The Gift of the Magi
by O. Henry
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it.
When Della finished her cry, she attended to her cheeks with a powder puff. She stood by the window and looked out dully. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling-something just a bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the looking glass. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall into its full length.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair.
So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her, rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. She did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet. On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: “Mme. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting.
“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.
“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have I sight of it.”
Down rippled the brown cascade.
“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced hand. “Give it to me quick,” said Della.
Oh, the next two hours were rosy as she ransacked the stores for Jim’s present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum watch chain, simple in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. Quietness and value–the description applied to both.
Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the eighty-seven cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home, she got out her curling irons and went to work. Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a school-boy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me–but what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”
Jim was never late. Della held the watch chain in her hand. She heard his step on the stair and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit of saying little silent prayers about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please, God, make him think I am still pretty.”
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
Jim’s eyes were fixed on Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her.
“Jim darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold it because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you! I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say ‘Merry Christmas!’ Jim and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”
“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, as if he had not arrived at that fact yet.
“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, aren’t I?”
Jim looked about the room curiously.
“You say your hair is gone?”
“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you—sold and gone, I tell you. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you.”
Out of his trance Jim seemed to quickly wake. He enfolded his Della in his arms.
Jim then drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”
White fingers tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all of the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell with jeweled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful varnished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simple craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her, and at length was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”
And then Della leaped up and cried, “Oh, oh!”
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
“Dell,” he said, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em awhile. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now, suppose you put dinner on.”
The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderful wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.