Paladin is riding across the plains when he spots what appears to be a
deserted covered wagon in the distance. When he approaches it, a woman,
Clara Benson, opens fire on him from in front of a recently dug grave.
She orders Paladin away but he offers his help and she asks if he's a
doctor. When he admits that he isn't, Clara tells him to move along.
Paladin hears a baby crying in the wagon and Clara tells him that her
son has typhoid fever. He points out that she isn't a doctor and doesn't
know for sure, but Clara explains that she was traveling with a wagon
train and the wagon master, Jeremiah Mulrooney, recognized the symptoms.
Rather than contaminate the rest of the wagons, Mulrooney let her
loose, saying that it was the will of God. Paladin is shocked that Clara
agreed, but she says that the lives of two people weren't worth
endangering 50 others. When he offers to take her to the nearest
settlement, a day's ride away, Clara warns him that the wagon train was
heading there and that Mulrooney will have warned the townspeople.
At the settlement, Mulrooney is buying supplies from the store owner, Bill Jonas, and his wife. The Jonases suggest that he stay with his people, but Mulrooney says that they'll be continuing on west. Paladin comes in and asks for a doctor, and Bill says that the only doctor in town is a woman, Phyllis Thackeray. Mrs. Jonas dismissively insists that doctoring isn't a fitting job for a woman and explains that Thackeray came west because she couldn't make a go of it in back east. Paladin tells them about the sick child and Mulrooney realizes that he's talking about Clara. Paladin accuses Mulrooney of condemning the mother and child to death. The Jonases defend Mulrooney, insisting that they don't want a typhoid epidemic in town, and Bill and Mulrooney draw guns on Paladin. Paladin insists that Clara's child will die without treatment and the illness will eventually reach town. Bill concedes that Paladin is right but refuses to give Thackeray Paladin's card.
Paladin goes to Thackeray's office and the doctor agrees to ride with him to the covered wagon. The townspeople have gathered on the edge of town and Bill warns Paladin that they won't let them bring the typhoid victims back. Mrs. Jonas insists that they have to protect their own and Thackeray admits that they're serious, but Paladin says that he's serious as well.
After riding until nightfall, Paladin sets up camp for the night and Thackeray prepares supper. Paladin talks about Thackeray and she explains that while she could live a life of leisure, it would be too easy for her. She graduated second in her and considers herself a missionary as well as a doctor. She hopes that she can change people's minds and convince them that women can be doctors. However, Thackeray explains that she was run out of a previous settlement and is ready to quit if she can't succeed a second time.
Paladin and Thackeray arrive at Clara's wagon the next morning and the doctor examines the mother and child. She tells Paladin that Clara is fine except for exhaustion and dehydration, but is unable to confirm if the child has typhoid or not. The baby is partway through the fever cycle and Thackeray can't tell for sure until it runs the full cycle. Paladin hitches their horses to the wagon and tells Thackeray that he's taking the mother and child to the settlement.
The townspeople are waiting for the wagon and Mulrooney tells Paladin to turn back. Paladin asks if the townspeople if they're going to let Mulrooney condemn two people to death, and Mrs. Jonas finally agrees to bring them supplies. However, she insists that they'll have to stay out of town. Paladin whips the rifle out of Mulrooney's hand and challenges the other townspeople. Bill insists that they can't endanger their own children, but a disgusted Paladin asks if they would do the same thing to their children if they were ill. Stricken, Mrs. Jonas admits that she doesn't know and Paladin gets back on the wagon. When Mulrooney grabs his rifle, Paladin rides the wagon through the crowd, scattering them, and Mulrooney screams at the townspeople to do something.
That night, the people gather outside of Thackeray's office. Inside, Paladin watches and waits for them to make a move. Thackeray makes him supper and tells him that the baby's fever is high but she still can't tell if he has typhoid. As they talk, the townspeople ride forward, Mulrooney in the lead, and set Clara's wagon on fire.
The next morning, Thackeray tells Paladin that the baby's fever has broken, meaning it isn't typhoid. Paladin joins Clara for breakfast and the woman thanks Paladin for his help. When Paladin wonders why Mulrooney is so set against her, Clara explains that her husband died in an Indian raid four days after the wagon train headed west. Mulroney became obsessed with her and eventually said that it was Heaven's will that he take Clara as his wife. She managed to stay away from him until her child became ill and then he banned her from the wagon train.
The townspeople approach the office and Paladin faces off against a torch-wielding Mulrooney. Paladin tells them that Clara and her baby never had typhoid, but Mulrooney insists that he's in league with the devil. Thackeray comes out and tells the townspeople that the baby simply had the three-day measles, and invites Mulrooney to see for himself. As Paladin and Thackeray go back to the office, the wagon master throws his torch at the building. As Paladin puts the fire out, Mulrooney prepares to shoot him. Bill yells a warning and Paladin spins and shoots Mulrooney dead in self-defense. The Jonases apologize on behalf of the townspeople and wonder if they deserve punishment for believing in Mulrooney. Paladin simply tells them to go home.
Later, Clara is preparing to leave and invites Paladin to join them as they head for San Francisco. Thackeray suggests that Paladin might stay and he suggests that she comes with him to San Francisco. She says that it would be too easy and in any case, the townspeople asked her to stay as their doctor. As Paladin starts to go, Thackeray checks his neck and then says that he won't be going anywhere for three days: he has the measles. Bill comes in and wonders how Paladin caught the measles, and he looks at Thackeray and says that he just got lucky.
Written by Gadfly on Dec 3, 2017