American Book of Golden Deeds - James Baldwin

Patrick McCormick's Holiday

He was as quiet a man as ever rode on a fire engine. He never had a thought of being a hero, and nobody would have picked him out as such. He had served in the fire department of Chicago for twenty years and was always the same good-natured, steady-going Patrick McCormick.

One Friday afternoon, a short time ago, it was his turn to take a half day off. He had finished his work and started homeward in a happy mood; for he had promised his children to take them for a pleasant stroll in the park. He was scarcely half a block from the engine house when he heard the sound of an alarm. He paused to listen, and the next moment an engine dashed out. As it rushed down the street, one of the men saw McCormick and called out,—

"You've missed it, Pat!"

Patrick made no answer, but his mind was full of confusion. He had his own ideas about a fireman's duty. In his twenty years of service he had never failed to be on duty at the right time.

"Think of me walking in the park while all the boys are fighting that fire! It's not Pat McCormick that'll do such a thing," he said to himself.

By this time the engine was halfway down the street, and there was no use trying to overtake it. Yet he had made up his mind to be at the fire, no matter where it was. An express wagon was going that way, and he leaped into it.

"Quick, man!" he cried. "Follow that engine. I must see what kind of fire it is."

The driver obeyed. The fire was soon reached. Flames were already bursting from the roof. Lives were in danger. There was need for quick and earnest work.

Patrick jumped from the express wagon. He took his place among the firemen and was ready for instant duty. What was the half holiday to him when such work as this was to be done?

The fire burned fiercely but was at last brought under control. The building was ruined, the walls were crumbling and ready to fall. There was a dangerous point past which it was necessary to carry the nozzle of the hose. Just beyond it the flames were still raging. Women and children were there, hemmed in by fire and smoke.

The other man at the hose hesitated. He was faint from the heat, and his heart misgave him.

"I'll take it!" cried McCormick, and he rushed forward, pulling the heavy hose after him.

Suddenly there was a cry of alarm. From the tottering wall a great quantity of loosened bricks and mortar came crashing down. Before Patrick could escape he was caught beneath the falling mass and his life was crushed out.

As soon as it was possible to do so, the firemen began to search for his body. They found it beneath a great heap of ruins, the breath quite gone from it, but his face unscarred and still bearing that quiet look which spoke the unselfishness of his heart.

"And to think that this was his holiday!" said the chief.