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.
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