"Day of The Comet"

(Original air date 12/26/66)

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Audra falls for an Army deserter who sought refuge on Barkley land

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Writer: Gilbert Ralston

Director: Virgil W. Vogel



In the hush of night, Army men get ready to hang Eric Mercer (Bradford Dillman) a deserter sentenced to death for the slaughter of sixty-three men. However the man swiftly turns the table on his captors by grabbing Lieutenant Alexander Morrisonís (Douglas Kennedy) gun and making his escape on a horse.

The next morning, Audra sets out to look for a black gelding out on the range. Instead of the horse, she finds the trespasserís campfire and warns him to leave Barkley land. She nevertheless has a change of heart when she learns that the man is into poetry and figures he cannot be all bad. She leaves him with a request to return the gelding to the ranch should he find it.

           

Later that evening Heath informs Nick that his search for the steer butcher proved fruitless, and asks Audra whether her ride up on the ridge yielded better results. Audra remains evasive but Victoria is not easily duped and requests of her daughter to follow her into the library to help with her sewing. There she probes deeper into the cause of her daughterís aloofness and gets her to confess to having met with this gentle man whom she allowed to camp for the night. She held back telling Heath and Nick about him for fear they might jump the gun and believe heís the culprit whoís been butchering their cattle.

Early in the morning she rides out to Ericís camp to find it deserted. Heath rides by and warns her not to stray far until they caught the thief.

           

A little further away Heath spots Eric with the black gelding. When he fires a warning shot, Eric takes off. Heath manages to catch up with him and knocks him off his saddle.

           

He escorts Mercer back to the ranch to face Nickís wrath. Audra rises to his defence, saying that he was bringing the lost horse to the ranch as she had requested. Without any warning Eric collapses onto the floor. Dr. Merarís diagnosis is one of a concussion, one likely caused by his scuffle with Heath.

           

Heath offers his apologies for the mistaken identity and Victoria extends the hospitality of their house during his convalescence. Being a loner Eric prefers camping out under the stars but agrees to mull over their suggestion of bunking in one of the shacks at Grover Trees. Despite appearances Nickís hunch warns him to be wary of Mercer.

     

While the Army men continue their search for the fugitive, Audra finds Eric in the same spot. After impressing her with his poetry reading he informs her of his intentions to leave. Audra does her best to convince him to stay on and even invites him to a party given at the ranch.

Although he declined her invitation, Eric does show. Audra finds him outside near the gazebo with a bouquet of flowers. The two lovebirds exchange a romantic kiss in private after which Eric informs her of his decision to remain in Stockton.

           

Nick and Heath finally collar whom they believe is the thief thatís been butchering their steers. The Mexican cook Rafael Ruiz (Roberto Contreras) confesses to his crime but that his intentions were to feed a group of men. He brings the brothers to the Army camp where they learn from Lieutenant Morrison that the meat was to be bought legally and not to be stolen. He also adds that the 12th Cavalry is on Barkley land for the sole purpose of finding a deserter by the name of Eric Mercer.

     

After a close encounter with death atop a cliff, Audra and Eric return to the ranch safe and sound. Victoria is grateful to Eric for saving his daughterís life and agrees to have him over for dinner. Nick apologizes for branding him a thief and tells him about the Army camping on Barkley land to gauge Ericís reaction.

     

In utter panic, Eric excuses himself from the assembled party and bids farewell to a bemused Audra who soon learns from Victoria that heís a wanted man. However Audra isnít convinced of his guilt that she suspects to be a gross miscarriage of justice.

She rides out to his camp to get Ericís version of the facts. He relates the incident in which he was conned into killing sixty-three men. Audra wishs him to be free at last and offers him sanctuary at the ranch.

           

Lieutenant Morrison and his second in command Ben Wilgus (Chuck Bail) drop by the ranch with a request to search the hills for Mercer they believe is hiding out on the ranch. Both Victoria and Audra remain mute about the manís whereabouts. Once theyíre gone Victoria suggests hiding Eric in one of the line shacks until the dust settles.

Although reticent, Eric accepts the offer and together with Audra they ride up to the shack and wait for Heath and Nick. Soon the regiment picks up the trail and a shooting erupts. Eric, Heath and Audra sneak out back while Nick keeps the men busy.

           

Eric has a last-minute change of heart and rides back to help Nick but falls in the line of fire and dies in Audraís arms. Three days later, Jarrod comes home with a beautiful pearl necklace as a gift to his sister in hopes to draw her out of her doldrums. Victoria suggests waiting a bit to allow her time to grieve. Soon after a cheerful Audra comes down the stairs, having decided to follow Ericís sound advice and live life to its fullest.

           


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