`YOU buy three and they give you three for nothing,'' she said as we rounded the first buoy on our weekly shopping voyage. Turned out to be croissants at the friendly dunker's, and in I went to find the place busy with the midmorning supplement to breakfast. I stood there and I stood there. Hav-ing accumulated a surfeit of ignore, I spoke to a young lady who was trotting past.
``What do you do around here to buy three and get three free?'' She gave me a nourishing smile comparable to the sun's rising over Burnt Spice Island and replied thus: ``Bewitchainnaminute.''
At this dramatic juncture a gentleman, stranger to me, came to stand beside me in a posture of anticipation. ``Come, let us wait together,'' I said amiably, and he said, ``They also serve who only stand and wait.''
``That is from Number 19,'' I said, ``and is sometimes known as `On his blindness,' and I had not expected to hear it in this context and at this hour of the day.''
``I suppose not,'' he said.
``I am therefore your debtor for insinuating this verse improbably into this faintly poetic environment,'' I said. He said, ``They don't make good poets nowadays.''
I said, ``The millennia have labored, and so far have made only one John Milton.'' I smiled. I added, ``Are you after croissants?''
He nodded and held up the little coupon such as my wife had given me, and he said, ``Buy three and get three free.''
``You may find they don't make such good croissants nowadays, either.''
He said, ``Is your wife a coupon nut, too?''
I said yes, and he said, ``I haven't looked at Milton for a good many years.'' I said I make it a practice to read the nativity hymn every Christmas morning, en famille.
``Are you from away?'' I ventured, because in Maine in the summertime some are, and he didn't look to me like a farmer, fisherman, papermaker. ``Yes,'' he said.
``No - Massachusetts.''
``Fine place to be from,'' I resurrected, and he said, ``We come every summer.''
All of which shows the advantages of being cultured, and how a fine conversation can be generated by a simple poetic reference. Instead of standing there silent and patient, we had been brought into a scholarly rapport that made the moments fly. The young lady seemed to have vanished, but now another waitress came from out back and said ``Whatcannadooforyou?'' I passed her my coupon and said, ``My friend and I would like to take advantage of your generous offer.''
``Oh, yes,'' she said, ``THAT!''
``You seem to be fraught inwardly with some secret dismay,'' I said.
``I sure am!'' she said. ``They make up a special offer of six croysints and send me boxes that only hold five.''
My Miltonian friend and I saw that she spoke the truth. She had six croissants (three for free) and five of them fitted neatly into the pasteboard box. There was no room for the sixth. The sixth went into a paper bag, and as we parted at the conclusion of this pleasant meeting my friend and I had a box apiece in the one hand and a bag apiece in t'other. It was an awkward parting, as we shifted to shake hands, but we succeeded.