The townspeople of Barkerville gather at the local church. Matilda Parsons and Harry Townsend are marrying, much to the surprise of some of the local gossips who consider Matilda homely. Matilda arrives, and an old prospector--Bob-Tail--comes up and reveals that he has Townsend, dead, slung over his saddle.
Six days later, Hoby rides into Barkerville when the Rangers send him there at the request of the state legislature. The Ranger goes to the office of his friend Sheriff Jeb Dodds, who is playing checkers with Bob Tail. Bob-Tail claims that he found the body and had nothing to do with the shooting. Jeb explains that Matilda suddenly announced that she was going to marry Townsend. Nobody expected Townsend to show up for the wedding, and Bob-Tail had a couple of hundred dollars on him. Bob-Tail says that he found it lying around near the body, and Townsend was supposed to be carrying $10,000 on him. They haven't found the rest of the money, and it belongs to a rich widow, Mrs. Mary Howard of Hanley. She gave it to Townsend to buy some land, and she's the one who pressured the Rangers into sending someone. Mary is at the Palace Hotel, waiting to see Hoby. Hoby asks Jeb to let Bob-Tail go, and points out that there's no wedding ring among Townsend's personal belongings.
Hoby has Bob-Tail show him and Jeb where he found Townsend's body. The tracks of a light carriage are nearby, and one of the tires is loose. Back in Barkerville, Hoby questions Matilda at her dressmaker shop. She doesn't believe that Townsend was carrying $10,000, doesn't know Mary, and he didn't say anything a land deal. Matilda says that the biddies were jealous of her, and figured she could never get herself a man. Hoby points out that she doesn't seem to be upset at Townsend's death, and Matilda shows him Townsend's love letters to her. That's enough to comfort her, and Hoby thanks her for her help.
Next, Hoby goes to the hotel and sees a buggy outside. The driver, Murray Venner, confirms that it belongs to Mary. He confirms that he works for Mary and says that he's not too impressed with Hoby. Inside, Hoby meets with Henry Bennett, Mary's business manager. Henry insists on answering for Mary, and says that Townsend was carrying Mary's $10,000. Mary comes in and tells Henry that she'll answer, and sends Henry out to tell Murray that she won't She says that Townsend was a self-grasping illiterate opportunist, and has been fooling the people of Texas for years. Hoby wonders why she trusted Mary with $10,000, and she admits that Townsend had a talent for making money. Now she wants to get her money back. Mary figures that Townsend wasn't the marrying kind. As Hoby goes, he asks Mary what she would have done if Townsend had promised to marry her and then threw her over. She readily admits that she would have killed him and smiles.
Outside, Jeb approaches Hoby and tells him that he just came from the blacksmith shop. The morning of the wedding, the blacksmith repaired a buggy wagon wheel... belonging to Matilda. Hoby meets with Matilda again and explains about the buggy tracks. Matilda says that it happens frequently, and dismisses the claims that Townsend wasn't the marrying type as gossip. Hoby tells her that Townsend wasn't going to marry her, and figures that she didn't even know Townsend. Matilda insists that Townsend loved her and wrote her the letters., and Hoby points out that Townsend was illiterate.
Hoby asks for an explanation, and Matilda says that she spent her life making wedding dresses for others but never for herself. She had read about Townsend and dreamed that she's find a man like him. Matilda was sewing a dress one day and heard the biddies gossiping about her one day. It got unbearable and Matilda told them that she was going to marry Townsend and wrote the love letters to herself. She made trips to Austin, claiming that she was meeting with Townsend, and built up the story so well she began to believe it herself. Then she read in the paper that he was coming to Barkerville, and that was when she set the wedding date. Matilda rode out to meet him, but she insists that she didn't shoot him to keep him away. She was going to beg him not to come, but he was already dead when she got there. Matilda's secret was safe so she didn't report it. She hands over the letters and says that being convicted of murder would be easier than facing the laughter of the town. Hoby says that there isn't any hurry and leaves.
Back at the sheriff's office, Jeb wonders why Hoby didn't bring Matilda. Hoby figures that Matilda isn't going in, and says that he's taking Bob-Tail with him. As they ride out of Barkerville, Mary and Henry see them and Henry complains that Hoby didn't do anything. The woman says that she still expects Hoby to come up with the rest of her money, and Hoby says that they're working on it.
As they ride cross-country to Austin, Hoby tells Bob-Tail that he's free to go. He advises Bob-Tail to stay out of people's way for a couple of days and rides to Hanley. He goes to the state bank and then the land office, and tells Henry that he came by to pass the time of day with Mary. Henry says that Mary isn't in, and Hoby tells him that he stopped by the bank and it sounds like the company is losing money. The manager takes offense and says that he's going to wire Austin and have Hoby's badge lifted. Hoby figures that he can tie Townsend's death to the company and tells Henry to tell Mary that he'll be in the next day to look at the books. He hints that he might take a bribe of $5,000, and then goes.
Later, Mary comes to Hoby's hotel room and says that he heard Hoby's proposition to Henry. He figures that only one of her people could have known that Townsend was going to Barkerville with $10,000. Mary has Hoby repeat his suggestion of taking $5,000, and says that she wanted Hoby to admit it because she had Murray bring the sheriff and they're both outside the door. Murray is at the window aiming a gun, and when Mary moves to the door, Hoby spots Murray and shoots first, killing him. The Ranger finds half of the missing money on Murray, and tells Mary that Murray and Henry were in it together. He admits that he set the entire thing up--even if Mary was involved--and she says that she's impressed.
Later back in Barkerville, Hoby tells Matilda what happened. She says that she doesn't hold a grudge against Henry and Murray, and figures that they won't have to face the town's laughter anymore. Hoby gives her the reward money and says that no one has to know that she made the whole thing up.
Written by Gadfly on Aug 6, 2017