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.
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