Flower arranging is considered by many to be an art. Hey Girl is fussing with a vase of flowers to get them arranged just so, and is concentrating so hard she almost jams some unused flowers into a visitor's face. From the landing above, Paladin looks on, looking somewhat bemused. Has he never seen her engaged in such a homely pursuit? The flowers arranged to her satisfaction, Hey Girl spots Paladin and quickly moves toward the front desk. Paladin, for his part, quickly spots two young ladies at the foot of the stairs--and also an earring dropped by one of them. Without any of them saying a word, he returns the earring, projects an inquiry and receives an encouraging reply, and offers an arm to both of the ladies. (Paladin, as we well know, is a very courageous man.)
Just as they are taking his arms, Hey Girl intrudes with a note on a tray. Paladin gives her a rather dirty look, as well he might; Hey Girl obviously timed her presentation down to the millisecond. She could easily have indicated to him that she had something for him while he was still up on the landing. Also, when Paladin looked as though his attention was sliding back to the ladies, she told him that the notewriter, who was there in the lobby, tended to be impatient. If so, why did she not take the note directly to Paladin's room?
The job is of a sort we've not seen before, although it's the sort of thing Paladin could do well: a courier job. Mr. Templeton simply wants Paladin to deliver an important message for him. He will wire Paladin's payment as soon as he is notified of the completion of the job. Presumably Paladin, while discussing the matter with Templeton, satisfied himself that there was nothing illegal going on.
Apparently the message was passed on in a place that did not have a local telegraph, and Paladin had to journey to the nearest town to notify Templeton. He quickly becomes aware of a nasty situation going on. Outside the hotel-cum-saloon-cum telegraph office, a laughing crowd is watching as a youngster forces an older man to humiliate himself to obtain a drink. In spite of the fact that the man has already balanced his hat on his nose once, the youngster--named Bunk--insists that he do it again. And probably again, and again, until the little man gave up and slunk away, still thirsty, had it not been for Paladin's arrival. Unusually, Paladin pulls his rifle from the saddle trappings and brings it with him as he approaches the hotel. This is actually the sensible thing to do, as anyone could slip up beside Paladin's horse and steal the rifle. Perhaps he usually trusts that the distinctive chess emblem will make thieves think twice.
Seeing Paladin, Bunk promptly abandons his lesser prey and springs up on the steps, blocking Paladin. (I'm hoping the little man took the opportunity to grab his drink off the girl's tray.) Paladin, no doubt, has had considerable experience with this sort of bully. He stands quite calmly--this is nothing more than a petty annoyance. The girl suggests that she should fetch Bunk's friends to back him up, only to be told off in no uncertain terms. Paladin comments on the boy's immaturity. Oddly, Bunk simply laughs at this, rather than getting defensive. He pulls out a pocket knife and ostentatiously snaps it open. Knowing that this brat is not going to be talked around, Paladin slams the butt of his rifle into Bunk's gut and yanks him down the steps, then quietly steps up on the hotel porch. Bunk demonstrates his immaturity by leaping up and attacking--not Paladin, but the girl, screaming that she had tripped him. He then jumps to block the door. Paladin presents his rifle to the girl, Sally. Bunk has had it his own way as a bully for too long; it never occurs to him that this man is taller, heavier, and far more experienced. He never has a chance to hit back as Paladin knocks him across the porch and tips him over the railing into a horse trough, to the vast amusement of the crowd. (They're laughing a lot harder than they did at the little man.) Bunk, like all bullies and most practical jokers (who are, of course, just a different sort of bully) can't bear to have the tables turned, screaming at them to shut up. He does have enough wits not to try and tackle Paladin again; as Paladin leans nonchalantly on the rail, Bunk seems to vanish. Sally sharply tells Paladin to stay away from her, and Paladin is understandably startled. She does have a point; once Paladin has left town, she'll be facing Bunk again. She casually brushes aside the fact that Bunk would have knocked her around some if Paladin had not interfered. Paladin, in fact, was defending himself as much as he was Sally.
Inside, the telegraph operator writes down Paladin's message, concerned that Paladin intends to stay in town until he receives word (and money) back. Having seen the altercation outside, he suggests that Paladin might want to move on, but Paladin (with, perhaps, that gunfighter's pride mentioned in "Everyman") is staying put. Paladin quickly drops his hopes of getting a fine meal. An adequate meal would suffice, but he will settle for what he can get at the saloon, because that's the town's only public eating place. Paladin heads for his room to tidy up. Meanwhile, Sally has returned to the saloon. She sprawls at her ease at one of the tables, slowly puffing on a cigarette, no doubt thinking that she looked quite sophisticated, but, in fact, looking rather sleazy. The man who walks up to her certainly seems to think so. He is presumably the manager of the saloon, and sharply points out that the table is filthy. Slowly and insolently, she rises to her feet and sasses him. In the credits, there is a character marked "Father". Are these two related? A dysfunctional relationship, if so; even in this downtrodden town, you would think that a father would take exception to his daughter being harassed and abused by visiting cowhands. He leaves her the bucket of slops to dispose of, and goes back to the kitchen. As she heads toward the back door, Bunk and two others suddenly come through. Sally proves that she is not quite so meek as she indicated to Paladin, as she prepares to hurl the slops in Bunk's face. One of the others, Sim, calms her down, claiming that Bunk is sorry for what happened (although he doesn't really apologize). Just as we are thinking that this is a reasonable member of the trio, Sim goes on to say that if she had gotten in HIS way, she would have paid for it dearly. Sim is clearly the leader, and he knows Bunk very well. Bunk, no doubt, had told Sim and Burt his version of the incident (probably placing all the blame on Sally) but Sim is quite aware that Sally had done nothing, and that Paladin had gotten the better of Bunk. He asks Sally if Paladin is staying at the hotel. Sally simply stares at him with an amused look on her face. I was surprised that none of them demanded an answer, but of course, where else would Paladin stay? Knowing that he will want something to eat, they settle down to wait. Two men enter the saloon, take a look at the three, and beat a hasty retreat. Bunk and Burt are very full of themselves, and Sally, too, seems very amused. Either she does not realize, or does not care, that frightening off customers is not a good way to put money in the coffers.
Sim is a frighening sort. Bunk and Burt are vicious, heedless young animals, having a good time at everyone else's expense. Sim, on the other hand, does not seem to find anything funny. Bunk and Burt are hot-blooded and impulsive, while Sim seems cold and deliberate. As Paladin walks into the saloon, Sim trips him, and Paladin barely recovers himself. Burt jumps up, and Paladin spins to confront him, to Burt's amusement. Gee, can't a fellow get to his feet without having a man draw on him? Not a good idea, especially since Bunk has his gun out, casually polishing it against his sleeve. The sheriff at long last arrives--along with a crowd of men who simply stand and stare--but he proves to be a weak reed, simply commenting that boys will be boys. Nothing really dangerous about them--as long as you stay out of their way. (I notice that there is quite a difference in Paladin's attitude toward these youngsters, and the equally young and vicious boys in the episode "Fandango".) The sheriff explains that the main local rancher, Kincaid, used to allow all of his ranch hands to come to town at once, causing total chaos. After the townspeople started to refuse Kincaid service, Kincaid made an arrangement that only three hands could come to town at one time. I don't really understand this. If they could force Kincaid to back down that far, why not force him to guarantee his men's behavior while in town? They may not be wrecking the entire place, but they're still terrorizing people. Paladin, still calm, settles down at a table for his lunch. There are three entrees listed on the board, but Sim quickly decides that the steak and the lamb chops are no longer available, and Sally--not so amused anymore--obediently marks those items off the board. Paladin says that he had decided on goulash, anyway--and being a man who tries a wide variety of food, that may be the simple truth. Sally is about to mark that off the board as well, but Sim stops her--he's thought of a different angle to play. After the cook (Sally's father?) brings the plate of "slush", Sim grabs it and prepares to spice it up with the various available condiments. Paladin has had quite enough, but he's not going to start a fight there in the saloon (perhaps the sheriff's presence had something to do with that). He quietly bids Sally to bring a plate to his room, giving her a tap on the nose. Sally looks wide-eyed, realizing that this man is courageous and gallant to boot. A casual smack of his hand as he passes by Burt sends Burt sprawling. Sim realizes just how dangerous this man could be--he could have killed Bunk outside the hotel if he had felt like it. They will, of course, make Paladin pay.
The telegraph man intercepted Paladin on his way upstairs with an answer to his wire, which Paladin contemplates up in his room. I found this a little confusing. I had imagined that the idea of "wiring" money to mean that Bank A would wire instructions to Bank B to give X amount of cash to person indicated. However, what Paladin is holding looks like a hand-written check for a thousand dollars, made out to Paladin and signed by Templeton. I remember reading somewhere that the "fax" machine was actually invented in the nineteenth century; is this an example of it? Paladin is interrupted by Sally, with his tray. Sally has learned that Paladin hails from San Francisco, and it doesn't take her long to ask him outright if he will take her there. He's her only chance to get out of this town; the only money she has is what she can steal out of the cash box. (This probably indicates that she is, in fact, the cook's daughter; no outsider would be working for nothing.) Travelling to any of the nearby towns would put her in the same position she is here; a different set of people to abuse her, that's all. In a big city, she would have more of a chance, but without Paladin's aid, Sim and the others would never let her go. Paladin agrees to take her as far as the nearest stage line to send her on her way. Sally indicates that she is ready to reward him, and Paladin almost looks as if he will take her up on it, but then pushes her away and tells her to get packed. In her room, a few doors away, Sally happily stuffs her belongings into a carpet bag--and then Sim and Co. come through the door. Sally brushes them off--she's going to get away from them, and they don't dare hurt her with Paladin nearby. Sim coldly states that that is just what they have in mind. Paladin will come bursting into the room, gun in hand, and they will of course have to shoot in self defence. To her credit, Sally at first refuses to cooperate, but, faced with the certainty of getting carved up by Sim, she finally starts to scream.
They are dealing with an intelligent, cool-headed man, however, and Paladin stops outside, well away from the door. The trio opens fire, and Paladin returns it with his rifle (making the rather dangerous assumption that Sally was out of the way). After a few moments, Sally shakily begs Paladin to stop, and the door opens. They shove Sally into Paladin's arms and make a run for it. Burt, however, has learned the hard lesson about what happens when you play with fire. He is utterly astonished to find that he is not, in fact, immortal. The sheriff again arrives belatedly, again with a crowd of staring men. The sheriff allows as how the boys seem to have gone a little too far this time, and Paladin disgustedly agrees. The sheriff having stated that he would arrest the boys if they were available, Paladin promises to make them available, but it won't take much effort--they're right outside the hotel, talking with their employer. (Perhaps the boys had stayed in town longer than they were supposed to, and Kincaid had come looking for them.)
Outside, (with the inevitable crowd) Paladin announces that the boys are to be charged with assault. (How about attempted murder, while they're at it?) Kincaid is prepared to back up his men. His sense of responsibility, however, does not extend to making them behave in a civilized fashion; he seems to like them with "rough edges". Kincaid gets the sheriff to admit that he did not actually see what happened (although he presumably heard Sally scream). Paladin prompts Sally to speak up, and she, looking him right in the eye, says that she saw nothing. Kincaid bids the two to face off with Paladin, fair and square. (How two against one can be considered fair is beyond me.) Paladin does not question it; in fact, he matter-of-factly states that he will deal with Kincaid afterwards. Sim is pleased, but Bunk shows his true colors; he would have backed down if Kincaid hadn't threatened to fire him. The two position themselves, Bunk somewhat behind and to the side of Sim. Paladin is fast, but it was two against one, and he's knocked down with a hit to the shoulder. Sally rushes to his side. The sheriff suddenly displays some backbone, telling Kincaid that it's now his turn. Sally dives off to the side as Kincaid brings up his rifle, but Paladin gets his shot off first. He walks over to the body, then turns and gives Sally a hard, cold stare, before walking back to her. Sally protests that she couldn't tell the truth, because she didn't know that he would be able to handle all three men. This makes no sense, because if she had told the truth, the sheriff would have backed Paladin up and there would have been no need for him to "handle" anyone. She displays incredible gall; having been the cause of Paladin's injury, and nearly his death, she still expects him to help her get out of town. Lucky for her that Paladin is a man of his word. Sally is quite a complex character, both admiring and fearing the men who abuse her, and having the guts to seize a chance when it was available. Paladin recognizes, however, that her self-centeredness overpowers everything else. He gives her his check (or whatever it was) for a thousand dollars, knowing full well that in no time at all she will have it spent and gone and will be right back where she was before--just in a different place, with different names. The local doctor (you can tell by his little black bag) takes Paladin's arm and helps him into the hotel. Rather surprisingly, Paladin does not shrug off the man's help. Sally is left staring after him, perhaps feeling some shame--but then again, perhaps not.
Quite a powerful episode, with strong, believeable characters. Like many episodes, the ending is not a happy one, but it is grimly fitting.