When dawn broke over the rooftops of Poort Van Winkle, the bridge troll was already awake, sipping bittersweet tea and leafing through the morning newspaper. He had noticed that Mamma’s motor-car was no longer parked by the canal, and he hoped that spelled the end of yesterday’s unpleasantness.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the first boat of the day arrive, and without even looking up to see who it was, extended the fishing line with the wooden cup.
“Six bits for passage,” he grunted.
When he reeled the cup back in, he discovered twelve bits inside. Frowning, he looked up to see the motor-car, tied up once more against the canal wall.
“Not again,” groaned the troll.
Tok, tok! came a knock on the troll’s booth door.
He opened it, unsurprised and unhappy to find Mamma standing there. She was covered in flour like a dough boy, with wild hair and dark circles under her eyes, and she had something wrapped in cloth tucked under her arm. Before he could even open his mouth to protest, however, she pulled him up and into a mighty hug.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m truly sorry. I shouldn’t have called you names.”
She patted his back. The troll grunted and wiggled. Mamma set him back down. “I noticed your feet,” she continued. “They look awfully crooked and painful.”
The troll brushed himself off. “They are,” he said. Secretly, he was pleased she had noticed.
“I had these made just for you,” said Mamma, extending him the object wrapped in cloth. “I hope they fit.”
The troll unraveled the baker’s cloth to find two humungous breadclogs. He eyed one, sniffed it, then took a large bite out of the heel. The crust crunched noisily, but the inside was soft and doughy.
“Trolls don’t wear shoes,” he said, chewing. “We’re proud of our feet. Rough feet means a hard worker.”
“Well, that’s certainly true in your case,” said Mamma.
“But they’re good for breakfast,” said the troll. “Thank you.” The more he chewed on the tasty shoe, the less grouchy he felt. “Sorry for dumping garbage on your head,” he said.
Mamma shrugged. “I deserved it.”
The troll broke the second breadclog in two. “It’s too much to eat by myself,” he said. “Want to join me? I’ll make some more tea.”
It wasn’t long before Mamma and the troll were sitting on the side of the canal, sharing jokes, strong tea, and bites of troll-sized breadclog. They talked about bridge maintenance, troll mothers, and recipes for salted fish and sour wine. The troll cranked open the water gate and left it open, and Mamma extended the fishing line to passing boats to collect the toll. She even haggled with some of the bigger ones for a larger fee.
To Mamma’s surprise and delight, the rest of the family Wicklow appeared soon thereafter, bringing smoked cheese, butter, and marmalade from the Merry Mariner. They were worried after Mamma hadn’t returned that night, and had assumed she would be hungry. Verona and Pip explored the troll’s booth while the troll explained to Waldo how the mechanics of the water gate worked. He then talked to Pappa about the history of bridge-trolls in Poort Van Winkle, and showed the twins how to make some truly awful faces. Together, they picnicked on the side of the canal, the family Wicklow and the toll troll, and when the time came to part ways, everyone felt they’d made a new friend.
She went back down the stairs and lowered herself into the frigid canal. She swam over to the motor-car, heaved and huffed, and turned it back right-side-up with a mighty splash. The soaked upholstery squished like a sponge when she sat in the driver’s seat, and a dark green slime covered the windscreen, but when she turned the crank, the motor started up with a gentle rattle. She backed up, turned around, and puttered up the canal, back the way she’d come with Verona earlier that day.
Mamma could feel the city sleeping. The crescent moon disappeared behind the silhouette of the colossal Grootmill, and she was thankful for the orange-yellow glow of the streetlamps, or there would be no seeing anything at all. The motor-car’s soft hum became a deafening roar in the night’s silence. Mamma hoped it wouldn’t wake anyone. She kept an eye out, watching the passing buildings until she spotted the one she was looking for: Fleming’s Shoebakery. She turned off the engine, swung the ropes around the mooring post, and climbed up. The shop stood silent and still, the windows dark. Mamma rapped on the door. No reply came, so she rapped again, louder this time. Still no sign of life. She pounded a third time, not stopping until with a snap of the latch, the door came swinging open.
A furious Mr. Fleming emerged in a nightshirt and cap, brandishing a long candlestick like a spear.
“Who in the name of--you?!” he cried. “What on the Seven Seas…? Do you have any idea what time—” But the rest of his sentence was muffled, as Mamma had pulled him into a mighty hug. She rocked back and forth and patted him on the back. “I’m sorry, Mr. Fleming,” she said. “You’re the finest shoebaker in all of Poort Van Winkle, and I’ve never told you that. You’re a good man, and hard working.” “I…er, well…thank you,” Mr. Fleming stammered when Mamma finally released him. “But couldn’t this wait until morning?” Mamma pressed her coin purse into his hands. “This is for you. I can be an awful bully sometimes, as I’m sure you know. This morning, I treated you rather unfairly. So take that with my thanks and apologies.” “Goodness, this is far too much,” said Mr. Fleming. “I can’t—this is not at all necessary, Mrs. Wicklow, I know you mean well—” “I’d also like to use those coins to buy another pair of breadclogs,” said Mamma, “for a friend. I’m sorry to say I need them as soon as possible. You’re the only one I trust to do the job right.” She rolled up her sleeves. “And I’ll help, of course. I’m quite good at hauling big bags of flour.” Mr. Fleming looked at Mamma, then down at the coins in his hands, then back up at Mamma. He smiled. “You always did drive a hard bargain,” he said. “Very well, come on in. Breadclogs it is! For what size foot?” “At least three times bigger than your biggest,” said Mamma, and she followed him inside.
Mamma watched in silence. After what seemed like hours, the exhausted troll picked up his lantern, lowered himself to the ground, and wrapped up the rope. Without so much as a glance toward Mamma, he shuffled up the stairs and re-entered the booth. Mamma stepped quietly back up the stairs as well and peered through the little window. The troll returned all the tools to their proper places, then opened an enormous book filled with tables and figures. He filled in boxes and worked some arithmetic on an abacus. She realized it was a logbook, a painstaking record of every transaction, of every boat that passed under his bridge, of every coin received and spent. Finally, the troll shut the book and yawned. He brushed his teeth, stuffed his large feet through pajama trousers, and snuffed out his lantern. He tucked himself in under a large patchwork quilt and began to snore like a crocodile.
Seeing him curled up like that, Mamma thought of her own children, snug in their bunks aboard the Merry Mariner. Her heart melted like butter in the sun. She imagined that somewhere, under some other bridge, or perhaps in a hollow tree in the woods somewhere, this troll had a mother. She wrote him letters, worried whether he was eating enough healthy troll food, and had probably sewn him that quilt. Perhaps she hadn’t even wanted him to leave home, but he had wanted to make his troll-way in the world. And here he was, caretaker of one of the finest, most beautiful bridges in all of Poort Van Winkle. It was clean, well-maintained, and given all the attention and love it could possibly need. Surely, this bridge was a grand example to other trolls under other bridges in the city. The troll worked hard, and all he asked in return was a few coins from the boats that passed through. “And I called him lazy,” Mamma sighed. “What a dunce I’ve been.” She looked at his huge feet, sticking out from under the quilt. They were bruised and calloused, crooked, covered in blisters and boils. They looked sore and painful. Just then, suddenly and without explanation, the streetlamp near Mamma, which the lamplighter had been unable to light, flickered on all by itself. And Mamma got an idea—a wonderful idea.
Mamma came up sputtering, splashing, and spitting out a stream of slimy liquid. She scrambled up onto the side of the canal, dripping wet, and coughed. She wrung out her hair. The breadclogs fell off her feet in soggy bits. The motor-car was still afloat, but upside-down, its wheels in the air like the four stiffened paws of a dead rat. All the precious cargo—the vegetables and fruit, the sausages and sugar, and the family’s brand-new breadclogs—bobbed in the canal water and drifted away. Mamma tried to rescue the wheel of cheese, but her fingers slipped on it, and it sank into the murky depths.
Shivering, wet, and smellier than ever, Mamma grit her teeth and scrunched up her face.
“All right!” she cried finally, stomping up the staircase to the troll’s booth. “All right, all right, I give up, you miserable beast! I’m sorry! Hear that? I’m so very sorry you’re being a crass, loathsome, putrid…rotten…TROLL!! There, I’ve said it, now open this wretched gate and let me through!” Her shouts echoed up and down the canal.
Slowly, the booth door opened. The toll troll stood there, holding a variety of tools: a trowel, a bucket, a bag of cement plaster, a bottle of grease, a wire broom, rope, rags, and a small lantern.
“We’re closed,” he growled, then locked the door and walked past Mamma down the stairs.
“What do you mean, closed?” said Mamma, following him. “Hey! What’s all that you’ve got there?”
The troll didn’t answer. Instead, he wrapped the rope around his waist, then looped the other end around a hook under the bridge’s arch and hoisted himself up. He hung the lantern on a nail and began to work.
First, he took the long wire broom and scrubbed green canal slime off the bricks and the gate. Then, he cleaned and oiled the machinery of the gate itself. He scraped rust off the hinges and cogwheels, dabbed oil where it was squeaking or sticking, and tightened screws. Then, with the trowel and plaster, he patched up nicks and scratches in the brickwork caused by careless boats bumping into the sides. After that, he polished the bricks, one by one, on the outside and underneath the arch, until they sparkled in the light of the lantern. He worked exceedingly slowly and carefully, hanging from his rope, scrabbling along the bricks, clinging with his fingers and toes. It looked like backbreaking work.
The sun set gently over the city of Poort Van Winkle. Mothers leaned out of windows and called their children in to supper. Scruffy cats emerged from the long shadows between buildings, yowling and hissing at each other over scraps of fish. When the sky turned from orange to deep purple, an old lamplighter appeared, shuffling from streetlamp to streetlamp in his own pair of blackened breadclogs. He reached into the tall lamps with his long lighter and lit them, one by one, throwing a golden glow across the canal. When he arrived at the lamp closest to Mamma, however, it wouldn’t light. He tried several times before he noticed her watching him. “Sometimes they just don’t light,” he shrugged, and moved on, leaving the lamp cold and dark.
The other barges and boats behind Mamma finally gave in as well. One by one, they turned around or carefully puttered backwards up the canal to look for another way to the harbor. The barge captain tossed a few final curses at Mamma for good measure, but she paid no attention. She simply sat in the motor-car, scowling at the troll’s booth.
“Thinks he’s pretty high and mighty up there, doesn’t he?” she muttered. “I’ll bet he’s stewing, wishing I would go away. Well, fat chance! And just think—all he has to do is apologize, and this will all be over and done with. Just three simple words! ‘I…am…sorry.’ He might also add ‘you were right,’ and if he really wanted to set the record straight, ‘I was wrong’ as well. But quite frankly it would be just fine with me to hear ‘sorry,’ just that one word. It’s pitiful he’s too proud to do even that. Shameful, really.”
Evening turned to night. The stars winked on overhead, one by one, and the faintest sliver of a crescent moon rose over the rooftops. Merchants locked up their stores and went home. Residents shuttered their windows. Silence descended upon the canals. Mamma listened to the sound of the canal’s water gently rocking the motor-car. Gradually, the lights in the windows of the buildings around her snuffed out as the citizens of Poort Van Winkle tucked themselves into bed. Soon, the only light remaining, aside from the dim streetlamps, was the lantern in the window of the toll troll’s booth.
A chill drifted in across the water. Mamma rubbed her arms.
She shuffled some kegs around to try to make a more comfortable space. Stacking one on top of another, she felt the motor-car rock unsteadily. She leaned back to regain her balance, but her foot caught on the seat, and she desperately thrust both hands out in front of her to grab something, anything…with a sickening heave, she felt the entire car shift beneath her feet.
The motor-car flipped. Boxes, barrels, sacks, and Mamma all toppled together over the side and into the dark canal water.
Mamma turned around. The rest of the family Wicklow stood atop the bridge, watching the proceedings. Verona had brought Pappa, Fritz and Felix, Waldo, and even little Pip.
“Get him! Sink him! He’s getting away!” shouted Felix. Fritz laughed and threw pebbles at the barge.
“Oh good,” said Mamma, “you’ve come. Waldo, be a dear and help me open this gate. You all can distract the troll while he does it.”
But nobody moved to help.
Pappa furrowed his brow. “I can’t fathom it. What’s all this about, my love?”
“I told you,” said Verona. “Mamma’s having a duel of stubbornness with that toll troll.”
“Who’s winning?” asked Felix.
“I am, of course,” said Mamma. “He’s going to bend and snap like kindling any minute now. Come on, help your poor mother!”
“Listen here, won’t you come home?” pleaded Pappa. “You’ve been terribly busy this week, so a bit of a stress is well understandable. But it’s all over now. We’re in tip-top shape thanks to you. Why don’t we take the evening to celebrate, eh? Just the two of us. We can have a few brandies by the fire, and waltz to your favorite phonograph tunes. Now, how does that strike you?”
“Sounds awful,” said Fritz, making a face.
“I’ll be there the very instant that troll opens this gate,” said Mamma. “He’s got to learn what’s what, and that’s all I have to say on the matter.”
“See? I told you,” said Verona. “She’s gone mad. At this rate, we’ll never leave Poort Van Winkle.”
“I just can’t fathom it,” repeated Pappa, rubbing his forehead. “It simply doesn’t add up to any kind of sense, if you ask me.”
Fritz and Felix climbed onto the roof of the troll’s booth. They leaned over the side, knocked on the window, and made faces. When the troll opened the window to snatch them, they leapt up out of the way, then leaned down and did it again.
“Come on down, Waldo,” said Mamma. “Come help me open the gate. Don’t you like Verona’s breadclogs? I’ve got a pair just like them down here for each of you!”
But Waldo frowned. “Why don’t you just say you’re sorry, if that’s what the troll wants?”
“It doesn’t matter what the troll wants!” said Mamma. “He poured a pail of garbage on me! He started it, so this whole thing is his fault. He has to finish it, and I’m not moving one inch until he does.”
“That’s not what you always tell me when Fritz or Felix are making fun of me,” said Waldo. “You always tell me, ‘it takes two to fight.’”
Mamma was beginning to lose her patience. “What—why—Waldo, this is completely different! I’m not the one fighting, he is!Can’t you all see that? Now stop arguing and do as I say. Get down here right this instant, and help me open this gate!”
“We’re coming down, but only to get the rest of the food before it spoils completely,” said Verona. “Then you can sit there all night, if that’s what you want.” She gathered Pip into her arms and made to walk down the bridge to the side of the canal.
“No,” said Mamma, putting up her hand. “Don’t touch it. When I take this to the authorities, I want them to see what a mess that troll has made with his foolishness. The more food that’s ruined, the better it’ll look for us. You’ll see.”
Waldo looked at Verona, who looked at Pappa.
“Well…then we’re going back home,” said Verona. “We’ll wait for you there. You come back whenever you’re done teaching lessons to trolls.” She turned around. Pip waved goodbye. Waldo sighed, and Pappa shook his head. The twins jumped off the booth back onto the bridge and ran after the rest of them.
“Bye Mamma!” said Fritz.
“Good luck with whatever you’re doing!” said Felix, and they were gone.
Mamma huffed, sat back on the pile of spoiling food, and crossed her arms. The sour wine in her hair and clothes had turned dry and sticky. Flies gathered around the salted fish and ham. She smelled just as bad as a troll, maybe worse.
“Fine thing,” she muttered to herself. “Really a very fine thing, this is.”
A short while later, the barge captain returned, carrying a bucket. He lowered a ramp from his boat to the side of the canal, walked across, and approached the troll’s booth. Mamma eyed him with suspicion. “Ahoy, sir troll, my lad,” said the captain, rapping on the booth door. “Meself and the other boatmen and sailors and the like, we innocent here waiting, have plundered our pockets and pitched a fair wage for ye.” He shook the bucket. It clinked, full of coins. “I’d wager me beard we’ve gathered more bits than ye can find throttling a sea serpent! If ye wish to make a fair exchange, so to say, if ye’ll open this here postern and grant our tubs clean passage through, why then this miniature fortune here ought by rights be yers. What say ye?” The booth’s window opened, and the troll leaned out. “Fine,” he said, “as long as she doesn’t get through.” He pointed to Mamma, still sitting with a frown in the motor-car. “Fair lady!” said the barge captain, removing his cap and turning to Mamma. “Can’t ye find it in pity or kindliness to turn back? I’ll make way with me barge and see to it ye’ll have room to pass among the others. Ye can make easy for one of the other harbor gates in a zip. Between mine and the others here, we ought have plenty to replenish yer spoiling stash, if that’ll be what ye seeks in return.” Mamma narrowed her eyes. “You can buy that greedy creature, I’m sure, but you can’t buy me,” she said. The captain returned his cap to his head and growled. “Ye know ye leave me no fair course, sea-wife, but to make me way by force!” “You just try it,” said Mamma, folding her arms. Grumbling and swearing, the captain boarded his barge, pulled in the ramp, and started the engine with a mighty rumble. Steam blasted from the barge’s stacks, and it began to churn forward through the canal like a fearsome flood of metal and wood, straight toward Mamma. But Mamma planted her feet on the back of the motor-car and squared off against the approaching barge. She held out her palms, and when the barge arrived, she pushed back on its nose with all her strength. The motor-car’s ropes snapped taut, the water frothed, but Mamma held her ground. She heaved and puffed and clenched her teeth. The barge could not advance.
The captain leaned out and shook his fist. “Ye’ve got some devil in ye, woman!” he cried. “Why in the name of the Seventh Sea will ye not yield?”
Mamma grunted and pushed the barge as hard as she could, sending it backward. “Why don’t you use one of the other harbor gates, eh?” she shouted back. “Yield, yourself!”
The barge collided with the boat behind it, splintering wood and bending metal.
“Impossible thugs, the both of ye!” screamed the barge captain.
“Hey look, Mamma’s sinking ships!” called a voice from above.
Mamma pointed up at the troll in his booth. The troll pointed down at Mamma. “He dumped garbage on me!” said Mamma. “She’s a nincompoop,” said the troll.
The barge captain scratched his head and chewed his pipe. “We’re on a schedule here! We can’t be dawdling for every likes of ye who want to befuddle the goings-on with trifles! Just doff yer cap to the troll, madam. Let it push daisies, I say! Sure them trolls’re stubborn as widow’s gas, they are, no use wringing wrists about it.” Mamma turned her withering gaze on the captain. “If you think I’m going to say a single sorry word before he does, then you’re very much mistaken. I’d rather sink my motor-car! Someone needs to teach these trolls some manners, and it looks like that’ll have to be me.” The troll slammed his window shut. Behind the barge, a line of boats was forming, honking horns and ringing bells. “Well, someone ought better apologize to someone around here, or we’ll have a right pickled doozy on our mitts,” said the captain. Verona shook her head. “The only thing more stubborn than a troll is my mother, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, for pity’s sake!” said the captain. He huffed and swore and turned around to inform the other sailors of the situation.
Verona climbed back on board the amphibious motor-car. “The food is spoiling!” she cried.
Mamma hurried over. Sure enough, the butter was melting, the milk was turning sour, and there were bees buzzing in the sugar. “It won’t last much longer in the midday sun,” said Mamma. “Cursed troll. This is probably exactly what he wants!” She handed Verona a piece of paper and a pencil. “Take note of everything that spoils. When this troll is found guilty by law of blockading a public waterway, we’ll send him the bill for our ruined goods!” But Verona didn’t take the paper and pencil. Instead, she gathered up as much butter, cream, and other endangered items as she could carry and stepped up onto the footpath. “I’m going back to the Merry Mariner, Mamma,” she said, “and I’m going to tell the others about this whole stupid thing.” “Good idea,” said Mamma. “Bring Waldo back with you. He’ll figure out a way to open this gate.” Verona shook her head and walked off along the canal, arms full, leaving Mamma behind on her rotting castle.
Roaring profanities, Mamma leapt out of the motor-car and scrambled up the side of the canal. She bound up the wooden staircase leading to the troll’s booth and began thumping on the door. “I’ll teach you—! Who do you think—I’ll show you a thing or two—! Come out, you coward! You pirate! You hideous idling ogre! Come out and face justice!” She rattled and shook the little booth. “No,” said the troll, unshaken by the assault. “You apologize.” Quaking with fury, Mamma put two hands on the crank next to the booth. “Then I’ll open the water gate myself, and you’ll get no payment at all, you miserable brute!” She grunted and heaved and gripped the enormous crank with all her mighty strength. Her face changed several more colors, but it refused to budge. It was sturdier than she’d thought. Mamma collapsed, exhausted. The troll stuck his tongue out at her from the window. “Oh, you’ll get what’s coming to you,” she muttered. “I promise you that, you’ll get what’s coming!” Verona climbed out of the motor-car and went to her mother on the footpath. “Mamma, listen now. We can all agree that it was an awful thing he did, a terrible thing. But if you just say you’re sorry, I’m sure he’ll open the gate. Then we can go home, get you cleaned up, and forget all about it.” “Forget about it? Hah!” said Mamma. “I’m the one covered in filth, and you expect me to say I’m sorry? Absolutely out of the question!” She staggered to her feet like a wounded bull. “I’m going to pull that gate straight off its hinges.” Verona sighed. She climbed the wooden stairs and knocked gently on the troll booth door. “I’ve got your six bits here, Mr. Troll,” she said. “My mother didn’t mean to offend you, honest. Please, will you let us through?” “No,” said the troll. “Go away.” Mamma yanked at the machinery of the gate, trying to wrench it apart. “We’ll have to find another bridge,” said Verona. “According to this map of the canals, there’s one on the other side of the harbor which we could—” Toooowweeeeeeeeeeee!
A loud steam whistle rang through the air. Mamma and Verona looked up to see a huge barge pulling in, dwarfing their little motor-car and trapping it against the gate. “Oh, great,” said Verona. “Now we can’t turn back!” “Ahoy!” called the captain of the barge, leaning out of his cockpit. “Ye folk’re blocking the way! What gives?”
As Mamma watched the picturesque waterfront buildings go by, she triple-checked her mental list of supplies: cream, butter, salted fish and ham, flour and sugar, wine, vinegar and edible oils, fruits and vegetables, and, of course, breadclogs, the local traditional footwear. The family had spent the last week anchored in Poort Van Winkle’s harbor, refurbishing their home, the Merry Mariner, for another year’s adventuring on the Seven Seas. They’d already swept their beloved windmill-ship from bow to stern, scraped the barnacles off the hull, scrubbed the deck, and splashed on a new coat of bright red paint. They’d replaced missing roof shingles, repaired broken furniture and rusted pipes, patched the sails, and oiled the engine’s gears and cogwheels. Mamma and Verona had made several trips with the motor-car to the bustling markets in the Grootmill, the gargantuan windmill at the center of Poort Van Winkle, for non-perishables such as ink, tar, rope and fabric, pillow-feathers, dishware, potting soil, and candlewax. This was their final trip, on which they’d obtained all of the spoilable goods, bought last so they would stay fresh for as long as possible.
Mamma was just congratulating herself on having thought of absolutely everything when they came to one of the canal city’s toll gates. A lovely old bridge arched over their heads from one side of the canal to the other. Passage through to the city’s harbor beyond was blocked by a large metal gate. Fixed to the side of the bridge was a small booth with a pointed roof and a single window. The window opened, and out leaned a squat, ugly creature—the toll troll. He extended a fishing line, at the end of which was hooked a wooden cup.
“Six bits for passage,” growled the troll.
Once upon a time, trolls like this one would hide beneath bridges and pounce on unsuspecting travelers, demanding a fee to cross. But that was long ago. These days, like everyone else in Poort Van Winkle, the toll trolls were registered, licensed, and certified by the city as public servants.
Verona roped the motor-car to the side of the canal while Mamma took the cup in her hand. “Three bits,” she said. The troll frowned down at her from the booth window. “Did you hear me? I said six bits for passage.” “I heard you,” said Mamma, “and I’m making a counter-offer. Three bits.” Verona turned to her mother. “What are you doing?” “If I can get half price on breadclogs, surely I can get half price on the bridge toll,” Mamma replied, then called back up to the troll. “Three bits, or we’ll find some other bridge to do business with!” The troll withdrew his fishing line and wooden cup. “So find another bridge,” he said. “The toll is the toll. Six bits.” “Mamma, please, just pay him,” said Verona. “And why should I?” said Mamma, loud enough so the troll could hear.
“Why should we have to pay to pass under a bridge, anyway? These lazy trolls just sit up in their booths all day, collecting our coins, and for what?” She planted her feet, folded her arms, and fixed one of her famous looks on the bridge troll. Verona put her face in her hands. “Lazy, am I?” said the bridge troll. He leaned out of his window and overturned his garbage pail, showering Mamma in fish skeletons, apple cores, and sour wine. “Uh oh,” said Verona. For a moment, Mamma stood absolutely still, frozen with rage, dripping and clenching her fists. Her face turned pink, then tomato-red, then the color of thunderclouds. She ground her teeth, crossed her eyes, and exploded like a volcano.
It was a clear, bright day, and the smell of the sea was in the air. Verona waited impatiently in the family’s motor-car, parked not on a street, but inside a narrow canal. Poort Van Winkle had no proper streets. In place of automobiles and carriages, the residents of the market city piloted boats and barges. This busy traffic rowed and puttered through the green-grey waters of the canals which crisscrossed through the city much like avenues or boulevards. Fortunately, the family Wicklow’s motor-car was amphibious, and could travel as easily in water as on land.
When she saw Mamma approaching, Verona hopped out of the car and took the large cloth wrapping from her hands. She opened one corner and stuck her nose inside. “Mmm, fresh breadclogs!”
“Yes, as souvenirs for the boys,” said Mamma. “There’s a pair for you as well. And I got them for half price.”
“Half price?” Verona frowned. “You weren’t bullying again, were you?”
“Nonsense. I don’t bully,” said Mamma. She jumped into the motor-car. It was piled high with boxes, bags, bottles, and kegs, which she shuffled about to make space. Verona fitted her breadclogs on her feet and handed her mother the others.
“They’re awfully comfortable, thank you,” she said. “But sometimes I wonder if every merchant in Poort Van Winkle doesn’t hate your guts.”
Mamma shrugged. “I drive a hard bargain,” she said. “If you think you can get half price with a lot of hot air and frilly compliments, then you’re welcome to try. But you’ll have to wait until next time, because Fleming’s was the last stop. Now let’s get back home before the cheese turns.” She settled into a comfortable position on top of several sacks of flour. “Finally!” said Verona. She started up the engine, unraveled the rope from the mooring post, and pushed away from the canal wall. She slid into the driver’s seat, turned the wheel, and off they went.
Mamma Wicklow planted her feet, folded her arms, and fixed one of her famous looks on the man behind the counter. Her look said, “I’m not moving an inch until I get my way, so don’t try anything funny.”
The man behind the counter withered like a snail in the sun under Mamma’s gaze. His name was Mr. Fleming, and he was one of the finest shoebakers in the city. He looked at Mamma with big round eyes behind big round eyeglasses and scratched his white mane of hair. Puffs of flour came out as he did so, and Mamma wondered whether his hair was white from age or just from flour, sugar, and baking powder.
“Oh, very well!” Mr. Fleming finally cried, throwing up his hands. “Seven pairs of breadclogs for half price. I can’t even believe I’m saying it! You’re as stubborn as a goat in a tar pit, Mrs. Wicklow. If my wife finds out about this, I’ll be thrown out once and for all, no mistake.”
Mamma dropped her sour look and gave the shoebaker a haughty smile. “I knew you’d come around. Size twelve clogs for me, ten for Mr. Wicklow, seven for Verona, six for the twins, four for Waldo, and size one for Pip. I won’t be needing mine wrapped, thank you. I’ll be wearing them straight away.”
Mr. Fleming grumbled and sighed. He picked out the appropriate sizes from the baskets lining the wall behind him. Mamma set a stack of coins on the counter and sat down on a wooden bench. She slipped her pair of breadclogs on her feet, then wiggled her toes and grinned. “Still warm!”
Mr. Fleming wrapped the rest of the shoes in a baker’s cloth and handed them to Mamma.
“Until next year,” she said.
“It’ll be too soon,” muttered Mr. Fleming, but Mamma didn’t hear. She pushed out the doors of Fleming’s Shoebakery and stepped into the city of Poort Van Winkle.