American Book of Golden Deeds - James Baldwin

Tom Flynn of Virginia

Did you ever hear of Flynn—Tom Flynn of Virginia? His story is somewhat like that of William Phelps. His heroism was of the same golden quality.

It was in the early mining days in California. Flynn was there—a rough fellow far from home and friends. If there were any qualities of gentleness in his heart, he had hitherto been careful to conceal them.

One day he was at work with another miner deep down in the ground. They had reached their place of labor by passing through a narrow tunnel the roof of which was supported by wooden beams.

Suddenly a noise as of falling rocks alarmed them. They ran to the lower end of the tunnel. The beams at that place were giving way. Already the tunnel was choked up with fallen rubbish.

Nor was this the worst. One of the main beams was just ready to tumble down. They knew that if it fell, the whole roof of the tunnel would fall with it—there would be no escape for them.

They hurriedly threw their shoulders against it just as its last support was beginning to crumble beneath it. They could hold it up and thus prevent the roof from entirely caving in. But of what avail would it be to stand there while there was no hope of other help?

"I think I can hold it up a short time, Jake," said Tom Flynn. "I'll try it while you look for some piece of timber to put under it. Be quick about it, Jake, for it's growing heavier."

The man groped around in the darkness. Among all the fallen rubbish there was not a stick that could be of any use.

Tom Flynn felt the great beam slowly settling down. Other supports were giving way. His own strength was failing.

But he braced himself up manfully and shouted: "Run, Jake! Run for your life. For your wife's sake, run! Don't mind me. I think I can hold this beam till you get out."

Jake ran, stumbling and panting, toward the little point of daylight which he saw glimmering far away at the end of the tunnel. Suddenly he heard a crash behind him, he felt a rushing of air at his back. He struggled forward into the light. He turned and saw that the tunnel was no more.

And Tom Flynn of Virginia? He would have been forgotten long ago had not Bret Harte told of his heroism in a ballad which I have but repeated to you in prose.