HETHERINGTON wasn't half a
bad sort of a fellow, but he had his peculiarities, most of which
were the natural defects of a lack of imagination. He didn't
believe in ghosts, or Santa Claus, or any of the thousands of other
things that he hadn't seen with his own eyes, and as he walked home
that rather chilly afternoon just before Christmas and found nearly
every corner of the highway decorated with bogus Saints, wearing
the shoddy regalia of Kris-Kringle, the sight made him a trifle
irritable. He had had a fairly good luncheon that day, one indeed
that ought to have mellowed his disposition materially, but which
somehow or other had not so resulted. In fact, Hetherington was in
a state of raspy petulance that boded ill for his digestion, and
when he had reached the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth
Avenue, the constant iteration and reiteration of these shivering
figures of the god of the Yule had got on his nerves to such an
extent as to make him aggressively quarrelsome. He had controlled
the asperities of his soul tolerably well on the way uptown, but
the remark of a small child on the highway, made to a hurrying
mother, as they passed a stalwart-looking replica of the idol of
his Christmas dreams, banging away on a tambourine to attract
attention to the iron pot before him, placed there to catch the
pennies of the charitably inclined wayfarer—"Oh, mar, there's Sandy
Claus now!"—was too much for him.
"Tush! Nonsense!" ejaculated
Hetherington, glowering at the shivering figure in the turkey-red
robe. "The idea of filling children's minds up with such
balderdash! Santa Claus, indeed! There isn't a genuine Santa Claus
in the whole bogus bunch."
The Saint on the corner banged
his tambourine just under Hetherington's ear with just enough force
to jar loose the accumulated irascibility of the well-fed
"This is a fine job for an
able-bodied man like you!" said Hetherington with a sneer. "Why
don't you go to work instead of helping to perpetuate this annual
The Saint looked at him for a
moment before replying.
"Speakin' to me?" he said.
"Yes. I'm speaking to you," said
Hetherington. "Here's the whole country perishing for the lack of
labor, and in spite of that fact this town has broken out into a
veritable rash of fake Santa Clauses—"
"That'll do for you!" retorted
Santa Claus. "It's easy enough for a feller with a stomach full o'
victuals and plenty of warm clothes on his back to jump on a
hard-workin' feller like me—"
Hetherington. "I like that! You don't call loafing on a street
corner this way all day long hard work, do you?"
He rather liked the man's spirit,
despite his objection to his occupation.
"Suppose you try it once and find
out," retorted Santa Claus, blowing on his bluish fingers in an
effort to restore their clogged-up circulation. "I guess if you
tried a job like this just once, standin' out in the cold from
eight in the mornin' to ten at night, with nothin' but a cup o'
coffee and a ham-sandwich inside o' you—"
"What's that?" cried
Hetherington, aghast. "Is that all you've had to eat to-day?"
"That's all," said the Saint, as
he turned to his work with the tambourine. "Try it once, mister,
and maybe you won't feel so cock-sure about its not bein' work. If
you're half the sport you think you are just take my place for a
couple of hours."
An appeal to his sporting
instinct was never lost on Hetherington.
"By George!" he cried. "I'll go
you. I'll swap coats with you, and while you're filling your
stomach up I'll take your place, all right."
"What'll I fill me stomach up
with?" demanded the man. "I don't look like a feller with a
meal-ticket in his pocket, do I?"
"I'll take care of that," said
Hetherington, taking out a roll of bills and peeling off a
two-dollar note from the outside. "There—you take that and blow
yourself, and I'll take care of the kitty here till you come
The exchange of externals was not
long in accomplishment. The gathering of the shadows of night made
it a comparatively easy matter to arrange behind a conveniently
stalled and heavily laden express wagon hard by, and in a few
moments the irascible but still "sporty" Hetherington, who from
childhood up to the present had never been able to take a dare,
found himself banging away on a tambourine and incidentally
shivering in the poor red habiliments of a fraudulent Saint. For a
half-hour the novelty of his position gave him a certain thrill,
and no Santa Claus in town that night fulfilled his duties more
vociferously than did Hetherington; but as time passed on, and the
chill of a windy corner began to penetrate his bones, to say
nothing of the frosty condition of his ears, which his false cotton
whiskers but indifferently protected, he began to tire of his
"Gosh!" he muttered to himself,
as it began to snow, and certain passing truckmen hurled the same
kind of guying comments at him as had been more or less in his mind
whenever he had passed a fellow-Santa-Claus on his way up-town, "if
General Sherman were here he'd find a twin-brother to War! I wish
that cuss would come back."
He gazed eagerly up and down the
street in the hope that the departed original would heave in sight,
but in vain. A two-dollar meal evidently possessed attractions that
he wished to linger over.
"Can't stand this much longer!"
he muttered to himself, and then his eye caught sight of a group
that filled his soul with dismay: two policemen and the struggling
figure of one who appeared to have looked not wisely but too well
upon the cup that cheers, the latter wearing Hetherington's
overcoat and Hetherington's hat, but whose knees worked upon hinges
of their own, double-back-action hinges that made his legs of no
use whatsoever, either to himself or to anybody else.
"Hi there!" Hetherington cried
out, as the group passed up the street on the way to the
station-house. "That fellow's got my overcoat—"
But the only reply Hetherington
got was a sturdy poke in the ribs from the night-stick of the
"Well, I'll be jiggered!" growled
Ten minutes later a passing taxi
was hailed by a shivering gentleman carrying an iron pot full of
pennies and nickels and an occasional quarter in one hand, and a
turkey-red coat, trimmed with white cotton cloth, thrown over his
arm. Strange to say, considering the inclemency of the night, he
wore neither a hat nor an overcoat.
"Where to, sir?" queried the
"The police-station," said
Hetherington. "I don't know where it is, but the one in this
precinct is the one I want."
"Ye'll have to pay by the hour
to-night, sir," said the chauffeur. "The station ain't a half-mile
away, sir, but Heaven knows how long it'll take us to get
"Charge what you please,"
retorted Hetherington. "I'll buy your darned old machine if it's
necessary, only get a move on."
The chauffeur, with some
misgivings as to the mental integrity of his fare, started on their
perilous journey, and three-quarters of an hour later drew up in
front of the police-station, where Hetherington, having been
compelled in self-defense to resume the habiliments of Santa Claus
under penalty of freezing, alighted.
"Just wait, will you?" he said,
as he alighted from the cab.
"I'll go in with you," said the
chauffeur, acting with due caution. He had begun to fear that there
was a fair chance of his having trouble getting his fare out of a
very evident lunatic.
Utterly forgetful of his
appearance in his festal array, Hetherington bustled into the
station, and shortly found himself standing before the sergeant
behind the desk.
"Well, Santa Claus," said the
official, with an amused glance at the intruder, "what can I do for
you to-night? There ain't many rooms with a bath left."
Hetherington flushed. He had
intended to greet the sergeant with his most imposing manner, but
this turkey-red abomination on his back had thrust dignity out in
"I have come, officer," he said,
as impressively as he could under the circumstances, "to make some
inquiries concerning a man who was brought here about an hour ago—I
fear in a state of intoxication."
"We have known such things to
happen here, Santa," said the officer, suavely. "In fact, this
blotter here seems to indicate that one George W. Hetherington, of
561 Fifth Avenue—"
"Who?" roared Hetherington.
"George W. Hetherington is the
name on the blotter," said the sergeant; "entered first as a D. D.,
but on investigation found to be suffering from—"
"But that's my name!" cried
Hetherington. "You don't mean to tell me he claimed to be George W.
"No," said the sergeant. "The
poor devil didn't make any claims for himself at all. We found that
name on a card in his hat, and a letter addressed to the same name
in his overcoat pocket. Puttin' the two together we thought it was
a good enough identification."
"Well, I'll have you to
understand, sergeant—" bristled Hetherington, cockily.
"None o' that, Santa Claus—none
o' that!" growled the sergeant, leaning over the desk and eying him
coldly. "I don't know what game you're up to, but just one more
peep in that tone and there'll be two George W. Hetheringtons in
the cooler this night."
Hetherington almost tore the
Santa Claus garb from his shoulders, and revealed himself as a
personage of fine raiment underneath, whatever he might have
appeared at a superficial glance. As he did so a crumpled piece of
paper fell to the floor from the pocket of the turkey-red
"I don't mean to do anything but
what is right, sergeant," he said, controlling his wrath, "but what
I do want is to impress it upon your mind that I am George W.
Hetherington, and that having my name spread on the blotter of a
police court isn't going to do me any good. I loaned that fellow my
hat and coat to get a square meal, while I took his place—"
The officer grinned broadly, but
with no assurance in his smile that he believed.
"Oh, you may not believe it,"
said Hetherington, "but it's true, and if this thing gets into the
papers to-morrow morning—"