THE GIFT OF THE MAGI by O. Henry(read online)


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

masteredthe art.

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

looked the“Sofronie.”

“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

for Jim’spresent.

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

hardestmental labor.

“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

almost ofidiocy.

“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

later on.

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

cried,“Oh, oh!”

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.

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