“Cast your nets, wanderers! Try me with your questions, and let the contest begin.”
—Blaine the Mono, to Roland and the Ka-Tet, at the end of The Waste Lands
Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these first sections, join me by commenting here.
When we last left our young ka-tet, they’d managed to get the drop on the Big Coffin Hunters. A temporary truce was agreed to by Roland and Eldred Jonas, but we all know it’s only a matter of time until these two face off again.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, On the Drop, Section 1
Now we jump ahead, three weeks past the events at Mayor’s House and the Travellers’ Rest. Susan is riding a horse named Pylon along the Drop, feeling much self-pity and restlessness over her situation and over Roland, a.k.a. Will. She’s wearing jeans and one of her father’s khaki shirts, and we get the feeling this is the real Susan, not the laughing girl in the gown and the borrowed jewelry we met at the party. She’s riding the horse hard, as though if he goes fast enough, she can outrun the mess she’s in.
What Constant Reader Learns: Apparently, wearing her father’s shirt was a source of contention between Susan and her aunt this morning. Guess we’re about to find out.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, On the Drop, Section 2
Flashing back to breakfast time. Aunt Cord is in the kitchen making oatmeal when Susan comes down in daddy’s shirt and starts peeling an orange. Cordelia is still being portrayed in the Bitter Old Maid role, jealous of Susan’s youth and beauty.
She picks a fight with Susan over what the girl’s eating for breakfast—or not eating. Then it devolves into an argument over the shirt. Aunt Cord wants her to wear one of the “new riding blouses” the mayor had sent her, which are apparently quite revealing. Susan “loathes their pretension,” including the “low-scooped fronts which were probably all Thorin would see if she appeared before him dressed in one.” The argument devolves into f-words and name-calling, and you get the feeling this one’s been a long time in coming. Finally, Susan throws her orange slices in Cord’s face, and gets a hard slap in return. Then Cord says Susan can have the money if she thinks that’s what all this is about. But when she turns to get her purse, she can’t quite bring herself to do it.
After a few last words, Susan flounces out as Aunt Cord shouts a warning: “Don’t thee go off thinking foolish thoughts, Susan! Foolish thoughts lead to foolish deeds, and it’s too late for either. Thee’s agreed!”
What Constant Reader Learns: Having oatmeal for breakfast struck me as funny. It feels so…ordinary. Seems like they should be having porridge or gruel or something.
Interesting insight on Susan’s part that her aunt’s unhappiness with her is not simply the delay in getting her hands on the money Susan’s union with the mayor will bring, but because “the two of them had had enough of each other.” Susan thinks maybe Aunt Cord was looking forward to having the house to herself, perhaps to entertain “Mr. Eldred Jonas, with whom Cordelia seemed quite taken.”
Aunt Cord has a cold sore at the corner of her mouth, which always happens when she isn’t sleeping well. And she’s up and worried about… money? Susan not going through with her agreement? The enticing Mr. Jonas?
We get more background on how this whole agreement happened, with Cord begging Susan to consent to it, fearful of losing what little they had left. And Susan’s outraged that Cord wants her to be grateful for what the mayor lets them use (the horse, for example), when it was originally theirs to begin with.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, On the Drop, Section 3
Susan finally slows down after riding a mile or so and finally calms enough to notice what a beautiful day it is. So it’s the perfect time to stop and moon a while over Roland, “with his unsettling blue eyes, his dark tumble of hair, and the stiff-necked judgmental attitude.” She’s angry for the sharp words he used on her at Mayor’s House. “What would a boy like that—for that was all he was, really, just a boy—know about the hard choices she had made?” Still she can’t forget him, and she knows something else—he hadn’t forgotten her, either.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, if this were a real western, Will would come riding over the ridge any minute now. We’ll see.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, On the Drop, Section 4
The reason for Susan’s sureness that Will/Roland hasn’t forgotten her becomes clearer now. A week after the Mayor’s House dinner, Sheemie had appeared at Susan’s house with a large bouquet of wildflowers. Susan is out front sweeping and watches him approach “with a mixture of fascination and horror.” She quickly nabs the note attached to the bouquet and sticks it in her pocket before Aunt Cord comes storming around from the backyard.
Sheemie is trying to tell her the flowers are from his “third-best friend,” but Susan gets him to shut up. She’d heard about what happened at the Travellers’ Rest, so she has a good suspicion of who Sheemie’s third-best friend might be.
Aunt Cord charges around the corner with her gardening shears and gets in Sheemie’s face, talking loud and slowly as if he were deaf as well as a little slow on the uptake. The guy is rightfully afraid of her, and Susan’s convinced he will answer when Cord demands to know who sent the flowers. But Sheemie has good instincts and only says, “Don’t ‘member. I got a empty head, so I do. Stanley says I a bugwit.”
Cord doesn’t question it, but sends him on his way and tells Susan to put the flowers in water.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susan must be wondering what Will Dearborn and his friends are really about after hearing the stories about what happened at the Travellers’ Rest. “The stories she had heard were outlandish, but if they weren’t true, why did the versions told by so many different witnesses sound so much alike?”
When Cord tells Susan to put her flowers in water, she smiles at her, and Susan reflects that “her aunt was no cradle-story ogre, no witch like Rhea of the Coos. There was no monster here, only a maiden lady with some few social pretensions, a love of gold and silver, and a fear of being turned out, penniless, into the world.” Of course, Susan thinks this a week before she and Cord have their big falling out.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, On the Drop, Section 5
The flowers, of course, were from Roland, along with the note: Dear Susan Delgado. I spoke out of turn the other night, and cry your pardon. May I see you and speak to you? It must be private. This is a matter of importance. If you will see me, get a message to the boy who brings this. He is safe.—Will Dearborn.
Susan wonders at this matter of importance and wants to see him, but can see no good coming of it, plus it’s too risky. Finally, after tossing and turning most of the night, she writes her response: I may not see you. ‘Twould not be proper.
The next morning, when in town doing her marketing, she goes by the Travellers’ Rest and finds Sheemie wearing a pink sombrero and singing “Golden Slippers.” He recognizes Susan (“Hello Susan Delgado from out there by the edge of town.”) She slips him her note for Roland and he takes it, agreeing to be “hushaboo” about it. Susan’s rethinking the note when Reynolds comes out of the mercantile store. She doesn’t think he saw her speaking to Sheemie, and she doesn’t want him to. She hurries away.
What Constant Reader Learns: “Golden Slippers” is a traditional folk song—don’t know much about it. Any significance here?
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, On the Drop, Section 6
Finally we’re back to Susan with her horse on the Drop, still thinking about Roland and what bad luck it was that she met him. He “had changed things; had gotten into her head and now lodged there, a tenant who defied eviction.” So she decides she needs to see him one more time to “see him at his right size, instead of the one her mind had created for him in her warm thoughts and warmer dreams.”
Then she turns and knows he’ll be there, “is if her thought had called him—or her ka.” And here he comes, his silhouette appearing on the horizon.
When Roland gets to her, he dismounts gracefully and gives her a look that is “steady and serious and disquietingly adult.“ And these great lines: “They looked at each other in the Drop’s big silence, Roland of Gilead and Susan of Mejis, and in her heart she felt a wind begin to blow. She feared it and welcomed it in equal measure.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I feel sorry for Susan here. Her first instinct when she sees Roland is to run “before something terrible happens…before it really is ka, come like a wind to take you and all your plans over the sky and far away.” But she doesn’t, of course.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, On the Drop, Section 7
Roland apologizes again in his serious way, and Susan starts to cry. She says his words were unfair, and they hurt her. But Roland, even at this young an age, isn’t one to play games, and admits he said it because he fell in love with her and was jealous. Her first reaction is to laugh: “Such things happen in stories, but in real life? I think not.” He insists he isn’t there to ask her to return his feelings, but simply to explain and apologize.
Roland acknowledges that the mayor’s sister told him of her arrangement with His Honor.
Finally, he gets to his important business, a question he wants to ask “not as the follow who insulted and hurt you because he was jealous.” He wants to know if she supports the Affiliation. She finally answers that she does because her father did, although she isn’t a strong supporter because Mejis is so remote. Roland shares how overly friendly everyone has been, and how they’re been pushing alcohol on the boys “as if they wish us to break our vow.” He wonders if the mayor has said anything unusual to her in private (and she lies and denies ever being alone with the old goat).
Once he points it out, Susan stops stewing over her own personal crises long enough to realize he’s right and that this overly zealous proclamation of support for the Affiliation is odd. Finally, he says, “Something’s wrong here,” and points out the horses. She eventually sees his point and acknowledges that there are “far too many.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Awwww, Roland. Susan can see “the deep romance of his nature, buried like a fabulous streak of alien metal in the granite of his practicality. He accepted love as a fact rather than a flower, and it rendered her genial contempt powerless over both of them.” She also rightly discerns that “he wasn’t much for comedy.”
When Roland smiles at one point, Susan thinks “the smile made him look older than he could possibly be.” There’s also some discussion about the “thees” and “thous” of the “Friendly Folk,” or the “Friends.” Which of course brings Quakers and Amish to mind, although I’m not sure who the ”friends” are here.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, On the Drop, Section 8
Roland continues to quiz Susan about the horses, and he rightly points out that there are no “muties” among the stock. Without having to say it, Roland gets the point across that her father might not have died in a simple accident as she’d been told, and she’s shaken by it. The rancher Fran Lengyll is the one who told her what had happened. Roland thinks they are leaving the horses out where the boys can see them, either thinking they won’t understand what they’re seeing or that they are working in another part of town and haven’t gotten to the Drop area yet.
He speculates that maybe the locals think the horses will be gone by the time the boys get around to that side of the Barony. He tells her to keep their conversation between them and to be careful.
Roland turns to leave, but of course he doesn’t, and when he turns back he has tears in his eyes. He explains about his mother—about how, in many ways, he feels as if she’s dead to him. And that when he saw Susan laughing with Rimer and the mayor at the party, and saw Olive Thorin’s face, he thought of his mother. “The expression was the same, you see. The same one I saw on the morning when I opened the wrong door at the wrong time and came upon my mother and her—”
Susan’s mortified at this comparison. “Inside her, everything was suddenly in motion, all the mooring-lines and buckles and clamps she’d been using to hold herself together seeming to melt all at once.” But of course, Roland stops her from saying how ashamed she is by kissing her.
What Constant Reader Learns: The lovebirds have something in common—they can both mentally calculate a lot of horses quickly and come up with the same number. Susan’s a little faster, probably because of her father.
I guess I should have expected such forthrightness—this is Roland, after all, even if it is a baby version of the Roland we all know. But his admission about his mother surprised me a bit.
I find myself trying to puzzle out what’s going on with the horses and the pure stock, and wonder if it’s as simple as secretly helping Farson or something much more sinister at work… and how the Big Coffin Hunters and their seeing glass they left with the witch fits in. Nothing’s coming to me, though.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, On the Drop, Section 9
The snogging on the Drop continues unabated for a few moments more before Susan steps back, “and between them a current that was like nothing he had ever felt in his life. It ran like a river and shook like a fever.” *Constant reader resists urge to make snarky comment about overly dramatic teenagers and renaming this chapter Fifty Shades of Purple.* There’s much proclamation of “if you love me let me go” and “just one more kiss” and then Roland realizes she’s his to do whatever he wants with, even if it’s to make her his mistress and do to her what Marten had done to his mother.
Well, nothing like thinking about mom to cool his ardor, so Roland gives Susan a sweet little goodbye kiss and watches her ride away.
What Constant Reader Learns: “These were the best kisses of his whole life,” Roland thinks. Uh. He had his little outing with the whore after his fight with Cort—and she wouldn’t kiss him. How many kisses “in his whole life” has he had at the ripe old age of 14 or 15? Mayhap none, says this old cynic.
They can say fare-the-well all they want. Ka is at work.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, On the Drop, Section 10
We switch over to Sheriff Avery, Deputy Dawg, and Deputy George sitting on the porch in front of the jail when Cuthbert (with his bird skull on the horn of his saddle) and Alain ride past. They all wave jovially, but as soon as the boys are out of hearing range, Deputy Dawg exclaims how stupid those kids are because they spent all morning on the piers counting nets. And while Avery agrees with him, he understands that the standoff with the Coffin Hunters might indicate otherwise… or maybe not. They’re tougher or harder than they’d given them credit for, but “hard don’t mean smart, thank the gods,” he thinks.
What Constant Reader Learns: Sheriff Avery is awfully gassy this morning. Must be the oatmeal.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, On the Drop, Section 11
It’s later in the afternoon, and Cuthbert and Alain are sitting on the porch of the bunkhouse at the ranch where they’re staying. Alain is exhausted after counting nets all day: “He was not averse to hard work, even when it was monotonous, but he didn’t like pointless work.” They all realize that what they need to see is at the Drop and not at the docks. But Roland has ordered them to keep up their work. Behind them, pigeons are cooing from their cages and, across the wind, they can hear the sound of the thinny.
Up rides Roland, and something happens that Alain finds “oddly portentous—a kind of omen.” A bird—a carrier pigeon—flies up and roosts on Roland’s shoulder. Attached to its leg is a strip of paper with a message in code. “Farson moves east,” the message says. “Forces split, one big, one small. Do you see anything unusual?”
Roland instructs Cuthbert to answer the same as always: “Message received. Nothing to report at this time.” Alain protests, pointing out the abundance of horses and the fact that he and Cuthbert had seen oxen at the Rocking H ranch. “My gods, I’ve never seen them, except for pictures in a book.” Roland wants assurances that no one realizes they saw the oxen, and Alain says the nearby drovers paid them no attention.
Roland turns away, and Alain plucks one of Susan’s blond hairs from the collar of Ro’s shirt. He has such a light touch that Roland doesn’t feel it—something that makes Alain pleased with himself. Finally, Ro sends the pigeon on its way with the new message, and then starts daydreaming and staring at the sunset.
Alain, watching him, wonders for the first time if Roland had made the right decision. Bert realizes Roland’s acting weird too, and Alain shows him the long blond hair from Roland’s shirt. “In Bert’s face, Alain saw dismay and laughter in equal measure,” and Cuthbert raises his forefinger to his temple as if pulling a trigger.
What Constant Reader Learns: Alain finds the arrival of the pigeon (or the shadow it casts) as an omen. We’ve seen references to him having the “touch,” but not much of what it means or what role it’s going to play here.
Another glimpse into the boys’ strengths and weaknesses as the message arrives. Both Roland and Cuthbert quickly picked up the ability to decode the messages, but Alain can’t. “Alain’s talents—his ability to track, his easy access to the touch—lay in other directions.”
“Cuthbert raises his forefinger to his temple as if pulling a trigger”—a funny little joke between the boys at Roland’s expense, but I hope it isn’t foreshadowing.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next chapter of Wizard and Glass.