It starts, as it often does, with Paladin spotting a young lady and going in pursuit. This time around, the lady was waiting for someone else, and Paladin is left laughing at himself as he turns to his newspapers. He quickly spots the advertisement for an instructor in the art of gunfighting, and who better than Paladin to take such a job?
It seems a little odd that Sprague, knowing that Paladin was on his way, would give the job to another man, but perhaps that underscores his anxiety to get his education underway. Paladin easily demonstrates his superiority, but insists on knowing exactly why the boy wants to learn to shoot. Sprague needs to be able to face a bullying killer, Red Harper. Harper's technique of killing without being arrested for it is to goad his opponent into a duel. The lessons begin (starting with getting Sprague out of his fancy duds and into more practical attire).
Paladin is a hard taskmaster. Shooting and shooting and shooting. He also makes it clear that caring for one's weapons is equally important (althoug this aspect of Paladin's work is generally left off-camera.) Then back to shooting some more. Paladin is very patient, and the two men fall into an easy camaraderie. Finally comes the practice in the fast draw. (I'm no expert, but Sprague's demonstration, just before Paladin pronounced him ready, didn't seem fast at all.) Paladin has noted that Sprague has become quite comfortable handling the gun, although he is careful to point out that facing a man with it will be a different prospect altogether.
Sprague persuades Paladin to accompany him home, fearing that Harper will have his friends with him. I was surprised that he didn't offer Paladin more money, given that he'd accomplished the agreed-upon task. Paladin's presence does ensure that Harper's friends stand aside, and Sprague wins the gunfight. Paladin looks intently at the gleeful Sprague, perhaps recognizing signs that he's seen before. They go to the saloon for a drink (oddly, neither Sprague's father nor anyone else join them). Sprague acknowledges that he owes Paladin more than money, and Paladin seizes the chance to clear the debt by demanding that Sprague take the gun off. Sprague does so...until Paladin leaves. Sprague gives the frightening impression of an addict, his hand trembling as he caresses his gun in its holster, before snatching it up.
Three months pass. We see Paladin in the company of the same young woman who had ignored him before. As usual, his dalliance is interrupted, this time by Sprague's father. He tells Paladin that his son has been using his new-found talents to become exactly the same sort of murderous bully that Red Harper had been, and begs Paladin to help. (There's no mention of money.)
The hope that Paladin might be able to turn Sprague back is more or less quashed the moment they ride into town--Sprague has killed the sheriff. Paladin leaves the father behind as he goes to the confrontation. Peter Breck did a fantastic job--he hardly looked like the same man, jumpy and short-tempered as he played solitaire in the saloon. (Not likely that anyone was willing to play cards with him.) Clearly, he's aggravated that there is no one around for him to bully. When Paladin shows up, Sprague looked wild-eyed as he spoke of how powerful he felt with his gun. Paladin coldly challenges him and walks out into the street. Sprague gets his final lesson. Paladin's injury looked as though it was close to being a fatal one, but that happens a lot on television. I liked how he reacted--he didn't just get up and stride away. He was staggering, obviously in pain, and when he spoke to Sprague's father, he sounded about a step away from passing out. Sprague's father was a remarkable man, not blaming Paladin in the least for what had to be done, which must have been a small drop of comfort for Paladin.