THE GIFT OF THE MAGI by O. Henry(read online)
THE GIFT OFTHE MAGI
by O. Henry
One dollarand eighty-seven cents. That was all. And
sixty centsof it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two
at a timeby bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and
the butcheruntil one’s cheeks burned with the silent
imputationof parsimony that such close dealing implied.
Three timesDella counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven
cents. Andthe next day would be Christmas.
There wasclearly nothing to do but flop down on the
shabbylittle couch and howl. So Della did it. Which
instigatesthe moral reflection that life is made up of
sobs,sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While themistress of the home is gradually subsiding
from thefirst stage to the second, take a look at the home.
A furnishedflat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar
description,but it certainly had that word on the lookout
for themendicancy squad.
In thevestibule below was a letter-box into which no
letterwould go, and an electric button from which no mortal
fingercould coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a
cardbearing the name “Mr. JamesDillingham Young.”
The“Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a
formerperiod of prosperity when its possessor was being
paid $30per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20,
though,they were thinking seriously of contracting to a
modest andunassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham
Young camehome and reached his flat above he was called
“Jim”and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young,
alreadyintroduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Dellafinished her cry and attended to her cheeks with
the powderrag. She stood by the window and looked out dully
at a graycat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard.
Tomorrowwould be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with
which tobuy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny
she couldfor months, with this result. Twentydollars a
weekdoesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had
calculated.They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for
Jim. HerJim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for
somethingnice for him. Something fine and rare and
sterling–somethingjust a little bit near to being worthy
of thehonor of being owned by Jim.
There was apier-glass between the windows of the room.
Perhaps youhave seen a pierglass in an $8 flat. A very thin
and veryagile person may, by observing his reflection in a
rapidsequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly
accurateconception of his looks. Della, beingslender, had
Suddenlyshe whirled from the window and stood before
theglass. her eyes were shiningbrilliantly, but her face
had lostits color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled
down her hairand let it fall to its full length.
Now, therewere two possessions of the James Dillingham
Youngs inwhich they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s
gold watchthat had been his father’s and his grandfather’s.
The otherwas Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in
the flatacross the airshaft, Della would have let her hair
hang outthe window some day to dry just to depreciate Her
Majesty’sjewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the
janitor,with all his treasures piled up in the basement,
Jim wouldhave pulled out his watch every time he passed,
just to seehim pluck at his beard from envy.
So nowDella’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling
and shininglike a cascade of brown waters. It reached below
her kneeand made itself almost a garment for her. And then
she did itup again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered
for aminute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on
the wornred carpet.
On went herold brown jacket; on went her old brown
hat. With awhirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle
still inher eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the
stairs tothe street.
Where shestopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair
Goods ofAll Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected
herself,panting. Madame, large, too white,chilly, hardly
“Willyou buy my hair?” asked Della.
“I buyhair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s
have asight at the looks of it.”
Downrippled the brown cascade.
“Twentydollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a
“Giveit to me quick,” said Della.
Oh, and thenext two hours tripped by on rosy wings.
Forget thehashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores
She foundit at last. It surely had been made for Jim
and no oneelse. There was no other like it in any of the
stores, andshe had turned all of them inside out. It was a
platinumfob chain simple and chaste in design, properly
proclaimingits value by substance alone and not by
meretriciousornamentation–as all good things should do. It
was evenworthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew
that itmust be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and
value–thedescription applied to both. Twenty-one dollars
they tookfrom her for it, and she hurried home with the 87
cents. Withthat chain on his watch Jim might be properly
anxiousabout the time in any company. Grand asthe watch
was, hesometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the
old leatherstrap that he used in place of a chain.
When Dellareached home her intoxication gave way a
little toprudence and reason. She got out her curling irons
and lightedthe gas and went to work repairing the ravages
made bygenerosity added to love. Which is always a
tremendoustask, dear friends–a mammoth task.
Withinforty minutes her head was covered with tiny,
close-lyingcurls that made her look wonderfully like a
truantschoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror
long,carefully, and critically.
“IfJim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before
he takes asecond look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney
Islandchorus girl. But what could I do–oh!what could I
do with adollar and eighty-seven cents?”
At 7o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was
on the backof the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim wasnever late. Della doubled the fob chain in her
hand andsat on the corner of the table near the door that
he alwaysentered. Then she heard his step on thestair
away downon the first flight, and she turned white for
just amoment. She had a habit of saying a little silent
prayerabout the simplest everyday things, and now she
whispered:“Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”
The dooropened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He
looked thinand very serious. Poor fellow, he was only
twenty-two–andto be burdened with a family! He needed a
newovercoat and he was without gloves.
Jim stoppedinside the door, as immovable as a setter
at thescent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and
there wasan expression in them that she could not read, and
itterrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor
disapproval,nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she
had beenprepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with
thatpeculiar expression on his face.
Dellawriggled off the table and went for him.
“Jim,darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way.
I had myhair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived
throughChristmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow
out again–youwon’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My
hair growsawfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and
let’s behappy. You don’t know what a nice–what a
beautiful,nice gift I’ve got for you.”
“You’vecut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as
if he hadnot arrived at that patent fact yet even after the
“Cutit off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like
me just aswell, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”
Jim lookedabout the room curiously.
“Yousay your hair is gone?” he said, with an air
“Youneedn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I
tellyou–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be
good to me,for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head
werenumbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness,
“butnobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put
the chopson, Jim?”
Out of histrance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He
enfoldedhis Della. For ten seconds let us regardwith
discreetscrutiny some inconsequential object in the other
direction.Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is
thedifference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the
wronganswer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was
not amongthem. This dark assertion will be illuminated
Jim drew apackage from his overcoat pocket and threw
it upon thetable.
“Don’tmake any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I
don’t thinkthere’s anything in the way of a haircut or a
shave or ashampoo that could make me like my girl any less.
But ifyou’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me
going awhile at first.”
Whitefingers and nimble tore at the string and paper.
And then anecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick
femininechange to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating
theimmediate employment of all the comforting powers of the
lord of theflat.
For therelay The Combs–the set of combs, side and
back, thatDella had worshipped long in a Broadway window.
Beautifulcombs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled
rims–justthe shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair.
They wereexpensive combs, she knew, and her heart had
simplycraved and yearned over them without the least hope
ofpossession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that
should haveadorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But shehugged them to her bosom, and at length she was
able tolook up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair
grows sofast, Jim!”
And thenDella leaped up like a little singed cat and
Jim had notyet seen his beautiful present. She held it
out to himeagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious
metalseemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and
“Isn’tit a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find
it. You’llhave to look at the time a hundred times a day
now. Giveme your watch. I want to see how itlooks on it.”
Instead ofobeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and
put hishands under the back of his head and smiled.
“Dell,”said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away
and keep’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at
present. Isold the watch to get the money to buy your
combs. Andnow suppose you put the chops on.”
The magi,as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise
men–whobrought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They
inventedthe art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise,
their giftswere no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the
privilegeof exchange in case of duplication. And here I
have lamelyrelated to you the uneventful chronicle of two
foolishchildren in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for
each otherthe greatest treasures of their house. But in a
last wordto the wise of these days let it be said that of
all whogive gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give
and receivegifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they
are wisest. They are the magi.