O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi"

Find the full text of the classic short story by O. Henry, "The Gift of the Magi." This is an excellent piece of literature to read with your class around Christmas. This story is a great activity for language arts classes, social studies classes, or reading groups.

The Gift of the Magi

by O. Henry

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. Andsixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and twoat a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man andthe butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silentimputationof parsimonythat such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-sevencents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on theshabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Whichinstigates the moral reflection that life is made up ofsobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsidingfrom the first stage to the second, take a look at the home.A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggardescription, but it certainly had that word on the lookoutfor the mendicancysquad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which noletter would go, and an electric button from which no mortalfinger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was acard bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."

The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during aformer period of prosperity when its possessor was beingpaid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20,though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to amodest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James DillinghamYoung 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 is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks withthe powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dullyat a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard.Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 withwhich to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every pennyshe could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars aweek doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she hadcalculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present forJim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning forsomething nice for him. Something fine and rare andsterling—something just a little bit near to being worthyof the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room.Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in arapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairlyaccurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, hadmastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood beforethe glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her facehad lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulleddown her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James DillinghamYoungs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim'sgold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's.The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived inthe flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hairhang out the window some day to dry just to depreciateHer Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been thejanitor, 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 ripplingand shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached belowher knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And thenshe did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she falteredfor a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed onthe worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brownhat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparklestill in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down thestairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. HairGoods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collectedherself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardlylooked the "Sofronie."

"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.

"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let'shave a sight at the looks of it."

Down rippled the brown cascade.

"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with apracticed hand.

"Give it to me quick," said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings.Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the storesfor Jim's present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jimand no one else. There was no other like it in any of thestores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was aplatinum fobchain simple and chaste in design, properlyproclaiming its value by substance alone and not bymeretriciousornamentation—as all good things should do. Itwas even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knewthat it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness andvalue—the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollarsthey took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properlyanxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watchwas, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of theold leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way alittle to prudence and reason. She got out her curling ironsand lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravagesmade by generosity added to love. Which is always atremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny,close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like atruant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirrorlong, carefully, and critically.

"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "beforehe takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a ConeyIsland chorus girl. But what could I do—oh! what could Ido with a dollar and eighty seven cents?"

At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan wason the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in herhand and sat on the corner of the table near the door thathe always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and sheturned white for just a moment. She had a habit for sayinglittle silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, andnow she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am stillpretty."

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. Helooked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was onlytwenty-two—and to be burdened with a family! He needed anew overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setterat the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, andthere was an expression in them that she could not read, andit terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nordisapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that shehad been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly withthat peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way.I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have livedthrough Christmas without giving you a present. It'll growout again—you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. Myhair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, andlet's be happy. You don't know what a nice—what abeautiful, nice gift I've got for you."

"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, asif he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after thehardest mental labor.

"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you likeme just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"

Jim looked about the room curiously.

"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an airalmost of idiocy.

"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, Itell you—sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Begood to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my headwere numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness,"but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I putthe chops on, Jim?"

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. Heenfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard withdiscreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the otherdirection. Eight dollars a week or a million a year—what isthe difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you thewrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that wasnot among them. This dark assertion will be illuminatedlater on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threwit upon the table.

"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. Idon't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or ashave 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 megoing a while at first."

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper.And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quickfeminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitatingthe immediate employment of all the comforting powers of thelord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side andback, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window.Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweledrims—just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair.They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart hadsimply craved and yearned over them without the least hopeof possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses thatshould have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she wasable to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hairgrows so fast, Jim!"

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat andcried, "Oh, oh!"

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held itout to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull preciousmetal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright andardent spirit.

"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to findit. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a daynow. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch andput his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents awayand keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just atpresent. I sold the watch to get the money to buy yourcombs. And now suppose you put the chops on."

The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wisemen—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. Theyinvented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise,their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing theprivilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here Ihave lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of twofoolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed foreach other the greatest treasures of their house. But in alast word to the wise of these days let it be said that ofall who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who giveand receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere theyare wisest. They are the magi.

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