The Leak in the Dyke

The good dame looked from her cottage
At the close of a pleasant day,
And cheerily called her little son
Outside the door at play:
“Come Peter, come, for I want you to go
While there is still light to see,
To the hut of the blind old man,
And take these cakes I made for him,
They are hot and smoking yet;
You have enough time to go and come
Before the sun has set.”

Then the good dame turned to her labor,
Humming a simple song,
And she thought of her husband working hard
At the sluices all day long,
And she set the turf ablazing
And brought the coarse black bread,
That he might find a fire at night
And find the table spread.
And now with face aglowing
And eyes as bright as day,
With thoughts of his pleasant errand,
The lad trudged along his way.

And soon his joyous prattle
Made glad a lonesome place;
Alas! if only the blind old man
Could have seen that happy face.
But he somehow caught the brightness
Which his voice and presence lent,
And he felt the sunshine come and go
As Peter came and went.
And now as the day was sinking
And the wind began to rise,
The mother looked from her door again,
Shading her anxious eyes,
And saw the shadow deepen
And the birds to their nests come back,
But never a sign of Peter
Along the level track.

But she said, “He will come at morning,
So I need not fret or grieve
But it isn’t like my boy at all
To stay without my leave.”
But where was the child delaying?
On the homeward way was he,
And across the dyke, while the sun was up
An hour above the sea.
He was stooping now to gather flowers,
Now listening to the sound
Of wrathful waters dashing
Against their narrow bounds,
“Ah, well for us,” said Peter,
“That the gates are good and strong,
And my father tends them carefully
Or they would not hold you long,
You are a wicked sea.” said Peter
“I know why you fret and chafe:
You would like to spoil our lands and homes,
But our sluices keep you safe.”

But Hark! Through the noisy waters
Comes a low, clear, trickling sound,
And the child’s face pales with terror
And his blossoms drop to the ground.
He is up on the bank in a moment
He sees a stream, not yet as large
As his slender, childish hand.
“It’s a leak in the dyke!

He is but a boy,
Unused to fearful scenes,
But, young as he is, he has learned to know
The dreadful thing that means.
A leak in the dyke! The strongest heart
Grows faint that cry to hear,
Turns white with mortal fear,
For he knows the smallest leak may grow
To a flood in a single night,
And he knows the strength of the cruel sea
When loosed in its angry might.

And the boy, he has seen the danger
And, shouting a wild alarm,
He forces back the weight of the sea
With the strength of his childish arm.
He listens for the joyful sound
Of a footstep passing nigh,
And lays his ear to the ground

to catch the answer to his cry;
And hears the rough wind blowing
And the waters rise and fall,
But never an answer comes to him
Save the echo of his call.

He sees no hope, no succor:
His feeble voice is lost,
Yet what shall he do but watch and wait
Though he perish at his post!
So, faintly calling and crying
Till the sun is under the sea,
Crying and moaning till the stars
Come out for company.
He thinks, of his brother and sister
Asleep in their safe warm bed:
He thinks of his father and mother,
Of himself as dying and dead.
And how when the night is over
They must come and find him at last,
But he never thinks he can leave the place
Where duty holds him fast.

The good dame in the cottage
Is up and astir with the light,
For thoughts of her little Peter
Have been with her all the night,
And now she watched the pathway
As yesterday she had done,
But what doe she see so strange and black
Against the rising sun?
Her neighbors are bearing between them
Something straight to her door,
Her child is coming home, but not
As he ever came before.

“Is he dead,” she cries, “my darling,”
And the startled father hears
And comes and looks the way she looks
And fears the thing she fears,
Till a glad shout from the bearers
Thrills the stricken man and wife,
Give thanks, for your son has saved our land
And God has saved his life.”
So, there in the morning sunshine
They knelt beside the boy
And every head was bared and bent
In tearful, reverent joy.

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