The Gift of the Magi

18 Dec

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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 left 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 look-out 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 gray cat walking
a gray fence in a gray backyard. To-morrow 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 Bat. 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 of 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
cluttered out of the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mme. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All
Kinds.” One Eight 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 78 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.

“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

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 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 with out

Jim stepped 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 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
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 mental

“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 idiocy.

“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 a
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. I his dark assertion will be illuminated later

Jim 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 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.”

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 the flat.

For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that
Della had worshipped for long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs,
pure tortoise-shell, with jewelled 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 fast,

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat 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 {lash
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,” 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

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. Of all who give and receive
gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are
the magi.

The End

1 Comment

Posted by on December 18, 2006 in Art, Christmas, Climate change, Inspirational, People, Women


Tags: , , , ,

One response to “The Gift of the Magi

  1. truly.equal

    December 23, 2006 at 11:32 am

    Of course, the tradition of “The Magi” better known as the Three Kings or “Los Tres Reyes Magos” in Spanish, continues today. For instance, I know they don’t do the following tradition in Central America, but we do it in Puerto Rico.

    The day before, we go outside and collect grass in a shoebox or anytype of box, and leave it besides the Christmas tree, or besides our beds, along with some water… that’s for the camels! The story goes the camels are so tired, the 3 Kings leave gifts to the kids that are kind enough to give the camels some food and water.

    It’s actually kind of cute, though since Santa Claus is first, the holiday is a bit forgotten.. but it still is an official holiday.


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