The kid is lying naked under some trees when a man on horseback, later identified as Sergeant Trammel, approaches him. The kid takes up his knife; the man greets him. He asks if the kid is the one who mauled the Mexican bartender the day before, because, if he is, Captain White wants him to join an army of irregulars going to war against the Mexicans. The kid says that the war (presumably the Mexican-American War) is over, but the man replies that Captain White says otherwise, and promises the kid, at this point fully dressed, that war will give him the opportunity to rise in the world.
The kid reaches for his knife instinctually when approached, as though he works under the assumption that violence is a serviceable first response to any situation (an assumption not entirely unwarranted in the swiftly murderous world of the novel). It is ironic that, far from being punished for attacking the bartender, the kid is rewarded.
While the kid studies the Trammel’s white horse, beautifully equipped with fine leather and silver, the sergeant goes on to tell the kid that he himself used to be in straits as dire as the kid’s. He was poor, a drunkard, a frequenter of prostitutes. Then he met Captain White, who helped him rise like Lazarus and walk the path of righteousness. The kid agrees to meet the Captain, so long as he’s promised that if he joins the army he’ll receive a horse and rifle.
Beautiful expensive things, like Trammel’s equipment, impress the kid. Indeed, Trammel himself, in alluding to the story of Lazarus whom Jesus brought back from the dead, suggests that acquiring riches is the path to redemption and salvation. However, this is contrary to Jesus’s actual message that we should renounce worldly goods.
Together, the kid and Sergeant Trammel ride back into Bexar, to the pretty hotel where Captain White keeps quarters. After completing and rereading a letter, the gray-haired and mustachioed Captain holds an interview with the kid. He asks how the kid came to be so wretched, and the kid lies, claiming that robbers set upon him.
Based on the fact that he feels compelled to lie to the Captain, it would seem that the kid is embarrassed of his poverty. Ironically, much that he undertakes in the novel to acquire wealth ends up making him even more wretched than he is here.
Captain White then asks the kid what he thinks of “the treaty” (presumably the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which formally ended the Spanish-American War), but the kid knows nothing about it. The Captain airs his view that the treaty represents the U.S.’s betrayal of the soldiers who fought and died in Mexico during the war. He also expresses a hatred for Mexicans in general, whom he thinks of as barbarians with no idea of justice or government. When people can’t govern their own country, the Captain asserts, then others must intervene to govern it for them.
The Captain justifies further warfare against Mexico by making the racist claim that the Mexicans are barbarians who can’t govern their own country. This is not borne out by the novel, which depicts Mexico as being both governed by knowledgeable civil men like Angel Trias and relatively peaceful—at least until the American scalp hunters show up and wreak havoc.
Captain White then turns to his plans. He tells the kid that the U.S. will eventually take the Mexican state of Sonora as part of its own territory. The kid looks uneasy, so the Captain assures him that his army will liberate “a dark and troubled land,” that he has support from Governor Burnett of California, and that the soldiers in the army will enjoy the spoils of war, from rich grassland to gold and silver. After the Captain promises the kid not only a horse and rifle, but also a saddle and some clothes, the kid enlists in Captain White’s army.
The Captain’s supposed motive for war—liberating Mexico—and the promise of spoils he makes to the kid, are contradictory. After all, one can’t be both a liberator and a pillager. Significantly, the kid is not willing to fight for an abstract cause like liberty, only for profit. Most parties in the novel, including Glanton’s gang later, assemble around self-interested opportunism like this and not around any sort of ideals (though the Judge does espouse a kind of “ideal of violence”).
The army is camped at the edge of town. After bathing, shaving, and dressing in his new clothes there, the kid looks like a new man. Later that night, he on his mule and two other soldiers (the Missourian Earl and a Texan called the second corporal), riding on horses that forty days ago had been wild, ride back into Bexar. They anticipate a night of heavy drinking and lovemaking, although the narrator notes that such plans have led many young men to their deaths. The kid trades his mule for a saddle, other necessaries, and a small gold coin, which he proposes the three spend on liquor.
The breaking of horses to be ridden into war exemplifies human beings’ exploitation of natural resources to violent ends. Although he is apparently going to war for the spoils, the kid tends to squander his money, as he proposes to do here on liquor. Acquire wealth though he might, the kid wastes what value he has on mindless bodily pleasures.
The kid and his two comrades wander the streets before entering a cantina. They order whiskey, drink, order more. A Mennonite at the bar shakes his head and speaks to them, warning that the United States Army under General Worth will jail all of Captain White’s army at the river. In fact, he tells the three recruits to pray that they’ll be jailed, because if they do cross the river with Captain White they’ll wake the wrath of God, and they won’t cross the river back.
The Mennonite, one of several prophets in the book, foresees Captain White’s expedition awaking God’s wrath. Whether he can read fate or simply correlates violent beginnings with violent ends, his prophecy comes true: Captain White’s army is indeed massacred by a legion of Apaches.
The kid and his two companions berate the Mennonite who moves away, muttering. The three drink and drunkenly quarrel with other patrons. In the morning, one of the three young men, Earl, is found dead in a courtyard, murdered for reasons unknown. The kid and the second corporal look down at Earl’s broken skull. The Mennonite also enters the courtyard; he says that there’s more joy on the road to the tavern than in the tavern itself. Then he takes his leave.
Though prophecies of doom and destruction consistently come to pass in the novel, the characters tend to ignore them, as if they desire calamity and death. The Mennonite suggests that this is because people enjoy the course that brings them to their ruin, as one enjoys the road to the tavern; but at the tavern itself, vice and death await, as Earl’s fate exemplifies.