Paladin is soaking his feet in a river when a wagon stops nearby. The driver, Jack Burnaby, is a traveling puppeteer under the name "Dr. Humbug". He offers Paladin a lift if Paladin will drive the horses, and Paladin agrees. The two men soon arrive at Fort Pawnee, with General George Croft commanding. Croft is running for President, and Jack says that every schoolboy in the nation has heard of Croft's victories against the Indians. Paladin has heard that Croft tortured a Pawnee to get into the Indian stronghold, but notes that there are always rumors about anyone running for President.
Inside the fort, Jack soon calls the children over by playing the drums. He then presents his puppet show with one puppet representing Punch, kissing a baby and then singing it a lullaby. The puppet then punches the baby and Jack slaps it. Croft comes out with his wife Maryanne and says that they haven't had a good medicine show in years. Jack uses the puppet to subtly mock Croft, and tells the children that there will be a show that night. Once the children leave, Jack says that he's a minstrel of sorts, talking of heroes, and Croft doesn't realize that Jack is mocking him.
Later, Paladin goes to Jack's wagon and notices that he has a small guillotine among his toys. He knows that Jack has been picking his pockets, and wonders if he's come to meddle in politics. Paladin warns Jack that if he makes a fool of Croft, Croft will shoot him dead. Jack feigns innocence, saying that Croft wouldn't risk his career by gunning down a man. He says that in some countries it's the custom for a guest to avenge his host, and points out that Paladin is his guest. Paladin wonders what happens if the audience forgets Croft's mockery, and Jack quotes Shakespeare, saying that he would attempt to capture the conscience of the king. When Paladin says that he's going to get a horse and ride out, Jack tells him to be patient and that he's been patient for 16 years.
Paladin goes over to Croft's office and Maryanne lets him in. He asks Croft for a surplus horse, and Croft agrees if Paladin agrees to vote for him. Paladin says that Croft would be a disaster in politics, and Maryanne tells her husband to ignore him. Croft orders Paladin out, and Paladin asked what happened to him 16 years ago. Croft won his battle against the Pawnee, and Paladin says that he'll stay and find out what it has to do with him. Once he leaves, Maryanne wonders what he means and Croft tells her to never mind. He says that people like him for what he means and Jack won't embarrass him with the show.
Croft and Maryanne take seats at the show, and Jack begins his show. His Punch puppet sings of a vile and deceitful man, and has Punch beat it's child. The Judy puppet comes up and Punch says that he put the baby to sleep up in Heaven, and sends her to get another. Punch then talks of Singing Waters, a squaw who made difficulties for Croft. A Croft doll comes out and tortures Singing Water for the secret to the Pawnee stronghold. Croft realizes that it's no joke and yells at Jack to stop the outrage. Maryanne runs away from him in shock, and the audience leaves. After a moment, Croft goes after Maryanne. He says that he's going to burn Jack out, and Maryanne realizes that the rumors are true. Disgusted, she goes inside, leaving her husband.\
The general draws a gun and goes back to the wagon. Paladin tells him that it's far enough. Croft agrees and orders his men to burn Jack's wagon. Paladin goes in and asks Jack where he fits in his story. Jack says that he used to be schoolmaster there but was too frivolous, and Singing Waters was his wife. Paladin offers his condolences, and Jack asks to buy a revolver from him. The gunslinger tells him that it's not for sale and wishes Jack good night, and Croft and his men approach. Jack says that his audience is coming back for an encore performance and Paladin leaves.
Paladin confronts Croft and his soldiers, and one soldier asks if what Jack said about Croft is true. Croft shrugs them aside and Paladin tosses him the Singing Waters puppet. Jack starts singing from the wagon, mocking Croft and laughing. Croft sets the wagon on fire and the soldiers grab him. Paladin yells at Jack to get out of the wagon, and he runs out burning. Paladin gets him into a water trough, putting out the flames, and asks what he's going to do without his puppets. Jack laughs and says that there are other ways of making a living, and collapses into Paladin's arms sobbing and calling to his puppet.
Written by Gadfly on Jan 27, 2019