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.
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