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

Then came a quick recollection of his promise to his father, and he started homeward again, but a force as mighty as a giant’s grasp, made him turn back again to watch that trickling stream of water.

He was near one of the great oaken sluices, and bounding up beside it he carefully examined the dyke. There, as small as his finger, was a hole–strange and unaccountable happening,–and through that little hole was flowing the stream of water at his feet.

Like lightning the flash of intuition came to Peter, if that hole were not stopped up instantly, the force of the flow through it would rapidly increase from the pounding of that mighty sea behind it. In a night the flood would break through the dyke and perhaps destroy all the homes in Holland.

What could he do? No stone would fit the hole, no amount of earth packed into the crevice could resist the pressure of the water. Peter was desperate. Forgotten now were his bunch of flowers which fell unheeded from his hand. He strained his eyes in a vain search for travellers on that lonely road, vainly he shouted out for help until his throat was hoarse. What could he do? It was no common instinct that came in that lightning flash to Peter. Climbing again up the steep bank, from stone to stone, he thrust his finger in the hole and, oh, joy, it fitted! It stopped the trickling water for the moment, but, oh, what would happen when he took it out?

Ah, it was as clear as daylight, what to do. He would not take it out until someone should come to relieve him. Forgetful of what this idea might bring to him, if carried out, he chuckled with a boyish delight in this real adventure.

“Ha, ha!” he said to himself. “The water can’t come down now. Haarlem shall not be drowned while I am here to keep the flood back.”

For awhile excitement kept him warm and fearless. Then the chill darkness of the night surrounded him. All sorts of strange noises fell upon his unaccustomed ears, he seemed to see giants and demons lurking near, ready to pounce upon him and kill him. Although he was a sturdy lad, tears came at last, when he could no longer keep back thoughts of his comfortable bed at home, of the parents who might be even then worrying about his safety, although as he before remained over night with the old man, Jansen, he felt that his mother and father had probably gone to bed and to sleep, while he was out in the dark night alone and in such a misery of pain. The pain grew greater, the misery harder to bear every moment now, and still Peter kept his finger in that dangerous hole.

He tried to whistle, hoping to attract the attention of some straggling traveller, but his teeth chattered so much that he gave it up, and then he remembered what he had been taught at his mother’s knee, and Peter prayed to the great God who could control the surging sea and protect a boy who was doing his best. Peter was only a child, but if he ever prayed with his whole heart, he prayed so that night in the darkness, with his numbed finger thrust through that hole in the dyke, and when his prayer was said he somehow felt braver, stronger and older than before, and in his heart he said:

“I will not take it out till someone comes. I will stay till morning.”

Longer and longer grew the hours, the minutes, the seconds, and yet he never moved–there were strange noises in his head, his thoughts were confused, pictures of his playmates, of events long ago forgotten danced before his eyes. He was not sure he could draw his finger out of the hole even if he wished to do so, it felt so strangely numb. What did it mean that knives seemed to be cutting, and pins pricking him from head to foot? What would happen if no one ever found him–no one ever came to help?

At last the rose and silver of the dawn flushed the sky. Day had come and along that lonesome road came the first traveller in all the hours of Peter’s vigil.

A clergyman whose night had been spent by the bedside of a sick parishioner, hurrying homeward on the path beside the dyke, heard a groan, a feeble sound of one in mortal agony. Turning, he glanced, first here and there, and looking up, at last, he saw beside the dyke, the figure of a child writhing in agony.

In a single bound, the clergyman stood beside him exclaiming:

“In the name of wonder, boy, what are you doing here?”

“I am keeping the water from running out,” said Peter. “Oh, can’t you ask them to come quick.”

And they did. The town of Haarlem, even Holland itself, had been saved, through the courage of a little boy who did his duty, and from that day to this there has never been a child in Holland who has not heard the stirring story of Peter, whose pluck was worthy of a sluicer’s son, and whose name will never be forgotten, or effaced from the page of historic legend.