THE GIFT OF THE
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
by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher
until one's cheeks burned with the silent
that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it.
One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be
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
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, 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
gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray 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
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
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
Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. 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
"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
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
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.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny,
close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a
schoolboy. 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, 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?"
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 for saying little silent prayer 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 stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the
scent of 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 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 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."
"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he
had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest
"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me 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 air almost of
"You needn't look for it," said Della. "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,"
she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could
ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"
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 a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon
"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 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
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And
then 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
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: "My hair grows so
And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried,
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
"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," said he, "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. And now
suppose you put the chops on."
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 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. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they
are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.