“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, Cuthbert and Roland continued to butt heads, Jonas was spending time with Coral Thorin and had discovered Bert’s missing rook skull, which let him know the boys have been snooping around in the oilpatch.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 4: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 1
The boys rise late—Roland seems well-rested, but Alain has had “odd dreams and premonitions all night” because of the touch. They walk outside, and Roland looks east and “in a funny, bemused voice,” says … “Oh.”
Bert, who’s not inclined to approve anything Ro does these days, responds: “Oh what, great leader? Oh joy, I shall see the perfumed lady anon, or oh rats, I must work with my smelly male companions all the livelong day?” Which must be even more annoying since Roland only answers, “Just oh,” and walks away.
Bert pushes again to send a message via pigeon to their families to let them know odd things are afoot in Hambry, but Roland cuts him off. “If you still want to send by flight tomorrow morning, we’ll do so,” Roland tells him. Cuthbert is suspicious, but finally thanks Roland. Alain is upset when Roland says, “Don’t thank me yet.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I know Roland knows stuff that Cuthbert and I don’t know (you know?), but yeah, if I were Bert, I’d just want to slap the crap out of him to get the condescending, bemused look off his face. His “deal” to send a pigeon out the next day is said in such a way that we know something is going to happen to make the pigeons pointless by tomorrow. (Finally!)
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 4: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 2
Sheemie is balking at making the trip up the mountain to visit the witch Rhea: “An unusual expression had creased his normally smooth face—a troubled and fearful frown.” Still, he takes Caprichoso the mule, loaded down with a fresh pressing of “graf” for Rhea and heads out.
What Constant Reader Learns: Her night with sai Jonas has mellowed Coral’s disposition, and she’s very patient and almost affectionate with poor Sheemie, pointing out that Rhea at least tips well. She gives him good advice: “Be polite to the old crow, bow yer best bow…and make sure ye’re back down the hill before dark.”
Continuing our Western Border Town theme, the inn’s pack-mule is named Caprichoso, meaning “capricious” or “impulsive.” Oh, puh-leeeeze tell me Stephen King’s not going to do something awful to Sheemie. I love his pink sombrero. (Pink being an important color in this book.)
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 4: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 3
Jonas is lying in the grass atop a ridge, watching the boys leave the ranch for their day of counting. He doesn’t realize Roland has either seen or sensed him. “They were smarter than he had at first given them credit for…but nowhere near as smart as they thought they were,” he thinks.
Jonas rides to within a quarter-mile of the ranch and finds some clothes the boys have washed and hung on branches to dry, so Jones piles them on the ground and pisses on them. He takes the dog’s tail, which is starting to smell ripe, and a can of red paint and walks to the bunkhouse. He walks around with his red paint and defaces the title page of a rare-in-this-world book (Alain’s, I think), exchanging the word “mother” for “c*nt,” and then rips the rest of the book to shreds.
Inside the bunkhouse, Jonas grudgingly admires the messenger pigeon system, and the neatness of the boys (gunslinger training, no doubt). He shreds the boys’ family photos, scatters their belongings, blows his nose on someone’s handkerchief and spreads it out for them to see, and finally twists the heads off all the pigeons, leaving a dead bird beneath each boy’s pillow.
Then he begans walking along the floorboards, listening.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, so Jonas, I gather, is what Roland sensed off to the east, responding “Oh.” What tipped him off? Does Alain, who is supposed to be the one with the “touch,” know as well or just have an uneasy feeling?
The things Jonas does in the bunkhouse seem adolescent except for the pigeons, but I guess the whole point is to make the boys (who are adolescents) angry enough to react in a way that shows their hand and gives him a public reason to take them down. From what I know of Roland, that isn’t likely to happen. Bert is much more impulsive and emotional, however.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 4: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 4
Alain is in a dither out on the Drop, telling Roland they need to go back to the ranch—something is wrong. Roland ignores him at first, wanting to know his count. Alain’s almost in tears (Cuthbert, who is “numb to the touch,” is clueless.) “If you won’t go back with me, give me leave to go back by myself, for your father’s sake,” Alain pleads. “For your father’s sake, I give you none,” Roland answers, and continues with his horse-counting.
Finally, Roland admits he saw something before they left—“a reflection, perhaps”—but it comes down to, does Alain trust him? “Do you trust me, or do you think I lost my wits when I lost my heart?” As Cuthbert does, of course. “Roland was looking at Alain with a faint smile on his lips, but his eyes were ruthless and distant—it was Roland’s over-the-horizon look. Alain wondered if Susan Delgado had seen that expression yet, and if she had, what she made of it.”
Alain says he trusts Roland, but isn’t sure at this point whether that’s really true or not. And they continue counting—although Roland says maybe they’ll head back early.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland, you can be such a horse’s ass: “There were times, such as now, when he found Alain’s ability to use the touch more annoying than helpful.”
Roland’s way is to keep his own counsel, but what would have been the downside of sharing what he knew with the others? Probably Alain would be okay—at heart, he does trust Roland. Bert is so emotional, however, that he might have been harder to control and have done something to confront Jonas too early. So I can see why Ro doesn’t want to tell Bert what’s happening. Still, the whole “promise” with the pigeons in hindsight seems cruel and, as Roland often is with Cuthbert, very condescending.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 4: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 5
Jonas finds the creak in the bunkhouse floorboard he’d been seeking, although it takes a while and he gives them some props for being “trig.” He pulls out three bundles. Two of the guns are revolvers of a type then called carvers. The third is a pair of guns Jonas at first thinks are gunslinger weapons with “true-blue steel barrels, sandalwood grips, bores like mineshafts.” Those guns, he couldn’t have left. But these are not gunslinger pistols so he leaves them.
In Jonas’s mind, he leaves the guns so the boys will think “hooligans from town” went through the bunkhouse and tore it up—and hooligans wouldn’t have left firearms. But in his own mind, he questions whether the boys will really believe it was hooligans. “They might; just because he had underestimated them to start with didn’t mean he should turn about-face and begin overestimating them now.”
Finally, Jonas sticks the severed dog tail into one of the pigeon cages and writes some adolescent graffiti on the bunkhouse walls with his red paint.
What Constant Reader Learns: Seriously, Stephen King? Authorial intrusion is all well and good but: “two of the bundles contained single five-shot revolvers of a type then called (for no reason I know) ‘carvers.’” Why the use of that first-person intrusion? Couldn’t it have just been Jonas who didn’t know? A bit of laziness? A tweak at the reader? Annoying, that. Totally takes you out of the story.
Interesting that, for a moment, Jonas pauses and feels as if he’d been scented “by some sort of In-World telepathy, mayhap…There is such…The touch, it’s called.” But that is the tool of a gunslinger, he thinks, not of boys.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 4: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 6
“Sai?...Nice old lady that wouldn’t hurt a fly? You therey-air? It’s good old Sheemie with your graf.” And thus Sheemie approaches Rhea’s hut. The mule is balky and Sheemie is scared. There’s a garden of sorts outside the hut, and the vegetables are mutants—even the stuffy guy in the garden is a mutie, with two straw heads and a hand in a satin glove protruding from the chest.
The door to the hut is standing open, and a “sickish, dank” smell is coming from it. From inside comes a voice: “Come to where I can see you, idiot boy.”
So Sheemie moves closer, and Rhea steps out with her empty graf barrel. Her face is sunken, her skull covered with brown spots, an open sore on her face, and most of her teeth gone. Ermot the snake is hanging around her neck. Poor Sheemie’s so scared, he tells her she’s beautiful.
Once the exchange of graf barrels is made, Rhea hands him an envelope to give to Cordelia Delgado. “Mind ye show this to no one…or some night ye’ll find Ermot waiting under yer pillow. I see far, Sheemie, d’ye mark me?...Lose it and I’ll know. Show my business to another, and I’ll know.”
What Constant Reader Learns: The magical glass has not been kind to Rhea, preciousssss.
LOL. Rhea invites Sheemie inside for a few hallucinogenic mushrooms and some sex: “I can look like anyone ye fancy.” “Oh, I can’t,” Sheemie says. “That pesky thing fell off last week, that did.” Okay, this made me laugh (and Rhea too). Sheemie isn’t that slow.
And what will he do with the note?
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 4: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 7
Cuthbert, who wasn’t in on Roland’s and Alain’s earlier conversation, is surprised when Ro suggests going back to the ranch early in the afternoon. But Bert feels a “sense of foreboding” as they approach the ranch and see the bunkhouse door standing open. They find their pissed-on clothes, and Cuthbert is indignant.
What Constant Reader Learns: Bert reacts just as Jonas hoped… but Roland reacts as we’d expect. So far, calm and circumspect.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 4: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 8
Cuthbert, as he looks around at all the damage in the bunkhouse, realizes Roland knew exactly what was happening—and when he turns to Alain and sees no surprise on his face, realizes they both knew. Old eagle-eye Roland finds a strand of long white hair near one of the dead pigeons.
Priceless exchange between Roland and Cuthbert:
Bert: “If you knew that old corbie was here, why didn’t we come back and end his breath?”
Ro: “Because the time was wrong.”
Bert: “He would have done it, had it been one of us in his place, destroying his things.”
Ro: “We’re not like him.”
Bert: “I’m going to find him and blow his teeth out the back of his head.”
Ro: “Not at all.”
Well, this is enough for Bert to finally draw back his fist to punch Roland, but Alain stops him. Roland, of course, just starts picking stuff up as if Cuthbert is irrelevant. Alain pulls him outside, and Bert thinks this is the last time he’ll be stopped from clocking Roland, and he’ll have Alain tell him so. “The idea of using Alain as a go-between to his best friend—of knowing that things had come to such a pass—filled Cuthbert with an angry, despairing rage." He turns back to Roland at the door and says, “She has made you a coward,” using the High Speech. Bert expects Roland to respond with violence, but he simply says, also in the High Speech, “He came to steal our guile and our caution. With you, he has succeeded.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Here’s something I found odd. When Cuthbert asks Roland why they didn’t come back and stop Jonas, he didn’t just ask. We’re told “Cuthbert heard himself ask.” Which is odd phrasing… as if Bert isn’t actually in control of his actions. Because he’s so upset? Anyway, I thought it was a strange turn of phrase.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 4: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 9
Once outside, Cuthbert turns his rage on Alain, wondering why he always excuses Roland. When Alain says he trusts Roland, plus he’s a gunslinger, Cuthbert notes that Roland is “a gunslinger by accident! A freak! A mutie!” He urges Alain to go with him and kill Jones, then form a new ka-tet—theirs is broken. “It’s not broken,” Alain says, “If it does break, it’ll be you responsible. And for that I’ll never forgive you.”
Alain suggests that Bert go on a long ride to cool off, that Roland is right in saying Jonas wants them to go rushing out and “charging blindly around our Hillock.”
Bert finally calms down and tries to explain his feelings—that Susan has poisoned Roland’s mind and the “door to hell has opened. Roland feels the heat from that open door and thinks it’s only his feeling for her…but we must do better.” Before he goes off for that ride, Bert has a message for Roland: “Tell him he’s wrong. Tell him that even if he’s right about waiting, he’s right for the wrong reasons…Tell him what I said about the door to hell.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Finally, Cuthbert says something that sounds like maybe it’s a bit more than mere jealousy, although jealousy is certainly there. Will Alain deliver the message, and will Roland listen to it?
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 4: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 10
Cuthbert goes for a ride, greeting people he meets along the way. He realizes he’s met some good people in Hambry who are likely not at all in the know about the plot playing out among them. As he rides out of town he meets Sheemie returning from his trip to Rhea’s and knows something is wrong.
What Constant Reader Learns: Yes! Sheemie will show the note to Bert, I’m betting. It might be a way to reunite Bert and Roland—or drive them farther apart.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 4: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 11
Sheemie, we learn, has been dawdling, trying to delay as long as possible the delivery of the note to the Delgado house. When his friend “Arthur Heath” wants to know what is wrong and shows such concern, Sheemie begins to cry and he forgets Rhea’s order to tell no one. So he tells him everything, giving Cuthbert the envelope. He breaks the seal and reads it.
What Constant Reader Learns: Oh boy. What is Bert going to do with it?
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 4: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 12
Jonas arrives back at the Travellers’ Rest in fine spirits, and is met by Roy Depape, saying an “outrider” has finally shown up. “He wants you right away,” Depape says. “I wouldn’t linger here to eat, not even a popkin, if I were you…You’ll want a clear head to deal with this one.”
Jonas finds it interesting that Depape is so jumpy about this guy, and Roy can’t really say why the man upset him so. The man had Farson’s “sigul,” the eye—a symbol Jonas hates.
On his way out of the bar, Roy says, “He looks like other people…We only talked five minutes in all, but once I looked at him and thought it was the old bastard from Ritzy—the one I shot. Little bit later I th’ow him a glance and think, ‘Hellfire, it’s my old pa standin there’….He laughs like a dead person. I could barely stand to hear him do it.”
What Constant Reader Learns: The all-seeing eye? Have we seen or heard that sigul before?
Hm… this newcomer sounds quite Man in Blackish. Stay tuned…
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next sections of Wizard and Glass.