The Fruit Shop

by Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell

Cross-ribboned shoes; a muslin gown,

High-waisted, girdled with bright blue;

A straw poke bonnet which hid the frown

She pluckered her little brows into

As she picked her dainty passage through

The dusty street. "Ah, Mademoiselle,

A dirty pathway, we need rain,

My poor fruits suffer, and the shell

Of this nut's too big for its kernel, lain

Here in the sun it has shrunk again.

The baker down at the corner says

We need a battle to shake the clouds;

But I am a man of peace, my ways

Don't look to the killing of men in crowds.

Poor fellows with guns and bayonets for shrouds!

Pray, Mademoiselle, come out of the sun.

Let me dust off that wicker chair. It's cool

In here, for the green leaves I have run

In a curtain over the door, make a pool

Of shade. You see the pears on that stool --

The shadow keeps them plump and fair."

Over the fruiterer's door, the leaves

Held back the sun, a greenish flare

Quivered and sparked the shop, the sheaves

Of sunbeams, glanced from the sign on the eaves,

Shot from the golden letters, broke

And splintered to little scattered lights.

Jeanne Tourmont entered the shop, her poke

Bonnet tilted itself to rights,

And her face looked out like the moon on nights

Of flickering clouds. "Monsieur Popain, I

Want gooseberries, an apple or two,

Or excellent plums, but not if they're high;

Haven't you some which a strong wind blew?

I've only a couple of francs for you."

Monsieur Popain shrugged and rubbed his hands.

What could he do, the times were sad.

A couple of francs and such demands!

And asking for fruits a little bad.

Wind-blown indeed! He never had

Anything else than the very best.

He pointed to baskets of blunted pears

With the thin skin tight like a bursting vest,

All yellow, and red, and brown, in smears.

Monsieur Popain's voice denoted tears.

He took up a pear with tender care,

And pressed it with his hardened thumb.

"Smell it, Mademoiselle, the perfume there

Is like lavender, and sweet thoughts come

Only from having a dish at home.

And those grapes! They melt in the mouth like wine,

Just a click of the tongue, and they burst to honey.

They're only this morning off the vine,

And I paid for them down in silver money.

The Corporal's widow is witness, her pony

Brought them in at sunrise to-day.

Those oranges -- Gold! They're almost red.

They seem little chips just broken away

From the sun itself. Or perhaps instead

You'd like a pomegranate, they're rarely gay,

When you split them the seeds are like crimson spray.

Yes, they're high, they're high, and those Turkey figs,

They all come from the South, and Nelson's ships

Make it a little hard for our rigs.

They must be forever giving the slips

To the cursed English, and when men clips

Through powder to bring them, why dainties mounts

A bit in price. Those almonds now,

I'll strip off that husk, when one discounts

A life or two in a nigger row

With the man who grew them, it does seem how

They would come dear; and then the fight

At sea perhaps, our boats have heels

And mostly they sail along at night,

But once in a way they're caught; one feels

Ivory's not better nor finer -- why peels

From an almond kernel are worth two sous.

It's hard to sell them now," he sighed.

"Purses are tight, but I shall not lose.

There's plenty of cheaper things to choose."

He picked some currants out of a wide

Earthen bowl. "They make the tongue

Almost fly out to suck them, bride

Currants they are, they were planted long

Ago for some new Marquise, among

Other great beauties, before the Chateau

Was left to rot. Now the Gardener's wife,

He that marched off to his death at Marengo,

Sells them to me; she keeps her life

From snuffing out, with her pruning knife.

She's a poor old thing, but she learnt the trade

When her man was young, and the young Marquis

Couldn't have enough garden. The flowers he made

All new! And the fruits! But 'twas said that

he

Was no friend to the people, and so they laid

Some charge against him, a cavalcade

Of citizens took him away; they meant

Well, but I think there was some mistake.

He just pottered round in his garden, bent

On growing things; we were so awake

In those days for the New Republic's sake.

He's gone, and the garden is all that's left

Not in ruin, but the currants and apricots,

And peaches, furred and sweet, with a cleft

Full of morning dew, in those green-glazed pots,

Why, Mademoiselle, there is never an eft

Or worm among them, and as for theft,

How the old woman keeps them I cannot say,

But they're finer than any grown this way."

Jeanne Tourmont drew back the filigree ring

Of her striped silk purse, tipped it upside down

And shook it, two coins fell with a ding

Of striking silver, beneath her gown

One rolled, the other lay, a thing

Sparked white and sharply glistening,

In a drop of sunlight between two shades.

She jerked the purse, took its empty ends

And crumpled them toward the centre braids.

The whole collapsed to a mass of blends

Of colours and stripes. "Monsieur Popain, friends

We have always been. In the days before

The Great Revolution my aunt was kind

When you needed help. You need no more;

'Tis we now who must beg at your door,

And will you refuse?" The little man

Bustled, denied, his heart was good,

But times were hard. He went to a pan

And poured upon the counter a flood

Of pungent raspberries, tanged like wood.

He took a melon with rough green rind

And rubbed it well with his apron tip.

Then he hunted over the shop to find

Some walnuts cracking at the lip,

And added to these a barberry slip

Whose acrid, oval berries hung

Like fringe and trembled. He reached a round

Basket, with handles, from where it swung

Against the wall, laid it on the ground

And filled it, then he searched and found

The francs Jeanne Tourmont had let fall.

"You'll return the basket, Mademoiselle?"

She smiled, "The next time that I call,

Monsieur. You know that very well."

'Twas lightly said, but meant to tell.

Monsieur Popain bowed, somewhat abashed.

She took her basket and stepped out.

The sunlight was so bright it flashed

Her eyes to blindness, and the rout

Of the little street was all about.

Through glare and noise she stumbled, dazed.

The heavy basket was a care.

She heard a shout and almost grazed

The panels of a chaise and pair.

The postboy yelled, and an amazed

Face from the carriage window gazed.

She jumped back just in time, her heart

Beating with fear. Through whirling light

The chaise departed, but her smart

Was keen and bitter. In the white

Dust of the street she saw a bright

Streak of colours, wet and gay,

Red like blood. Crushed but fair,

Her fruit stained the cobbles of the way.

Monsieur Popain joined her there.

"Tiens, Mademoiselle,

c'est le General Bonaparte,

partant pour la Guerre!"