“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 been officially “counting” the thinny—a very creepy thing it is—and had received a message via pigeon that convinced Roland he needed to see Susan again.
Read this week’s post.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 1
The Peddler’s Moon is waning, which in this world means it’s the end of the “hottest, fairest part of the summer.” One afternoon, a servant from Mayor’s House shows up at the house Susan shares with Aunt Cordelia, leading a chestnut mare—the second of three promised for Susan’s “services.” Susan recognizes it as Felicia, one of her favorites from childhood. Her initial joy fades as she realizes why the horse is there: “she’d been proven honest; now she found herself the recipient of ‘earnest gifts’ from a rich man.”
Aunt Cord calls out something cheery, which makes Susan even more depressed and angry. She bites her tongue, trying to keep the peace and feeling if she and Cord argue again she will “simply snap like a dry twig under a boot.”
Susan stables the horse, but decides the mare needs new shoes, so she takes her father’s bag and heads to town to visit Hookey’s Stable and Fancy Livery.
What Constant Reader Learns: Feeling some major sympathy for Susan now. She’s trapped, and she knows it. All meeting Roland has done is make her realize the true horror of the bargain she entered. It’s made even worse as she thinks how appalled her father would be at her situation and that, had things been different, Roland/Will is a man her father would have approved of for her.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 2
Susan arrives at the stable and livery, and quickly picks out the four new shoes. She notes that the stable has fresh hay and a new coat of paint, and its barn roof is new or at least has no holes. So business has been good for Brian Hookey.
He writes up the ticket for the horseshoes, but when Susan broaches the subject of payment he isn’t concerned—she’ll pay it as soon as she can, he knows. Susan realizes this is yet another perk of her being “Mayor Thorin’s good friend.”
She’s blinded by the bright sunlight as she leaves the relative dark of the stable and runs into someone. When her eyes adjust, she recognizes Richard Stockworth, aka Cuthbert. He’s his usual over-the-top self, brushing off her sleeve and profusely apologizing. They exchange greetings and she’s already back home with her horseshoes before she finds a folded note Bert had stuck in her bag. Will’s note says: Can you meet me at Citgo this evening or tomorrow evening? Very important. Has to do with what we discussed before. Please. W….P.S. Best you burn this note. And she burns it at once.
What Constant Reader Learns: In this section, it’s Hookey’s Stable and Smithy, as opposed to Hookey’s Stable and Fancy Livery. Maybe the Stable and Smithy is considered a separate business? It probably doesn’t matter.
Susan’s first impulse when she realizes it’s Bert she’s run into is to kiss him and tell him to give the kiss to Will and tell him there’s more where that came from. The girl’s got it bad.
Roland’s note is clever. It’s posed as not having anything personal about it, but about the thing he senses is not right about Mejis. And he says please.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 3
Susan eats dinner with Aunt Cord and rides the horse Felicia out to the Drop to watch the sunset and think about Will’s note. She wonders why he wants to meet at Citgo, and if he and his friends are who and what they say. She knows that they might start off talking, but will end up kissing. Or more. She’s truly conflicted, and “prays” to her father, and the answer she comes to “let ka go and mind the virtue of your promise, hard as that may be.”
What Constant Reader Learns: This is a really great section in conveying the no-win situation Susan faces. She sits on her horse (that’s only hers again because of her agreement with the mayor), and “for the first time in her sixteen years was truly torn by indecision.” How’s that for a description of a “growing-up moment”—that point at which we realize we don’t have the answers, and that life is not nearly as black and white as we thought. Love this: “All she wanted stood against all she believed of honor, and her mind roared with conflict. Around all, like a rising wind around an unstable house, she felt the idea of ka growing. Yet to give over one’s honor for that reason was so easy, wasn’t it? To excuse the fall of virtue by invoking all-powerful ka.”
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 4
It’s the sixth “Sanday” since arriving in Hambry, and the boys are taking the day off. Bert is in the market and feeling homesick for his mother. While there, he “runs into” Susan, who hands him a “corvette,” or small leather coin purse, and says he dropped it. It takes Cuthbert a few seconds to catch it. Of course, being Bert, he rambles on and on, but Susan interrupts “with the briskness of an older sister,” and takes her leave.
What Constant Reader Learns: Had to chuckle at it being “Sanday, the traditional cowboys’ day of rest,” and Cuthbert’s rationale for the boys taking the day off as well: “It’s fair enough that we should since we don’t know what the hell we’re doing in the first place.” The parallels between the market goods in Hambry and those to be found at the old market in San Antonio and the border towns are fun…lots of blankets and serapes. Wonder if they have carved onyx chess sets?
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 5
Bert finds Roland out on a part of the Drop called “Town Lookout,” a place where Ro’s spending a lot of time these days. From there, he can see much of Hambry, but Bert figures it’s the view of Susan Delgado’s house that most has his interest. Today, Alain is with him.
Bert delivers the corvette from Susan Delgado, who he deems “beautiful…and also as wily as a snake. I say that with utmost admiration.”
Roland’s face lights up until he opens the pouch and reads the note. Alain asks what it says, and Roland hands over the note with “very real desolation in his eyes.” The note reads simply: It’s best we don’t meet. I’m sorry.
Cuthbert for once can’t think of anything to say that might not make Roland feel worse, and he admires Alain for the diplomatic way in which he changes the subject, asking Roland if they should go on their own hunt at Citgo. Ro asks if the Big Coffin Hunters are in town, and Bert says he saw Jonas and Reynolds but not Depape—Roland’s already figured out Depape was probably sent off to track where they came from. Roland decides to wait and see if Susan changes her mind.
Alain realizes they’re in over their heads, and wishes they hadn’t been sent. “They wouldn’t have sent us—not my father, not yours—if they’d known what we’d find,” Roland notes. He wants to look around Citgo, but with someone who knows their way around. He also realizes they can’t wait long: “If Depape comes back, we’ll have to take our chance. God knows what he may find out, or what stories he may invent to please Jonas, or what Jonas may do after they palaver. There may be shooting.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Ha. Cuthbert the Loquacious is befuddled that Roland and Alain can sit quietly without speaking. He “had no trouble accepting the idea that some people could go long periods of time without talking to each other, but he did not think he would ever understand it.”
Interesting that Roland shares the note with his friends instead of being embarrassed and hiding it or just not offering up what it says. And Cuthbert’s reaction is very loyal and strong: “Cuthbert was disgusted at the thought of that lovely young girl bumping hips with the long and bony Mayor of Hambry, but the look on Roland’s face called up stronger emotions. For that, he could hate her.” Hmmm.
Susan’s not the only one growing up. We’re told that “for a moment Roland’s face was haunted by the ghost of the man he would become. Cuthbert saw that ghost and shivered—not knowing what he saw, only knowing that it was awful.”
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 6
Susan works hard in the stables all day to tire herself out, much to Aunt Cord’s amazement—it is Sanday, after all. Finally, she goes to bed, hoping to be tired enough to sleep, but it isn’t happening. She wonders again if her father could have been murdered.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susan realizes that she’s let her attraction to Will get in the way. If she’d not been attracted to him, she would have agreed to the meeting right away. This makes her feel relieved enough to sleep, but I’m thinking it spells trouble ahead.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 7
Late the next afternoon, Sheemie comes into the Travellers’ Rest, where the boys are having dinner. He has an envelope for Will, which he says are seeds. Roland can tell there are no seeds in the envelope, but he understands the message Sheemie memorized: “These are the seeds you scattered on the Drop.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Sheemie greets the boys as “Little Coffin Hunters,” and even Cuthbert isn’t too fond of that, or should I say “Mr. Arthur Heath, good fella who saved my life.”
Ooh, another look at the inner Roland: When Sheemie delivers the note, Roland’s eyes “blazed so fiercely” at the message that it scares Sheemie and he hustles back out. “In that moment he saw something in Will-sai’s eyes that frightened him badly. In that instant he understood that Will was as much a killer as the one in the cloak, or the one who had wanted Sheemie to lick his boots clean, or old white-haired Jonas with the trembly voice…As bad as them, or even worse.”
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 8
Roland waits until they get back to the Bar K bunkhouse before opening the envelope. This time, the message says: There is an orange grove a mile off the road on the town side of Citgo. Meet me there at moonrise. Come alone….Burn this.
What Constant Reader Learns: Alain doesn’t ask, just announces that he and Cuthbert will keep a lookout. “Aye, but from a distance,” Roland replies. Because we all know there’s gonna be kissing. I know it. Roland knows it. And Susan knows it. Not sure if Alain and Bert know it.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 9
Roland arrives at the orange grove a half-hour before moonrise. He’s glad to see Susan when she arrives quietly, and admires her stealth (and probably a few other things). “Will Dearborn, we are met both fair and ill,” she says, and then the kissing starts. Told you.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland seems very young as he’s walking through the orange grove and feeling homesick. The grove reminds him of New Canaan. “There was the same feeling of dignity and civilization here, of much time devoted to something not strictly necessary.” And for the first time, it occurs to him that he might never see home again—“that he had become as much a wanderer as old Peddler Moon in the sky.” Aw.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 10
“Inside her lonely hut high on the Coos,” Rhea is still staring into the glass left for safekeeping by the Big Coffin Hunters. Tonight, she’s watching, in the ball’s “poison pink glow,” Susan playing tonsil-hockey with Roland, the boy “she’d mistaken for a gunslinger, until she had realized his youth.” Rhea is enjoying the idea of “Miss Haughty” being brought low.
What Constant Reader Learns: So like Gollum and the One Ring, Rhea and the glass have an unhealthy relationship. The glass is sucking the vitality out of her “as a vampire sucks blood.” Her housekeeping has gone to hell, and when she isn’t looking into the glass she’s thinking about it. Preciousssssss….
So we have the evil, poisonous pink glass and the evil, poisonous green thinny. Precarious, colorful world.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 11
With much difficulty, Ro and Susan separate. “What are we to do?” she asks, and he answers, “The best we can. As we both always have. As our fathers taught us.”
Then she asks the million-dollar question: “Who are you, really, Will?” He admits they aren’t exactly who they say—but almost. That they’re only boys being sent to someplace safe “in a time of danger” and not out to uncover a big conspiracy. He asks her if she knows the game Castles: “Then you know how the red pieces stand at one end of the board and the white at the other. How they come around the Hillocks and creep toward each other, setting screens for cover. What’s going on here in Hambry is very like that.” He and his friends have done all the counting they can do on their side of the board; to move to the Drop and begin counting horses, for example, will mean showing their hand. He tells her they’ve received a message that makes him think some of the answers to his questions will be found at Citgo.
What Constant Reader Learns: We learn that Susan is to be the year’s Reaping Girl, which involves, among other things, changes of five elaborate costumes during different parts of the festival (it would have been nine in Gilead, Roland thinks). The sixth one—which sounds more like a negligee—will be only for her eyes, her maid’s, and Hart Thorin’s.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 12
Susan knows a path leading into the oilpatch, and the sounds of the oil and machinery give Roland the creeps as they get closer. Nineteen of the pumps are still working, and “the sound of them was ghastly—the sound of monsters being choked to death.”
He also sees a line of “white porcelain cylinders” lined up along the fence. Susan says that electricity went through them back in the old days.
What Constant Reader Learns: It’s creepy in the oilpatch.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 13
With gas-jets flaring occasionally, Roland gets jumpy and reaches for the gun he isn’t wearing. Susan says they use some of the gas to run a few machines like the ice machines—“little more than toys.” Roland isn’t much interested in the gas-storage tanks. He asks about a building, which Susan says is left over from the Old People, and her father used to find useful things in there when he was a child—ink and pens. Nearby are a “few rusting hulks that had been the Old People’s weird, horseless mode of travel.“
To the east of the oilfield there’s a dropoff to the woods. Susan notes that there used to be big silver “cans” that didn’t rust, but they’re gone and she can’t imagine what became of them. Roland finds a steel pipe with rusting joints that Susan says is an old pipe that has been dry for years—but Roland reaches down and touches it, bringing back a hand covered with black oil.
What Constant Reader Learns: Again, we get a glimpse of what feels like a far-future version of our world, from the hulks of vehicles to the ink and pens and the familiar names on the oil storage-tanks—“nonsense words.”
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 14
They follow the pipe toward a gate, and Susan notices that many of the pines have been stripped of their lower branches. When they reach the bottom of the hill, they find the end of the pipe, beneath which is a “shallow lake” of oil filled with dead birds who’d landed on it and “stayed to die in what must have been an unpleasantly leisurely fashion.”
Roland points out some big tracks that could only belong to oxen. Now, they can see a trail leading down the hill, and wheel ruts, and boot tracks. The footprints are Reynolds’, Roland tells her, pointing out that the man has a distinctive gait. Susan is amazed at his “trailcraft,” as he calls it, and again asks who he is.
“My name’s not Will but Roland,” he tells her. “And now I’ve put my life in your hands.” And we proceed with some more making out and touchy-feely in the Citgo patch. Except Susan realizes suddenly, they’re being watched—and somehow, she knows who it is. “Get out, ye old bitch,” she says. “If ye be spying on us in some way, I know not how, get thee gone!”
What Constant Reader Learns: Great look at Roland’s tracking abilities.
And way to go, Susan, on calling out Rhea! The girl has some bit of the touch herself, maybe?
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 15
Rhea draws back in surprise. She didn’t hear Susan’s voice but she knows the girl sensed her and, when she did, the glass flashed pink and went dark. But she’s cheered by the thought of what she told Susan to do after she lost her virginity.
What Constant Reader Learns: Be nice if WE knew what she told Susan to do, but I guess that would ruin the surprise/horror.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 16
Roland’s shocked by Susan’s outburst, so Susan explains a bit about Rhea (leaving out the details of her “proving”). It’s at least enough to cool them down a bit, and they begin walking on down the hill. At the edge of the forest, they see a gleam of metal—and the foliage is too dense. It’s the pine boughs, of course, and the big silver cans that had been moved. The canisters have been equipped with wheels—of a quality only provided by the suddenly-prosperous Brian Hookey…one of Pat Delgado’s best friends.
There appear to be twenty-eight of the tankers, each filled with oil from the Citgo oilpatch. Roland realizes the project’s been going on for some time, but since the boys arrived in town, it had seemed wise to try to camouflage them.
What are they for? Susan wonders. “For Farson,” Roland says. “The Affiliation knows he’s found a number of war-machines; they come either from the Old People or from some other where.” Maybe the machines aren’t broken, Roland says. Maybe they just need oil to run, or else Farson has figured out a way to refine the oil and use it. “If he’s able to lure the forces of the Affiliation into a battle in some close location where rapid retreat is impossible, and if he can use machine-weapons like the ones that go on treads, he could win more than a battle. He could slaughter ten thousand horse-mounted fighting men and win the war.”
Surely, Susan argues, everyone remembers that the ways of the Old People are the ways of death. Roland remembers the cook Hax, who was hanged for Farson. “Death is what John Farson’s all about,” he says.
What Constant Reader Learns: The nonsense words on the sides of the tankers: Citgo, Sunoco, Exxon, Conoco. Roland has a snort at the slogan ’Cleaner fuel for a better tomorrow.’ “It is tomorrow,” he says.
“If he’s able to lure the forces of the Affiliation into a battle in some close location where rapid retreat is impossible,” Roland says. Which brings Eyebolt Canyon to mind. Could the war be coming to Mejis? Tanks in the canyon, plus the thinny?
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 16
Back in the orchard, the lovers (“for so they now were, in all but the most physical sense”) get ready to say goodbye, with some waxing philosophical by our Constant Author: “Who can remember the pangs and sweetness of those early years? We remember our first real love no more clearly than the illusions that caused us to rave during a high fever. On that night and beneath that fading moon, Roland Deschain and Susan Delgado were nearly torn apart by their desire for each other; they floundered for what was right and ached with feelings that were both desperate and deep.”
So they profess their undying love, and she begs him to make her break her promise to the Mayor. But Roland won’t do it so she rides away in a huff, leaving both herself and Roland in tears.
What Constant Reader Learns: “Is yer honor so much greater than yer professed love for me, then? Aye? Then let it be so.” Yeah, yeah. Own your feelings girl. Don’t try to make him do the dirty work.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter IX, Citgo, Section 16
Roland’s so upset he has to ride around trying to “get his roaring emotions under some kind of control.” He thinks about Citgo awhile, then second-guesses himself for not taking Susan when she wanted it. “Yet in the deep rooms of his heart—rooms where the clearest voice was that of his father—he felt he had not been wrong.”
About three a.m., as he is about to turn back toward the ranch, he hears a horse approaching and hides behind a hedge. And here comes Roy Depape, riding “hell-for-leather” for Hambry.
What Constant Reader Learns: Uh-oh.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next chapter of Wizard and Glass.