April 11, 2014

The Hero of Haarlem…For the Common Good


“Trudging stoutly along by the canal,” as the story goes, the eight year old son of a Dutch sluicer was returning home from delivering cakes to a blind man. Humming as he passed the dikes, he noticed that recent rains had made his father’s job even more important.

In fact, because a large portion of Holland was below sea level, the job his father did was essential.  Sluicers faced the responsibility of manipulating the water levels by using a series of gates, dikes and canals to protect the villages and countryside from flooding.

The young boy was proud of his father’s brave old gates and their strength and pondered briefly how sluicers always referred to the danger of “angry waters” inundating the land.  Suddenly the child noticed that he still had a distance to go and the sun was setting.  He quickened his pace as he remembered nursery tales of children lost in forests. 

Deciding to run the rest of the way home, he was just then startled by the sound of trickling water. Up the side of the dike he noticed a small hole through which a tiny stream of water was flowing.

Any child in Holland would have realized the danger, but no child was more aware of the “angry waters” than the son of a sluicer. “Quick as a flash, he saw his duty,” and almost before he knew it, he thrust his chubby little finger into the hole and stopped the flow.

Initially, he was proud of the fact that he was doing his part in holding back the “angry waters” and that his hometown of Haarlem would not be drowned while he was there. The remainder of the chapter entitled “Friends in Need” in Mary Mapes Dodge’s 1865 novel “Hans Brinker; or the Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland” illustrates the boys overnight experience. 

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