War. Unsafe. A man knows this as he runs alongside the battlefield to get on a ship and sail to safety. He dodges some very nasty things aimed at soldiers – cannonballs, bits of rotted meat, the usual things lobbed at armies. For an instant, he feels sort of sorry for the soldiers – and then – one is talking to him!
This is what the soldier saw: A short, chubby man with a very long, curly moustache and a face creased with permanent worry shuffling onto a large ship.
To the chubby man’s surprise, the soldier bursts into song in his direction.
“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?” he belts out.
“Erm, yessir,” says the man, his moustache wiggling with every word, but he finds he can’t say anything more because the soldier interrupts:
“Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme! Remember me to one who lives there., for she once was a true love of mine.”
“All right, all right,” says the man, whipping out a small notepad and a stubby pencil with a worn- down eraser. “What is your name? And what is your love’s name?”
Instead of answering, the man sings, “Tell her to make me a cambric shirt, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme! Without no seam nor fine needlework, and then she’ll be a true love of mine.”
“But sir,” says the man, “what manor does your love live in?”
Again, instead of answering, the man cries, “Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme! Where no water hath sprung nor one drop of rain fell, and then she’ll be a true love of mine.”
“How can I find her? Please tell me so that I can fulfill your request!”
“Tell her to dry it on yonder dry thorn, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme! Where no blossom hath bloomed, not one peppercorn, and then she’ll be a true love of mine.”
“A picky man, aren’t you?”
“Tell her to find me an acre of land, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme! In between the sea foam and the sea sand, and then she’ll be a true love of mine.”
“But that’s impossible! Just like everything else you’re asking!”
“Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme! And gather it all in a big bunch of heather, and then she’ll be a true love of mine.”
But the soldier had gone back to lobbing animal carcasses and bags of vomit and other gross things at the other side. Dodging an arrow, the man shuffled onto the boat just before it cast off and scribbled in his notebook what the man had said.
Arriving at Scarborough, the man started to look for women. He decided to start at the market. The only women he saw there at the moment were a trio sitting around a lunch table outside and chatting, because it was early and there weren’t any customers yet. They seemed to advertise by signs hung around their neck. One said SEAMSTRESS, one said MAID, and one said REAL ESTATE AGENT.
So the man walked up and said, “Good morning, ladies. Do any of you know a soldier in the war across the ocean?”
They all said, “Yes.”
The man said, “Well, he’s looking for his love or something. He gave me a very strange list of things to ask of this woman. The first thing he said was… to ask for a cambric shirt, and he said, ‘without no seam or fine needlework’.”
“Hm,” said the women.
“Then he said to wash it in a dry well where no water had sprung and rain hadn’t fallen. And then to dry it on a thorn where no flowers bloomed.”
“Hm,” the women said again.
“THEN he wants you to find an acre of land…” He consulted his notebook – “in between the sea foam and the sea sand. And then to reap it…” He looked in his notebook again – “with a… popsicle made of leather? That can’t be right… and then to gather it in a bunch of heather, whatever that means. Perhaps you ladies would like to divide up the jobs?”
“Hm,” they said.
They told the man to come back in the fall, when the crops and shirt would be ready.
“Well,” the first lady said, “I do believe that ‘without no’ is a double negative, so he must want a seam, then. And a seam isn’t exactly fine needlework – it’s just a seam. I’ll do that. Then, Miss Manha, you can do that bit about washing and drying.”
“I’ve got several ideas about that.” Miss Manha and the first woman, Miss Innit, were complete opposites. Miss Innit was thin and school-mistress-y and very proper, and Miss Manha was relaxed and plump and grinned a lot. The third lady, Miss Sleykka, kept a sly smile as if she had just found a loophole in something, which, half the time, was true.
“I know where to find the land. Did you notice that he didn’t say that the land had to be soil? I can get an acre of sand property and sow it with a bunch of carrots. Carrots grow well in sand. That popsicle of leather thing was weird, but I can get around it. My inventor friend has made this useless contraption that doesn’t work, so he’s giving it to me whether I want it or not. It’s a carrot harvester, and I can make it work. It’s made of leather. If I stick a popsicle stick in it, that guy won’t know the difference.”
So they each took a day and did what they needed to do. Miss Sleykka found the property and planted a bunch of carrots. Miss Innit made the shirt and Miss Manha took it to the dry well.
“But as this is a dry well, I brought some water to wash this here shirt with! Good thing this well’s only three feet deep, ‘cuz I ain’t much taller!”
She washed the shirt and hopped out, soaking wet. It appeared that she’d washed her own clothing, too.
Then she found a big thistle patch that the men mowed down every year and produced from her backpack a blanket and a hand fan. She laid the blanket down on the thistles neatly and laid the shirt on it. Then she sat there for hours fanning the dripping shirt off and came home with a dry shirt, a wet blanket and a good amount of dignity (her clothes had dried).
And in the fall, the carrots had been harvested and the shirt was ready. The chubby, sweaty man came back and took the heather sack (which, cunningly, was a bunch of woven grass. Miss Sleykka had harvested the carrots when they weren’t even an inch long so that she didn’t need to weave a lot) and the shirt, washed and dried, back across the sea where the war, surprisingly, had stopped. After a search, the man found the same soldier who had spoken to him before.
“From the ladies of Scarborough, sir,” he said.
The soldier tried to respond, “Are you going?”
“Am I going where?” the man asked.
“Are you going to Scarborough fair?”
“After I deliver your items, sir. Will you take them?”
“Parsley? Sage? Rosemary?” The soldier asked.
The man looked confused.
“Thyme?” The soldier asked.
And then the man got it: He could only say the words of the song.
So the little chubby man and the soldier went off and the soldier got a flourishing career singing the same song over and over, but nobody really noticed that it was the same song because he put it to different tempo and occasionally rock music, the words of which nobody listens to anyway.
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