One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it in the
smallest pieces of money
pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by
negotiating with the men at the market who sold vegetables and meat. Negotiating
until one's face
with the silent knowledge of being poor. Three times
Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be
There was clearly nothing to do but sit down and cry. So Della cried. Which led
to the thought that life
is made up of
little cries and smiles, with more little
cries than smiles.
Della finished her crying and dried her face. She stood by the window and looked
out unhappily at a gray cat walking along a
in a gray back yard.
Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only one dollar and eighty-seven
cents to buy her husband Jim a gift. She had been saving every penny she could
for months, with this result.
twenty dollars a week,
which does not go far. Expenses had been
greater than she had expected. They always are.
Many a happy hour she had spent
planning to buy something nice for him. Something fine and rare
close to being
worthy of the honor of belonging
There was a tall glass mirror between the windows of the room. Suddenly Della
turned from the window and stood before the glass mirror and looked at herself.
Her eyes were shining, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds.
her hair and let it fall to its full length.
Now, Mister and Missus James Dillingham Young had two possessions which they
valued. One was Jim's gold time piece, the watch that had been his father's and
his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair.
Had the Queen of Sheba lived
in their building, Della would have let her hair
hang out the window to dry just to reduce the value of the queen's jewels.
So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her, shining like
a brown waterfall. It
reached below her knees and made itself almost like a covering for her. And then
put it up again. She stood still while
a few tears fell on the floor.
She put on her coat and her old brown hat. With a quick motion and brightness
still in her eyes, she
danced out the door and down the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: "Madame Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds."
ran up the steps to the shop,
out of breath.
"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.
"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take
your hat off and let us have a look at it."
Down came the beautiful brown waterfall of hair.
"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the hair with an experienced hand.
"Give it to me quick," said Della.
The next two hours
went by as if they
had wings. Della looked in all the stores
to choose a gift for Jim.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. It was a
simple round rings of silver. It was perfect for Jim's gold watch. As
soon as she saw it she knew that
it must be for him. It was like him. Quiet and
with great value. She gave the shopkeeper twenty-one dollars and she hurried
home with the eighty-seven cents that was left.
When Della arrived home she began to repair what was left of her hair. The hair
had been ruined by her love and her desire to give a special gift. Repairing the
damage was a very big job.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny round curls of hair that
made her look wonderfully like a schoolboy. She looked at herself in the glass
mirror long and carefully.
"If Jim does not kill me before he takes a second look at me," she said to
herself, "he'll say I look like a song girl. But what could I do–oh! what could
I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?"
At seven o'clock that night the coffee was made and the pan on the back of the
stove was hot and ready to cook the meat.
Jim was never late coming home from work. Della held the silver chain in her
hand and sat near the door. Then she heard his step and she
turned white for
just a minute. She had a way of saying
a little silent prayer about the simplest
everyday things, and now she
whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still
The door opened and Jim
stepped in. He looked thin and very serious. Poor man,
he was only twenty-two and he had to care for a wife. He needed a new coat and
gloves to keep his hands warm.
Jim stopped inside the door,
as immovable as a dog smelling a bird. His eyes
were fixed upon Della. There was an expression in them that she could not read,
and it frightened her. It was not
anger, nor surprise, nor fear, nor any of the
feelings that she had been prepared for. He simply looked at her with a strange
expression on his face. Della went to him.
"Jim, my love," she cried, "do not look at me
that way. I had my hair cut and
sold because I could not have lived through Christmas without giving you a gift.
will grow out again. I just had to do it. My hair grows very fast. Say
'Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let us be happy. You do not know what a nice
a beautiful, nice gift I have for you."
your hair?" asked Jim, slowly, as if he had not accepted the
information even after his mind worked very hard.
"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Do you not like me just as well? I am the
same person without my hair, right?
Jim looked about the room as if he were looking for something.
"You say your hair is gone?" he asked.
"You need not look for it," said Della. "It is sold, I tell you
sold and gone,
too. It is Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it was cut 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 meat on, Jim?"
Jim seemed to awaken quickly and put his arms around Della. Then he took a
package from his coat and threw it on the table.
"Do not make any mistake about me, Dell," he said. "I do not think there is any
could make me like my girl any less. But if you will open that
package you may see why
you had me frightened at first."
White fingers quickly tore at the string and paper. There was a scream of joy;
alas! a change to tears and cries, requiring the man of the house to
use all his skill to calm his wife.
For there were the
the special set of objects to hold her hair that
Della had wanted ever since she saw them in a shop window. Beautiful combs,
made of shells, with jewels
at the edge
just the color to wear in the beautiful
was no longer hers. They cost a lot of money, she knew, and her heart
had wanted them without ever hoping to have them. And now, the beautiful combs
were hers, but the hair that should have touched them was gone.
But she held the combs to herself, and soon she was able
to look up with a smile
and say, "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"
jumped up like a little burned cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful gift. She happily
held it out to him in her
open hands. The silver chain seemed so bright.
"Isn't it wonderful, Jim? I looked all over town to find it. You will 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 fell on the couch and put his hands under the back of
his head and smiled.
"Dell," said he, "let
us put our Christmas gifts away and keep them a while.
They are too nice to use just right now.
I sold my gold watch to get the money
to buy the set of combs for your hair. And now, why not put the meat on."
The magi were wise men
wonderfully wise men
who brought gifts to the Baby
Jesus. They invented the art of giving Christmas gifts.
Being wise, their gifts
were wise ones. And here I have told you the story of two young people who
most unwisely gave 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. Everywhere they are wisest.
They are the magi.