Allison comes to see Paladin at the Carleton and the staff escorts her to Paladin's private suite. She analyses Paladin by his furnishing, suggesting that he's a former soldier who likes his luxury. Paladin kisses her, assuming that she's there for romantic reasons, but she explains that her father, Everett, sent her away from New Orleans. However, he just sent Allison a letter informing her that he's fighting a duel with a young beau, Graham Beckley. Everett is an old man who hasn't held a gun in thirty years and Allison wants to hire Paladin to return with her to New Orleans and defend her father. She figures that Graham will back down once he's confronted by a gunfighter and everything will be resolved. Paladin accepts, takes his fee, and gives her one last kiss before ushering her out.
In New Orleans, Allison brings Paladin home to meet her father. Paladin claims that he's courting Allison and Everett explains that he took offense when Graham was too forward to his daughter. He then sent Allison away to San Francisco and accepted Graham's challenge to a duel. Undeterred by Paladin's contempt for the entire process of dueling, Everett invites Paladin to attend the duel, saying it's a casual affair with only fifty people there to watch. Paladin suggests that Everett call it off but the old man believes that Graham will withdraw his challenge rather than risk killing an old man and dishonoring himself. Paladin knows better when young men are concerned, but Everett doesn't believe him and walks out. Allison warns Paladin that her father is wrong and Graham won't back down, and kisses Paladin to convince him to continue.
Convinced despite himself, Paladin goes to the Albatross Club and demands to meet with Graham, who is playing chess with his friend Harry. Paladin dismisses the whole thing as stupid and says that he's put a stop to it, but Graham takes offense at the gunslinger's attitude toward the fine old tradition of dueling. He tells Paladin, loudly enough so that the club members can hear, that he'll accept an apology from Everett, but Paladin tells him that the old man won't apologize. Graham says that the duel will proceed as planned and Paladin informs him that he'll fight in Everett's place. The young nobleman is shocked that Paladin is violating the dueling code but the gunslinger tells him that it's up to Graham to make the next move and walks out.
When Paladin returns to the Windrom home, Everett has already received word of the change in plans. He insists that he had everything under control and that Paladin had no right to interfere, but the gunslinger brusquely informs Everett that he would either have been dishonored or dead. Given his charge's attitude, Paladin is ready to withdraw and let him suffer one of those two fates. However, Everett tells him that Graham has hired a gunfighter, Bill Sledge, to take on Paladin. Paladin doesn't see how it concerns him and is ready to leave, but Everett insists on fighting Sledge no matter what. Allison appeals to Paladin, while Everett insists that it's a matter of honor and only blood can settle it.
Paladin reluctantly stays on the case and goes to see Sledge at his hotel room. Sledge admits that he's just as puzzled about the whole idea of gunfights with rules as Paladin is. Neither one of them understand why they're fighting over a matter of intangible honor rather than goods or lands or money. Paladin points out that the choice of weapons is up to them and they agree to fight with their fists rather than guns.
Everett goes back to the Albatross Club and finds Harry taking bets on the outcome of the duel. Graham sees the old man and comes over, and they both admit that they agree on one thing: they'd rather see Paladin dead because of his contempt for dueling. The younger man apologizes for giving offense and Everett accepts, noting that he has more manners than Paladin. The two men reconcile their difference, but are surprised when Harry comes over and tells them that their chosen representatives will be fighting with fists, not guns. Graham and Everett promise each other that their man will show up with a gun.
That night, Paladin is in the Windrom garden when Allison comes out and flirts with him. She offers to keep her promise in San Francisco to make love, but Paladin figures that she's pretending, just as he father is pretending at being a man of violence. Disgusted, Paladin tells Allison that he doesn't pretend and shoves her away.
The next morning, Paladin and Sledge arrive for their duel. Allison is watching from her carriage, eager to see two men fight over her. Everett warns Paladin that Sledge will be carrying a gun and offers the gunslinger a weapon. Paladin looks over and sees Graham giving Sledge a revolver. The referee protests, complaining that neither man is using a proper dueling gun, but Everett insists on continuing. The two hired duelists receive their instructions to walk away from each other and, on the count of ten, turn and fire. Paladin warns Sledge that they're both being played and the rival gunslinger says that they should just keep walking and leave.
On the referee's signal, Paladin and Sledge walk their ten paces... and keep going. Surprised, Allison steps out to protest. The click of the carriage catch sounds like a cocked trigger, and Sledge instinctively turns and fires. Paladin does so as well, and he's just a bit faster than the younger gunslinger. Sledge goes down and Paladin stares at the corpse in shock and disgust. He then goes to the buffet table set up for the occasion, takes a drink, and angrily tells the onlookers that they should celebrate because they've had their blood and a man is dead because of them. Angry at them and at himself, Paladin throws the drink on the grass and walks away.