and it has not a little contributed to give him the horrible look he has, and to invest him with some of the seeming outward attributes of the vampyre."

We first encountered Varney biting somebody’s neck and sucking their blood. I think that’s pretty diagnostic of being the creature known to do that very thing. Plus there’s all the weird other vampyre traits like respawning in moonlight: I don’t see how the experiment could possibly have conferred that kind of magic ability. What Chillingworth says now implies that Varney is a human, albeit a weird human, and not an actual vampyre at all. This ambiguity will last for the rest of the entire frigging book and I AM SO ANNOYED.

"And that man who is now in the hall with him, doctor," said Henry, "is the very hangman who executed him?"

"The same. He tells me that after I left, he paid attention to the restored man, and completed what I had nearly done.

What, like taking care of the guy after you zapped him back to life with your whatever-it-is experimental setup? I bet it was pretty damn traumatic to go through the process of being hanged and then wake up with the world’s worst sore throat and some asshole doing fake science on you and then running away. I bet that hurt, Chillingworth.

“He kept him in his house for a time, and then made a bargain with him, for a large sum of money per annum, all of which he has regularly been paid, although he tells me he has no more idea where Varney gets it, than the man in the moon."

The only hold he’d have over Varney is the fact that Varney’s a condemned criminal who’s supposed to be dead, but since he was in fact hanged by the neck until technically dead I think that kind of screws up the legal ramifications of catching him and hanging him again. Presumably they’d have to have a new trial, and it would be jolly complicated, and thus worth succumbing to blackmail in order to avoid — it’s a stretch — but I can’t fault the hangman for wanting to line his own pockets when the opportunity presented itself.

"It is very strange; but, hark! do you not hear the sound of voices in angry altercation?"

"Yes, yes, they have met. Let us approach the windows now. We may chance to hear something of what they say to each other."

Aaaand scene. This is one of the most entertaining and also the most frustrating chapters yet: the inept and to my mind uncharacteristic Victor Syndrome overtaking Chillingworth, and the vague but enormous retcon of Varney’s actual nature, combine to make me want to smack long-dead authors over the head with a copy of On Writing and tell them to sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

On the other hand, the idea of a sensible Victor character is appealing.

Next time: Varney and Ketch have a partially-overheard conversation; there is much creeping around in the dark; more sounds of woodwork from within the Hall.

All the Varney recaps