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.
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