“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, Roland was acting like a judgmental horse’s hindquarters after learning the gist of Susan’s relationship with the mayor.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Sheemie, Section 1
Now we’re going to see what happens during the night after the boys leave Mayor’s House. The way this section is written, it feels like the countdown to a Wild West showdown (or an episode of Law and Order).
At 10 p.m., Roland and his friends leave the party, causing Aunt Cord to comment that they must be tired and Henry Wertner the stockliner to reply that no, they’re more like “rats exploring en woodpile after hokkut rain.”
Shortly after ten, Olive Thorin pled a headache and left the public rooms. She ponders her sad situation with the mayor, but then acknowledges that something—“an intrigue of some sort”—is going on. She suspects her husband knows a little about it, but only as much as Kimba Rimer and “that hideous limping man,” Jonas, want him to know. And for the mayor’s recent lack of attention to the important things going on around him, Olive blames his fixation with “sai Delgado.”
By eleven, the mayor, Kimba Rimer, and Eldred Jonas are in the study with a bunch of the ranchers, having a conversation about how young the Affiliation’s emissaries are, and how that is a relief. Jonas doesn’t participate in the conversation, just listens and smiles.
By midnight, Susan has gotten home and is getting ready for bed. She’d had to turn over the sapphire to the mayor himself before leaving and also had to let herself be kissed and touched. So she’s angry now—at the mayor, at her Aunt Cord, “furious with that self-righteous prig of a Will Dearborn,” and at herself for letting herself get into such a situation.
By one a.m., no one is left in the public rooms of Mayor’s House except a cleaning crew and Eldred Jonas—who makes all the cleaning women nervous. They call him “Il spectro,” which I guess is sort of a bastardized Spanish for “the ghost” or something like that.
By two a.m., even the cleaning women have gone home. But not everything is sleepy and quiet in town. The night is still young at the Travellers’ Rest beneath the “all-encompassing gaze” of the two-headed deer head known as The Romp.
What Constant Reader Learns: I haven’t fully decided if I like Susan or not, but I did feel sorry for her in this scene as she looks at her options and realizes they all suck. All her “choices seemed bad and honorless, all the roads either filled with rocks or hub-deep in mud.”
Now, the person I really feel sorry for is Olive Thorin. She hasn’t shared a bedroom with the mayor for a decade or a bed, “even briefly,” for five. And she still loves the jackass even though he is clueless (or doesn’t care) how humiliating it is for him to parade Susan around in front of everyone.
I love some of Stephen King’s descriptions, as when Olive Thorin thinks of her husband as “an overweening, vainglorious, prancing loon of a man.” I so want to call someone a prancing loon and vow to do so before the day is up.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Sheemie, Section 2
We get a snapshot of the Travellers’ Rest. Fishermen are playing “Watch Me” in one corner. “Cowpokes” are playing a gambling game with dice in “Satan’s Alley.” Sheb is banging out tunes on the piano while Pettie the Trotter sings and dances on top of a stool. A game of darts is in progress. A whore is managing two handjobs at once while smoking a pipe. The bar is packed with drinkers, although the only real gunmen in the place, we’re told, are at the end of the bar, drinking alone.
Reynolds and Depape have been out doing dirty work while Jones partied it up with the town leaders. They’d spent the day at Citgo, using pine limbs and branches to camouflage a line of empty steel tankers covered in “nonsense words” (like Texaco, Sunoco, Citgo, Exxon). They’re dirty, covered in scratches and reeking of pine resin, and Depape is annoyed because his favorite whore is off doing a private job at a ranch. Finally, Reynolds decides he’ll go to the other end of the bar and help himself to some of the steamed clams being served up, and as he strides through the bar with his billowing silk-lined cloak, a cowhand at the bar moves out of his way.
Sheemie, the mentally challenged young man who cleans the Traveller’s Rest, whom we met briefly in a previous chapter, just happens to be moving through the bar with his “camel bucket” and trips, sloshing the concoction all over Roy Depape, drenching him from the knees down. (Apparently, all the unfinished drinks are poured together into a bucked labeled “Camel Piss,” and the very poor or too-drunk-to-care can buy a double-shot for three pennies.)
Silence settles over the bar as everyone waits to see what Depape will do. Sheemie tries to apologize: “Sorry, big fella, I go trippy-trip.” The cowboy who tripped him thinks he’s being blamed and begins to protest, but Depape says he doesn’t care how it happened. There’s a long, silent pause as everyone waits to see what Depape will do. The bartender, Stanley—who might or might not be Sheemie’s father—tries to apologize for him and offers Depape free drinks the rest of the evening. He gets a (very quick) gun in the mouth for his trouble.
But Depape doesn’t want free drinks; he wants some entertainment, and realizes he’s playing to an audience as he orders Sheemie to lick his boots clean. Barkie the bouncer tells the boy to do it if he wants to see the sun come up—although we know that Depape has already decided to kill the kid…after he enjoys the sensation of getting his boots licked.
Poor Sheemie starts crying as he bends his head toward Depape’s boots, but before he can get in a good tongue-swiping, a voice calls out for him to “Stop it, stop it, stop it.” The voice isn’t angry, but amused. “Unsanitary, you see. Who knows what disease might be spread in such fashion. The mind quails! Ab-so-lutely cuh-wails!”
It’s Cuthbert, of course, now wearing his rook’s skull on a chain around his neck and holding a slingshot. Depape’s first reaction is to laugh, and Cuthbert laughs with him. Depape’s still holding his gun, but tells Bert he’s going to give him one chance to leave. The ever-charming Cuthbert thanks him, but doesn’t move. Instead, he says he’d like to give his chance to Sheemie. The card-players in the corner murmur approval at this, and Depape feels his audience’s interest shifting to the boy. He notices that his buddy Reynolds has slipped behind Cuthbert, but figures he doesn’t need help handling a boy with a slingshot. So he makes his move.
What Constant Reader Learns: I was expecting “Hey Jude,” but Sheb and Pettie are doing a rousing version of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” Maybe this is more of a Jerry Lee kind of crowd.
People are giving wide berth to our friends Reynolds and Depape, partly because they’re ill-tempered and partly because “they wore shooting irons in holsters that were slung low and tied down gunslinger fashion.” Guns were “uncommon but not unknown in Mejis at that time.”
It tells me a lot about Depape that he doesn’t set this whole incident in motion because he is angry about Sheemie spilling crap all over him, but basically because he’s bored and in a bad mood. Also interesting that his first impression of ‘Bert is of “gunslinger,” not “boy with slingshot.”
The whole drawn-out “what will Depape do” scene has that tense High Noon showdown feel to it, doesn’t it? Well, until the David-and-Goliath imagery comes in via Cuthbert. Then it’s just mind-bogglingly fun.
Cuthbert shows a lot more than his silly side here. He shows compassion, and a willingness to step into danger to right a wrong even when the odds are against him. This could be a valuable asset in an ally; it could also end up getting him killed at some point, though I don’t believe it will be in this scene.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Sheemie, Section 3
Depape is young and fast on the draw, but he’s no match for Cuthbert and his slingshot. Bert gives him a steel ball to his shooting hand, which causes him to drop his gun. Someone kicks it out of reach (“no one would claim that foot while the Big Coffin Hunters were still in Hambry; hundreds claimed it after they were gone”). Depape is stunned; he can’t believe Bert’s ball not only hit his hand, but hit it with enough force to tear off a fingernail.
Cuthbert’s about to demand Sheemie’s release when Reynolds places his own gun’s muzzle at the back of the boy’s neck. “I don’t know if you’re good with that thing or just shitass lucky, but either way, you’re done with it now,” he says, ordering Bert to place the slingshot on the table.
Again, Cuthbert declines, and Reynolds can’t believe what he’s hearing. But, as Bert points out, he has his slingshot aimed at Depape’s head and can do a lot of damage by the time Reynolds gets a shot off. As this little speech takes place, Depape decides to move and “Cuthbert’s voice rose in a whipcrack that did not sound callow in the least: ‘Stand still! Move again and you’re a dead man!’” And Depape freezes, telling Reynolds not to shoot the kid.
Reynolds, bemused, says they have a standoff…until he feels a knife blade against his throat and the soft voice of Alain behind him, telling him to put the gun down.
What Constant Reader Learns: We know something big is coming because this section starts out with, “They talked about it in Hambry for years to come; three decades after the fall of Gilead and the end of the Affiliation, they were still talking. By that time, there were better than five hundred old gaffers (and a few old gammers) claiming that they were drinking a beer in the Rest that night, and saw it all.”
Cuthbert’s cool when Reynolds gets the slip on him. “I’ve been blindsided,” he says sadly. “Betrayed once more by my own callow youth.” How can you not love this kid? I’m guessing his charm and silliness cause a lot of people to underestimate him (like Eddie much?).
What a great scene. Now I’m just waiting for the “big boys”—Jonas and Roland—to show up.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Sheemie, Section 4
Sure enough, here’s Jonas, standing outside the batwing doors to the tavern, watching “with amazement, contempt, and something close to horror…He would have thought it better than a traveling circus, if not for the problems that would follow if this were not put right.” He realizes he and his men will get no respect in Hambry if they are bested by a bunch of children, but he also realizes that the “Affiliation brats” won’t leave Mejis alive—but that it’s not the time or way to kill them.
And then Jonas thinks what we’re all thinking: Where’s the other one? Where’s Will Dearborn?
He turns around and scans the street in both directions, even glancing down the alley, where a bit of movement turns out to be a cat. Confident Roland’s nowhere around, he pulls his gun and puts it to Alain’s temple before the boy can begin to turn.
“Unless you’re a barber, I think you’d better put that pigsticker down,” he tells Alain.
And Alain, like Cuthbert, says no. Jonas is thunderstruck.
What Constant Reader Learns: A line of “carved totems” sits in front of the mercantile store, illustrating the Guardians of the Beam: Bear, Turtle, Fish, Eagle, Lion, Bat, and Wolf. It’s not the full list, but seven of the twelve. We’ve seen references to them in various places, but this is the first time I remember this complete a list being presented in one place. What are the other five? *scratches head*
Ah, I love seeing the mettle of our youngsters.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Sheemie, Section 5
We’re going to pick up Roland’s evening now. After the party, he left Cuthbert and Alain to amuse themselves and rode into town by another route. He’s spent the hours since then tromping around town and thinking. He realizes something’s wrong in Hambry, and that his thoughts of Susan are distracting him. “There were questions, outright mysteries, and the most hellish thing of all was that he couldn’t concentrate on them, let alone go any distance toward making sense of them.” He realizes he’s forgotten the face of his father in this whole situation, and he’s walking alone, looking to remember it.
He approaches High Street, and thinks he might stop in Traveller’s Rest and find his friends. Then he spots Jonas standing outside the door of the bar with one hand on the butt of his gun and, just like that, all thoughts of Susan are gone. Acting on instinct, Roland keeps himself hidden and crouches on the porch (behind the carving of the bear) while Jonas looks around and steps inside the bar. Roland’s right behind him.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland’s really regretting his last words to Susan, recognizing them as having been delivered “in the stilted, priggish voice of a boy preacher.” What’s it to him, he thinks—even Arthur Eld had better than forty gilly-girls himself. And then he realizes he’s “gone and fallen in love with her…A dismaying idea, but not a dismissable one.” He also realizes he hates her and the part of him that had the impulse to shoot her at dinner was not jealousy but some “indefinable but powerful connection” he’d made between Olive Thorin and his own mother. “Hadn’t that same woeful, rueful look been in his mother’s eyes on the day when he had come upon her and his father’s advisor?” But Roland, so far at least, has not seen Susan as just as much a victim as Olive. Mayhap he will, but not so far.
Roland has an intuition that something’s very wrong, and we learn he has strong intuitions at times even though he doesn’t have ‘the touch” like Alain. Hm…did we know this? I don’t think we knew this “touch” business or exactly what it is.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Sheemie, Section 6
Poor old Pettie the Trotter is still standing on her stool, although she’s sobered up pretty fast, and her observations remind us what the scene looks like: “Jonas had the drop on a boy who had the drop on Reynolds who had the drop on another boy...who had the drop on Roy Depape.”
What Constant Reader Learns: LOL. Pettie realizes that some shooting’s about to start and if she was smart she’d get off the stool, but then she might miss something. “Sometimes you just had to take your chances. Because some things were just too good to miss.”
Been a while since we had one of these classic “let’s just drag out the scene tension as long as possible” short sections.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Sheemie, Section 7
Alain, in his calm way, explains to Jonas why he refuses to put down the knife. “We’re in this town on Affiliation business…If you harm us, the Affiliation will take note. So will our fathers. You’ll be hunted like dogs and hung upside down, like as not, when you’re caught.”
Jonas isn’t quaking in his boots at this pronouncement. There are no Affiliation patrols within two hundred wheels and he wouldn’t care if there were. He repeats his order for Alain to drop the knife, and again Alain refuses. Cuthbert cracks a joke, and Jonas realizes how badly he had underestimated these boys. Alain tells Jonas to call it a draw and step away, but Jonas refuses. He is getting angry at the idea of being outfaced by these children.
Jonas issues his last threat, but is cut short by the feel of something hard and cold pressed against the center of his back. “He knew what it was and who held it at once, understood the game was lost, but couldn’t understand how such a ludicrous, maddening turn of events could have happened.”
“Holster the gun,” Roland says, and Jonas does as he’s told. Like a falling row of dominoes, Alan drops his knife from Reynolds’ neck, Reynolds drops the gun he has on Cuthbert, Depape drops his own gun (wait…when did he get it back after someone kicked it away? Did he have two guns?), and, finally, Cuthbert lowers the slingshot.
Sheemie, who’s been on the floor during this standoff, kisses Cuthbert’s hand in gratitude, then makes a run for it—right into the sleepy, half-drunk Sheriff Avery, who’d been sleeping in one of his cells a la Barney Fife when he’d been fetched by Sheb.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland’s voice is described as “empty, somehow—not just calm, but emotionless.” And there’s the baby version of the gunslinger we all know and love.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Sheemie, Section 8
Avery couldn’t fit himself and six miscreants in his little jail office, so he herds them all to the Town Gathering Hall. Reynolds and Depape, we’re told, look “sullen and embarrassed,” Jonas is “remote and composed,” and the three boys are quiet, although Roland gives Cuthbert a look that translates as “One smart remark and I’ll rip the tongue right out of your head.”
Avery, who has to feel as if he’s in the middle of a big mess he can’t possibly control, suggests the solution that will be easiest for everyone: “Forget it…I’ll not spend the next three or four months waiting to see who among you’s killed who.” He also appeals to “your more noble natures, which I am sure are both large and sensitive.” He’s not getting much reaction from his audience, so he appeals directly to Jonas, who finally agrees.
Jonas and Roland shake hands and cry pardon first, followed by the rest (although Roland’s holding his breath and praying Cuthbert behaves himself).
What Constant Reader Learns: Avery, who’s looking at his new charges “with a kind of disgusted wonder,” can’t handle anything until Deputy Dawg, uh, I mean Deputy Dave, brings in a mug and birch-bark hangover cure obtained from the old witch Rhea. When Avery is explaining this and gets to the part about Rhea, he gives Jonas a knowing look. Jonas doesn’t react, but Roland makes note of it and wonders what it means. Which makes me wonder if it wasn’t the sheriff who recommended Jonas stash his seeing stone, or whatever it is, with her.
The sheriff is much relieved that the two sides agree to “forget it” (although we know they won’t). He understands that all six of them are really beyond his authority. Once the apologies are done, he shakes hands all around, “with the enthusiasm of a minister who has finally succeeded in marrying a headstrong couple after a long and stormy courtship.”
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Sheemie, Section 9
As they walk outside, Jonas tells Roland, “Mayhap we’ll meet again, sai.” And Roland replies, “Mayhap we will.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Yeah, mayhap I’m pretty much betting on it.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Sheemie, Section 10
The Big Coffin Hunters head toward their quarters at a watchman’s house south of the seafront. Halfway there, Jonas stops and orders Depape off his horse. Depape’s babbling, especially after Jonas tells him to remove his glasses. But he does, and then Jonas gives him a “terrific clip on the side of the head.” Depape’s about to fall off the side of the cliff when Jonas grabs his shirt and pulls him back.
Finally, Jonas realizes the night’s events might end up being a good thing because now, they won’t be underestimating the three boys again. “I ain’t going to toss you over,” he tells Depape, “because then I’d have to toss Clay over and follow along myself. They got the drop on us the same as you.”
He pulls them into a hunker-down chat. Jonas needs to know everything he can about these boys, so he orders Depape (as “the fool that started the pot boiling”) to track the boys back to where they came from, asking questions. Until they get answers, he and Reynolds are going to watch and wait, “play Castles with them.”
What Constant Reader Learns: As they’re making plans, Jonas says, “The way [the boys] were tonight, they were like…” Jonas finishes the sentence. “They acted like gunslingers.” Jonas knows they’re too young to be real gunslingers, but they might be apprentice gunslingers—another reason for Depape’s scouting mission.
Jonas also explains why he gave in and shook hands with Roland. “We can’t rock the boat, boys. Not just when it’s edging in toward harbor. Latigo and the folks we’ve been waiting for will be moving toward us very soon now.” He leans in to talk, and whatever else he says, Depape’s suddenly glad he’s going to be taking a trip. *Makes note of “Latigo” for future reference.*
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Sheemie, Section 11
Roland and his buds are almost back to the ranch when Cuthbert starts making jokes again. Roland and Alain ignore him until Bert tells Roland that Jonas means to kill him. “They mean to kill all of us,” Alain says. Roland agrees, and knows they won’t be able to surprise Jonas and his friends as easily now.
What Constant Reader Learns: They stop and look down a hill at a herd of horses moving along the drop. When Alain asks Roland what he sees, he says: “Trouble, and in our road.” Very similar to his comment when he was asked by Eddie about the building blocking the road back in “Topeka.”
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next chapter of Wizard and Glass.