Previously in Varney the Vampire: The Admiral's awesomeness cannot withstand the presence of Varney.
Chapter 24 (THE LETTER TO CHARLES. -- THE QUARREL. -- THE ADMIRAL'S NARRATIVE. -- THE MIDNIGHT MEETING.) begins with the Admiral advising Charles to forget the duel entirely:
"D -- n it all, Jack, I don't know how to get out of it," said the admiral. "I tell you what it is, Charles, he wants to fight with swords; and what on earth is the use of your engaging with a fellow who has been practising at his weapon for more than a hundred years?"The vampire's age really only came into play in the last chapter and was rather glossed over, so I'm glad that this is becoming a pattern. It also provides an interesting -- and again, bizarrely rational -- twist to things: they're not afraid of the vampire because he can use his teeth, but because he's become an expert at ordinary, human weapons.
It suddenly occurs to me that perhaps I'm reading the subtext wrong -- ignoring the sexual component to the vampire attacks a bit too easily. Varney's attacks on Flora are sexual -- not nearly as sexual as the vampire bites in Dracula or in much modern vampire fiction, but the undertone is there nonetheless. In my frustration at the fact that the men aren't frightened enough of the vampire, I'm ignoring the fact that the vampire attacking one of the men would be homoerotic. Perhaps in the men's minds (or JMR's), such an attack would therefore be unthinkable.
I'm sure this theory will be contradicted by the end of the book, but for now it satisfies me.
At any rate, Charles and the Admiral fret for a bit when they are interrupted by a letter from Varney:
"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..."
God, I love Varney. Perhaps if he'd shown up in the first few chapters, the story would not have seemed so tedious and I would not have become inspired to start this blog at all.
So Varney offers to meet Charles alone at night to clear the whole thing up. Worried that admitting fear will rob him of his manhood, Charles resolves to do so. First, of course, he has to say farewell to Flora, all but shouting "I'm going to do something terribly stupid!" He kisses her -- a significant act, considering the sexual mores of the day -- and then goes off to meet the vampire:
"What can this be," he exclaimed, "that thus oppressed me? What feeling is this that seems to tell me, I shall never again see Flora Bannerworth?"...I think this is one of the few chapter endings so far that actually feels suspenseful. For the most part they either sort of dick around until JMR decides he has enough words down or leave us with overdramatic, contrived cliffhangers. Charles has not been a consistently human or believable character -- though he's better than some of the others -- but here, I really get a glimpse of true emotion, and it makes me want to continue reading.
"Oh, this is weakness," he then added. "I must fight out against this; it is mere nervousness. I must not endure it, I will not suffer myself thus to become the sport of imagination. Courage, courage, Charles Holland. There are real evils enough, without your adding to them by those of a disordered fancy. Courage, courage, courage."
Chapter 25: In Which the Admiral Tells a Story