So if chapter 2 of Blood Meridian ended with the kid playing “wretched baptismal candidate,” what’s the next step? What is he being initiated into?
When chapter 3 begins he’s lying under a tree when a man from the army rides up and says he’s been sent to find him. Or rather, he’s been sent by his Captain to find the man who roughed up the Mexican in the bar so badly. Why? To take the fight to some Mexicans, of course.
You ready to go to Mexico?
I aint lost nothin down there.
The second line is the kid. Vagabond that he is, this line interested me this time around. So far there’s been no justification of any sort as to why he goes anywhere. But suddenly he indirectly says that if he did go to Mexico, it would be because he lost something down there.
I honestly don’t think there’s much more to read into that, but it seemed significant somehow.
I love this exchange because it is classic McCarthy:
Kindly fell on hard times aint ye son?
I just aint fell on no good ones.
It reminds me of the line later in No Country For Old Men between a deputy and Sheriff Tommy Lee Jones:
It’s a mess, ain’t it sheriff?
If it ain’t, it’ll do til the mess gets here.
One thing that is easy to miss in Blood Meridian is how funny some of it can be, in the driest, most here-and-gone-immediately way possible.
The kid agrees to go meet the captain, who lays down some serious jingoism and fanfare as he urges to kid to join up and help them fight the Mexicans. This is another part that made me laugh:
After the captain makes a grand old speech:
And I don’t think you’re the sort of chap to abandon a land that Americans fought and died for to a foreign power. And mark my word. Unless Americans act, people like you and we who take their country seriously…
I don’t know if he’s just a typical recruiter or if he thinks he knows something about the kid, but I do know that i think the kid’s eventual response made me laugh. After all that:
What about a saddle?
The kid eventually ends up overhearing a conversation between a Mennonite and the other recruits. The Mennonite tells them that if they cross the river they’ll be jailed by the US army and won’t be coming back. Of course, this news is met with jeers and strutting from the tough guys.
It sounds to me like another step in the chain of crossings that began with the baptism at the end of chapter 2:
Do ye cross that river with yon filibuster armed ye’ll not cross it back.
The qualifier there is armed. Go over there with bad intentions and you’ll get what’s coming to you, I think.
Then the Mennonite utters the most significant passage in the chapter:
The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it. Hell aint half full. Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land. Ye’ll wake more than the dogs.
Lots to think about there, but here’s what feels the most meaningful to me today, right now, while I’m typing. “Only men have power to wake it.” God’s wrath, that is.
In other words, if you could just let things alone, we’d be better off. But if you ride on the orders of madmen, you’re going to stir up some nasty troubles.
That night in the bar ends with a fight and a death. Doesn’t even matter who.
When they ride out, the Mennonite watches them go.
There is no such joy in the tavern as upon the road thereto
In other words, the journey is more fun than the destination. And it’s ominous to acknowledge that there’s been nothing to suggest so far that the journey the kid is on has any joy of any sort to begin with. He’s going somewhere, and hell aint half full.