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Hans Brinker - the boy with his finger in the dyke

Hans Brinker - the boy with his finger in the dyke. An adaptation of the well-known story of a boy protecting his community by stopping a leaking dyke with his finger.

Adapted by Kate Stonham

The tall grasses rustle in the salty breeze on top of a great sand dune. To one side, blue sea reaches to the far horizon. On the other side lie fields and woods, farms and villages.

This is my homeland – the Netherlands. The land is flat as far as the eye can see – the sand bank all that is stopping the sea from flooding it. But one night long ago, when I was a small boy, the only thing stopping the flooding – was me.

It was late afternoon as I set off from home to stay the night with my grandmother. I was walking beside the tall wooden dyke that protected the land from the sea in those days, when I heard something unusual...

I looked up – and saw a trickle of water dripping down the wooden wall. It could only mean one thing – there was a hole in the dyke.

Everyone in the Netherlands understood the dangers of a leaking dyke. Even if the hole was tiny, it could become bigger and bigger until the force of the sea would break through and flood the land beyond.

I pushed a large rock against the dyke to stand on and looked around for the hole. There! I raised my hand and stuck my middle finger in as far as it would go.

It had worked! The trickle had stopped. All I had to do now was wait until help arrived.

I shivered – as minutes turned into an hour. It was getting dark - no-one was likely to be coming this way now until morning. But I clenched my fist as I turned to look at the twinkling lights appearing in the farms and villages. The lives of thousands depended on me, even if they didn't know it. I was determined not to fail them.

It wasn’t going to be easy though. The damp cold was seeping into my body like a shadow. Already, every muscle ached...

‘I can’t keep going all through the night!’ I cried out loud.

‘Yes you can!’ replied a voice. The kind and gentle voice of a young girl.

I looked around but no-one was there. The twinkling lights had gone out as people retired to their beds – all except one.

As I fixed my gaze on it, a picture began to form in my mind of a young girl, standing at a window with an oil lamp.

‘Hans? Can you hear me?’ came the voice again.

‘I don’t know if you’re real or I'm just imagining you, but, yes, I can hear you!’ I cried out.

‘Do you see the light from my lamp, Hans?’ asked the voice. ‘When you feel your strength failing – look at the light. Know that I am with you and you're not alone.’

‘I’ll try,’ I whispered.

Many times that long terrible night I came close to collapse. And each time, I raised my heavy head and looked out for the light. I thought of the girl, and how I must save her and her family. Small and faint though it was, the light stayed with me – until the first rays of dawn began to creep over the eastern horizon.

Footsteps approached - a young lad on his way to milk cows. He took one look at me and rushed to get help.

As I was carried away, I looked over to where the twinkling light had been. I expected to see a house or farm – but there was nothing but empty fields.

These days, the old dykes have been replaced by sand dunes, and the dangers of flooding are a thing of the past. I will never know if the young girl was real, or just a figment of my imagination - but somehow it doesn’t matter. She helped me when I had never felt so alone and desperate. For that I will be eternally grateful.

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4 minutes

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