|The Awakening of Europe|
|by M. B. Synge|
|Book III of the Story of the World series. Covers the reformation in Germany, the Netherlands, France, and England, as well as the settlement of colonies in America. The rise of England and the Netherlands as sea powers, and the corresponding fall of Spain, as well as the rise of Russia, Austria, and the German states are also presented. Ages 11-18 |
STORY OF THE NETHERLANDS
"God made the sea, but the Hollander made the land."
—Old Dutch Proverb.
 FAR away, in the north-west corner of Europe, lie the Netherlands, the lands which are now to play a large part in
the world's history. The Low Countries they were called by the men of old time; and with good reason too, for
many parts were actually below the level of the sea. Spongy and marshy, bleak and cold, was this corner of the
European continent in the olden days.
Winds and waves had wrought sad havoc with the coast. The rough North Sea was ever encroaching on the low-lying
land, breaking over the shores with its never-ceasing roar and tumble, and flooding the country below its level
whenever the wild west wind blew it home. Not only had the people of this country to contend with wind and
 wave, but from the other side many great rivers rolled through the land, to empty their waters into the North
Sea, overflowing their low banks and flooding the surrounding neighbourhood.
The largest of these was the Rhine. Rising amid the snowy Alps, leaping joyously over the famous falls of
Schaffhausen, flowing in majesty right through Germany, the Rhine at last reached the Netherlands. The mouth of
this famous river gave some trouble to the Hollanders. They made colossal pumps and locks, by which they lifted
the water and lowered it into the sea. There was no rest for a lazy river in these parts. The stream must be
kept moving, it must do its share of work in the country.
"As long as grass grows and water runs." This was their idea of For ever.
"I struggle but I emerge."
This was the motto of Zeeland, with the crest of a lion riding out of the waves, and it sums up the story of
the people of the Netherlands. For hundreds of years they fought the angry waters with a stubborn
determination, a patient energy, a dauntless genius,—an example to other countries.
They erected great mounds or dykes to keep out the North Sea; they dug canals to direct course of their
sluggish rivers and to keep them within bounds. And when the ocean tides were high or the winds blew long from
the west; when
 the heavy snows from the mountains melted, or the rainfall was unusually great, so that the dykes were broken
down and the waters rushed in boundless masses over their land, yet the Hollander would not give up. With
dogged perseverance he began again, so that to-day such an inundation is impossible.
"God made the sea, but we made the land," they can say to-day with pride. But even to-day these great dykes
which keep out the sea have to be watched. Every little hole has to be carefully stopped up or the sea would
rush in and devour the land once more. Every man, woman, and child in the country knows the importance of this.
A little Dutch boy was returning from school in the late afternoon, with his bag of books hanging over his
shoulder, when he thought he heard the sound of running water. He stood still and listened. Like all other
little boys in the Netherlands, he knew that the least crack in a dyke would soon let in the water, that it
would cover the land and bring ruin to the people. He ran to the mound and looked about. There he saw a small
hole, through which the water had already begun to trickle. He was some way from his home yet. Suppose he were
to run on fast and tell some one to come. It might already be too late—the water might even then be rushing
over the land. He stooped down on the cold damp ground
 and put his fat little hand into the hole where the water was running out. It was just big enough to stop up
the hole and prevent the water from escaping any more.
THE LITTLE DUTCH BOY AND THE DYKE.
His mind was made up; he must stop there till some one came to relieve him. He grew cold and hungry, but no one
passed that lonely way. The sun set, the night grew dark, and the cold winds began to blow. Still the little
boy kept his hand in the hole. Hour after hour passed away, and he grew more and more cold and frightened as
the night advanced. At last he saw little streaks of light across the sky; the dawn was coming. By-and-by the
sun rose, and the boy knew his long lonely watch must soon be over. He was right. Some workmen going early
 to work found him crouched on the ground with his little cold hand still thrust into the hole. But the large
tears were on his cheeks, and his piteous cries showed how hard he had found it to keep faithful all through
the long dark night. The boy was at once set free and the hole was mended. And so it depends on each man to
watch the dykes, though there are now bands of watchers appointed by the State for this purpose.
So these people have, as the poet says, "scooped out an empire" for themselves, and kept it by their
never-ceasing vigilance and industry.
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