FIGHT ME: Varney the Vampyre and the Dryly Witty Correspondence

Previously on: Admiral Bell and his presumable valet-de-chambre Jack Pringle arrived at Bannerworth Hall in time to see Varney in the distance punching Marchdale’s lights out and legging it; some more discussion of Charles & Flora’s future; Varney reappears in Flora’s room and puts a proposition to her amongst much gross vampire stereotype.

We pick up with Charles and his uncle discussing what to do about the situation. The admiral encourages Charles to send a FUCK YOU, FIGHT ME letter to Varney, which he does, and then has a bit of introspection in which he reflects that Varney has to be at least 150 and is super strong and fast and good at everything and maybe this wasn’t the absolute best choice of actions but NO HE MUST DO IT for Flora’s sweet sake, and so on.

Meanwhile the admiral and Jack go over to Castle Varney to deliver the letter, and the admiral very craftily and with no foreshadowing whatsoever, at all, nope, suggests that he rather than Charles fight Varney tonight with pistols. Varney’s all “lol, what kind of rank johnny-come-lately amateur do you take me for, it’s swords or nothing,” and the admiral has to admit he has the right to pick the weapon. There is some amusing byplay, and Varney gets some decent lines for once:

"Upon my word, you take these affairs easy. I suppose you have had a few of them?"

"Oh, a good number. People like yourself worry me into them, I don't like the trouble, I assure you; it is no amusement to me. I would rather, by a great deal, make some concession than fight, because I will fight with swords, and the result is then so certain that there is no danger in the matter to me."

"Hark you, Sir Francis Varney. You are either a very clever actor, or a man, as you say, of such skill with your sword, that you can make sure of the result of a duel. You know, therefore, that it is not fair play on your part to fight a duel with that weapon."

"Oh, I beg your pardon there. I never challenge anybody, and when foolish people will call me out, contrary to my inclination, I think I am bound to take what care of myself I can."

"D—n me, there's some reason in that, too," said the admiral; "but why do you insult people?"

"People insult me first."

"Oh, nonsense!"

"How should you like to be called a vampyre, and stared at as if you were some hideous natural phenomenon?"

"Well, but—"

"I say, Admiral Bell, how should you like it? I am a harmless country gentleman, and because, in the heated imaginations of some member of a crack-brained family, some housebreaker has been converted into a vampyre, I am to be pitched upon as the man, and insulted and persecuted accordingly."

"But you forget the proofs."

"What proofs?"

"The portrait, for one."

"What! Because there is an accidental likeness between me and an old picture, am I to be set down as a vampyre? Why, when I was in Austria last, I saw an old portrait of a celebrated court fool, and you so strongly resemble it, that I was quite struck when I first saw you with the likeness; but I was not so unpolite as to tell you that I considered you were the court fool turned vampyre."

"D—n your assurance!"

"And d—n yours, if you come to that."

The admiral was fairly beaten. Sir Francis Varney was by far too long-headed and witty for him. After now in vain endeavouring to find something to say, the old man buttoned up his coat in a great passion, and looking fiercely at Varney, he said,—"I don't pretend to a gift of the gab. D—n me, it ain't one of my peculiarities; but though you may talk me down, you shan't keep me down."

Bell is fuming, and Varney is being insufferable, and I feel bad for Varney’s staff:

Admiral Bell turned at the door, and said, with some degree of intense bitterness,

"You look rather poorly. I suppose, to-night, you will go and suck somebody's blood, you shark—you confounded vampyre! You ought to be made to swallow a red-hot brick, and then let dance about till it digests."

Varney smiled as he rang the bell, and said to a servant,—

"Show my very excellent friend Admiral Bell out. He will not take any refreshments."

The servant bowed, and preceded the admiral down the staircase; but, to his great surprise, instead of a compliment in the shape of a shilling or half-a-crown for his pains, he received a tremendous kick behind, with a request to go and take it to his master, with his compliments.

Back at the Hall, Charles and his uncle talk, and the admiral sucks at lying and it’s not very long before he admits the whole thing. Charles is like “uh, I’m pretty good with a sword actually, I was on the Continent with all those German undergraduates who kept slicing open each other’s faces and all that kinda stuff” and the admiral humphs and then SOMEONE sends Charles a note:

The note was properly directed to him, therefore Charles Holland at once opened it. A glance at the bottom of the page told him that it came from his enemy, Sir Francis Varney, and then he read it with much eagerness. It ran thus:—

"SIR,—Your uncle, as he stated himself to be, Admiral Bell, was the bearer to me, as I understood him this day, of a challenge from you. Owing to some unaccountable hallucination of intellect, he seemed to imagine that I intended to set myself up as a sort of animated target, for any one to shoot at who might have a fancy so to do.

"According to this eccentric view of the case, the admiral had the kindness to offer to fight me first, when, should he not have the good fortune to put me out of the world, you were to try your skill, doubtless.

"I need scarcely say that I object to these family arrangements. You have challenged me, and, fancying the offence sufficient, you defy me to mortal combat. If, therefore, I fight with any one at all, it must be with you.

"You will clearly understand me, sir, that I do not accuse you of being at all party to this freak of intellect of your uncle's. He, no doubt, alone conceived it, with a laudable desire on his part of serving you. If, however, to meet me, do so to-night, in the middle of the park surrounding your own friends estate.

"There is a pollard oak growing close to a small pool; you, no doubt, have noticed the spot often. Meet me there, if you please, and any satisfaction you like I will give you, at twelve o'clock this night.

"Come alone, or you will not see me. It shall be at your own option entirely, to convert the meeting into a hostile one or not. You need send me no answer to this. If you are at the place I mention at the time I have named, well and good. If you can not, I can only, if I please, imagine that you shrink from a meeting with



Charles is like OKAY YOU TOOTHY ASSHOLE IT IS ON and prepares his weapons (apparently deeming that coming to a sword fight with a couple of pistols is prudent, rather than breaking the rules, and I’m with him all the way), and has a long extremely boring conversation with Flora about how they love each other a whole bunch. Then we have a confusing but undeniably eerie account from the admiral of how he once served on a ship where a mysterious stowaway showed up and demanded to be given coffee with brandy in it and refusing to move, claiming a fragile state of health, and every time anyone approached him basically doing judo on them until everybody on board had to just sort of get used to That Asshole Sitting On the Water Cask and — well, presumably it’s an improvement over Dracula’s storied run from Varna to Whitby aboard the Demeter in ballast with silver sand, but still, WEIRD.

By this time it’s late afternoon and Charles has had this very odd conversation with his uncle and is getting ready to go meet the vampyre, the vampyre. Rymer/Prest suck enormously at pacing:

As nothing of any importance occurred now in the interval of time till nearly midnight, we will at once step to that time, and our readers will suppose it to be a quarter to twelve o'clock at night, and young Charles Holland on the point of leaving the house, to keep his appointment by the pollard oak, with the mysterious Sir Francis Varney.

Charles sneaks out the window, but his uncle is watching and sees him emerge, going to find Henry and telling him Charles has left the house. Subsequently letters are found addressed to the admiral, to Henry, and to Flora, purportedly from Charles. They are very obviously not from Charles. However, our heroes are not the collective brain trust we might have wished.

To the admiral:


"Of course you will perceive the prudence of keeping this letter to yourself, but the fact is, I have now made up my mind to leave Bannerworth Hall.

"Flora Bannerworth is not now the person she was when first I knew her and loved her. Such being the case, and she having altered, not I, she cannot accuse me of fickleness.

"I still love the Flora Bannerworth I first knew, but I cannot make my wife one who is subject to the visitations of a vampyre.

"I have remained here long enough now to satisfy myself that this vampyre business is no delusion. I am quite convinced that it is a positive fact, and that, after death, Flora will herself become one of the horrible existences known by that name.

"I will communicate to you from the first large city on the continent whither I am going, at which I make any stay, and in the meantime, make what excuses you like at Bannerworth Hall, which I advise you to leave as quickly as you can, and believe me to be, my dear uncle, yours truly,


And to Henry:


"If you calmly and dispassionately consider the painful and distressing circumstances in which your family are placed, I am sure that, far from blaming me for the step which this note will announce to you I have taken, you will be the first to give me credit for acting with an amount of prudence and foresight which was highly necessary under the circumstances.

"If the supposed visits of a vampyre to your sister Flora had turned out, as first I hoped they would, a delusion and been in any satisfactory manner explained away I should certainly have felt pride and pleasure in fulfilling my engagement to that young lady.

"You must, however, yourself feel that the amount of evidence in favour of a belief that an actual vampyre has visited Flora, enforces a conviction of its truth.

"I cannot, therefore, make her my wife under such very singular circumstances.

"Perhaps you may blame me for not taking at once advantage of the permission given me to forego my engagement when first I came to your house; but the fact is, I did not then in the least believe in the existence of the vampyre, but since a positive conviction of that most painful fact has now forced itself upon me, I beg to decline the honour of an alliance which I had at one time looked forward to with the most considerable satisfaction.

"I shall be on the continent as fast as conveyances can take me, therefore, should you entertain any romantic notions of calling me to an account for a course of proceeding I think perfectly and fully justifiable, you will not find me.

"Accept the assurances of my respect for yourself and pity for your sister, and believe me to be, my dear sir, your sincere friend,


Varney didn’t append “BY VARNEY THE VAMPYRE” but it’s not like he needs to. However, since Charles has snuck out of the house, he is not there to answer these allegations, and because this is this book and everybody is an idiot, both the admiral and Henry believe the fake letters at once and are INCENSED.