“I Think So Too”

A story of The West That Was and the spirit of men whose code was of their own making

FREDERICK NIVEN April 1 1929

“I Think So Too”

A story of The West That Was and the spirit of men whose code was of their own making

FREDERICK NIVEN April 1 1929

“I Think So Too”

A story of The West That Was and the spirit of men whose code was of their own making

FREDERICK NIVEN

SERGEANT LARSEN made the arrest without fuss and no trouble whatever. A few scowling looks from Indians clustered round Joe Pinto’s log cabin, Pinto himself, by his bearing, deprecated.

To perform that initial part of his duty with no more than these sullen and sour glances was no doubt something for which to be thankful, though not excessively. Time enough for an officer of the law to congratulate himself when the key turns on the prisoner.

But here they were now, at any rate, riding along the dusty road to Elkhorn side by side, their horses in step, each with his left hand raised at the same cant holding the lines.

The chief began to speak. He was going to explain why he had killed Cultus Pete.

“I’ve got to warn you, Joe, that anything you say about it may be used in evidence.”

“0, sure!” replied Pinto, and closed his uneven gash of a mouth into a long pucker.

Suddenly, unanimously, the horses broke into a trot and their hoofs went dib-a-dub, dib-a-dub in easy harmony. A muffled, rhythmic drubbing. A steady spattering of sand. Larsen and Pinto canted forward at the same angle, raising themselves slightly in the saddles with a thigh grip. There is something joyous about riding at that pace in unison. Horse and man, horse and man, dib-a-dub, dib-a-dub. There’s something hilarious about it.

Chief Joe Pinto suddenly laughed. Sergeant Larsen glanced at him, a glance of enquiry, and then understood what caused the laugh. It was just the happiness of a rider, at the rhythm and the unison—dib-a-dub, dib-adub.

The sergeant looked ahead again and his mouth, in turn, was grim. Then he spoke, after long thought.

“I had to say that to you, you know,” said he. “Formal warning, you know. But all the same I hate to think of you, a man that likes riding in the air, getting locked up for a long stretch. Between ourselves—can’t you produce evidence of self-defence? He attacked you, eh?”

Pinto was breathing deeply through his nostrils. He looked aslant at the policeman and trusted him. There were white men, members of the invading race who, somehow, seemed to be tillicums. Even a policeman could be part of his life, not one of the triumphing race.

Grimly he answered that he had not been attacked, or not as Larsen meant. He had been attacked by crooked, fork-tongued gossip by this man for a long time past. The policeman listened and realized that on the Indian reserve as in the white settlements people discussed their neighbors and sometimes, over goodness knows what trivial beginnings, there would be, at last, an outburst. Joe Pinto was a sub-chief of probity, and this nagging, smirching enemy of his had spread the calumny that he was getting a private rake-off for a grazing lease on the Indian lands. What did it matter that the educated ones knew that Pinto had spoken in favor of accepting the sum offered because he had thought it fair? Even if they puffed aside the gossip, others, believing it, would respond that Joe Pinto might be getting a rake-off whatever the agent said about the price being fair. The agent might be getting a rake-off too ! That’s what Cultus Pete, an adept at instigating political discord, a crafty demagogue, would say. He had his knife, figuratively, in Joe Pinto. Everybody, practically, knew that. And Cultus Pete was a “bad actor”—bad Injun—as surely as Joe Pinto was not. He had not come by his name Cultus (the Chinook for “bad”) unfairly. He had three notches blatantly on his hunting-knife handle, although evidence had been sadly lacking to convict him of three murders during his cunning and treacherous life. “A good riddance!” That was the popular view of white, and most red men, throughout the land.

Enough! Joe Pinto had had enough. That calumny had been the last straw. He had got on his horse, ridden over to the calumniator’s cabin, and shot him. That was all there was to it, he said.

Larsen heaved a sigh and asked no more questions. It would be part of his duty, for documentation of the case, to go back to the reserve and seek out crownwitnesses, after having put Pinto in the lock-up. Pinto would get a lawyer, of course. It would be the job of the lawyer to find witnesses too, or to prove alibis, or to do whatever, after a heart-to-heart talk with the chief, seemed to his forensic mind the proper course of action.

And just then, coming toward them—for they had passed from the reservation road to the Elk River Highway—Larsen saw the dust of cars bringing strangers from the depot at Elkhorn to the bungalow camp on Elk River.

He passed a cigarette-case to the chief who lit up and was blowing a feather of smoke as the first car came level. An innocent-looking action, the profferring of that cigarette by the sergeant. But the impulse to it implied a whole point of view. These were strangers to the land. They came from “outside,” where people talked about the “wild west.” This policeman felt nearer to the man he had arrested than he did to them. The wildness of the west was its own affair. The east had its own wildness.

There was no outward evidence of captor and prisoner at all. There was just a tall, lean Indian, puffing a cigarette, riding along beside a policeman who was chatting easily to him.

The long cars swept past, leaving a billow of grit for them to ride into, and when that fell they saw beyond the rolls of sage-brush, dotted Elkhorn, backed by such an upright blue wall of distant mountains, spectacular, that visitors were wont to exclaim: “Doesn’t it look like a wild west show?”

And now Larsen was prepared for Joe Pinto to change his mind—as one with a toothache has been known to walk to the dentist’s door and then, instead of opening it, turn about and march away. The sergeant had known men accept arrest with tranquillity but, confronted by the place of incarceration, well—not to put too fine a point upon it—raise hell! It is one thing to accept with dignity the arrival of a policeman. It is altogether another to have him indicate the melancholy apartment at the end of the trip.

But no. Chief Joe Pinto, on a charge of murder, was quietly arrested and unobtrusively jailed.

And Sergeant Larsen, having delivered the goods, felt sore. He had been long in the West. He had more than a sneaking regard for Joe. He thought it was “coming to” the man Joe had killed; saw him, as did others, as a bad actor and a good riddance. It would hardly do for a policeman to say so, perhaps, but what Larsen felt was that Joe Pinto had saved him a job that sooner or later would have had to be performed . . .

JOE PINTO had a lawyer to see him and the lawyer kept his peace. Nobody could pump him regarding his views on his client’s chances. He sent Pinto over a good meal from the Blue Light Cafe; and the proprieto1*, Him Sing—otherwise One Eye—took it over himself.

Him Sing had been in that country, and from Windermere to the Tobacco Plains, from the Cariboo to the border—and across the border too, though he should not have been—for over forty years. He had become well-known, a character; a character of the west, it seemed, more than as a jolly and, at times, lawless alien. He had been in jail himself occasionally, for selling liquor to Indians or railroad makers in restricted areas. He subscribed to all charities. If anyone went broke and the hat was passed round, the collectors did not miss out One Eye just because he was an Oriental . . . And it would perhaps be unfair to him to impute ulterior motives for his munificent donations on these occasions, and say that he subscribed thus largely to cover a multitude of sins. For he was a bonhomous Chink despite these culpable lapses. This was his adopted land. He belonged. He did not care, even if his bones were eventually to lie under the sand there and help to fructify a tuft of sage-brush instead of being carried back to China.

Taking over the lunch that day he, on his own initiative, took in also, secreted somewhere, a little snort to the captive. It was in a medicine bottle, just a six-ounce, inconspicuous medicine bottle, with the label still on it: To Be Shaken Before Taken. Of course, he should not have done it, but this is a story of the West, the lingering old actual West. And the Chink thought it would help to cheer Joe Pinto in solitary confinement.

“I leave you little something,” he said, grinning. “Good for toothache. Good for belly-ache. Good for sad. Too bad. I think so too.”

He dropped that phrase—“I think so too” —in all speeches, a vague idiom, intended to please. Sergeant Larsen had been known to remark, with a whimsical twist to his grim mouth, that he had held a high opinion of Him Sing’s brain because, no matter how profound a remark he might make to him, Him Sing thought so too. But when he called on him once and told him he’d come to arrest him for peddling whisky to the Indians, the reply was: “I think so too,” with an ingratiating smile. And when the sergeant told him further that it was a dangerous game he was playing, that one of these days his customers might prove that to him by knifing him, and cutting off his queue asAa souvenir of the event, Him Sing—who appeared to look upon that law against supplying alcohol to the aborigines as merely arbitrary and spoil-sport—announced again: “I think so too,” with his suave grin.

You’ll excuse all this if you think it has nothing to do with the story. Really it has. It helps you to get the feeling, the spirit of that long, rambling dry belt land— the Elkhorn Dry Belt—and its folks.

Joe Pinto hid the bottle. He did not drink its contents at once. He was sad in confinement. He had an increasing dismal expectation that he might feel sadder. It could keep. He might want it more badly later on. He had only, thus far, been bothered by small self-questionings regarding the sagacity of having so peacefully accepted arrest.

Fed, he sat in that cell and brooded. There were, he considered, good individual white men. He had white friends. But as a race they were to be deplored. There were too many of them. Even in places where his people locally outnumbered them, to adopt the very high hand was unwise. There were too many of them, though few might be in sight. Others came along all the time.

No, he had done rightly. As a race they were topdog. One could walk with head erect among them. One could wrestle with them on Stampede Day gatherings, and sometimes throw them. One could run foot and horse races with them, and often win. The Indian could hold his head up before them; but they were, nevertheless, the final victors.

The lawyer, after a visit to the reserve, visited him again next day and had a long, confidential chat with him. Tentatively he suggested various forensic expedients. As a matter of fact, he said, if the worst came to the worst in making a strong case, it was his belief that Pinto had friends who would even go the length of swearing an alibi. Very reprehensible, such a course of action, but he mentioned it to show the chief how his people thought of him.

But the Indian had heard of perjury, though for the moment he could not remember the word. He could, however, recall a case or two of it and knew that false evidence to get a man off was as bad as false evidence to convict him. The last state, he thought, might be worse than the first, if that line of action were pursued.

He looked dubiously at the lawyer. He had killed his man. He, and no other, had killed him. If he got off that way . . . He shook his head. He killed his enemy because of a slander spread to the effect that he was crooked. If he were to escape the law that way, they would believe that the slander was truth. He’d plead guilty. He’d explain why he had killed Cultus Pete and leave it to the sense of fitness in his judges to pasa verdict.

The lawyer heaved a sigh. He sat before Pinto noting his speaking face, noting his mental reactions. He peered at him and wondered if he could mesmerize him into thinking he had not committed the murder, only dreamed it. For, coldly considered, the thing was a premeditated killing of an undefended man. Pinto had kept his wrath warm on a ride of ten miles to blow the fellow’s brains out.

Next day, Him Sing, carrying over a restaurant meal by order of the lawyer and with permission of the police, by a neat conjuring trick, left a monkey-wrench with the prisoner. He had been, you know, in that lock-up himself; and while there he had noted something very curious. There was the big strong lock on the big strong door; but the man who had put it on, possibly with an eye to a trig appearance from outside, had placed the four bolt-heads outside and the nuts inside. Nuts give an unfinished appearance. Bolt-heads don’t.

Alone again—and this was the second day of incarceration—Pinto sat down to brood. His earlier broodings had been ethical. This one was practical. What was the idea in leaving him a monkey-wrench? The Chinaman had suddenly slipped it out of a sleeve as if it was a card to take a trick and popped it down inside Pinto’s shirt.

He changed gear in his brain. Instead of confining himself to large reveries on the theme of the suzerainty of the whites, or to lesser but more practical ones regarding the uselessness of adopting any course of subterfuge such as the lawyer hinted, he frowned and looked at the cell. Of course, at once the four nuts looked back at him. It was almost as if they said: “Here we are ! Get busy.”

It was then that, far off, there arose the dusk call of coyotes. The sound gave him a picture of the land, very spacious. It made the cell, by comparison, horribly constricting. Yet, he considered, suppose that he broke jail: he could not go back to his old place as a sub-chief.

Miserably, to sustain himself in the darkness of that thought, he took out One Eye’s first gift from the place where he had hidden it. He removed the cork and tilted the bottle and his head.

A few minutes later everything seemed different. He had a new view of the situation. Hell! Who were these whites anyhow? Wasn’t he a chief? Hadn’t he killed a low-down agitator for the good of all? Why, he should never have submitted to arrest. He and his small band, even, could, with a snort or two in them, wipe out the whole white race, one down another come up—and down with him. Let ’em all come!

Stealthily Joe Pinto got to work on the nuts, easing each a little way in succession, then slowly unscrewing them till they were all in place by but half a thread’s turn. Then, without a sound, he slipped them off. He had really drained the bottle at the first abandoned tilt, but he tilted it again. One drop that had gathered from the residual moisture inside fell on his tongue and he was furious that there was no more.

more. Monkey-wrench in hand he opened the door smartly and stepped out, lithe as a cougar. But there was no guard in the little office in front.

That’s not so odd for Elkhorn. “Chance it” is still one of their leading proverbs. There had been a guard left by Sergeant Larsen while he went to have a nap, a civilian guard, the other police being on duty mile3 away when, as a matter of fact, they too should have been having a nap. There were times when Larsen thought a regiment of troopers would be more fitting than himself, a corporal, and a full private as guardians over that wide domain. The guard had got weary of his imprisonment in that little front room that was not much more than a cell itself; so he had slipped over the way, a long parallelogram of light, lying on the sand beside the wall of the cigar store, indicating an all-night poker game.

One of the players backing out, he took a further chance and sat into the game himself. Suddenly he realized that time flew, and came back to the jail like a ghost across the street that was then empty of all save the moonlight and little passing breezes, sage-scented, fanning down from the beeches.

That’s how it happened that just when Joe Pinto was trying the outer door to discover if it was locked, it opened toward him, thrust toward him. He stepped back against the wall. The guard entered with a little chuckle to himself over how he had whiled away the tedium of the night, yawned: “Oh-hi-ho!” and again: “Oh-hi —” and then Pinto tapped him on the head and he went down without speaking the terminal “ho” that time.

That was the beginning of the massacre of the invading whites. Joe Pinto stepped out into the night to go and polish off the rest of them. But after all it was only a six-ounce bottle. And the night outside was big and cool. A fresh wind fanned him. On second thoughts it would be a difficult job, even with all his band behind him, yes, even with all the tribe. Wiser to go and steal a horse somewhere and beat it.

Sad world! A big dream—and just a little sop. He at least was free.

INSPECTOR MARTINEAU had a coni' stant upright pucker between his brows. What people thought or felt was nothing to him whether they were in sympathy with a job he was engaged upon or out of sympathy.

His point of view regarding the Joe Pinto affair was that there can’t come in a report of a murder, of the alleged murderer arrested and escaping, and then day succeed day void of any report of his recapture, without some stern enquiry.

The force called him—though not in his hearing—Inspector Martinet.

When he arrived in Elkhorn, very glum, and in the mood of, “If anything’s got to be done, it seems I’ve got to do it myself,” the heels clicked and the shoulders were squared in the police quarters. He had come about this Joe Pinto affair, and after a few preliminaries of rasping enquiry he snapped:

“Have you any idea where he is?”

For answer, Larsen, who had been twenty-four hours on duty, stepped to the map on the wall. On it were several stippled patches that broadened and widened, contracted and spread. The lakes were blue. To one of the stippled patches he jabbed a finger. It indicated the great Elkhorn Dry Belt. Having made that stab at it with index finger, Larsen spanned it from north to south.

“Anywhere there,” he said.

Then he tapped the caterpillar marks of mountains on its western edge.

“And anywhere there,” he added.

“Well, there are roads through the Dry Belt,” said the inspector. “You patrol them for sign of him?”

“Oh, yes. But it is just precisely in these dry belts that the horse is still ahead of the car. The cayuse can go anywhere, or practically anywhere, and the car can only go on the roads. I haven’t been reporting the wild-goose chases. I’ve been waiting for something worth while.”

“So have I,” said the inspector, drily.

He played a tattoo with the end of a pencil on the table at which he had seated himself.

“Got Indian trackers out?” he asked.

“Yes, but they don’t like the job—most of them. He’s a favorite on the reserve. This is different from tracking a hold-up man or horse-thieves. Their heart is in that.”

“Well, you’ll have to get whites, then. Get a posse. This Joe Pinto business will be talked of in the House by some member. These local cowpunchers here must know this dry belt about as well as Indians.”

“Very good, sir.”

He did not mention that the majority of the whites, the big majority, looked upon the whole thing very casually. They considered it none of their business. However, it was easy for Larsen to get a posse. He was astonished at that, or he was astonished at first. Going off to get men for the job, he had expected they’d ask if he could not take somebody else. But no. They made no complaint.

“It is always three dollars a day,” said one.

That explanation even for the easy acceptance further astonished Larsen. The speaker was not a mercenary man and he had no antipathy to their red neighbors, was even easy with the bad men of the tribe. But Larsen was no fool. Going out with one of the parties himself one day, after a rumor of a daring dash made by Pinto to the reserve and off again, his astonishment over the complaisance of these men to being impressed was quickly expelled.

They tracked. They tracked well. They followed the trail of the fleeing Joe Pinto up out of the sage and sand into the MacPherson range, a tract of bizarre, crenellated bad lands, precipice and gumbo, draws and canyons. He was not playing martinet with them. He was not bossing them in any sort of military way. They were all old range-riders and knew their business; so he gave them rope, lots of it, and they hanged themselves eventually.

By their behavior they gave away what they were about. They were just drawing their three dollars a day and making sufficient noise and sending up enough smoke to inform any Indian—let alone Joe Pinto who was one of the real old school—precisely where they were. And one night, camped at the base of these queer, staring bastions, Larsen let them know he was no fool. One man by the fire, and a roaring fire, began to sing. The sergeant smoked and gazed at the leaping flames . . . But out of the corners of his eyes he was aware that others were giving the singer significant glances. This, they were trying to indicate, was going too far. The song ended, Sergeant Larsen laughed.

“Well,” said he, “that’s let Chief Joe Pinto know just where we are. That’s warned him back in there on one of these crags. He’ll be slipping away in the night, and by morning will be fifty miles off. Guess we can get back to Elkhorn tomorrow and you fellows can draw your cheques and get back to work. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the picnic.”

He explained matters to Inspector Martineau on their return.

Martineau gloomed. The pucker between his brows became a deep cleft.

“A reward!” he broke out. “That’s what it will have to be. Money talks. This is all guff about having sympathy with that red killer. Money talks.”

He sat back in his chair, feeling his polished chin with thumb and finger and gazing keenly at Larsen.

“What,” he asked, “have you been doing over that other case? I mean the Chinaman who was allowed to see him that day on the evening of which he screwed off the nuts of that idiotic lock and escaped?”

“Sid Johnson is on that, sir.”

“Who?”

“Corporal Johnson.”

“Oh! What has he done?”

“Well, he’s got an admission from a man in Elk’s Garage that Him Sing was around earlier that day and that later he missed a wrench.” “Good evidence that, if the Chinaman should deny he took it in.”

Martineau sat back again fingering his chin, thinking to himself. This Sergeant Larsen was no doubt a good man in his way, but there were indications of where he had failed. Sid Johnson—now there was an indication. A very skookum fellow, Larsen, to use a local word out of their Chinook jargon, implying physical fitness, but actually a bit touched by the lawlessness of the land. He fingered his chin a little more.

“We can leave that Chinaman in abeyance,” he said. “Sit down. Take it easy This is between ourselves.”

Unexpected, this, from the martinet!

“As for Joe Pinto,” said Martineau, “between you and me—I don’t think he’ll hang. I was talking it over with Judge Gallagher, and he said it was unlikely. I can't think why he doesn’t realize himself that he’s made a mess of it. He’s not one of the mere childish savages, he’s got some sense, by all accounts. He’s an outlaw now. He can’t go back to his place in the tribe. It would be much more sensible for him to surrender, take Ins trial, serve his sentence, get back to his people. Well, we'll leave the Chinaman in abeyance. I’ll think over the question of a reward for Pinto’s capture.”

As he prepared to rise after that unwonted period of informality, Larsen leaped up in advance and stiffened once more. He had to tell Sid Johnson—that’s to say Corporal Johnson—and Dick Rogers—that’s to say Constable Rogers —about the way the inspector had unbent. Also he told them what Martineau’s private view was about Joe Pinto, and how the Indian’s wisest plan would be to surrender.

And only two days later, Larsen, stepping out of the police quarters to get into his car, intending to spin out to the Portman Ranch on a job that has nothing to do with this story—a policeman’s life being one of diverse interests—looked along the street and asked himself: “Well, what do you know?”

There, riding easily, and with dignity in his bearing was Chief Joe Pinto. Beside him rode a young buck, the reason for whose presence was made manifest when they came level with the door. The chief dismounted, passed the lines of his horse to the young man and, coming to the foot of the steps, dropped the cigarette he was smoking, heeled it into the sand with moccasined foot.

“All right,” he remarked. “I come give myself up. I could stop away till I die and nobody catch me, I guess. But I want to go back to my people.”

“All right,” said Larsen, and felt something surge in his breast. He could not put a name on the emotion that stirred him. It had something to do with the land, the life of the land, the West as he knew it, his West, that made the people of it—whether the ones he protected or those he had to arrest—nearer to him than all transient guests, from the traveling men who knew only the hotels and the railroad time-tables, to the visitor’s to the bungalow camps.

“Some fellow pass me word,” said Pinto, “that it would be good scheme come in and give myself up. He got the tip that I not hang, just do little stretch and go back to my people . . . !”

At that, Larsen gloomily gazed at the Indian. Whence came this rumor? he wondered. Was it due only to his repetition of that chat he had had with the inspector when Martineau was in an unbending mood? As a matter of fact, Martineau had unbent to others also, the proprietor of the hotel, for example, and expressed the same view of the case.

rT'HE trial was not held at Elkhorn. The -*assizes were to open in another week at Boothby. Thither had Sergeant Larsen to convoy the prisoner. It was a silent party in the car for Boothby. And once more there were moments when Joe Pinto pondered the advisability of making a break for even the dubious freedom of the sage-brush and the mountains

Larsen did not like it. They all knew why Joe had surrendered. It was due to the gossip that had trickled out. He had had advice from the throne, as it were, that all would be well—or not too bad. But Boothby was not Elkhorn. They were strangers there. That made an unexpected difference. A jury impaneled in Boothby might make a mistake, might not understand.

The doubts were sound. Joseph Pinto, at the assizes held in Boothby, was found, guilty of murder and condemned to death. That verdict, over the wires, cast a gloom on the whole region except among those few enemies of Pinto at the reserve. There was talk of a petition for a rehearing, of taking the case to a higher court. But legal advice showed the futility of that. Pinto was sane. The evidence was sound enough. Legally it was a coldblooded murder. He pled guilty with high held head, and his counsel’s defence was but a piece of special pleading, interesting as oratory but null and void in the minds of men unhampered by any mere sentiment. Why, this man Pinto was obviously a dangerous character! He had almost committed a double murder! The guard he tapped on the head he might have tapped too hard and killed also! Swatting the guard was even, perhaps, the makeweight that brought the scales down with a definite and indisputable thump.

“The people around here,” said Martineau, dropping in at Elkhorn after the Boothby assizes, “seem to be pretty sick about that verdict.”

“Well, they think the trial should have been held here— where all the story was known,” replied Larsen.

“Quite! Oh, if it had been held here, he would probably have got off, or been released on suspended sentence. And, by the way, I’ve been thinking. It might be a sop to the civilians here if we arrested that Chinaman who slipped him the tanglefoot and the wrench. What’s his name again?”

“One Eye.”

“Eh?”

“Him Sing.”

“Him Sing. Quite.”

As he went out on that duty, the long, low, perfectly purring cars were starting off from the depot for the Hot Springs and the Bungalow Camps.

“Oh, look at the mounted policeman! He gives quite a spot of color; adds to the wild and western aspect of it!”

A big game hunter—for the seasons were sliding along and the fall drew near —was being met by his guide in the lounge of the hotel, as Larsen passed its great gleaming windows. He saw everything very acutely that day.

He passed on to the Blue Light Cafe. It was shut. Queer ! He knocked, a knock that opened most doors, carrying meaning.

It was answered by One Eye’s cook, of a pallid yellow hue and drawn about the mouth corners, and on Larsen’s entrance the door was immediately closed again.

He was gone but a quarter of an hour from the police quarters and came gravely back to present Inspector Martineau with a slip of paper. The inspector read it, read it again.

“Pinto good scout, good Indian. Everybody say. My fault. I too mucli ashamed. I think so, too.”

“What does this mean?”

“He’s hanged himself, sir, and left that note.”

The inspector raised his head and stared at Larsen as though he were unreal, then read the missive again.

“Most extraordinary!” he exclaimed. “Most extraordinary! But what does he mean by ‘I think so, too’?”

“Oh, that was a kind of a catchword he had,” said Larsen.

“Well, that’s that.”

“Yes, sir,” agreed the sergeant, in a voice as of some talking automaton.