FIGHT ME (AND ME, AND ME, AND ME): Varney the Vampire and the Endless Negotiation of Duels

Previously on: Sir Francis Varney has a lengthy conversation with Flora, featuring the phrase “Blood! The vampyre’s motto!” which I am not making up; Admiral Bell proposes to rent the Hall from the Bannerworths; Marchdale flounces.

When Flora is informed that Charles was planning to fight Varney the night he disappeared, she reasonably comes to the conclusion that Varney has shot him. Henry, who had not thought of that (like he does not think of any other things, being profoundly dim), decides to go over to Castle Varney and have a word with him. It goes about as well as you’d expect:

"Go on, sir," said Sir Francis Varney, in a bland and sweet tone; "I am all attention; pray proceed."

"You have failed; for I now here, on this spot, defy you to mortal combat. Coward, assassin as you are, I challenge you to fight."

"You don't mean on the carpet here?" said Varney, deliberately.

"No, sir; but beneath the canopy of heaven, in the light of the day. And then, Sir Francis, we shall see who will shrink from the conflict."

"It is remarkably good, Mr. Bannerworth, and, begging your pardon, for I do not wish to give any offence, my honoured sir, it would rehearse before an audience; in short, sir, it is highly dramatic."

Henry just haaaaates not being taken seriously, and Varney is incredibly good at it. There is some more wordplay, the challenge is accepted, and eventually Henry returns to the hall, just in time for Admiral Bell to come over to Varney’s and challenge him to another duel.

“Now, d—n my carcass from head to stern, if I don't call you out."

"Well, Admiral Bell," said Varney, mildly, "in that case, I suppose I must come out; but why do you insist that I have any knowledge of your nephew, Mr. Charles Holland?"

"You were to have fought a duel with him, and now he's gone."

"I am here," said Varney.

"Ay," said the admiral, "that's as plain as a purser's shirt upon a handspike; but that's the very reason why my nevey ain't here, and that's all about it."

"And that's marvellous little, so far as the sense is concerned," said Varney, without the movement of a muscle.

Varney accepts Challenge 2, and the admiral leaves, fulminating with rage. Cut to the next morning, where Henry informs Chillingworth what he’s done, and Chillingworth is like “that was really fucking stupid but okay, I guess I’ll have to help you out,” and he goes over to Varney’s to arrange matters on Henry’s behalf. When the admiral wakes up, he sends Jack Pringle on a similar errand, and he and Chillingworth encounter one another chez Varney. They have an interminable conversation about logistics:

Mr. Chillingworth looked at Jack, and Jack Pringle looked at Mr. Chillingworth, and then the former said,—

"Well, the admiral means fighting, and I am come to settle the necessaries; pray let me know what are your terms, Mr. What-d'ye-call'em."

"I am agreeable to anything that is at all reasonable—pistols, I presume?"

"Sir Francis Varney," said Mr. Chillingworth, "I cannot consent to carry on this office, unless you can appoint a friend who will settle these matters with us—myself, at least."

"And I too," said Jack Pringle; "we don't want to bear down an enemy. Admiral Bell ain't the man to do that, and if he were, I'm not the man to back him in doing what isn't fair or right; but he won't do it."

"But, gentlemen, this must not be; Mr. Henry Bannerworth must not be disappointed, and Admiral Bell must not be disappointed. Moreover, I have accepted the two cartels, and I am ready and willing to fight;—one at a time, I presume?"

"Sir Francis, after what you have said, I must take upon myself, on the part of Mr. Henry Bannerworth, to decline meeting you, if you cannot name a friend with whom I can arrange this affair."

See, Varney doesn’t have anyone to be his second, and apparently that disqualifies him from playing, so after a hell of a lot of discussion Jack suggests the admiral can take on that responsibility. This is agreed to by all parties, and the time and location for the two duels confirmed. As they leave, they run into Marchdale, who has apparently thought better of his flounce:

"Ah," he said, as he came up, "I see you have been to Sir Francis Varney's, if I may judge from the direction whence you're coming, and your proximity."

"Yes, we have," said Mr. Chillingworth. "I thought you had left these parts?"

"I had intended to do so," replied Marchdale; "but second thoughts are sometimes best, you know."


"I have so much friendship for the family at the hall, that notwithstanding I am compelled to be absent from the mansion itself, yet I cannot quit the neighbourhood while there are circumstances of such a character hanging about them. I will remain, and see if there be not something arising, in which I may be useful to them in some matter."

I don’t like you one little bit, Marchdale. Even if you do make a valid point that it’s probably a better idea for you to be Henry’s second than Chillingworth:

"What I was about to say was this,—Mr. Chillingworth has much to lose as he is situated, and I nothing as I am placed. I am chained down to no spot of earth. I am above following a profession—my means, I mean, place me above the necessity. Now, Henry, allow me to be your second in this affair; allow Mr. Chillingworth to attend in his professional capacity; he may be of service—of great service to one of the principals; whereas, if he go in any other capacity, he will inevitably have his own safety to consult."

They agree that this is the plan, eventually, oh my GOD do these people take forever to have a conversation about anything:

"And now," said Chillingworth, "you are to meet to-morrow morning in the meadow at the bottom of the valley, half way between here and Sir Francis Varney's house, at seven o'clock in the morning."

Which they do. Varney shows up looking even less prepossessing than usual, and makes faces at them, and when they finally get around to the shooting part — instead of blowing Henry’s head off — he fires into the air. Everyone is perturbed, even more so when Varney produces the bullet Henry had shot at him:

"If Mr. Henry Bannerworth demands another fire, I have no objection to it, and will fire at him; but as it is I shall not do so, indeed, it would be quite useless for him to do so—to point mortal weapons at me is mere child's play, they will not hurt me."

"The devil they won't," said the admiral.

"Why, look you here," said Sir Francis Varney, stepping forward and placing his hand to his neckerchief; "look you here; if Mr. Henry Bannerworth should demand another fire, he may do so with the same bullet."

"The same bullet!" said Marchdale, stepping forward—"the same bullet! How is this?"

Apparently vampyres have a selective ability to withstand projectile weapons, since he totally got winged by Flora that one time and it made a hole. This is never explained in the text, like so many other things. They argue about it for a while until distant shouting distracts them, and we are treated to the first of so very many angry mobs:

The cries of the mob became more distinct as they drew nearer to the party, who began to evince some uneasiness as to their object.

"Surely," said Marchdale, "Mr. Chillingworth has not named anything respecting the duel that has taken place."

"No, no."

"But he was to have been here this morning," said the admiral. "I understood he was to be here in his own character of a surgeon, and yet I have not seen him; have any of you?"

"No," said Henry.

"Then here he comes in the character of conservator of the public peace," said Varney, coldly; "however, I believe that his errand will be useless since the affair is, I presume, concluded."

"Down with the vampyre!"

"Eh!" said the admiral, "eh, what's that, eh? What did they say?"

"If you'll listen they'll tell you soon enough, I'll warrant."

"May be they will, and yet I'd like to know now."

Sir Francis Varney looked significantly at Marchdale, and then waited with downcast eyes for the repetition of the words.

"Down with the vampyre!" resounded on all sides from the people who came rapidly towards them, and converging towards a centre. "Burn, destroy, and kill the vampyre! No vampyre; burn him out; down with him; kill him!"

It turns out that Chillingworth told his wife about all the stuff that’s been going on and she, being (shudder, patronize, sneer) a woman, immediately ran out and told all her friends OMG A VAMPYRE, so the pitchfork-and-torch brigade is out in force.

Can you remember why this makes no sense? Allow me to refresh your memory, way back in the chapter where we meet the admiral and Jack:

But nowhere was gossiping carried on upon the subject with more systematic fervour than at an inn called the Nelson's Arms, which was in the high street of the nearest market town to the Hall.

There, it seemed as if the lovers of the horrible made a point of holding their headquarters, and so thirsty did the numerous discussions make the guests, that the landlord was heard to declare that he, from his heart, really considered a vampyre as very nearly equal to a contested election.



Rymer/Prest have clearly either forgotten what they’ve already written, don’t care that they’re contradicting themselves, or assume that the reader doesn’t notice or care, and I am salty about it. Meanwhile, back in the present, Varney legs it, which seems to me prudent, and also represents the first of many chase scenes, and Rymer/Prest do a bit of editorializing about how women are terrible, etcetera.

The entire goddamn duel scene, which took so long to set up and involved so many lengthy conversations, is over in a matter of minutes and we’re immediately into a completely different part of the narrative, in which Varney’s activities are constantly being interrupted because of angry mobs; it puts a real damper on his ability to wander around and creep on people in the dark. We will see, as the story continues, that this is his base model of behavior: arrive in location as mysterious nobleman of some description, settle on a nubile young victim, creep like a creepy creeper, get exposed as THE VAMPYRE, run away and find somewhere else to start all over again. He doesn’t learn, does Varney the Vampyre. It’s frustrating, and also kind of hilarious.

Next time, angry mob is angry, Varney runs away.