Having learned the truth about his favorite hotel guest in the last season, Hey Boy--as Hey Girl will in the fourth season--seems to derive impish pleasure in thwarting Paladin's amatory pursuits. Paladin is in the lobby, as usual, with time on his hands. A young woman very pointedly passes by him, and he prepares to make the best use of his leisure time. It is only at this point that Hey Boy "remembers" the newspaper tucked under his arm, with an article calculated to catch Paladin's interest. A certain James Dawes, having killed a man in Kansas, has eluded the sheriff's posse and escaped over the state line. There being no extradition procedures at the time, the sheriff can go no further--but there's nothing to stop a civilian from doing so. Paladin sends his card to the murdered man's family, and they agree to hire him. He also obtains a copy of the Kansas warrent for Dawes' arrest.
As usual, we don't get much idea of how much time has passed, but Paladin catches up to Jimmy Dawes shortly before he would have reached his home town. Paladin assures him that he will have a fair trial--and I wouldn't put it past Paladin to hang around to make sure of it--but Dawes is having none of it. He seems quite certain of a "Guilty" verdict. He shoots Paladin's horse out from under him, and continues firing. Despite Dawes having a longer range with his gun, Paladin has him on accuracy. At that distance, however, Paladin can't afford to try winging him, and his shot is a fatal one. Paladin obviously isn't happy about it, but he resignedly sets about moving the body.
Paladin--and the audience--get an inkling of his reception when he slowly rides into the town of Promise, the boy's body draped in front of him. Dead silence greets him, as the whole town comes out to stare. With his usual aplomb, Paladin ignores it and comes up in front of the sheriff's office. An elderly man walks out, identifies the body, and coldly informs Paladin that he came to the wrong place. Paladin quietly states that he thought the boy's family would want the body for burial. I found it strange that not one person acknowledged Paladin's courtesy in the slightest. He could have hauled the body back to Kansas as proof that he'd gotten his man (which, depending on how far it was, could have ended up unpleasant in the extreme). He could have buried the body where it fell, or even left it to the buzzards and coyotes. Had he done any of those things, no one in the town would have known who killed James Dawes; they wouldn't even have known he was dead until the Kansas authorities wired them the information (if they chose to do so). The very fact that he brought the body in should have told them something about Paladin's integrity--but everyone ignored this. The sheriff admits that Dawes was wanted for a killing, but contends that Dawes probably "had" to do it. (This seems like a case--and an extremely familiar one--of nobody believing that "the boy next door" could be guilty.) Hearing Paladin's explanation for Dawes' death, he flatly--almost complacently--states that it was murder. He demands that Paladin dismount and surrender his gun. Paladin has heard that Sheriff Truett is an honest peace officer, but he hesitates--and Truett threatens to take the gun by force. This, of course, just ain't gonna happen, and Paladin makes that very clear before he slowly draws his gun and hands it over. Truett informs him that the inquest will be the next day, and he will have to be present for it. Paladin icily states that while the horse belongs to Dawes, the saddle and trappings are his, and he will want them back.
Ignoring the crowd of people at his back, Paladin enters the hotel and signs for a room and bath. The hotel manager already knows about the Dawes boy's death (does someone go racing from building to building, informing those people who didn't come out into the street?) and asks if Paladin is the one who did it (and who else would it be?) Paladin pretends not to hear, simply specifying that he wants his water hot. The manager starts to refuse him service, but Paladin has had enough. Richard Boone gives an excellent portrayal of a man at the very edge of his patience. He doesn't raise his voice, but the words are forced out through his teeth, and the manager hastily hands him a key. Paladin heads upstairs rather hastily himself. The manager, perhaps concerned about his hotel's reputation, or perhaps from simple decency, advises Paladin to sleep lightly. Paladin doesn't need the warning, but nods acknowledgement.
During the night, Paladin hears his doorknob rattling, and leaps out of bed just before his pillow is blasted. Paladin grabs the youngster and his gun and bellows at him. The boy is either in shock, or a little slow; he simply babbles. It is the manager, rushing up in his nightshirt, who identifies the boy as Ben Dawes, Jimmy's brother. Paladin hurls the boy out the door (and, surprisingly, his gun as well) and leans against it, looking just a trifle shaken up.
Either Promise has its own judge, or a circuit judge was rapidly summoned. To the vast disappointment of the crowd (as many men as could be crammed into the sheriff's office) the judge finds in Paladin's favor. The arrest warrent was valid, there was nothing to prevent Paladin from making a citizen's arrest--or to defend himself at need. The judge makes it rather clear that he's actually on the side of the town--he makes a point of saying that if they had had an eyewitness to the incident, things might have turned out differently, but as it is, he has to take Paladin's word. Paladin is ready to take his gun and leave, but the sheriff smugly tells him that he is as good as dead. Ben Dawes might not be much, but there are two older brothers--Charlie and Clay. They are out of town at the moment, but are doubtless hastening back. Paladin can have his gun back right when he's ready to leave town. Paladin's temper starts to slide, and he almost snatches his gun back, but Truett has it in his hand, and he's spoiling for an excuse. Paladin reins himself in. The sheriff suggests that he get out of town fast--IF he can find anyone willing to sell him a horse; otherwise he will have to wait for the afternoon stage.
No one was willing; Paladin finally came to collect his gun in the afternoon. The sheriff demands that he not wear the gun--nor his derringer--and only then points out that they have a town ordinance (not usually enforced) forbidding the wearing of guns in the town. Truett would be happy to lock Paladin up for a week. Paladin ostentatiously completes buckling on his gun belt, then steps away from the sheriff and eyes him coldly. He accuses Truett of abusing his badge, and points out that the old man can no longer really back it up. Truett flinches a little at this point. Paladin then grittily states that he has a deep respect for the law, and jerks his gun belt back off, gathers up his saddle and other things, and heads for the stagecoach. A voice calls out; Charlie and Clay have returned, and they're not going to let Paladin go. The stage driver hastily dumps Paladin's belongings and drives out. Sheriff Truett, fearful that the boys are going to shoot an unarmed man, quickly steps between them and demands that Charlie back off. Charlie responds by smashing the sheriff's gun hand with the butt of his gun. Paladin is aghast at this treatment of an old man who supposedly was their friend. He's prepared to end things then and there, but Charlie wants him to have time to sweat. Like everyone else, he will not listen to the facts behind his brother's killing. He's going to kill Paladin, by fair means or foul. Charlie goes to assist the sheriff, but Truett jerks away and staggers off by himself. Paladin returns to the hotel to await sundown.
His arm bandaged up (with a splint sticking out well past his elbow--very awkward looking) Sheriff Truett stalks past the Dawes boys to his office, where he collects a shotgun before heading to the hotel. However he feels about Paladin personally, he does not want to see him murdered (at least not in his town). Perhaps he's starting to realize that Paladin is a man of integrity, and he's definitely seen proof that Charlie Dawes, at least, is not the "nice boy" Truett had thought him to be. Paladin, however, does not want this wounded old man's help. He thinks that Truett would be a hindrance, and does not hesitate to say so. (I was surprised that he didn't at least acknowledge the sheriff's change in attitude.) He can, however, make use of the sheriff's gun, and, without more ado, grabs it and leaves the room.
The hotel manager--the only person who shows consideration for Paladin personally--warns him that Ben Dawes is positioned at the back of the hotel. Going for the weakest link, Paladin comes out that way and swiftly shoots the boy in the leg. He's at the boy's side when the other two brothers come running, and quickly gets the drop on them. After they drop their guns, Paladin explains yet again that he had no choice in killing Jimmy Dawes, and had no guilt in the matter. Charlie maintains that he will get Paladin "someday". Not wanting to wait for a bullet in the back, and wanting some retribution for Truett's injury, Paladin comes forward and tosses Charlie his gun. On the draw, he smashes Charlie's hand, just like Truett's. Charlie thinks he's looking death in the face, but Paladin wants an end to it. Ben needs to have his leg seen to. Stubborn to the last, Charlie still thinks it isn't finished, and Paladin, exasperated, tells him that the next time he won't take the chance of just wounding them. Finally acknowledging...well, something...Charlie prevents Clay from shooting Paladin in the back. Back at the hotel, Paladin meets the sheriff coming down the stairs, having apparently watched the proceedings from a window. All of Paladin's gruffness is gone; he sounds genuinely friendly as he apologizes for refusing the sheriff's aid. The sheriff states that there was a time when no one could have done to him what Charlie (or Paladin) had done, and Paladin respectfully concurs. He watches the sheriff walk away (perhaps contemplating a time when he too will be old?) before heading for the livery stable. Perhaps now someone will be willing to sell him a horse.
An excellent episode. Richard Boone and Joseph Calleis, as the sheriff, are marvelous.