Late by only a minute, ten-year-old Emma has been locked out of the mill where she works ten hours a day at the silk-spinning machines. Her pay will be docked; she is sure to be beaten by her brother-in-law, Ben, when she gets home; and none of it is her fault. She sinks to the ground and cries. Then, through her tears, she sees a gate in a wall, a gate she has never seen before. Hesitantly she pushes through, putting off her return home. And through that gate she finds not only a waterway, which she later learns is a canal, and a strangely beautiful boat, but the entrance to a whole new future.