Sneaky opening--it looks like a standard pose with Paladin whispering sweet nothings into a lady's ear--only it isn't Paladin. He's down alongside the hotel staircase, preparing for another installment of a chess game by mail. Before he can even begin to contemplate the opposing move Hey Boy has just set, a woman's voice drawlingly informs him that he will be checkmated in three moves. Paladin courteously (but with an edge of annoyance) points out that he hasn't even made his move yet. The young woman, elegantly wrapped in fur and accompanied by a large brandy snifter, comments that all she's heard about for weeks is "the impetuous Mr. Paladin". Impetuous? Paladin? Are we talking about the same man here?
The lady's husband only now makes his presence known, having quietly watched this opening gambit. Hey Boy introduces him as Commodore Jonathan Guilder, a member of the Big Four, Comstock Lode. (I presume this means he's a principle shareholder.) Forgetting himself, Hey Boy goes on to show his own way of remembering this particular hotel guest--he always tips with a ten dollar gold piece. Guilder flatly states that he has come to buy Paladin, who understandably informs him that he's not for sale. Guilder offers $5000 for a month's work, but Paladin will not even consider ten thousand. Fifteen, however...Paladin doesn't actually react too much to this, but Guilder assumes that he has him. Paladin has no intention of being a "shotgun", at which the lady, Juliana, expresses her contempt, but it's hard to tell if this is directed at Paladin or her husband. Guilder seems to want to show his young wife where all her jewelry and wardrobe comes from, but Juliana indicates that she's going because he doesn't trust her alone. The trip is to foreclose on some mortgages, as well as other activities which will confirm people's ideas of Guilder as a greedy man, but his main concern is Quanah Parker, a half-breed who is stirring up the Kiowas and Commanches against the local white settlers. Paladin is apparently in need of a hefty installment of cash, because I cannot imagine why he would have taken the job otherwise.
Oddly, Guilder does not hire a private stagecoach. They are travelling with a young couple, Ben and Madge Maddox. They are very friendly, and rather oblivious--Paladin hints that he would like a little more room on the seat, but this goes right over their heads. Cheerfully making introductions, Ben more or less orders Madge to say hello, which she promptly does--but then he reacts as though she had said it on her own, and comments on how friendly she is to everyone. Paladin joins in Ben's laughter, but he seems to find the situation far more amusing than it is. This is the first place where dialogue seems to have been cut. Just who are Ben and Madge? Where did they come from, and where are they going? The implication at the end is that they were headed "home", but where is home? East? And why? Were they among the settlers frightened off by the Indian unrest?
Paladin comments that they are nearing Adobe Wells--which he pronounces "Dobe". (Western dialect?) We then see that Adobe Wells is a badly damaged fort--there's no roof, and debris is everywhere. There's one wounded man inside, staying near the tiny spring of water. There's a sound of a stagecoach, which appears to be right outside, but moments later we see that the stage is still some distance away. Suddenly shots and Indian cries commence. The driver is hit, and the shotgun manages to call a warning before he is also taken out. The passengers leap clear as the stage lurches past. Paladin nearly loses his footing, then recovers and uses his momentum to scale the gate and open it from the inside. Everyone stumbles in, Juliana finding time to take a slam at her husband. Spotting the wounded man, Paladin and Ben (you wouldn't expect Guilder to help, would you?) carry him to a bunk near the gate, learning that the man has been there, wounded, for three or four days, and there are three or four Indians out there without water. Madge firmly announces that she is going to look after him, and in time-honored fashion, starts ripping up a petticoat as she bids her husband to get water. Guilder realizes that the Indians could easily have travelled to another water source in the four days they've been waiting. Juliana, meanwhile hastily pulls a flask from her reticule--which serves to establish the fact that the lady has a drinking problem.
A voice calls out to the new arrivals, claiming that they only want water. Guilder is certain that it's Quanah Parker, and that he has arranged this as an ambush for Guilder. Paladin calls out to Parker. Although he had previously indicated that he knew of Parker's background, as well as knowing that Parker is not known for keeping bargains, he has to learn from Guilder that Parker has one brown eye and one blue. Parker then admits that what they really want is "the buffalo man", and they will give up their guns in exchange for him. Very oddly, no one thinks to ask the wounded man just why Parker wants him, although Paladin is aware that the result will be death by slow torture. Ben is prepared to defend the man, but Guilder is ready to trade him to buy his own life. Guilder intends to get out of this alive (he doesn't mention his wife). Juliana drily suggests to Paladin that they trade her husband, instead.
As it grows dark, Juliana inspects a small gun that she keeps in her reticule along with the flask. Madge, after her firm promises, has conceded that she will not be able to save the wounded man, and after bandaging him up, has retreated from his side. There's an odd exchange between the Maddoxes, indicating more missing dialogue--Ben seems to be apologizing for something, and Madge reassures him, saying that Paladin or Guilder will handle things. Clearly, she doesn't expect her husband to take the lead. The wounded man tries to sneak out. At this point, Guilder addresses him as Jones, and he is, in fact, listed in the credits as Rio Jones--but he never mentioned his name. Paladin is willing to let Jones leave and take his chances (he probably knows that those chances are nil) but Guilder will not give up this bargaining chip, and shoots him. This next bit is peculiar. Jones is dying, and was dying before he was shot a second time. There is no point now in telling lies, yet he insists that he never shot Indians for bounty. Buffalo are both more profitable and safer--they don't shoot back. Paladin instantly snatches a bag from Jones, and finds a scalp inside. He angrily throws it aside, and Madge catches it. Learning what it is, she throws it with a cry of disgust to Juliana. Juliana looks equally disgusted, but hangs on to it, looking at her husband as Paladin explains that some of the ranchers have been offering bounties for killing Indians. She asks what the going price is--a dollar to a dollar fifty. (It's not mentioned here, but the bounties offered for killing local animal "pests" such as wolves, coyotes, bobcats, etc, would probably have been much higher.) Jones again denies taking bounties, despite the evidence. Ben, in righteous indignation, now suggests giving Jones to Parker, although moments earlier he had been expressing sympathy for the man. Jones mutters about the buffalo, presumably in a dying delirium--first he says that millions are coming, then says they are all gone. This may, in fact, be the explanation for why Jones turned to Indian bounty, with the buffalo becoming scarce, but it's not stated directly. With Jones dead, Paladin goes out to try and confer with Parker. Juliana finds her flask is empty, and for the first time in the episode, drops her cool, contemptuous attitude.
Paladin finds Parker and Co. Native Americans don't tend to have facial hair, but Parker, half white, sports a mustache, although it's so limited as to resemble a tattoo or face painting. Paladin learns that Jones not only has been killing Indians, he slaughtered women and children, cutting their throats. Paladin informs them that Jones is dead (it would be interesting to know just how Paladin would have handled the situation if Jones had not died) and offers Parker both water and the chance to inspect the dead man in exchange for their guns. Trust has to begin somewhere. Someone has to begin. Paladin demonstrates by turning his back and walking away.
While waiting for Parker's decision, Paladin begins collecting the guns and putting them in a pile. He pulls out his own derringer, and you can see him thinking: "Should I or shouldn't I?" Guilder suggests ambushing Parker when he arrives. Paladin will not break his word, and with that thought, puts the derringer in the pile. Seeing his wife standing off by herself, Guilder approaches her. This next bit is implausible, and is probably the reason for the "soap opera" designation. It doesn't seem likely that Guilder would acknowlege the possibility of his own death, let alone start making confessions in front of witnesses. In any event, he starts out badly. Rather than say, "You're the only woman I ever loved", he says, "You're the only woman I ever saw that I wanted". Interestingly, Juliana's well-bred diction seems to slide a little as she reiterates, "You want, you want, you want!" It is not made plain just what the problem is here--is Juliana barren, or is she frigid, or is it just her husband's touch that she can't stand? In any case, none of those reasons could keep Guilder from demanding his conjugal rights, no matter how loathsome Juliana finds them. We then learn that Guilder, desperate for an heir, had hired a woman to bear a son for him. He's horrified that Juliana knows--although I'd like to know just how he planned to publicly acknowledge his illegitimate son. This juicy tidbit was really unnecessary. The relationship of the Guilders--the older man winning his beautiful young "trophy wife", only to find her cold and contemptuous, and the young girl accepting a wealthy, influential husband, only to find that the price was more than she was willing to pay, was quite sufficient as it stood. The secret son seems to have been thrown in just for the shock value. Guilder snatches Juliana's reticule--which has her gun--while Juliana calls to Paladin, spitefully announcing that Guilder is the one who has been offering the bounties on the Indians. This results in what is probably the first really nasty display of violence against a woman in this series as Guilder punches his wife in the face, leaving an ugly gash. (Dr. Thackeray was also hit, but that was a frightened man pushing her aside.) Paladin probably does not like Juliana much, but he won't stand for that sort of behavior, and punches Guilder in turn. As he wrestles with Guilder, Madge suddenly lets out a long, terrorized wail, as Parker and Co. seemingly materialize inside the fort. In spite of this, it is Madge whom Paladin orders to fetch water for the Indians--perhaps he's trying to force her to see that they are humans, not monsters. Madge is rigid with distaste and/or terror as she steps forward to collect the canteen. Paladin shows Parker that Jones is, indeed, dead. Parker responds with a short, but awesome speech. He's aware that the whites are going to win in the end--he just wants his people to have the chance to finish out their time, before everything is gone. Madge, inexplicably, has abandoned getting the water and is crouched at her husband's side. Guilder, also inexplicably, snatches up the scalp and hides it. This seems pointless, as Parker and everyone else is aware that Jones was collecting scalps. Parker and Co. lay down their guns. All seems well...and then Juliana speaks up. It's possible that we're meant to think that she has become horrified at the thought of her husband ordering Indians slaughtered wholesale, but it's far more likely that she was seizing the chance to make Parker do what she didn't have the nerve to do herself--murder her husband. Guilder seems to realize this, as he shoots, not at Parker grabbing for his rifle, but at his wife. Paladin springs at him, which was taking an incredible chance, and moments later the gun goes off, killing Guilder. The gun is now probably out of bullets, but the Indians wouldn't know that, and Paladin, very sensibly, tosses it behind him to Parker. Parker does not give up his guns a second time--and you can't really blame him--but he assures them that they can trust him...at least for now.
In a subtle point, Paladin proves that he trusts Parker by going to sleep--although he puts his gun readily to hand. (You can't expect a gunfighter to set old habits aside so easily.) He's awakened by the Maddoxes, who proudly inform him that they have decided to stay...apparently, right there. This again indicates that some explanatory dialogue was left out. In both books that I have about this series, this episode is described as ending on a hopeful, uplifting note--one describes it as being too patly so. In fact, it doesn't turn out that way. Paladin at first looks hopeful, agreeing that they have the right to stay and that they are not cruel...but then Ben goes on, saying, in effect, that they have to be tough and claim the land, or it will all go back to the "naked savages". Paladin addresses him as Commodore, and once again, his subtle hint flies right over their heads. Hearing a stage approach, and perhaps hoping that he's misread the situation, Paladin tentatively reminds them of the unspoken treaty with Quanah Parker--a beginning of trust. Ben and Madge make it clear that they hold Paladin solely responsible for their having survived the situation--the Indians had nothing to do with it, and they don't trust them in the slightest. Presumably they will only tolerate them as long as it takes to get rid of them. Paladin looks rather stunned, rueful, and saddened as he realizes that the couple did not learn a thing from the experience.