To Me 'Tis Full of Horrible Shapes: Someone At So Long Last Calls Varney the Vampyre On His Bullshit

Previously on: Varney and the hangman argue inside the Hall; our heroes lay in wait outside until they determine there’s an angry mob also lying in wait to attack Varney; Henry shows a flicker of uncharacteristic inspiration and sends said mob off on a wild-goose chase; random dude gets murdered; Varney pretends to shoot Chillingworth and escapes them yet again.

(OF PERHAPS VITAL IMPORTANCE: I did not actually realize during the previous recap that the chapter title included THE MURDER OF THE HANGMAN: i.e., the mysterious random dude who gets killed by the angry mob is supposedly the guy who’s been fucking around inside Bannerworth Hall looking for the super sekrit treasure. Why he’d have gone over to the ruins, where the mob located him, is beyond me, but if that’s true then there is one fewer loose end to knot.)

At the end of the last chapter, our heroes repair to the Cottage of Undisclosed Location except for Jack, whom the authors forgot about, and Charles, who has mysteriously disappeared. We pick up with the latter, who has in fact followed Varney on his headlong flight and means to have A Talk with him:

Now, Charles Holland either had an inclination, for some reasons of his own, to follow the vampyre alone; or, on the spur of the moment, he had not time to give an alarm to the others; but certain it is that he did, unaided, rush after him. He saw him enter the summer-house, and pass out of it again at the back portion of it, as he had once before done, when surprised in his interview with Flora.

But the vampyre did not now, as he had done on the former occasion, hide immediately behind the summer-house. He seemed to be well aware that that expedient would not answer twice; so he at once sped onwards, clearing the garden fence, and taking to the meadows.

It formed evidently no part of the intentions of Charles Holland to come up with him. He was resolved upon dogging his footsteps, to know where he should go; so that he might have a knowledge of his hiding-place, if he had one.

"I must and will," said Charles to himself, "penetrate the mystery that hangs about this most strange and inexplicable being. I will have an interview with him, not in hostility, for I forgive him the evil he has done me, but with a kindly spirit; and I will ask him to confide in me."

Because one thing Varney has hitherto demonstrated is a strong desire to tell everybody his secrets, particularly importunate young men whom he has previously imprisoned. Charles follows him to a house for rent, watches Varney let himself in with an actual key through the door rather than climbing through a window as is his usual wont, and comes up with a clever plan re. how to gain entry:

But how to accomplish such a purpose was not the easiest question in the world to answer. If he rung the bell that presented itself above the garden gate, was it at all likely that Varney, who had come there for concealment, would pay any attention to the summons?

After some consideration, he did, however, think of a plan by which, at all events, he could ensure effecting an entrance into the premises, and then he would take his chance of finding the mysterious being whom he sought, and who probably might have no particular objection to meeting with him, Charles Holland, because their last interview in the ruins could not be said to be otherwise than of a peaceable and calm enough character.

Oh, dude. You are standing into danger.

He saw by the board, which was nailed in the front of the house, that all applications to see it were to be made to a Mr. Nash, residing close at hand; and, as Charles had the appearance of a respectable person, he thought he might possibly have the key entrusted to him, ostensibly to look at the house, preparatory possibly to taking it, and so he should, at all events, obtain admission.

Me, I thought it was either dusk or the middle of the night at this point, but Rymer/Prest set me straight:

The day had now fairly commenced, so that there was abundance of light, although, even for the country, it was an early hour, and probably Mr. Nash had been not a little surprised to have a call from one whose appearance bespoke no necessity for rising with the lark at such an hour.

The landlord is somewhat skeptical on account of the last guy who asked for a key walked off with it (hi, Varney) but Charles plays the I Am A Respectable Gentleman classist card and obtains the key without further ado. He lets himself into Varney’s latest lair and finds the vampyre not at his hideous repast, or hanging upside down like a bat, or any number of presumable pursuits: instead he’s sacked out on the damn floor under the window instead of, like, on a bed or even a sofa.

Charles thinks at first that he’s found a dead body, and depending on your version of the mythos (ASSUMING VARNEY IS IN FACT A VAMPYRE, SIGH) he is technically correct.

Upon a nearer examination, he found that the whole body, including the greater part of the head and face, was wrapped in a large cloak; and there, as he gazed, he soon found cause to correct his first opinion at to the form belonging to the dead, for he could distinctly hear the regular breathing, as of some one in a sound and dreamless sleep.

Closer he went, and closer still. Then, as he clasped his hands, he said, in a voice scarcely above a whisper,—

"It is—it is the vampyre."

Yes, there could be no doubt of the fact. It was Sir Francis Varney who lay there, enveloped in the huge horseman's cloak, in which, on two or three occasions during the progress of this narrative, he had figured. There he lay, at the mercy completely of any arm that might be raised against him, apparently so overcome by fatigue that no ordinary noise would have awakened him.

Frozen in terror at the undead fiend, once more. Varney, you kind of suck at this. You kind of suck at pretty much everything, which is rather a pity, but nobody else in this book is particularly competent either except perhaps Chillingworth.

Charles tries to wake him unsuccessfully, and Varney — still asleep — starts to make incriminating statements:

"Where is it?" he said; "where—where hidden?—Pull the house down!—Murder! No, no, no! no murder!—I will not, I dare not. Blood enough is upon my hands.—The money!—the money! Down, villains! down! down! down!"

Charles is like “wtf, dude,” and Varney shuts up for a little while and emits low moans before going into more detail:

"No harm," he said, "no harm,—Marchdale is a villain!—Not a hair of his head injured—no, no. Set him free—yes, I will set him free. Beware! beware, Marchdale! and you Mortimer. The scaffold! ay, the scaffold! but where is the bright gold? The memory of the deed of blood will not cling to it. Where is it hidden? The gold! the gold! the gold! It is not in the grave—it cannot be there—no, no, no!—not there, not there! Load the pistols. There, there! Down, villain, down!—down, down!"

Despairing, now, of obtaining anything like tangible information from these ravings, which, even if they did, by accident, so connect themselves together as to seem to mean something, Charles again cried aloud,—

"Varney, awake, awake!"

Nope. Demonstrating once again their utter inability to detect the moment when drama flips over into unintended comedy, Rymer/Prest refuse to wake up the vampyre until Charles pokes him with a boot:

The effect was as startling as it was instantaneous. The vampyre sprang to his feet, as he had been suddenly impelled up by some powerful machinery; and, casting his cloak away from his arms, so as to have them at liberty, he sprang upon Charles Holland, and hurled him to the ground, where he held him with a giant's grip, as he cried,—

"Rash fool! be you whom you may. Why have you troubled me to rid the world of your intrusive existence?"

The attack was so sudden and so terrific, that resistance to it, even if Charles had had the power, was out of the question. All he could say, was,—

"Varney, Varney! do you not know me? I am Charles Holland. Will you now, in your mad rage, take the life you might more easily have taken when I lay in the dungeon from which you released me?"

Varney is still pinning him to the floor, by the way.

The sound of his voice at once convinced Sir Francis Varney of his identity; and it was with a voice that had some tones of regret in it, that he replied,—

"And wherefore have you thought proper, when you were once free and unscathed, to cast yourself into such a position of danger as to follow me to my haunt?"

"I contemplated no danger," said Charles, "because I contemplated no evil. I do not know why you should kill me."


"You came here, and yet you say you do not know why I should kill you. Young man, have you a dozen lives that you can afford to tamper with them thus? I have, at much chance of imminence to myself, already once saved you, when another, with a sterner feeling, would have gladly taken your life; but now, as if you were determined to goad me to an act which I have shunned committing, you will not let me close my eyes in peace."

"Take your hand from off my throat, Varney, and I will then tell you what brought me here."

Sir Francis Varney did so.

Charles explains that he wants to know what Varney’s deal is, and Varney is like “that’s why you came here?” and he admits actually he wants to know not only what Varney’s deal is and why he’s made such a goddamn nuisance of himself to the Bannerworths but why he gave Charles’s girlfriend the PTSDs. The answer that comes to mind is “he thought he would.” Varney is somewhat taken aback, and Charles is all c’mon, man, you totally have feelings and stuff.


"I accessible to human feeling! know you to whom you speak? Am I not he before whom all men shudder, whose name has been a terror and a desolation; and yet you can talk of my human feelings. Nay, if I had had any, be sure they would have been extinguished by the persecutions I have endured from those who, you know, with savage ferocity have sought my life."

"No, Varney; I give you credit for being a subtler reasoner than thus to argue; you know well that you were the aggressor to those parties who sought your life; you know well that with the greatest imaginable pains you held yourself up to them as a thing of great terror."


"I did—I did."

"You cannot, then, turn round upon ignorant persons, and blame them because your exertions to make yourself seem what you wish were but too successful."


"You use the word seem," said Varney, with a bitterness of aspect, "as if you would imply a doubt that I am that which thousands, by their fears, would testify me to be."

"Thousands might," said Charles Holland; "but not among them am I, Varney; I will not be made the victim of superstition. Were you to enact before my very eyes some of those feats which, to the senses of others, would stamp you as the preternatural being you assume to be, I would doubt the evidence of my own senses ere I permitted such a bugbear to oppress my brain."

"Go," said Sir Francis Varney, "go: I have no more words for you; I have nothing to relate to you."

Okay, we’re back to the IS HE OR ISN’T HE thing. I kinda want to mount an expedition to locate Rymer/Prest’s last resting places, dig them up, and yell at them about responsible storytelling practices, because COME ON, MAN. Fucking pick one, it’s the entire premise of your stupid book, this is not rocket science.

Charles presses his advantage:

"In the name of all that is great, and good, and just, I call upon you for justice."

"What have I to do with such an invocation? Utter such a sentiment to men who, like yourself, are invested with the reality as well as the outward show of human nature."

"Nay, Sir Francis Varney, now you belie yourself. You have passed through a long, and, perchance, a stormy life. Can you look back upon your career, and find no reminiscences of the past that shall convince you that you are of the great family of man, and have had abundance of human feelings and of human affections?"

"Peace, peace!"

"Nay, Sir Francis Varney, I will take your word, and if you will lay your hand upon your heart, and tell me truly that you never felt what it was to love—to have all feeling, all taste, and all hope of future joy, concentrated in one individual, I will despair, and leave you. If you will tell me that never, in your whole life, you have felt for any fair and glorious creature, as I now feel for Flora Bannerworth, a being for whom you could have sacrificed not only existence, but all the hopes of a glorious future that bloom around it—if you will tell me, with the calm, dispassionate aspect of truth, that you have held yourself aloof from such human feelings, I will no longer press you to a disclosure which I shall bring no argument to urge."


"Do you wish to drive me mad, that you thus, from memory's hidden cells, conjure up images of the past?"

"Then there are such images to conjure up—there are such shadows only sleeping, but which require only, as you did even now, but a touch to awaken them to life and energy. Oh, Sir Francis Varney, do not tell me that you are not human."

for fuck’s sake

The vampyre


made a furious gesture, as if he would have attacked Charles Holland; but then he sank nearly to the floor, as if soul-stricken by some recollection that unnerved his arm; he shook with unwonted emotion, and, from the frightful livid aspect of his countenance, Charles dreaded some serious accession of indisposition, which might, if nothing else did, prevent him from making the revelation he so much sought to hear from his lips.

"Varney," he cried, "Varney, be calm! you will be listened to by one who will draw no harsh—no hasty conclusions; by one, who, with that charity, I grieve to say, is rare, will place upon the words you utter the most favourable construction. Tell me all, I pray you, tell me all."

Now that he’s triggered the fuck out of Varney, Charles gets what he’s looking for:

"This is strange," said the vampyre. "I never thought that aught human could thus have moved me. Young man, you have touched the chords of memory; they vibrate throughout my heart, producing cadences and sounds of years long past. Bear with me awhile."

"And you will speak to me?"

"I will."

But only on the condition that Charles never breathe a word of it to anybody else, which is not good enough for our Mr. Holland. After several volleys of argument, he manages to extract the concession from Varney that he can tell Flora and Flora alone, whereupon Varney goes into come gather round children I’ll tell you a tale mode. Prepare for infodump!

“Some years ago, it matters not the number, on a stormy night, towards the autumn of the year, two men sat alone in poverty, and that species of distress which beset the haughty, profligate, daring man, who has been accustomed all his life to its most enticing enjoyments, but never to that industry which alone ought to produce them, and render them great and magnificent."

"Two men; and who were they?"

"I was one. Look upon me! I was of those men; and strong and evil passions were battling in my heart."

"And the other!"

"Was Marmaduke Bannerworth."

"Gracious Heaven! the father of her whom I adore; the suicide."

ok now waaaaay back in the beginning I recall that the wastrel ancestor so clearly depicted in the Ominous Portrait was first known as Sir Runnagate Bannerworth and then transmogrified mid-grave-desecration into Marmaduke Bannerworth, Yeoman, who died either in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries depending on what paragraph you’re reading. Either the name “Marmaduke” is passed down in the Bannerworth family fairly consistently, or Rymer/Prest have managed yet another breathtaking continuity error. We know that Flora’s dad killed himself in the summerhouse, but until now we haven’t understood quite why. Varney continues his tale of hanging out with Marma-B and plotting evil deeds:

“We were not nice in the various schemes which our prolific fancies engendered. If trickery, and the false dice at the gaming-table, sufficed not to fill our purses, we were bold enough for violence. If simple robbery would not succeed, we could take a life."


"Ay, call it by its proper name, a murder. We sat till the midnight hour had passed, without arriving at a definite conclusion; we saw no plan of practicable operation, and so we wandered onwards to one of those deep dens of iniquity, a gaming-house, wherein we had won and lost thousands.”

Where they proceed to wager on the success of one of the other guys playing, and are actually winning for once when Some Guy totally obliterates them and wins the whole pot. Varney and his double-dactylic pal are like oh no you fucking didn’t, and proceed to follow the dude when he leaves with what they consider their cold hard cash.

They discuss briefly how best to go about getting said cash back from Some Guy. Varney zips past him in the country lane and Bannerworth comes up behind to cut off his retreat; Varney’s like STAND AND DELIVER, and Some Guy proceeds to stand and deliver one of Varney’s very first gunshot wounds.

"'Your money,' I said; 'your winnings at the gaming-table. We cannot, and we will not lose it.'

"So suddenly, that he had nearly taken my life, he drew a pistol from his pocket, and levelling it at my head, he fired upon me.

"Perhaps, had I moved, it might have been my death; but, as it was, the bullet furrowed my cheek, leaving a scar, the path of which is yet visible in a white cicatrix.”

Awww, it’s totally his first.

"I felt a stunning sensation, and thought myself a dead man. I cried aloud to Marmaduke Bannerworth, and he rushed forward. I knew not that he was armed, and that he had the power about him to do the deed which he then accomplished; but there was a groan, a slight struggle, and the successful gamester fell upon the green sward, bathed in his blood."


"And this is the father of her whom I adore?"

"It is. Are you shocked to think of such a neat relationship between so much beauty and intelligence and a midnight murderer? Is your philosophy so poor, that the daughter's beauty suffers from the commission of a father's crime?"

"No, no, It is not so. Do not fancy that, for one moment, I can entertain such unworthy opinions. The thought that crossed me was that I should have to tell one of such a gentle nature that her father had done such a deed."

"On that head you can use your own discretion. The deed was done; there was sufficient light for us to look upon the features of the dying man. Ghastly and terrific they glared upon us; while the glazed eyes, as they were upturned to the bright sky, seemed appealing to Heaven for vengeance against us, for having done the deed.”

At which point Varney goes into full-on melodrama:

"Many a day and many an hour since at all times and all seasons, I have seen those eyes, with the glaze of death upon them, following me, and gloating over the misery they had the power to make. I think I see them now."


"Yes; look—look—see how they glare upon me—with what a fixed and frightful stare the bloodshot pupils keep their place—there, there! oh! save me from such a visitation again. It is too horrible. I dare not—I cannot endure it; and yet why do you gaze at me with such an aspect, dread visitant? You know that it was not my hand that did the deed—who laid you low. You know that not to me are you able to lay the heavy charge of your death!"

"Varney, you look upon vacancy," said Charles Holland.

"No, no; vacancy it may be to you, but to me 'tis full of horrible shapes."

Charles is like “okay there, dial it back down” and Varney pulls himself together:

"Compose yourself; you have taken me far into your confidence already; I pray you now to tell me all. I have in my brain no room for horrible conjectures such as those which might else torment me."

Varney was silent for a few minutes, and then he wiped from his brow the heavy drops of perspiration that had there gathered, and heaved a deep sigh.

"Speak to me," added Charles; "nothing will so much relieve you from the terrors of this remembrance as making a confidence which reflection will approve of, and which you will know that you have no reason to repent."

"Charles Holland," said Varney, "I have already gone too far to retract—much too far, I know, and can well understand all the danger of half confidence. You already know so much, that it is fit you should know more."

"Go on then, Varney, I will listen to you."

"I know not if, at this juncture, I can command myself to say more. I feel that what next has to be told will be most horrible for me to tell—most sad for you to hear told."

Charles is like “okay, spill, what else is there,” and Varney spurts melodrama again but Charles is having none of it (you go, Charles, you are rapidly climbing the Actually Sensible ladder, I didn’t think you had it in you):

"You are right—such is the fact; the death of that man could not have moved me as you now see me moved. There is a secret connected with his fate which I may well hesitate to utter—a secret even to whisper to the winds of heaven—I—although I did not do the deed, no, no—I—I did not strike the blow—not I—not I!"

"Varney, it is astonishing to me the pains you take to assure yourself of your innocence of this deed; no one accuses you, but still, were it not that I am impressed with a strong conviction that you're speaking to me nothing but the truth, the very fact of your extreme anxiety to acquit yourself, would engender suspicion."

"I can understand that feeling, Charles Holland; I can fully understand it. I do not blame you for it—it is a most natural one; but when you know all, you will feel with me how necessary it must have been to my peace to seize upon every trivial circumstance that can help me to a belief in my own innocence."

Charles wants to know why he has such a thing about this particular dude’s death. Was he perhaps important in some way, or a really nice person, or what? Varney changes the subject to be all about him again, because of course that’s the central point of this entire exchange: me me me me me.

"It is true, then, as the doctor states, that you were executed in London?"

"I was."

"And resuscitated by the galvanic process, put into operation by Dr. Chillingworth?"

"As he supposed; but there are truths connected with natural philosophy which he dreamed not of. I bear a charmed life, and it was but accident which produced a similar effect upon the latent springs of my existence in the house to which the executioner conducted me, to what would have been produced had I been sufficed, in the free and open air, to wait until the cool moonbeams fell upon me."

"Varney, Varney," said Charles Holland, "you will not succeed in convincing me of your supernatural powers. I hold such feelings and sensations at arm's length. I will not—I cannot assume you to be what you affect."

"I ask for no man's belief. I know that which I know, and, gathering experience from the coincidences of different phenomena, I am compelled to arrive at certain conclusions. Believe what you please, doubt what you please; but I say again that I am not as other men."

He’s special. And we still don’t know what the fuck he is. Charles, again, calls him on his shit, and he admits that yeah, he totally is wandering from the point because he dreads it, woe. Varney apparently cannot leave well enough alone and asks Charles what he, Charles, thinks regarding Varney’s guilt in the death of the gambler. Charles offers a reasonable response:

"It seems then to me that, not contemplating the man's murder, you cannot be accused of the act, although a set of fortuitous circumstances made you appear an accomplice to its commission."

"You think I may be acquitted?"

"You can acquit yourself, knowing that you did not contemplate the murder."

"I did not contemplate it. I know not what desperate deed I should have stopped short at then, in the height of my distress, but I neither contemplated taking that man's life, nor did I strike the blow which sent him from existence."

"There is even some excuse as regards the higher crime for Marmaduke Bannerworth."

"Think you so?"

"Yes; he thought that you were killed, and impulsively he might have struck the blow that made him a murderer."

Okay, fair enough. Won’t stand up in court but it makes sense. Varney’s like I SUBSCRIBE TO YOUR NEWSLETTER TYVM:

"Be it so. I am willing, extremely willing that anything should occur that should remove the odium of guilt from any man. Be it so, I say, with all my heart; but now, Charles Holland, I feel that we must meet again ere I can tell you all; but in the meantime let Flora Bannerworth rest in peace—she need dread nothing from me. Avarice and revenge, the two passions which found a home in my heart, are now stifled for ever."

"Revenge! did you say revenge?"

"I did; whence the marvel, am I not sufficiently human for that?"

"But you coupled it with the name of Flora Bannerworth."

"I did, and that is part of my mystery."

oh my god dude “part of my mystery” you are SO a sixteen-year-old asking the internet if painting your turtle black will make it spooky. Also I don’t know if you’re human or not, since nobody else seems to have a damn clue, including the authors.

Abruptly Varney’s like I am le tired, come back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion of my life story, adieu and Charles takes himself off — only to encounter an urchin on the road who reports that the mob has been burning down Bannerworth Hall, OH NO except what the urchin actually means is the old ruins, which are apparently no longer ecclesiastical in origin, and also the mob has killed some guy in case he was a vampyre. Charles is like oh for fuck’s sake:

"When will these terrible outrages cease? Oh! Varney, Varney, you have much to answer for; even if in your conscience you succeed in acquitting yourself of the murder, some of the particulars concerning which you have informed me of."

And with that I leave you. Next time: said thrilling conclusion, a Mysterious Nobleman from Hungary, and more!