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The Gift of the Magi
enotes ^ | available now | O Henry

Posted on 12/11/2010 10:27:08 AM PST by ex-snook

The Gift of the Magi

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 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 $8 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 “Mr. James Dillingham Young.” The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, the letters of “Dillingham” looked blurred, as 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 is 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 grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 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 $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 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 have seen a pier-glass in an $8 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.

==== cont'd

TOPICS: Books/Literature; Miscellaneous; Society
KEYWORDS: christmas; epiphany; gift; giving; love
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: “Mme. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade. “Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised 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 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 that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value—the description applied to 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.

=========== conclusion

1 posted on 12/11/2010 10:27:12 AM PST by ex-snook
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To: ex-snook

I actually have a full set of leather bound O’Henry’s. Nice short beadtime reads.

2 posted on 12/11/2010 10:38:49 AM PST by marsh2
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To: ex-snook

I love that story it reminds me of the, Prayer of St Francis of Assisi, acted out.

3 posted on 12/11/2010 10:40:11 AM PST by dog breath
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To: ex-snook

The Gift of the Magi; revised standard version.

A wife longed for a new gold necklace. But the family was poor, and her husband was a spendthrift, nice enough but not willing to spend their critical resources on extravagances.

So the cunning woman hatched a plot. Christmas is coming, she told her husband, and I have thought of the perfect gift for you, one that won’t require me to take cash from our limited coffers.

Every day she’d smile and wink and do those wily things a woman can do, which can drive a man mad. Her husband could tell that this was a great gift he was to receive. But that scared him — because he realized he had to reciprocate.

So the husband thought, my wife has lovely hair. What she needs is a clip to hold it tight, but not any clip, but an ornate one worthy of the gift she was clearly working to give to him.

Distraught as to how to get this creat gift, he came up with a plan, one of great personal sacrifice, but which would be nothing compared to the joy his wife would experience. So he went to the local pawn shop, and sold off his prized pocket watch. And with the money, purchased the hair clip for his wife.

Christmas came, and he eagerly awaited his wife’s wakening. But when she came down, he was shocked to see that, when she had removed her bonnet, her fine hair was cut short — so short a hair clip would be useless. And when she opened his present, he could see her dissappointment, and then she cried.

“What is wrong, my dear? what happened to your hair?” So she explained, in sobs and fits, how she had sold her hair for his gift. And he opened the gift, to find a find gold chain for his pocket watch — a watch he no longer had.

But he could not bear to hurt his wife further by explaining why his watch was gone. Instead, he accepted her gift graciously. However, a few days later, he came to her with in fake horror — “Dear, this past day I put my watch down, only for a minute, and some horrible child has stolen it. I am only thankful that I had the foresite to have detached the chain”.

She cried, a horrible cry of tears and sorrow. So he gave her the necklace “Look dear, all is not lost — this gold chain you gave me makes a beautiful necklace for you, and when I get some money, I’ll by a locket to complete it”.

A few months later, the wife’s hair had grown back, just as she had planned — and she was proud to walk about town, with her fine new gold necklace, and a lovely hair clip beside.

4 posted on 12/11/2010 10:11:27 PM PST by CharlesWayneCT
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To: CharlesWayneCT

Hey I prefer the Christmas version of giving rather than the version of gimmme! Hopefully those days are not gone forever. In any event as Tiny Tim said ‘God Bless us, everyone’. Regards,

5 posted on 12/12/2010 8:41:00 AM PST by ex-snook ("Above all things, truth beareth away the victory")
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