Paladin is riding through the mountains and meets four men: Dr.
Stark, Cass, Stebbins, and Corey. They invite him to ride with them as
they pass through Indian territory and Paladin accepts their invitation.
Corey, a young man barely out of his teens, insists on going a
different route, and Cass taunts him because of his fear of heights.
Stark tries to reassure him but Corey insists on avoiding the higher
A new man arrives from above them and starts to climb down. As he hails the others, a rock fall knocks him past them and down the side of the mountain to a ledge further down. The group calls down to the man but get no response. Paladin has Cass belay their only rope so that they can lower Stark down to check on the man. Stebbins insists that the man must be dead and refuses to endanger himself by climbing down to belay the rope. Corey admits that he has a fear of heights and is unable to help. Cass holds the rope at the top and Paladin climbs down to brace the rope and help Stark make the descent.
With only Paladin to brace the rope further down, Stark runs out of line some ten feet short of the injured man. He concludes that the man is dead and climbs back up. They go to the campfire and Corey apologizes for his cowardice. He insists that he would only have endangered the others if he had tried to help. Stark tells them that the man has either a dislocated shoulder or a broken neck. He assumes that the man is dead, but Paladin isn't satisfied and asks if Stark is willing to ride off and leave the man to die. Stark defends his decision, saying that hundreds of people in the area depend on him as their only doctor. Cass and Stebbins side with Stark, and they realize that Corey has gone.
The men hear a scream from the mountainside and go to investigate. Stebbins stays behind with the horses for a moment, while the others find Corey hanging down from the rope, paralyzed with fear. Paladin climbs down and attaches their rope to the boy, and they pull him up to safety. Corey explains that he had to find out if he could overcome his fear, but Cass taunts him as a coward. When Corey offers to wait, a disgusted Paladin says that simply waiting will be no more effective than riding off.
Stebbins takes out Paladin's card that he found in his saddlebag, and defends his snooping by saying he had a right to know who was riding with them. He asks if Paladin has doubts, and offers to pay Paladin his normal $1,000 fee to shoot the man. They can't rescue the man, so Paladin will either put him out of his misery or shoot someone who is already dead. Paladin says that it's a cheap price if it buys off Stebbins' guilt, and Stark turns away from Stebbins in disgust. Stebbins defends himself, pointing out that Stark was the one that declared the man dead. Paladin takes out a rifle and gives it to Stark. Stark agrees, saying that there's no problem with shooting a dead man, but Paladin accuses him of indifference. Everyone is clearly uncomfortable with helping Stark shoot the man even though they insist he's dead, but Cass finally agrees to lower the doctor down.
Stark gets down as far as he can and takes aim, but is unable to pull the trigger. Paladin, who has watched the entire thing with one hand on his revolver, sighs in relief as Stark refuses to shoot the man. Back at the top, Stark admits that the man could be alive, and Paladin wonders if he would pay Paladin to kill the man like Stebbins did. Paladin prepares to go down and check on the man, but Stark volunteers. All of them will need to work together to brace the rope and make up the difference. Paladin offers to blindfold Corey so he can overcome his fear of heights. Stebbins objects on behalf of the boy, but Corey is eager to prove himself and refuses his support. Shamed, Stebbins agrees to belay the rope. Cass refuses to go down if he has to rely on Stebbins and Corey. Corey accuses him of cowardice, pointing out that Cass has avoided going down. Stebbins laughs and Cass knocks Corey down. He demands that the boy apologize, but Paladin sides with Corey and points out that even Stark is braver than Cass. Cass angrily agrees to help them by going partway down and bracing the rope.
Working as a team, Stark, then Paladin, then Cass, and finally Corey, go down the side of the mountain. Each one braces and holds the rope to provide enough slack for Stark to make it to the ledge. He checks the man and confirms that he's dead, and died instantly in the fall. Cass laughs hysterically and Stebbins explains to the blindfolded Corey that Cass is laughing because they all almost got themselves killed over a man they couldn't save. As they pull Stark back up, even Paladin admits that it was a stupid risk. Satisfied of the man's fate, the five men ride off.
Written by Gadfly on Oct 6, 2018