Pierce shrugged, raised eyebrows, shook head. "You know," he said, "when I was a kid I sort of thought that when I became a historian, what I would do, what historians did, was practice history-the way a doctor practices medicine. Maybe because the uncle I grew up with was a doctor. Have an office, or a shop..."
"'Keep thy shop,'" Barr said, "'and thy shop will keep thee.'" He made in his throat the famous Barr chuckle, plummy, chocolaty. "Ben Franklin."
Pierce drank. In the dark of the bar, his old mentor was unreadable. Pierce was fairly sure that Barr's kindly but justly lukewarm descriptio (couldn't call it a recommendation) was chiefly what had kept Pierce from moving automatically into a slot at Noate, and thrown him on the open market. "How," he said, something-not the drink-warming his cheeks suddenly, "would you do it? Practice history. If there weren't Noate."
Barr considered this a long time. The drink before him seemed to glow faintly, like a votive lamp before Buddha. "I think," he said, "that I would take some job, some job I was suited for-my father was a tailor, I worked for him-and I would listen, and discover what questions people asked, that history might answer, or help to answer, even if at first they didn't seem to be historical questions; and I'd try to answer them...."
"Questions that come up. I remember there was an old woman who lived over my father's shop. She read cards, told fortunes. She was a Gypsy, my father said, and that's why people went to her. But why, I asked him, do people think that Gypsies can tell fortunes? History could answer that. Give an account, you see." He set down his finished drink; his grin had begun again to grow, his chuckle to rumble in his throat. "The only trouble would be that damn tendency to generalism. I suppose that the first question I tried to answer would lead me to others, and those to others, and so on; and there being no publish-or-perish sort of pressure, no impetus to stop asking and start answering, I might go on forever. End up with the History of the World. Or a history, anyway." He took, with plump fingers, the olive from his glass, and chewed on it thoughtfully. "Incomplete, probably, in the end. Unfinished. Oh, yes. But still I think I would consider myself to have been practicing history."
maybe there is a demand for history; maybe that is my talent: why DO people think gypsies can tell fortunes? maybe it's time i began to practice history; i've had enough practice.