The Kid Hangs up His Stockings by Jacob A. Riis
The clock in the West Side Boys' Lodging-house ticked out the
seconds of Christmas eve as slowly and methodically as if six fat
turkeys were not sizzling in the basement kitchen against the morrow's
spread, and as if two-score boys were not racking their brains to guess
what kind of pies would go with them. Out on the avenue the shopkeepers
were barring doors and windows, and shouting Merry Christmas! to one
another across the street as they hurried to get home. The drays ran
over the pavement with muffled sounds; winter had set in with a heavy
snow-storm. In the big hall the monotonous click of checkers on the
board kept step with the clock. The smothered exclamations of the boys
at some unexpected, bold stroke, and the scratching of a little
fellow's pencil on a slate, trying to figure out how long it was yet
till the big dinner, were the only sounds that broke the quiet of the
room. The superintendent dozed behind his desk.
A door at the end of the hall creaked, and a head with a shock of
weather-beaten hair was stuck cautiously through the opening.
Tom! it said in a stage-whisper. Hi, Tom! Come up an' git on ter
de lay of de Kid.
A bigger boy in a jumper, who had been lounging on two chairs by the
group of checker players, sat up and looked toward the door. Something
in the energetic toss of the head there aroused his instant curiosity,
and he started across the room. After a brief whispered conference the
door closed upon the two, and silence fell once more on the hall.
They had been gone but a little while when they came back in haste.
The big boy shut the door softly behind him and set his back against
Fellers, he said, what d'ye t'ink? I'm blamed if de Kid ain't
gone an' hung up his sock fer Chris'mas!
The checkers dropped, and the pencil ceased scratching on the slate,
in breathless suspense.
Come up an' see, said Tom, briefly, and led the way.
The whole band followed on tiptoe. At the foot of the stairs their
Yer don't make no noise, he said, with a menacing gesture. You,
Savoy!to one in a patched shirt and with a mischievous
twinkle,you don't come none o' yer monkey-shines. If you scare de
Kid you'll get it in de neck, see!
With this admonition they stole upstairs. In the last cot of the
double tier of bunks a boy much smaller than the rest slept, snugly
tucked in the blankets. A tangled curl of yellow hair strayed over his
baby face. Hitched to the bedpost was a poor, worn little stocking,
arranged with much care so that Santa Claus should have as little
trouble in filling it as possible. The edge of a hole in the knee had
been drawn together and tied with a string to prevent anything falling
out. The boys looked on in amazed silence. Even Savoy was dumb.
Little Willie, or, as he was affectionately dubbed by the boys, the
Kid, was a waif who had drifted in among them some months before.
Except that his mother was in the hospital, nothing was known about
him, which was regular and according to the rule of the house. Not as
much was known about most of its patrons; few of them knew more
themselves, or cared to remember. Santa Claus had never been anything
to them but a fake to make the colored supplements sell. The revelation
of the Kid's simple faith struck them with a kind of awe. They sneaked
Fellers, said Tom, when they were all together again in the big
room,by virtue of his length, which had given him the nickname of
Stretch, he was the speaker on all important occasions,ye seen it
yerself. Santy Claus is a-comin' to this here joint to-night. I
wouldn't 'a' believed it. I ain't never had no dealin's wid de ole guy.
He kinder forgot I was around, I guess. But de Kid says he is a-comin'
to-night, an' what de Kid says goes.
Then he looked round expectantly. Two of the boys, Gimpy and Lem,
were conferring aside in an undertone. Presently Gimpy, who limped, as
his name indicated, spoke up.
Lem says, says he
Gimpy, you chump! you'll address de chairman, interrupted Tom,
with severe dignity, or you'll get yer jaw broke, if yer leg is
Cut it out, Stretch, was Gimpy's irreverent answer. This here
ain't no regular meetin', an' we ain't goin' to have none o' yer rot.
Lem he says, says he, let's break de bank an' fill de Kid's sock. He
won't know but it wuz ole Santy done it.
A yell of approval greeted the suggestion. The chairman, bound to
exercise the functions of office in season and out of season, while
they lasted, thumped the table.
It is regular motioned an' carried, he announced, that we break
de bank fer de Kid's Chris'mas. Come on, boys!
The bank was run by the house, with the superintendent as paying
teller. He had to be consulted, particularly as it was past banking
hours; but the affair having been succinctly put before him by a
committee, of which Lem and Gimpy and Stretch were the talking members,
he readily consented to a reopening of business for a scrutiny of the
various accounts which represented the boys' earnings at selling papers
and blacking boots, minus the cost of their keep and of sundry
surreptitious flings at craps in secret corners. The inquiry
developed an available surplus of three dollars and fifty cents. Savoy
alone had no account; the run of craps had recently gone heavily
against him. But in consideration of the season, the house voted a
credit of twenty-five cents to him. The announcement was received with
cheers. There was an immediate rush for the store, which was delayed
only a few minutes by the necessity of Gimpy and Lem stopping on the
stairs to thump one another as the expression of their entire
The procession that returned to the lodging-house later on, after
wearing out the patience of several belated storekeepers, might have
been the very Santa's supply-train itself. It signalized its advent by
a variety of discordant noises, which were smothered on the stairs by
Stretch, with much personal violence, lest they wake the Kid out of
season. With boots in hand and bated breath, the midnight band stole up
to the dormitory and looked in. All was safe. The Kid was dreaming, and
smiled in his sleep. The report roused a passing suspicion that he was
faking, and Savarese was for pinching his toe to find out. As this
would inevitably result in disclosure, Savarese and his proposal were
scornfully sat upon. Gimpy supplied the popular explanation.
He's a-dreamin' that Santy Claus has come, he said, carefully
working a base-ball bat past the tender spot in the stocking.
Hully Gee! commented Shorty, balancing a drum with care on the end
of it, I'm thinkin' he ain't far out. Looks's ef de hull shop'd come
It did when it was all in place. A trumpet and a gun that had made
vain and perilous efforts to join the bat in the stocking leaned
against the bed in expectant attitudes. A picture-book with a pink
Bengal tiger and a green bear on the cover peeped over the pillow, and
the bedposts and rail were festooned with candy and marbles in bags. An
express-wagon with a high seat was stabled in the gangway. It carried a
load of fir branches that left no doubt from whose livery it hailed.
The last touch was supplied by Savoy in the shape of a monkey on a
yellow stick, that was not in the official bill of lading.
I swiped it fer de Kid, he said briefly in explanation.
When it was all done the boys turned in, but not to sleep. It was
long past midnight before the deep and regular breathing from the beds
proclaimed that the last had succumbed.
The early dawn was tinging the frosty window panes with red when
from the Kid's cot there came a shriek that roused the house with a
start of very genuine surprise.
Hello! shouted Stretch, sitting up with a jerk and rubbing his
eyes. Yes, sir! in a minute. Hello, Kid, what to
The Kid was standing barefooted in the passageway, with a base-ball
bat in one hand and a trumpet and a pair of drumsticks in the other,
viewing with shining eyes the wagon and its cargo, the gun and all the
rest. From every cot necks were stretched, and grinning faces watched
the show. In the excess of his joy the Kid let out a blast on the
trumpet that fairly shook the building. As if it were a signal, the
boys jumped out of bed and danced a breakdown about him in their
shirt-tails, even Gimpy joining in.
Holy Moses! said Stretch, looking down, if Santy Claus ain't been
here an' forgot his hull kit, I'm blamed!