The Little Boy and the Big Sea
A traditional tale from the Netherlands
In a town by the North Sea lived Niels, a little boy who wanted to do a big job.
Niels said to Father, "Can I work in the mill with you today?"
"No," said Father. "You are too small to work in the mill."
Niels said to his brother Simon, "Can I work in the tulip field with you today?"
"No," said Simon. “You are too small for field work."
Generations ago people of the Netherlands put up dikes, long walls, and drained the land inside. They used the good soil for growing food and tulips. So Niels walked by himself down by the dike.
As Niels ran his hand along the thick wall that held out the sea, he found a wet place. Looking up he spotted a tiny hole in the dike and a thin trickle of water coming through.
Niels tried to put mud in the hole to plug it, but the sea washed it away at once. What was the right size for the little hole? As he touched the wet place on the wall with his hand, he saw the answer. Standing on his tiptoes, he reached up and put his finger in the hole.
The water stopped.
He could feel the sea on the other side. He thought, “If I take my finger out the sea will come rushing in.”
The sun set and the evening came. The mill stopped grinding and the cowbells jingled as they headed to the barn. Niels' arm was very tired, and his legs ached from standing on tiptoe, but he would not take his finger out of the dike.
Finally, he heard Simon and Father calling him.
"Niels!" called Father. "We were looking all over for you."
Simon said, "Look at Niels! He plugged the dike and held back the sea!"
Quickly Father brought sand and cement. He prepared the mixture and the minute Niels took his finger out of the dike, his father filled the hole. The town was safe!
Father carried Niels home on his back, and Simon led the way shouting what Niels had done. The town council met that night and made a decision.
"It is hereby decreed that from today on the Official Inspector of Dikes is Niels!"
Niels would not work in the mill or the fields. He had his own very big job.