The Gift of the Magi
By O. Henry
NARRATOR. One dollar, eighty-seven cents. That was all. And
sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one
and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the
vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks
burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that
such close dealing implied. 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. Which instigates the moral reflection
that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles,
with sniffles predominating. While the mistress of
the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage
to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished
flat at eight dollars per week. It did not exactly
beggar description, but it certainly had that word on
the lookout for the mendicancy squad. In the vestibule
below was a letter-box into which no letter would go,
and an electric button from which no mortal finger
could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a
card bearing the name:
JIM. Mr. James Dillingham Young.
NARRATOR. The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during
a former period of prosperity when its possessor was
being paid thirty dollars per week. Now, when the
income was shrunk to twenty dollars, though, they were
thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and
unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young
came home and reached his flat above he was called
“Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham
Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which was
all very good. Della finished her cry and attended to
her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the
window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a
gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be
Christmas Day, and she had only a dollar eighty-seven
with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving
every penny she could for months, with this result.
Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had
been greater than she had calculated. They always are.
Only a dollar eighty-seven 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 little bit near to being
worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim. There was
a pier glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps
you’ve seen a pier glass in an eight dollar flat. A
very thin and very agile person may, by observing his
reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips,
obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks.
Della, being slender, had mastered the art. Suddenly
she whirled from the window and stood before the
glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face
had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she
pulled down her hair and let it fall to 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 his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s
hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across
the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out
the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her
Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the
janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the
basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every
time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard
from envy. So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about
her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown
waters. It reached below her knee and made itself
almost a garment for her. And then 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:
SOFRONIE. “Madame Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.”
NARRATOR. One flight up Della ran, and collected herself,
DELLA. Will you buy my hair?
SOFRONIE. I buy hair,
SOFRONIE. Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks
NARRATOR. Down rippled the brown cascade.
SOFRONIE. Twenty dollars,
NARRATOR. Said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced
DELLA. Give it to me quick,
NARRATOR. Said Della. Oh, and the next two hours tripped by
on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was
ransacking 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 fob chain simple and chaste in design,
properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and
not by meretricious ornamentation— as all good things
should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon
as she saw it she knew it must be Jim’s. It was like
him. Quietness and value— the description applied to
them both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for
it, and she hurried home with the 87 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 that he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a
little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling
irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing
the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which
is always a tremendous task, dear friends— a mammoth
task. Within forty minutes her head was covered with
tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully
like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection
in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
DELLA. If Jim doesn’t kill me, before he takes a second look
at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus
girl. But what could I do—oh! What could I do with a
dollar and eighty-seven cents?
NARRATOR. At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-
pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook
the chops. Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob
chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table
near the door that he always entered. Then she heard
his step on the stair away down on the first flight,
and she turned white for just a moment. She had a
habit of saying a little silent prayer about the
simplest everyday things, and now she whispered:
DELLA. Please God, make him think I am still pretty.
NARRATOR. The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it.
He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow. He
needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves. Jim
stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at
the scent of a quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della,
and there was an expression in them that she could
not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor
surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the
sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply
stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression
on his face. Della wriggled off the table and went
DELLA. Jim, darling! Don’t look at me that way. I had my hair
cut off and sold 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 nice—
what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.
JIM. You’ve cut off your hair?
DELLA. Cut it off and sold it. Don’t you like me just as
well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?
NARRATOR. Jim looked about the room curiously.
JIM. You say your hair is gone?
NARRATOR. He said, with an air almost of idiocy.
DELLA. You needn’t look for it. It’s sold, I tell you— sold
and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to
me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head
were numbered, but nobody could ever count my love
for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?
NARRATOR. Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He
enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with
discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the
other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a
year— what is the difference? A mathematician or a
wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought
valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark
assertion will be illuminated later on. Jim drew the
package from his overcoat pocket and threw it on the
JIM. Don’t make any mistake about me, Dell. I don’t think
there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave
or a 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.
NARRATOR. Trembling fingers yet nimble tore at the string
and paper. An ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas!
a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails,
necessitating the immediate employment of all 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 vanished
hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her
heart had simply 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
bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim
eyes and a smile and say:
DELLA. My hair grows so fast, Jim!
NARRATOR. And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat
DELLA. Oh, oh!
NARRATOR. 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.
DELLA. 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.
NARRATOR. Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch
and put his hands under the back of his head and
JIM. Dell, let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep
’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present.
I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs.
NARRATOR. The magi, as you know, were wise men— wonderfully
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 lovers 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.