The beginning is a little confusing; it's hard to tell just what time it is at the Carlton. Paladin enters the lobby from outside, but he is not dressed in evening attire. (Perhaps he was at a poker game.) The lobby is completely deserted except for Hey Girl, the Carlton manager, and an unconcious (but armed) lump on one of the sofas, covered with a newspaper. (Perhaps the manager had ordered the lobby to be kept clear until this distressing situation had been dealt with.) It would be interesting to know just how long Hey Girl and McGinnis had been standing there, dithering. As soon as Paladin arrives, they automatically defer to him. Paladin deals with the problem of the gun by simply flipping the whole body onto the floor and quickly disarming it. All of them are astonished when a woman lurches to her feet, hacking and wheezing, and no doubt smelling of sweat and alcohol. Paladin is shocked to realize that this is Calamity Jane, well known legend of the West. It is never explained just how she ended up in the Carlton's lobby, but Paladin recognizes a damsel in distress when he sees one. He proposes getting her cleaned up, but McGinnis is outraged at the thought. (Apparently he was not around when Monk invaded the Carlton earlier this season; Calamity was small potatoes in comparison.) It's not a good idea to cross Paladin, however; without raising his voice in the slightest, he calmly calls for his hotel bill and to have his things packed. McGinnis rapidly backs down. Calamity laughs at him, but then it abruptly occurs to her that this tall stranger is making decisions about her. She starts to protest, but Paladin simply tosses her over his shoulder and continues on his way.
Despite the fact that he had asked someone else to do it, Paladin ends up preparing the bath himself. His only concession to Jane's outraged modesty is to slide a screen partially across the door. He then stands right in front of it, where he would only need turn his head to see all there was to see. He's curious about what has happened, as he had not heard that she was much of a drinker while she was performing. Nor should she be so hard up for cash, as a large number of dime novels had been written about her. (Paladin mentions casually that he had translated one into Latin to while away the time on a long train trip. Are we surprised?) Paladin, the intellectual, is not impressed by the literary qualities of the novels, but recognizes that they are very popular, nonetheless. It turns out that Ned Blackstock, who built up Calamity's legend, organized her performances, and wrote the novels, had been defrauding her of her share of the profits. And now, to add insult to injury, he has replaced her with a younger, prettier model, who is being billed as the "authentic" Calamity Jane. Reflecting on her woes gets Jane aggravated all over again, and she heads for one of Paladin's wine decanters. That anyone could replace her, Calamity Jane, the one who tracked down the killer of her beloved Wild Bill Hickock! Although we have not actually seen any indication that Jane's drinking has truly become a problem, Paladin gently suggests that certain doctors consider such drinking to be an illness that can be cured. Jane dismisses this; no one is going to cure her out of the goodness of his heart. Paladin offers to go with her to see Ned Blackstock and obtain her fair share of the money she earned for both of them.
We don't see just how long they were travelling. Jane is now dressed in a practical yet feminine riding skirt. Stopping by a lake, she suggests that a swim would do them both good. When Paladin agrees, she abruptly switches moods, accusing him of trying to take advantage of her. They will bathe separately, thank you very much, and he can go first. Understandably taken aback, Paladin shrugs and heads for the shore line. Jane quickly heads for the pack horse. There is a white bag prominently labeled "Flour". This is the first time I've ever seen any supplies so clearly marked. The bag, in fact, contains a bottle. Jane manages one swig before Paladin snatches it from her and hurls it away. She really should have been more subtle; Paladin probably would not have questioned it if she had simply suggested that they bathe separately. Jane is furious, and Paladin is disgusted; he prefers the legend to the reality. Realizing that he's about to leave her, Jane changes tactics; she drinks because of her back, injured when a cannonball struck it. The doctors recommended whiskey to dull the pain. Paladin looks skeptical; doctors would have been far more likely to prescribe laudanum. Jane pushes it too far, claiming that the doctors then wanted to cut into her to examine her unusual physique. Seeing him react to this absurdity, Jane becomes chastened. Paladin confesses that he had let himself believe the "legend" of Calamity Jane. (This actually seems very unusual, knowing what we do of Paladin.) Jane's temper flares (her emotions, during this whole scene, careen about like a roller coaster). She tries to demonstrate her shooting skill, but hard drinking and little practice have taken their toll. It may be her embarassment at having Paladin witness her ineptness that make Jane suddenly jump on her horse and rush off in search of a drink. Paladin is left to lead the pack horse. Paladin finds her after dark, in a saloon, well lubricated and warbling a tune, to the amusement of the bartender and two men enjoying a night out. Paladin spoils all the fun (I do wonder if they were planning to take advantage of Jane's drunken amiableness). The threat of Paladin's gun quickly makes the two workmen back down, and his fist accounts for the barman. Jane takes his proferred arm without any further protest.
Later that night (or some night further on), Jane complains that she can't sleep because of her painful back, and asks Paladin to rub it. Paladin hesitates, then agrees. Jane scrambles to her feet with nary a flinch or a moan, and settles down beside him. Paladin perfunctorily shoves her against his upraised leg, and starts the massage. Jane becomes coy. Paladin allows that he would find her attractive--IF she underwent "the cure". He also drily reminds her that she had told reporters that no one could replace Wild Bill Hickock. Jane, rather surprisingly, admits candidly that Wild Bill had never had any interest in her, and her real reaction, upon learning of his death, had been to call for another drink. With yet another of her abrupt changes of mood, she dissolves into tears across Paladin's chest, leaving him looking about as helpless as we've ever seen him.
They finally reach the town where Ned Blackstock and his "authentic" Calamity Jane, Lucy Weyerhauser, are performing. Jane, clean, well-groomed and becomingly attired in a pretty frock, suddenly gets cold feet. She cannot face Ned cold sober, she's just too scared. After trying to persuade her otherwise, Paladin agrees that it might be for the best if she stays behind and rests while he confronts Blackstock.
The performance is in some fairly large hall. It doesn't seem likely that it would be a hotel, at least not a hotel with any claims to respectability. Ned Blackstock has learned one of the great truths of marketing: Sex Sells. His new Calamity Jane is not dressed in Martha Jane Conroy's britches and jacket. Nor does she wear the practical and feminine riding skirts that Annie Oakley was known for. Lucy Weyerhauser's attire is more like that of a dance-hall girl. Wide-mesh net stockings that you can see plenty of, with the gaudy skirt hoisted nearly to the tops of her legs and pulled back behind her hips. I was astonished to see that women were in the audience alongside their husbands (of course, said husbands may have gotten an earful once they got back home). I thought that it was going to turn out that Lucy's shooting was faked, but apparently not; she finishes off her performance by shooting off the wicks of several candles (and just where did the bullets go, in this fancily decorated room?) Her final shot was accompanied by a bump and grind that should have knocked her aim all askew. Oddly, no one came up to her afterwards to praise her performance or simply to talk to her (perhaps the wives had something to do with that). Lucy sits down at a table with Ned. Just as they are toasting this satisfactory relationship, Paladin inserts himelf into the proceedings. Jeanne Vaughn, playing Lucy, gives a marvelous performance. She and Ned may be lovers, but it is on her terms. She is clearly aware of his shortcomings and it seems certain that, unlike Jane, their business arrangements have been carefully spelled out. Ned Blackstock is scornful, claiming that he had broken off with Jane because of her excessive jealousy. He makes no argument when Paladin demands compensation for Jane. Paladin also demands that Blackstock stop using her name for Lucy's performances. He seems to recognize just how far down Jane is, for he mentions that she has little else left to her but her name. Blackstock claims that he invented the name, as well as everything else, but never mind that. Having reached an agreement, Jane then blunders in, dressed in her old britches, obviously a little drunk, and demanding satisfaction from Lucy. The audience promptly scatters. Lucy, bright-eyed, stands up and positions herself. It will add to her reputation to be the one to bring down Calamity Jane. Ned is also perfectly happy to let them shoot it out. Paladin, no doubt, would disapprove of women dueling, and he knows that the drunk and furious Jane would not react fast enough. He threatens to kill Ned if he lets the shootout commence. Ned immediately turns craven, begging Lucy to drop her weapon. Thinking it over a bit, Lucy shrugs and does so. Jane, on the other hand, is prepared to kill Lucy regardless, but drops her gun when Paladin makes it clear that he will kill Ned if she shoots. Jane approaches Ned diffidently, with a tentative smile, only to meet a backhand that spins her around. Paladin promptly knocks him flat.
This is where it got unpleasant for me--although it is, sadly enough, realistic. Ned Blackstock has cheated Jane of her earnings, replaced her with a younger model, and, in front of witnesses, struck her. Calamity Jane, of all women in the world, ought to react with fury and contempt. Yet Jane gazes at him all soft and mushy-eyed, prompting Ned to react in hackneyed fashion--"Jane, Jane, why are you looking at me like that?" Jane tenderly helps him to his feet and leads him off to his room, crooning at him all the while. Lucy moves after them, but is intercepted by Paladin. Paladin has to ruefully concede that some damsels in distress just do not want to be rescued. He makes the best of the situation by turning to Lucy. Lucy, equally pragmatic, is quite willing to go along--although Paladin makes sure that she keeps her hands away from her gun.
It's really a rather pathetic ending, because you know Jane isn't going to hold on to Ned for long.