I walked into the “Confederation Road Trip Fine Dining Restaurant” in Shelburne shortly after the rain stopped. It was suitably adorned with antique household items and utensils scavenged from pioneer homesteads and carefully set on shelves throughout the room. Kitchen utensils hung on the walls beside small farm implements, interspersed with photos of Queen Victoria and Charlottetown, and notices of community events such as fall fairs. The effect was that the viewer was transported back to an era long forgotten. The only impediment to time travel here was the complete absence of diners.
I approached the two middle-aged servers behind a cash register which was the only nod to the 20th century in the room. It looked like it was from the 1930’s. I introduced myself and told them I was from Flesherton.
“Where is Flesherton?” the shorter one asked.
“Metropolitan Dundalk,” replied the other one, who was at least a foot taller. “So, you’re looking for the Professor?”
“Yes, Dr. Steve,” she answered. “He owns the place.”
“Is he a real professor?” I asked as the shorter woman went into the kitchen.
“He taught history at the university until he chucked it all in. Opened ‘The Bard’s Table’ which served Elizabethan cuisine down the street until he ran it into the ground. Now he’s back with Canadian fare popular before Confederation.”
“Jumping ahead a couple of hundred years was probably a good choice.”
“Well, the jury’s out on that one,” she responded grimly.
“The new concept hasn’t been a success?”
“So far, we’ve tossed out more food than Chernobyl.”
The swinging doors to the kitchen opened and Dr. Steve came through them.
“Did Mildred tell you our special?”
“We hadn’t got that far,” Mildred spoke up.
“Roast pork, Fricassee of Parsnips, and Huckleberry Pudding. Doesn’t that sound appetizing?”
“I’ve already had lunch,” I answered.
“You’re here for the Schulz book?”
“Well, I’m not going to give it to you.”
“Do you know why indigenous peoples do not allow their photographs to be taken? It’s because they believed that the camera steals their soul when it reproduces their image. My own belief is that when a copy of a book is read, an exchange takes place. In the same way reader gets something from a book, the book takes something from the reader.”
“Sounds a bit mystical to me.”
“It should. My other doctorate is in religious studies. That copy was only read by one other person and is, in a sense, still pure. I don’t want to contaminate it any further. I’ll tell you what I am willing to do for you, however. I’ll give you the quote your client is looking for under my terms and at a place of my choosing. But it’ll cost you.”
“Cost me? I’m being shaken down by an academic?”
“Former academic. How do you think I learned to be so ruthless? Have you never been to a departmental meeting?”
“What is it you want?” I asked him, trying to disguise my contempt.
“Ever read ‘The Go-Between’ by L.P. Hartley?”
“I know the book. It begins ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things different there.’”
“Best opening in all of literature. I want a copy. First edition.”
“I should be able to find one.”
“Signed? Do you know how rare that would be? Not to mention expensive.”
“The book your client wants is even rarer. It’s one-of-a-kind. Are we agreed?”
“I’ll try.” I promised, with as much conviction as I could muster.
“It might help if you think of yourself as a go-between. Hopefully with less disastrous results. I advise you to get started. If it is going to be the challenge you seem to be suggesting it is, no sense in making your client wait any longer than he needs to.”
I started to walk toward the door, trying to sort out exactly what I had just agreed to, when he spoke again.
“Oh, and be sure to come back Thursday. It’s ‘Pemmican Night’.”