It starts a little oddly, in the dining room of the Carlton. Paladin comments to Hey Boy that there's something wrong with his meal--it's delicious. This would seem to indicate that good food is a rarity at the Carlton, but you would hardly expect Paladin to remain at the Carlton for long if the cuisine did not come up to his demanding standard. It might have made more sense if he'd simply asked if they had changed chefs. Turns out that a man wants Paladin's services, and chose to grab his attention by fixing him an especially fine meal. Having accomplished his purpose, the man, Etienne, introduces himself as a French chef. He had brought French culture to the American frontier by setting up a restaurant in a little mining town, and now seeks to add that ineffable touch of class provided by an elegant plate glass window. His three previous attempts to do so ended in failure, so he has decided to hire professional help. Paladin at first finds this absurd and brushes him off. However, as in another humorous episode, "Helen of Abajinian", his appetite lures him in with the prospect of a superb meal on top of his usual fee.
Etienne is accompanied by his wife, Claire, a rather loud and common-spoken American, who is not at all impressed with either her husband's dream or Paladin. One wonders what Etienne saw in her, or she in him. The mission gets off to a bad start, with Etienne insulting one of the men loading the glass, and nearly getting the glass (and himself) broken. You would think that they would carefully pack the glass within a wooden frame, or at least swath it with blankets or cotten batting, but instead it is simply propped up in the back of the wagon, almost completely exposed.
They run into one problem after another, not the least of which is simply driving through country where the road is usually just the most worn place along the ground. There is a noisy attack by Indians, and when Paladin yanks Etienne off the wagon to a safer spot, Etienne promptly climbs back up, bravely (and stupidly) fending off arrows with a piece of luggage. The Indians are frightened off by the reflection of the sun on the glass (ah, that's why they didn't wrap it up!) They also have a run-in with a man who fancies having glass windows in his house, but doesn't want the bother of either travelling to the city or special ordering them. Another problem is Claire herself, who has made it clear that she's sick of the whole idea, and tired of a husband who seems to value a window more than her. Paladin rescues the glass, but ends up with Etienne accusing him of improper advances to his wife. However, being a Frenchman, he understands this sort of thing, and lets the bemused Paladin off with a warning. Claire, on the other hand, is outraged that her husband would think that she would play around with a "hatchet-faced gunfighter". Although Richard Boone could never be called conventionally handsome (he grows on you, though) this is the first time in the series that anyone described him as unattractive. Finally, they run into a friend of Etienne's--at least he's a friend when he's sober. When drunk, he has the overwhelming urge to smash things. Paladin and Etienne decoy him with a beautifully choreographed pantomime, which holds the drunk's attention until Claire can get by with the wagon. Luckily for her, it didn't occur to the drunk to try firing his gun after her.
When they finally arrive home, Claire gleefully points out that it is Saturday night in a mining town. The men will be liquored up and looking for action. Etienne has the window installed anyway, and a signpainter arrives. Etienne undertakes Paladin's meal, a production of epic proportions. It puts one in mind of ancient Roman banquets, where the diners had to empty their stomachs periodically to make room for the next course. Paladin is a celebrated trencherman as well as a gourmet, but I don't see how he could have taken more than a couple bites of any one dish without becoming too stuffed to move. Meanwhile, a crowd is forming, vandalism on their minds. Etienne heads them off by pointing out that his friend the drunk, a well-known character apparently, will want the pleasure of smashing the window himself. Interestingly, Claire seems proud of her husband's skill in the kitchen. Although Paladin finds the meal excellent, she points out that it would be even better if Etienne's mind were on the food rather than the window. Etienne leaves off guarding the window to confer with Paladin. A frightened expression on his face warns Paladin, who spins around into his gunfighter's crouch despite a stomach that must have been extremely full at that point. The glass smasher has arrived, but he's not minded to break the window with a bullet. He wants to smash it by hand, and, in fact, gives the situation a bizarre eroticism. Paladin and Etienne fend him off, the drunk ignoring Paladin's share of the effort. Neither he nor the others in the crowd now want to tangle with Etienne the Bold. All is well--until the signpainter reaches to remove a last smudge from the glass. Oops.
At this point, Etienne whips out his wallet and presents Paladin with another installment of cash. Both his movements and Paladin's reaction are so exaggerated as to look like another piece of pantomime. A thud grabs their attention, as Claire throws a piece of luggage out the door. At first sight, I had thought that the long-suffering wife had finally decided to leave him, but it turned out that Claire, who knows her husband well, was already prepared to make the trip back to the city for another piece of glass. In spite of all her grumbling, she must love the man very much--fool dreams and all.
This is not the sort of episode you would want to see very often, but as an occasional change, it is refreshing. And it looks as though they all had a good time doing it.