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Peter Of Haarlem: The Boy Who Saved His Country
by [?]

It was an April day, and Haarlem, an old Dutch town near Amsterdam was gay with tulips, for there in Haarlem are grown the most famous tulips in all the world, as well as hyacinths, and if you had driven through the country roads on that April day, you would have seen the meadows and roadsides overspread with a brilliant carpet of the vari-coloured flowers, while the air was full of the sweet perfume of the hyacinths, and you could have carried away with you as many flowers as you had time and patience to pick.

Holland and its provinces and towns are famous for many other things, as well as for tulips and hyacinths, for it is a country quite different from the others which we visit and study about more often, and although it is a small country in comparison to others which are so vast in territory, yet there has been none more celebrated for courage than brave little Holland, and its fight for independence has made it famous in the historical annals of the world. Sturdy and plucky are the Dutch, and quaint and curious are the customs and manners still prevailing in many of the country districts. Every district has its own costume peculiar to its inhabitants, and the many colours of these costumes, the curious caps worn with them, the heavy wooden shoes, or sabots, which all true Dutch people wear, and the clothes worn by the men, so different from the conventional dress of men of other nations, make a picturesque and interesting sight when the Dutch people are gathered together on the day of a “Pardon” or religious fete day.

Their homes, too, are quaint and strange in appearance to our conventional eyes, and it has been said that the Dutch people dressed up like quaint dolls, with their gay little homes and their little canals, which cut up their bright green fields into many sections, live in a country which is like a charming, attractive toy, it is so clean, so tidy and so bright, and it seems a natural thing that the gorgeous tulip should be their favourite flower. And that brings us back to the old town of Haarlem in whose roads we were wandering on an April day.

Now one of the greatest differences between Holland and other countries, is that it lies below the level of the sea, and so has to be very carefully guarded from the surging flood at its very door, or it would be either swept bare by the relentless sea, or entirely wiped out of existence. To prevent this calamity the patient Dutchmen have built wonderful dykes which guard their little country and keep the tyrant sea in check. These dykes are huge banks of earth which tower high above the lowlands and are the only safeguards of the country. Of course, these dykes could only be made gradually, as the sea was turned from one spot to another by dams and locks, and no greater proof of Dutch industry and patience is shown than the way they have protected their land from the sea.

When a dyke has been built, then on the edge of it, a windmill is erected, which works a pump, and as the windmill draws up the water from the sea, it is discharged into a canal. These canals which flow through all Holland in a network of winding ways, run to the sea, and where they meet the sea, in the dykes, great oaken gates, called sluices are placed across the entrance to the canals, to regulate the amount of water which shall flow into the canals, from the sea. These gates are in charge of men called sluicers whose duty it is, when water is needed, to open the gates more or less, according to the amount of water required, and then to close them carefully at night, so that too much water may not flow into the canals, overflow them, and flood the whole country. Even the smallest child in Holland is brought up with a keen knowledge of the grave importance of a sluicer’s duty and of the danger to the country if he should neglect it, and the men chosen for that position are always those whose reputation for faithful service is unchallenged.