I got up one Sunday morning and walked into the kitchen. Pa was fixing oatmeal, which surprised me, seeing as how he usually fixed pancakes on a Sunday morning. “Morning, son,” Pa walked over to me and laid his head on my forehead. “How are you feeling this morning?”
I looked at him a bit strangely, wondering why he was acting like I had been on my death bed or something. “I’m…fine,” I said slowly.
“You…don’t remember being sick?” Pa asked.
I shook my head as I yawned and sat down at the table. “When?”
“Last night, son. You woke up twice sick to your stomach.” Pa cocked his head to one side and looked at me strangely now. “You mean, you don’t remember?”
I yawned again. “No, Pa. I don’t remember.” I answered. “Say, where’s the pancakes?” Pa sat the oatmeal in front of me.
“That’s your breakfast this morning. And after you eat I want you to go lay down. I’ll bring the Bible in to read for awhile.” Pa turned back to the stove and dipped himself a bowl of oatmeal.”
“Pa, I’m starving!” I protested. “Can’t I just have some eggs or something?” Pa was always overly concerned when I was the least bit puny. I think it was on account of Ma’s getting sick and dying, though I never asked him the exact reason.
“I tell you what. You keep that down for a couple of hours. Then I’ll fix you ham and eggs. Is it a deal?” I nodded, knowing that was the best I was going to get.
“We not going to church this morning?” Pa shook his head, stating he wanted to keep me home and quiet for a few hours to make sure I was better. “Pa, it’s probably just something I ate last night.”
Pa raised an eyebrow at me. “I did the cooking last night!” He said, putting a mocked-hurt expression on his face. “Now if you had done the cooking…”
“Do I really have to stay in bed all morning?” I asked.
“That’s the way I want it.” Pa took a sip of his coffee. “Now Mark, humor an old man, will ya? I only have you for a few more years. Just let me have my fun taking care of you while I can.”
I laughed. I ate the rest of my oatmeal then went to lay down. It was pretty boring, and I sure was happy when Pa finally came in carrying a chair and his Bible. He read for about an hour. I loved hearing him read the Bible. I snuggled down under the covers and almost fell asleep as his voice lovingly read the words in a voice that always soothed me.
He usually read his Bible at night after I went to bed, because I was big enough to read my own Bible now. But as I lay there that morning, I remembered sitting on ma’s lap in the rocking chair and Pa sitting at the kitchen table after supper each night as he read the words from the Bible. His voice was so soft and sacred when he read, and I would often fall asleep.
I stayed awake through the entire reading, but as he closed the Bible, I felt myself drifting off. The next thing I knew, Pa was waking me up. “Lunch is on the table,” he announced as my stomach rumbled. “Get up and get dressed. After lunch we have to ride into town.”
“You mean I can go?” I asked excitedly.
Pa laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with you but laziness, boy! Whatever was ailing you last night is gone now.”
As we started eating the ham and eggs, I asked Pa why we were riding into town. Pa took a sip of his coffee before answering. “Well son, John Hallager was killed last night and Micah’s arrested Billy Mathis for the murder early this morning.”
“Billy Mathis?” I asked. “Pa, Billy’s not a killer!”
“I don’t want to think that either, son.” Pa told me. “He’s certainly hot headed, and he didn’t get along with John Hallager, but I can’t see him murdering him in cold-blood.”
I took a bite of the ham. “How d’you find out?” I asked.
“Abe MacDonald stopped by on his way home from church. Micah missed us in town this morning and asked if I’d come in and help him straighten things out.”
“Oh.” I took another bite of ham. “Say, since we’re going into town, maybe I could buy some candy.”
“On a Sunday?” Pa raised his eyebrows at me. I had forgotten it was a Sunday afternoon.
Pa scraped up the last of his eggs and popped the last bite in his mouth. Then he wiped his mouth and stood up. “I’m going to go hitch up the wagon. You clean up these dishes, huh boy?”
“All right,” I answered as I finished the last bite on my own plate.
We were soon on our way to town. We were almost there when Pa and I suddenly stopped to look at a strange wagon that had a sign on it. "Jumpin' catfish, I never seen anything like that before. What do you suppose it is?" I declared, my boyish curiosity suddenly aroused. Pa asked me if I could read the sign. "World's Greatest Ment--ta—list,” I read. I wasn’t sure what that word meant!
Pa then announced to me that it was a fancy word for a mind reader. Golly, but that was something else! A man who could tell what people were thinking! I was so impressed, that as we began talking to the man named James Barrow McBride, I had to ask him if it was really true. Of course, I believed him when he said it was!
He was going to have a show in North Fork that very night! How exciting that sounded too! He told me the price: fifty cents a ticked, but kids got in half price. But I knew that it would take a lot of convincing to get Pa to spend a whole 75 cents on a show like that – you know adults…
In fact, he said he knew exactly what I was thinking at the very moment – I was thinking on how I might get a quarter from Pa to see the performance. He was close, but I had to find two quarters for Pa too, because I knew he wouldn’t let me stay in town by myself to see a show like that.
We showed Mr. McBride how to get into town, but when we got there, he wasn’t behind us. I was a little worried since he was supposed to be following us, but Pa assured me he would be along. “You wouldn’t want to stay out here and wait for him, would ya?” Pa asked me. That’s exactly what I wanted to do!
I stood out on the porch and kept my eyes open for him. It wasn’t long before I saw him ride into town. I was so excited! I had to go tell Pa he was here. I had to go to that performance somehow! I rushed into the Marshal’s office where Pa and Micah were having a cup of coffee. “Hey pa, he just rode in his minute!” I shouted excitedly.
“Who?” Pa asked. I couldn’t believe it! This was one of the most exciting days North Fork had ever seen, and all Pa could say is who??? I reminded him of who, but he didn’t seem too interested.
Then Micah started talking about wishing he could see into Billy’s mind so he could see if he really shot Mr. Hallager or not. That gave me a great idea, and it excited me even more! Not only was he here to put on a show, but Mr. McBride could solve a real-live murder! “Well, say, why don’t you get James Barrow McBride to do it. He’s a mind reader.” I was so excited, I was practically jumping up and down. I thought that was the best idea I’d heard in a long time!”
But Pa obviously didn’t believe he really was, because he told me that he couldn’t help. “But he is a mind reader!”
Pa suddenly got a really irritated look on his face and ordered me to wait outside. I was really disappointed that they weren’t taking this more seriously. After all, Mr. McBride could read minds. I went out, disappointed, and started to climb back up onto the wagon. But I stopped when I saw Mr. McBride going into the hotel. Now was my opportunity to talk to him!
I stood in the doorway and listened to him talk to a couple poker players, but then he turned and saw me, ordering me to come over. You can only imagine my excitement when he offered me a ticket if I hung up the signs. But I had to hide my excitement for the time being until I got exactly what I wanted. “No sir. But I’d do it for two tickets,” I stated with a smile. Now I know my pa wouldn’t approve, but I also knew that if I was going to convince my unbelieving Pa to go to the performance on a school night, I had to make it as hard as possible for him to say no!
Mr. McBride made the deal with me. Then I showed my excitement as I took the posters and tickets. I ran outside and saw Pa getting the horses ready to travel. In an exciting voice, I told pa that I was given two tickets to the performance for hanging the posters. “Well son, that show’s not till tonight. I was planning on being back at the ranch long before that,” Pa answered. Boy, he really was a hard one to convince.
I knew I would have to try a different tactic with him if I was going to convince him to stay. “Oh. Well, if you could see your way clearly to staying in town, why I would be glad to give you one of the tickets,” I said in the cutest and most convincing voice I could possibly muster.
It worked! Pa agreed to stay. I was so excited as I ran off. But before I got too far, Pa called my name. I stopped and turned around. Pa drew his finger to himself and I went towards him, wondering what he possibly wanted. “My ticket,” he stated as he grabbed one of the tickets from my hand. I ran off to hang the posters.
I was hanging up the last poster and getting ready to go to the courthouse where the meeting was being held when Pa suddenly called my name. I turned around to see what he needed. “Let’s go get something to eat.”
“But the performance-“ I started.
Pa grabbed my arm. “It doesn’t start until 7:00, son. And besides, you need to eat. I don’t want you getting sick and missing school tomorrow.”
As we walked into the hotel, I couldn’t stop thinking about the mind reader. “You think if he was here right now he could tell the waiter exactly what I want without me saying a word? You think he could tell me what questions were on my history test if he talked to my teacher? You think he could read my mind no matter what I was thinking? Hey, you think that if the man who killed Mr. Hallager was in this room right now, he could just point to him and solve the crime?” I asked these questions excitedly as I walked into the restaurant.
“Mark!” Pa suddenly said a little louder then I think he meant to. I stopped talking and looked at him. Pa grabbed the hat off my head and hung it on the hook. “Sit down and look at the menu, huh?”
The whole time we were eating, I was so afraid that we were going to be late to the performance. I didn’t even want any dessert, but asked Pa if I could be excused and go on over to the court house. Pa shook his head as he lit his cigar. “We still have time, son,” Pa said.
I squirmed in my chair as I looked around and watched people get up to leave. “Pa, I bet everyone’s getting ready to go over there. You think maybe we should go now?” Pa gave me an irritated look as he took the cigar from his mouth and slowly blew out a puff of smoke. “Sir.” I added as I raised my eyebrows.
Pa laughed and shook his head. Then he put out the cigar and stood up. As he grabbed his hat he told me to come on. I started to run ahead, but he put a firm hand on my shoulder and told me to stay with him. “It’s getting dark and there are a lot of strangers in town, son.” I opened my mouth to argue that I was ten years old, but then closed it. I didn’t think pushing it would help me any.
As we walked in, we were given a piece of paper to write a question on. I already knew what I wanted my question to be. I sat down in a chair and began writing the question, but I was having trouble writing the last part. The basket was being passed around and Pa tapped me on the shoulder to take the basket from me. I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t rightly relish being here.
Then Mr. McBride started asking the questions. I didn’t really understand his first question – something about rather a woman’s husband’s trips to Amarillo were all business. Anyway, even Pa laughed, so it must have been funny! Several questions were asked. One of the kids from my school even asked if the history test we were taking tomorrow would be hard. Mr. McBride just answered, “I would advise that you spend time preparing for it.” Pa looked at me and nodded. I didn’t need a mind reader to tell me that! Pa had already made me study yesterday. Imagine me having to study for a test on Saturday!
Each time Mr. McBride asked a question, I leaned forward, hoping my question would be asked. I couldn’t wait to hear his answer to my question! But when he finally asked it, I was sort of sorry. “Who killed John Hallager?” The moment the question was out of his mouth, I felt Pa shooting me a dirty look. I lowered myself in my chair as if it would hide me from his irritated stare.
His answer sure did leave the room abuzz with activity! “The shotgun that killed John Halager was fired from the alley next to the Last Chance. After the foul deed, the murderer ran to a horse that was waiting at the rear of the saloon and fled. But this is a matter for the authorities. It would be proper to say more then this, for murder though it has no tongue, will speak.”
I was left sitting there as Pa and Micah left the room. I wasn’t sure if I should leave or not. But when the room was empty, I stood up and went up to Mr. McBride. “That’s pretty amazing, knowing all that stuff!” I stated.
Mr. McBride smiled at me and told me it was a gift. “You think I can grow up to be a mind reader?”
He smiled at me and nodded. “It’s very possible my boy!”
Suddenly, Pa came inside and called my name. “Mr. McBride, we’ll be back to talk to you. Stay here till the Marshal and I get back,” Pa practically ordered.
I walked out. “Pa, wasn’t that amazing how-“ I started.
But Pa wouldn’t let me finish. “Mark, I want you to go wait for me in the wagon. It’s getting late.”
“Can’t I stay and listen?” I asked. But after the look on Pa’s face I decided I better wait in the wagon. So I climbed up in the back and laid down as I waited for Pa to get there.
The next thing I knew, Pa was lifting me into his arms and carrying me inside our house. He gently laid me down on the bed and took my boots off. “Pa,” I sat up.
“Mark, it’s late. You best get to sleep.” He handed me my night shirt.
“But what happened?” I asked.
“Tomorrow, Mark,” pa said as he closed the door to the bedroom. I soon saw light shining in through the cracks and knew Pa was planning on staying up for awhile. I turned over and went to sleep.
The next morning, Pa told me we would ride in together. He and Micah were going to talk with Mr. McBride and take him to talk to Billy. That was exciting! “Say, can I-“ I stopped when Pa’s head shot up. “No, I guess I better go take my history test, huh?” Pa simply nodded.
Pa was there waiting for me when I got out of school. “So, what did Mr. McBride say?” I asked.
Pa looked at me and thought on how to answer me. “Well, as it turns out, son, I solved the mystery all by myself. You see, Joe Hyatt killed Mr. Hallager over a poker game. Billy’s innocent.”
I smiled. “So, did Mr. McBride talk to Billy and figure out he was telling the truth?”
“There wasn’t any need, son. Like I said, I just found out the truth on my own.” Pa motioned for me to start riding.
As we trotted out of the school yard towards home, I asked Pa if Mr. McBride was still in town. Pa scratched his nose. “No. No. He, uh…had to move on.”
I sighed. “I didn’t even get to say goodbye!”
“How’d you do on the test?” Pa asked me.
I shrugged. “Made a ‘C’.”
Pa nodded but didn’t say anything as we rode for home. When we got there, Pa said he had some wood to chop. I had grabbed a couple of the posters the night before and brought them home, so I hurried to the barn and did my chores. Then I started hammering the poster up. Pa heard my hammering and came in the barn to see what I was doing. He suggested I give it to Billy and Lucy for a wedding present. I had already thought about it and had another one for them.
Then I decided to voice what I’d been thinking about since yesterday. Pa usually liked to hear my ideas of what I wanted to do when I grew up, and he always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be. So I voiced my latest idea. "You know, I might just be a mind reader when I grow up." I announced.
But for once, Pa didn’t seem too impressed with my idea. Apparently the events of the last twenty-four hours had gotten to him and he was pretty tired of hearing about mind reading. That’s why he suddenly got yet another irritated look on his face and stated, “Oh, now you listen to me boy. Men who learn to see, hear and think will be a mind reader six ways to Tuesday. So while your waiting to grow up you just learn to be a book reader. And that means-“
I didn’t even let him finish. I could finish that sentence for him. “Get in the house and do my homework. A man don’t need to be a mind reader around here!” With that, I ran to the house to obey Pa. I knew the subject of mind reading was now closed to any further discussion. Pa made that clear. But I stopped when I heard Pa hammering. I smiled. He couldn’t stop allowing a boy have his dreams. I grinned, knowing Pa wasn’t really mad about my dreaming!
It wasn’t until years later that I finally heard the truth from Pa. He hadn’t wanted to shatter my boy-hood imagination. Pa always believed in being honest with me and not tricking me, but he also understood that destroying a boy’s imagination wasn’t what he wanted to do. The truth was that Mr. McBride didn’t stay. He skipped out in the middle of the night so he wouldn’t have to admit to the truth.
If you want your imagination about mind reading harmed, then you can read my Pa’s version of the story. As for me, I’ll keep believing that Mr. McBride is who he says he is: the world’s greatest mentalist!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
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