Tsk, tsk. Paladin has been out all night! Hey Boy naturally assumes, correctly, that a woman was involved, although it could just as easily have been a poker game. On being handed his mail, Paladin does not make so much as a flicker of reaction to the fact that Hey Boy has yet again been reading it. The "desperate" Tom Wilson needs Paladin's protection, and has sent one hundred dollars, with a promise of nine hundred more. (Apparently he is aware of Paladin's usual fee.) Hey Boy casually tosses off the location of the town of Last Gasp. It doesn't occur to Paladin that Hey Boy had all night to look up the information, and he ends up accusing him, for the first time in this series, of being inscrutable--that old standard Oriental stereotype.
One thing about sending a person cash--it does invoke a sense of obligation, at least to people like Paladin. There are others, of course, who would take the money and go on their way. Paladin arrives at Last Gasp and heads for the town's social center--the saloon, which is bustling with activity, with several games and a lot of chit-chat going on. Perhaps it was a very tiring trip, because Paladin asks, oddly, for brandy. Getting a "yeah, right" look from the bartender, he amends it to whiskey, his usual saloon drink. On asking for the whereabouts of Wilson, all the talk near the bar ceases abruptly. Wilson is dead, at the hands of a man called Moriarity, who is seated at a poker table near the bar. An old man, who had been standing at the bar, quickly goes and takes up a position behind Moriarity. According to Moriarity, Wilson had been boasting about sending for a gunfighter to deal with him. We never learn just what the quarrel was between the two, or why Wilson felt "desperate". Apparently he felt desperate enough not to wait for Paladin; he attacked Moriarity with a knife. It is also not stated whether Moriarity fought him hand to hand or just shot him. It's interesting (and very like Paladin) that he doesn't assume that Wilson must be the "good guy" simply because he asked for help. The fight appears to have been a reasonably fair one, and, as far as Paladin is concerned, that ends the matter. He has no quarrel with Moriarity. Moriarity, on the other hand, seems to want to provoke things. He demands to know why Paladin is "hanging around", despite the fact that Paladin has only just found out that his trip had been in vain. Perhaps it's the man's obnoxious attitude that makes Paladin decide to hang around and try to win at least a portion of the thousand dollars he had anticipated. Not having any good reason to refuse, Moriarity rather grudging bids him to sit in. For some reason, the other players leave the table, making the game one-on-one. I'm not much of a card player myself, but it was interesting to watch the following scene, with the camera focused on the table and the men's hands. Paladin plays gracefully and with an economy of effort. The chips gradually migrate to his side of the table, just as pretty much everyone in the room gradually gathers around to watch. The final play has Moriarity with nothing to throw into the pot, but he does not want to pass on the hand. He looks thoughtful for a moment, then tells Paladin he will stake the use of his "Silver Strike" for one month. A lot of chuckling and snickering break out all around, and, while Paladin takes note of this, he is not as wary as he should be. He accepts the stake, and promptly wins the hand. Moriarity cheerfully states that he will show Paladin his "Silver Strike" that very evening, and speaks to the bartender, who is not happy about it, but complies. Paladin gathers in his cash and exchanges his chips for more, then sits watching Moriarity with a bemused expression. A sleepy, grimy little boy, looking somewhat like the Artful Dodger, is pushed up to the table, and Moriarity merrily introduces
"Silver Strike Moriarity". Silver gazes at Paladin with a grim expression, as hilarity breaks out around the table. Moriarity had said that he had no reason to fool Paladin, but notice that he carefully referred to "Silver Strike" as an "it", not a "he".
Paladin surely must have felt disgusted at a man who would stake his own child in a poker game, much less treat him like a slave, but he conceals this. Moriarity presumably has played this game before, confident that his stunned opponent will forfeit this part of the stake. He's the one stunned, however, when Paladin quietly announces that he will keep him. Silver is also taken by surprise, struggling the moment Paladin lays a hand on him, but of course Paladin holds onto him with little effort. The boy is accustomed to doing dirty work (in the literal sense) which could be deduced from his appearance, anyway. Paladin takes him off for a night's sleep. We see Paladin as we seldom do, shirt, boots and socks pulled off and lounging on the bed as he questions the boy. Silver is ten or eleven (he seems small for his age, or perhaps it's just that Boone is so tall) and has only been to school once, just to see what it was like. The teacher had promptly tossed him out, most likely because of his filthiness. Silver is becoming amiable, perhaps because Paladin is the first person to show him any concern whatsoever. He proves that his childhood has not been entirely worked and beaten out of him; he starts bouncing on the bed and yelling. Paladin does not remonstrate with him (he, no doubt, bounced on his share of beds as a little boy), he simply nudges him onto the second bed with his foot. Silver is outraged (his bed isn't nearly so bouncy) but, rather endearingly, he positions himself for sleep with his ankles crossed, just like Paladin.
Judging by how the rest of the episode goes, it must have been very early the following morning when Paladin and Silver headed out. Silver is startled that they are not headed for the mine, and horrified to find that Paladin intends taking him to school. Things get quickly worse: Paladin takes him to the local bathhouse. The same old man from the night before gestures to various men in the street and hastens to watch the proceedings. The barber has no interest in tending to the smelly little blob of humanity. Paladin doesn't seem too surprised. He pays out enough to rent the facilites, with a promise to pay extra for damages. That will come to quite a bit....
I kept laughing through this entire scene. The humor was enhanced by the fact that Boone and the kid remained sober throughout, although I don't understand how they could keep their faces straight. Paladin approached the problem of stripping and scrubbing a filthy, scrappy little boy with all the seriousness, skill and strength he would apply to tracking down a killer. Silver makes a good account of himself, first kicking Paladin in the shin (Paladin, who can yell without restraint when an adult hits him unawares, keeps quiet here), then throwing a bottle at him before ducking under a table. Paladin weighs up his options and, startlingly, kicks the table over. Snatching the kid as he tries to dive past him, Paladin comes close to getting kicked in the face. As a crowd watches avidly through the window, boots and pants are shucked off, and Paladin pins Silver down to wrestle off the coat. The long underwear comes off as Paladin pulls in one direction while the kid crawls in another. Paladin hastily shoves the offending garment into the stove (judging by his reactions, that might be the first time the underwear has come off since it was first put on). Seeing tall Paladin face down the defiant, naked Silver (discreetly veiled by the bathtub) was hysterically funny. Paladin is starting to acknowledge the humor of the situation; he's smiling slightly as he rolls up his sleeves and cautiously approaches. Dumped in the tub, Silver quickly snatches a towel as Paladin turns to fetch soap and a brush, and dashes out of the room and the building. Coming out to a horde of guffawing men, Paladin is brought up short, but only for an instant. With perfect aplomb, he borrows a rope in passing and lopes after the fleeing Silver, quickly lassoing him and hauling him in. With a sublime disregard for flailing fists and feet, and a continual screeching, Paladin hoists him over his shoulder and strolls back to the bathhouse, whistling. The town of Last Gasp have probably never had so much entertainment. Having determined that Silver is not inclined to scamper naked through the town, Paladin gathers up all the available towels before leaving Silver in the tub while he goes looking for clean clothing. (He doesn't consider the curtains on the windows, but, fortunately, neither does Silver.) Perhaps accepting that he's not going to win this battle, Silver settles down (which allows the old man to win his bet).
Back at the saloon, an approving bartender offers Mulligan stew (presumably for breakfast, unless Paladin was taking Silver to school after the lunch break). Silver's looking resigned, although clean clothes and itch-free skin must have felt pretty good. He tries to reassert himself by requesting beer instead of milk, but Paladin quells him quite easily. Moriarity pushes in at this point. He has no intention of allowing his son to go to school. Paladin points out that he can "work" the boy any way he sees fit for the next thirty days, and proper work for a child is school. Moriarity doesn't want the boy to know more than he does; the boy might start thinking that he's better than his father. Most parents want their children to enjoy improved circumstances, but Moriarity's fatherly instincts are sketchy, to say the least. He threatens Paladin, and Paladin threatens him in return, and far more effectively. Moriarity retreats, and everyone else in the room bursts into raucous laughter. Silver, regarding Paladin seriously, states that his father will kill him. It's hard to say if he was simply stating a fact, or trying to warn Paladin.
The old man makes yet another appearance, and presumably he is trying to warn Paladin, although he ducks out without saying anything. Moriarity is outside, with a bunch of men (naturally) waiting to watch. Moriarity is not going to let his kid go to school. Paladin knows why; Silver will quickly learn that he doesn't have to be his father's slave. Presumably the town had never approved of Moriarity's treatment of his son, but no one was prepared to confront him over it--until Paladin showed up. They are delighted that Moriarity will have to start working for himself, rather than leaving it all to his little boy. After trying to put him off, Paladin accepts that he's going to have to fight, and removes his guns and hat. As he hands them to the bartender, Moriarity quickly lands a punch. It irritates me that not one person made so much as a sound of protest to this unfair and cowardly move. Paladin recovers quickly, however, and the fight gets underway. The stuntwork is well done, although the hair of Paladin's double is, as usual, noticeably different. A couple glimpses makes me certain that it was Hal Needham. I think Paladin's struggle in the bathhouse took longer. Moriarity ends up face down in a puddle. Silver looks quite pleased with the outcome. Retrieving his belongings, Paladin and Silver march to the schoolhouse, accompanied by a considerable crowd. The schoolteacher almost doesn't recognize the Moriarity boy, and she's dubious about the whole matter. Paladin seems certain that she can get the job done. Silver wants to know if the school can teach him to beat up his father as Paladin did (the bartender struggles to keep his face under control). Paladin assures Silver that schooling will give him even better ways of dealing with his problems. Silver seems unsure of this, but another motivating factor arrives in the person of a small girl. She wrinkles her nose, but then sizes him up more carefully. Silver does the same. She looks to the schoolteacher, he looks to Paladin, and each gets the same sort of nod. He follows her inside (and I wonder if that old man won another bet?) leaving Paladin to make the obligatory presentation of his card. He walks back, passing a subdued Moriarity. They both turn and look at the sign for the bathhouse, prompting another burst of laughter. Both men are certainly in need of the facilities.
It's not stated whether Paladin is going to hang around for a month, or if he's counting on the town to keep Silver in school. Perhaps that's why he gave his card to the teacher, so that she can call on him if needed. A delightful episode.