Paladin is transporting a prisoner, Blandings, who embezzled money
from his former employer, Handler. The gunfighter gets Blandings coffee
and reluctantly unties his hands to let the prisoner drink. As Blandings
drinks and complains about how his life has taken a turn for the worse,
Paladin says that he wants to get across the strada before noon.
The prisoner continues reminiscing and Paladin tells him to roll up his
bedroll and prepare to leave.
The two men ride to the ferry cabin and discover that the boat is in midstream. Paladin rings the bell but there's no response, and goes to the dock to pull the ferry boat back. He discovers that the ferryman is in the river below the dock, dead. When Paladin turns around, he discovers that a hired gun, Devereaux, has got the drop on him and Blandings. Devereaux freely admits that he killed the ferryman and spots Paladin's derringer. He relieves the gunfighter of both of his guns and hits Blandings in the gut when the thief panics. Before Paladin can jump him, Devereaux warns him not to make any sudden moves and that he's waiting for his employer to arrive.
Blandings insists that Paladin take him back to San Francisco, and Devereaux wonders if Paladin is a lawman. Paladin gives the man his card and Devereaux takes him and Blandings inside. There are three other prisoners: two men and a woman. One man, a gambler named Carl, is with the woman, Sarah. They're worried that Devereaux is working for Sarah's husband, but Devereaux doesn't answer. The second man, a soldier named Morgan, tells Paladin that they've been there since morning and that Devereaux is being paid to hold them there.
Paladin asks Sarah about her husband and she explains that he's a garbage man in St. Louis who she's grown grew to hate. Carl is taking her away to a better life, one filled with culture and beauty, rather than live with a man who blamed her for all of his failings. Sarah would rather die than go back, but Carl tells her to say anything she has to to save their lives.
Morgan speaks up, saying that he knows who is coming for them. He believes that it's Blackfoot, a white man who lived with the Blackfoot tribe. Devereaux tells them that he doesn't know who is coming, and doesn't care. Morgan offers to take Devereaux to Blackfoot's trapping money, figuring that he can pay the hired gun as easily as Blackfoot can. Devereaux isn't interested, and Morgan says that he didn't mess with Blackfoot's wife no matter what the man claims. However, the soldier admits that he killed the wife when she found him with her husband's money, but insists that he didn't have a chance.
Desperate, the soldier suggests that they rush Devereaux. However, Paladin stops them, pointing out that Devereaux can easily take them out with his shotgun. Devereaux, impressed, figures that Paladin is a professional and dares him to do something. He sets his shotgun on the table and sits down, and then puts Paladin's revolver on the table. Devereaux dares Paladin to make a move for his gun, and the others tell Paladin to try. Paladin steps forward and start to reach for the gun, but then tells Devereaux that he's a coward who only strikes when he's stacked the odds in his favor. As Devereaux starts to sweat, Paladin tells him that no matter how favorable the odds look, there's a chance Paladin could grab his gun and shoot Devereaux with his dying breath.
Devereaux starts to panic and Paladin figures he's given himself an edge. However, riders come up outside and Devereaux orders Paladin back with the others. Carl tells Sarah to hide behind him so that her husband will kill him instead, and she can claim Carl abducted her. Sara, surprised, realizes that Carl really does love her and the gambler assures her that he does.
Two men enter the cabin, a blind man, Gunder, and his son Daniel. Gunder tells Daniel to bring him the guilty party but Daniel says that he isn't sure who. He claimed to see the man who killed his brother Willie, and the man fled toward the ferry. Devereaux insists that no one got past him since Gunder contacted him, while Daniel says that Willie might have started the fight arguing over a woman. Disgusted with his spineless child, Gunder reminds Daniel that he married a lower-class woman, Sophie, and Willie was the one who respected the family prestige. Angry, Daniel tells his father that he couldn't see what Willie was really like. Gunder doesn't care and again demands that Daniel identify the killer.
Daniel finally claims that Blandings is the killer. Paladin knows the thief is innocent and accuses Daniel of lying. Gunder wants Willie's killer and Paladin insists that Blandings is a thief but no murderer. Despite that, Gunder has Daniel give him the rifle and aim for him. Daniel has a change of heart and says that it wasn't Blandings, and Paladin tells Blandings to grab the gun from Daniel. Daniel backs away and Blandings panics and runs for the door. Smirking, Devereaux guns him down without hesitation.
Daniel changes his mind yet again and tells his father that he's sure Blandings killed Willie. Paladin says that Daniel must be lying, and Daniel tells Gunder that Willie was a scoundrel and a cheat, and doesn't deserve to have anyone die in his name. Gunder refuses to hear anything bad of his son Willie and orders Daniel to shoot the real killer. Guilty, Daniel says that none of them is the killer, and Devereaux eagerly suggests that he shoot all of them and be done with it. Paladin looks contemptuously at Daniel and accuses him of letting them all die to cover everything up. He tells the man to kill him if he dares and Daniel begs him to stop.
Gunder assumes that Paladin is the killer and tells Daniel to give him the rifle. Paladin tells Daniel to kill him himself if he has the guts for it, and Daniel finally snaps. He admits that he killed Willie, and tells his father that Willie spent all of their crop money drinking. When Willie hit on his wife Sophie, Daniel couldn't take it anymore and killed him. Gunder doesn't believe it but Daniel tells his father that he blinded himself to the truth and would never admit that he was wrong about Willie. Shocked, Gunder drops the rifle on the floor and breaks into tears. Monroe goes for the rifle and Devereaux shoots him, and Paladin knocks the table onto the mercenary. When Devereaux goes down, Paladin beats him unconscious with a table leg. Hearing the gunshots, a desperate Gunder calls to Daniel, asking if he's all right. Paladin looks at the man who would have let them all die to protect himself and tells Gunder that Daniel is fine.
Later, Carl and South prepare to move on. Paladin tells them that there's a ford further south. However, Sarah says if Devereaux hadn't stopped them from crossing, they would have found another reason to stop fleeing her husband. She asks Paladin if he understands and he indicate that he does. Meanwhile, Daniel guides a despondent Gunder onto their wagon. He covers the old man with a blanket and Gunder clutches it tight around him as Daniel drives away. Paladin, short a prisoner, fords the river on his own.
Written by Gadfly on Nov 11, 2018