Previously on: we met Sir Francis Varney face to peculiar face for the very first time; it’s Charles’s turn to shoot him; and Weird Shit Might be Going On With the Ominous Portrait, But Probably Isn’t.
Chapter 15 is painful. I will be kind and spare you the spectacle of Rymer/Prest (I think of them as a sort of portmanteau of failure, rather than two discrete fails) attempting to do Dickens pastiche, to wit: Highly Voice-y Supporting Characters with Vocal Tics & Clearly Classist Caricature.
What happens is this: Since the Bannerworths and their staff cannot fucking shut up about their vampyre (The vampyre! The vampyre!) it’s turned into a kind of local phenomenon, and vampyre enthusiasts are flocking to the region and driving up business for inns and restaurants.
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.
We are introduced to three new characters over the course of the chapter. The first two arrive at the Nelson’s Arms and right away we are encouraged to entertain conjecture that they might, at some point, potentially have had acquaintance with the sea. We are encouraged strongly and repeatedly. I’m afraid I must show you a brief sample, to communicate this theme:
As the chaise drove up to the door of the inn, this man made an observation to the other to the following effect,—
"Well, you lubber, what now?" cried the other.
"They call this the Nelson's Arms; and you know, shiver me, that for the best half of his life he had but one."
"D—n you!" was the only rejoinder he got for this observation; but, with that, he seemed very well satisfied.
"Heave to!" he then shouted to the postilion, who was about to drive the chaise into the yard. "Heave to, you lubberly son of a gun! we don't want to go into dock."
"Ah!" said the old man, "let's get out, Jack. This is the port; and, do you hear, and be cursed to you, let's have no swearing, d—n you, nor bad language, you lazy swab."
"Aye, aye," cried Jack; "I've not been ashore now a matter o' ten years, and not larnt a little shore-going politeness, admiral, I ain't been your walley de sham without larning a little about land reckonings. Nobody would take me for a sailor now, I'm thinking, admiral."
"Hold your noise!"
"Aye, aye, sir."
I said I was sorry. The old man, Admiral Bell, turns out to be the uncle of Charles “Sad Feelings” Holland, which we learn in due course, and has traveled to the area in response to a mysterious letter sent to him:
The admiral opened the letter, and read:—
"If you stop at the Nelson's Aims at Uxotter, you will hear of me, and I can be sent for, when I will tell you more.
"Yours, very obediently and humbly,
It is shortly revealed that there is a great deal more to the letter than this, which we are not allowed to see for several thousand more words. There is some byplay in which Bell is informed that Crinkles, whom I am not making up, is a lawyer, and responds with stentorian disapproval of the legal profession, but eventually tells the landlord to send for the bastard anyway so he can explain why the admiral has had to travel 170 miles to talk to a d___d lawyer.
Crinkles, in due course, appears, and is made to read the whole of the letter:
"To Admiral Bell.
"Admiral,—Being, from various circumstances, aware that you take a warm and a praiseworthy interest in your nephew, Charles Holland, I venture to write to you concerning a matter in which your immediate and active co-operation with others may rescue him from a condition which will prove, if allowed to continue, very much to his detriment, and ultimate unhappiness.
"You are, then, hereby informed, that he, Charles Holland, has, much earlier than he ought to have done, returned to England, and that the object of his return is to contract a marriage into a family in every way objectionable, and with a girl who is highly objectionable.
"You, admiral, are his nearest and almost his only relative in the world; you are the guardian of his property, and, therefore, it becomes a duty on your part to interfere to save him from the ruinous consequences of a marriage, which is sure to bring ruin and distress upon himself and all who take an interest in his welfare.
"The family he wishes to marry into is named Bannerworth, and the young lady's name is Flora Bannerworth. When, however, I inform you that a vampyre is in that family, and that if he marries into it, he marries a vampyre, and will have vampyres for children, I trust I have said enough to warn you upon the subject, and to induce you to lose no time in repairing to the spot.
"If you stop at the Nelson's Arms at Uxotter, you will hear of me. I can be sent for, when I will tell you more.
"Yours, very obediently and humbly,
"P.S. I enclose you Dr. Johnson's definition of a vampyre, which is as follows:
"VAMPYRE (a German blood-sucker)—by which you perceive how many vampyres, from time immemorial, must have been well entertained at the expense of John Bull, at the court of St. James, where no thing hardly is to be met with but German blood-suckers."
Crinkles then explains that he’s never seen the letter before in his life, which causes marvel and consternation, and then they decide to talk this thing over:
"Well—well, never mind; it has brought me here, that's something, so I won't grumble much at it. I didn't know my nephew was in England, and I dare say he didn't know I was; but here we both are, and I won't rest till I've seen him, and ascertained how the what's-its-name—"
"Ah! the vampyre."
"Shiver my timbers!" said Jack Pringle, who now brought in some wine much against the remonstrances of the waiters of the establishment, who considered that he was treading upon their vested interests by so doing.—"Shiver my timbers, if I knows what a wamphigher is, unless he's some distant relation to Davy Jones!"
See what I mean about the Dickens pastiche? Rymer/Prest is trying so hard, and it’s so not working. The jolly sailors and the lawyer discuss the nature of the beast and Charles’s predicament with regards to his chewed-upon fiancée:
"And she might herself actually, when after death she became a vampyre, come and feed on her own children."
"Become a vampyre! What, is she going to be a vampyre too?"
"My dear sir, don't you know that it is a remarkable fact, as regards the physiology of vampyres, that whoever is bitten by one of those dreadful beings, becomes a vampyre?"
"It is a fact, sir."
"Whew!" whistled Jack; "she might bite us all, and we should be a whole ship's crew o' wamphighers. There would be a confounded go!"
They agree that the situation is sub-optimal, and requires adjustment, and Crinkles departs, leaving Bell and Jack to assail the reader with more naval terminology:
"Do! What shall we do? Why, go at once and find out Charles, our nevy, and ask him all about it, and see the young lady, too, and lay hold o' the wamphigher if we can, as well, and go at the whole affair broadside to broadside, till we make a prize of all the particulars, after which we can turn it over in our minds agin, and see what's to be done."
"Jack, you are right. Come along."
"I knows I am. Do you know now which way to steer?"
"Of course not. I never was in this latitude before, and the channel looks intricate. We will hail a pilot, Jack, and then we shall be all right, and if we strike it will be his fault."
"Which is a mighty great consolation," said Jack. "Come along."
Note that Jack refers to Charles as “our” nephew, which raises some interesting questions about the nature of his relationship to Bell, but further speculation does not seem tremendously worthwhile.
At this point, thank fuck, we rejoin our core cast members at the Hall. Charles and Flora are in the summerhouse, having the same conversation over and over and over and over again, viz. “I love you but I am hideously corrupt and will turn into a monster and we should probably not have kids,” “No, I love you anyway, marry me,” rinse & repeat. It’s a little like the yes! yes! yes! no! no! no! bit in The Dancing Cavalier:
“I then implore you, Charles, finding me what I am, to leave me to the fate which it has pleased Heaven to cast upon me. I do not ask you, Charles, not to love me."
"'Tis well. Go on, Flora."
"Because I should like to think that, although I might never see you more, you loved me still. But you must think seldom of me, and you must endeavour to be happy with some other—"
"You cannot, Flora, pursue the picture you yourself would draw. These words come not from your heart."
"Did you ever love me?"
"Charles, Charles, why will you add another pang to those you know must already rend my heart?"
And so on. He’s managed to make some headway with her when there is an almighty crack of thunder which Flora takes to be the voice of the Almighty saying “NOPE,” but shortly thereafter a breach in the clouds sends a crepuscular ray down to bathe Flora in heavenly light, so she decides it’s okay after all, when OH NO GUESS WHAT
GO ON, GUESS
A shriek burst from Flora's lips—a shriek so wild and shrill that it awakened echoes far and near. Charles staggered back a step, as if shot, and then in such agonised accents as he was long indeed in banishing the remembrance of, she cried,—
"The vampyre! the vampyre!"
Varney is leaning in the doorway like “sup, I’m just waiting out this thunderstorm, keep making out, don’t mind me,” and Flora is broken-record-ing “THE VAMPYRE,” and Varney is all super smooth about it:
Mechanically, then, he turned his eyes towards the door of the summer-house, and there he saw a tall, thin man, rather elegantly dressed, whose countenance certainly, in its wonderful resemblance to the portrait on the panel, might well appal any one.
The stranger stood in the irresolute attitude on the threshold of the summer-house of one who did not wish to intrude, but who found it as awkward, if not more so now, to retreat than to advance.
Before Charles Holland could summon any words to his aid, or think of freeing himself from the clinging grasp of Flora, which was wound around him, the stranger made a very low and courtly bow, after which he said, in winning accents,—
"I very much fear that I am an intruder here. Allow me to offer my warmest apologies, and to assure you, sir, and you, madam, that I had no idea any one was in the arbour. You perceive the rain is falling smartly, and I made towards here, seeing it was likely to shelter me from the shower."
These words were spoken in such a plausible and courtly tone of voice, that they might well have become any drawing-room in the kingdom.
Flora kept her eyes fixed upon him during the utterance of these words; and as she convulsively clutched the arm of Charles, she kept on whispering,—
"The vampyre! the vampyre!"
"I much fear," added the stranger, in the same bland tones, "that I have been the cause of some alarm to the young lady!"
Oh, Varney, you’re having way too much fun with this.
"Release me," whispered Charles to Flora. "Release me; I will follow him at once."
"No, no—do not leave me—do not leave me. The vampyre—the dreadful vampyre!"
"Hush—hush—hush! It speaks again."
"Perhaps I ought to account for my appearance in the garden at all," added the insinuating stranger. "The fact is, I came on a visit—"
"To Mr. Henry Bannerworth," continued the stranger; "and finding the garden-gate open, I came in without troubling the servants, which I much regret, as I can perceive I have alarmed and annoyed the lady. Madam, pray accept of my apologies."
"In the name of God, who are you?" said Charles.
"My name is Varney."
"Oh, yes. You are the Sir Francis Varney, residing close by, who bears so fearful a resemblance to—"
"Pray go on, sir. I am all attention."
"To a portrait here."
"Indeed! Now I reflect a moment, Mr. Henry Bannerworth did incidentally mention something of the sort. It's a most singular coincidence."
He does blasé to an almost risible extent; it’s kind of impressive. The others arrive, summoned by the screaming, and find themselves in a bizarre social situation:
Varney bowed to the newcomers, and was altogether as much at his ease as everybody else seemed quite the contrary. Even Charles Holland found the difficulty of going up to such a well-bred, gentlemanly man, and saying, "Sir, we believe you to be a vampyre"—to be almost, if not insurmountable.
"I cannot do it," he thought, "but I will watch him."
"Take me away," whispered Flora. "'Tis he—'tis he. Oh, take me away, Charles."
"Hush, Flora, hush. You are in some error; the accidental resemblance should not make us be rude to this gentleman."
"The vampyre!—it is the vampyre!"
Aaaand Varney goes over the edge from amusing to creeptastic, a habit of his:
"The young lady, I fear, is very much indisposed," remarked Sir Francis Varney, in a sympathetic tone of voice. "If she will accept of my arm, I shall esteem it a great honour."
"No—no—no!—God! no," cried Flora.
"Madam, I will not press you."
He bowed, and Charles led Flora from the summer-house towards the hall.
The constant repetition in this text is partially an artifact of it having been initially released in serial form, so that the audience needs their memory of previous episodes sharpened, but it is also partially an artifact of Rymer/Prest being super not all that great at this. Once more, with feeling:
"Flora," he said, "I am bewildered—I know not what to think. That man most certainly has been fashioned after the portrait which is on the panel in the room you formerly occupied; or it has been painted from him."
"He is my midnight visitor!" exclaimed Flora. "He is the vampyre;—this Sir Francis Varney is the vampyre."
Got that, everyone? I think we may be able to come to some form of conclusion here regarding the identity of the vampyre and its relation to the identity of their neighbor, but I could be mistaken. Next time, our heroes have to put up with more of Varney being a Grade-A dick, plus Admiral “I’m Naval” Bell and his unspeakable comrade arrive at the Hall.