The Leak in the Dike By Phoebe Cary









The Leak in the Dike

By Phoebe Cary

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

Then the good wife turned to her labor, 
Humming a simple song, 
And thought of her husband working hard
At the sluices all day long; 
And set the turf a-blazing, 
And brought the coarse black bread: 
That he might find a fire at night, 
And find the table spread.

And Peter left the brother, 
With whom all day he had played, 
And the sister who had watched their sports 
In the willow's tender shade; 
And told them they'd see him back before
They saw a star in sight, 
Though he wouldn't be afraid to go 
In the very darkest night! 
For he was a brave, bright fellow, 
With eye and conscience clear; 
He could do whatever a boy might do, 
And he had not learned to fear. 
Why, he wouldn't have robbed a bird's nest, 
Nor brought a stork to harm, 
Though never a law in Holland 
Had stood to stay his arm!

And now with his face all glowing, 
And eyes as bright as the day
With the thoughts of his pleasant errand, 
He trudged along the way; 
And soon his joyous prattle 
Made glad a lonesome place-- 
Alas! if only the blind old man 
Could have seen that happy face! 
Yet 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 winds began to rise, 
The mother looked from her door again, 
Shading her anxious eyes, 
And saw the shadows deepen 
And birds to their home 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-- 
Though 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 dike while the sun was up
An hour above the sea. 
He was stopping now to gather flowers, 
Now listening to the sound, 
As the angry waters dashed themselves 
Against their narrow bound. 
"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're 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 noise of 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 the bank in a moment, 
And, stealing through the sand, 
He sees a stream not yet so large 
As his slender, childish hand.

'Tis a leak in the dike!--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 dike! The stoutest heart
Grows faint that cry to hear, 
And the bravest man in all the land 
Turns white with mortal fear. 
For he knows the smallest leak may grow 
To 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 single arm! 
He listens for the joyful sound 
Of a footstep passing nigh; 
And he lays his ear to the ground, to catch 
The answers to his cry. 
And he hears the rough winds 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 in 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 of 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 hold him fast.

The good dame in the cottage 
Is up and astir with the light, 
For the thought of her little Peter 
Has been with her all night. 
And now she watches the pathway, 
As yester-eve she had done; 
But what does 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!

"He is 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 about the boy; 
And every head was bared and bent 
In tearful, reverent joy.

'Tis many a year since then; but still, 
When the sea roars like a flood, 
The boys are taught what a boy can do 
Who is brave and true and good; 
For every man in that country 
Takes his son by the hand 
And tells him of little Peter, 
Whose courage saved the land.

They have many a valiant hero, 
Remembered through the years; 
But never one whose name so oft
Is named with loving tears. 
And his deed shall be sung by the cradle, 
And told to the child on the knee, 
So long as the dikes of Holland 
Divide the land from the sea!