Paladin's out on the prowl again, wading his horse across a shallow river and then across mud flats toward a group of men. It would be interesting to know if the horse stumbling was a planned stunt, or an accident that was left in because it looked good. Either way, Boone or his stunt rider reacted quickly and smoothly, jumping clear of the horse (it actually looked as though he simply stepped off) so that it would not have the added weight to contend with. The waiting men show that they understand the value of a good horse in this territory; one man quickly inquires if it had been injured.
Paladin has caught up with the posse hunting Sam Tarnitzer--the four men who have the "stomach" for it. This quickly lets us know that Tarnitzer is a dangerous man. Tarnitzer would also seem to have some sadistic tendencies; Paladin was hired by the father of a young man whom Tarnitzer had hanged. We don't get any details, but it obviously was not the usual brawl or gunfight. This is presumably, but not necessarily, the specific reason Tarnitzer is a wanted man, although we soon learn that he spreads himself where criminal tendencies are concerned. A rather pompous, long-winded man introduces the posse to Paladin: Pike, who is only in it for the reward money; Crawford, who had a lucrative mining claim stolen by Tarnitzer, Burton, whose wife was stolen ditto, and himself, a disbarred judge who has his own grudge against Tarnitzer, although he does not go into details. Pike is quite affable about splitting the bounty five ways instead of four, although the group wonders if perhaps Paladin had actually been hired by Tarnitzer. Paladin brushes this off, pointing out that it's four to one.
They seem to travel a fair distance; the land changes considerably as they go. The scenery is marvelous. They are riding through a prarie, with some lovely mountains to the right, when they come upon an abandoned barn. After a cursory look around, most of the posse decide that Tarnitzer must be headed for the mountains. Paladin, however, studies the scene more carefully, and elects to stay behind. Pike is quick to note that this will mean that Paladin will get none of the bounty when they find Tarnitzer. It's quite clear what catches Paladin's eye, but I'm not sure just how he interpreted it the way he did. He notes that the rope used for hauling bales and whatever into the upper loft had been cut, and he sees the end of it, fastened around some planks that have barricaded the entrance. It would seem that someone cut the rope to form the barricade from the outside, which would seem to indicate that the person would be hiding inside. However, Paladin, after poking at the barricade, turns, scans the ground, then sets off briskly into the prarie. A shot sends him diving into a little rise on the ground, and signals the posse that something is up. Paladin either thought very fast, or he had already planned out his course of action; he snatches a handful of dry grass and threatens to set the whole field alight if Tarnitzer doesn't surrender. Tarnitzer, of course, is not willing to "belly up". He's not a good shot; he misses, and Paladin shoots with his usual deadly accuracy. He's not going to risk any mere flesh wound with this man.
Tarnitzer, although he's only on screen for a few moments, really makes his presence felt. Dying, he viciously promises Paladin that he will find a way to pay him back. A few moments later, the rest of the posse return and surround him. The judge prevents Burton from shooting him, pointing out that he's facing a court that cannot be bribed, browbeaten, or corrupted. It seems reasonable to suppose that the judge himself was guilty on one or more of these counts, leading to his disbarrment, especially as Tarnitzer recognizes him as a judge. He demands that the judge write his will. With beautiful irony, the judge pulls out a "Wanted" poster and begins writing on the back. Tarnitzer plans to bequeath all his property to Paladin--or to whomever can kill him before he gets back to San Cristobal (which is presumably the source of the bounty). Burton righteously indicates that they want none of his dirty money. Tarnitzer signs the will, just moments before he dies. Paladin prepares to tear up the useless will, but the ex-judge intervenes, citing a legal precedent from the fifteenth century. It is legal for a person to set conditions for gaining a legacy, and the heir is not permitted to interfere with them. Paladin points out that it does not apply in this case; another precedent indicates that no one may gain a legacy through illegal or immoral means. (I really think that Paladin must have studied for the bar in his youth, even if he never passed it. It's reasonable for a layman to have a good working knowledge of court procedures, but to recognize and refer to old legal precedents takes more than casual reading.) The judge maintains that he would accept the will as legal, and the other three, ignoring the fact that the judge himself is no longer legal, accept his word over Paladin's. Burton has already made his feelings known, and Pike only wants his share of the bounty. Crawford goes along with them...but he hesitates before saying so.
Heading back to San Cristobal, it doesn't take long before Paladin decides he will be more comfortable riding at the rear. He is agreeable, however, when the others decide to stop for the night. Pike slyly comments that he would want to get to San Cristobal as quickly as possible, were he in Paladin's place. Paladin realizes that the poison is already at work. Everyone assumes that Tarnitzer has left a large bequest, although we only have his word for it. Considering that anything he might have was probably obtained illegally, the state or the territory or whatever might pick the legacy apart, leaving little or nothing for the heir. Crawford, if he could prove that his mining claim was stolen, might have a legitimate claim on that part of the property. Crawford, however, wants to obtain it by quicker means. He thinks that by forcing Paladin into a "formal" gunfight, in front of witnesses, he can bypass the "illegal or immoral" clause. It does not occur to him that any proper judge, hearing the conditions of the will, would be highly unlikely to accept that Paladin was killed in a fair fight, regardless of witnesses. Protesting to the end, Paladin is forced to defend himself.
The writer did an extraordinary job. It's scary enough to see how quickly these ordinary men shed their civility, but the psychological twists are very realistic. Having seen Paladin try his darndest to avoid fighting Crawford, Pike and Burton promptly convince themselves that Paladin planned it all along, and that he plans to kill all of them for the legacy. Never mind that Paladin is the sole man who has no motive for killing anyone--the legacy, if valid, is his; all he has to do is stay alive. All they have to do is leave him alone. But Burton and Pike need to justify Paladin's death to themselves; they cannot admit that it is sheer greed that drives them. Knowing that death is standing right at his shoulder, Paladin discards his gun. Any killing will be flat out murder. He gets a dark, sour amusement from watching Pike and Burton dither around. He makes his sleeping arrangements at a distance from the others, but later comes to their fire to make one final effort to convince them of the hopelessness of the situation. His rationality is no match for Pike and Burton's greed, and he retreats, leaving the men to guard him...and each other.
Later in the night, the judge has drunk himself into a stupor, and Pike seems to be asleep. Burton approaches Paladin, who awakens instantly. It always amazes me that Paladin can remain so composed under such circumstances. Burton plans to make the killing look like a fair fight, but not too fair--he tosses Paladin's gun alongside him, but out of easy reach. Incredibly, he expects Paladin to not only cooperate in his own murder, but to sympathise with Burton's plight. He's had a hard life, and lost the only thing he had of value, his wife--who never really loved him in the first place. He deserves something, surely? At the same time that he's asking for Paladin's sympathy, he's treating Paladin as being of no more account than the rabbit he might shoot to provide him with sustenance. The loud click as he cocks his rifle naturally awakens Pike--who is right in Paladin's line of vision. Paladin dives sideways (and really, he just might have beaten Burton to the draw) and Pike fires before Burton can. Knowing that there's no time for further arguments, Paladin drops Pike.
The following morning, Paladin prepares to continue to San Cristobal, with four bodies tied across the saddles rather than one. The judge speculates that Paladin might kill him, too, and Paladin wonders if that's what the man wants. We're then treated to a shocking, O. Henry twist. The pompous judge, who had rather drunkenly faded into the background, had not declared the will valid from an error in judgement, drunken or otherwise. It was a cold, deliberate, malicious lie, and the judge is as evil as Tarnitzer, if not more so. Tarnitzer simply wanted to avenge himself on Paladin. The judge, however, wanted the pleasure of watching three ordinary men discard their honor and humanity and hurl themselves into the depths. To become as corrupted as he was. There is also some indication that he wanted to see the seemingly incorruptable Paladin die. He speaks of Diogenes searching for darkness, which seems to be an error: one of the most famous anecdotes about the ancient Greek philosopher was of the time he went about in broad daylight, carrying a lit lamp, searching for an honest man. (Well, that would apply to Paladin.) The judge finds it painful, as a corrupt man, to be in the presence of the light of a man of integrity. Paladin furiously snatches the judge's bottle of liquor and hurls it away. He's going to face the light, and San Cristobal, sober. Presumably Paladin is going to bring the judge back and turn him over to the law, and hopefully there is a law about wilfully inciting men to commit crimes, because there is no doubt that all three men would still be alive if he had told them the truth. At the very least, the man will be held up to public scorn.
Quite a nerve-racking episode, with excellent acting all around.