Extending the idea: What is your most prized material possession? Who would you be willing to sacrifice that possession for? Why?

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. She had been scrimping and saving every penny she could for months, and this was the meager result. 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.  She finished her cry and dabbed at her cheeks with a cloth.  She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking on a gray fence in a gray backyard.  Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 to buy Jim a present. The twenty dollars a week earned by Jim didn’t go far.  Expenses had been far 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 Della felt of being Mrs. James Dillingham Young.


There was a single mirror propped between the windows of the small room. 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 pocket watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair.


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. 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 her 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: “Madame Sofronie, Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, arriving out of breath.


“Madame, 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 practiced hand. “Give it to me quick,” said Della.


Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Della was busy 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 watch chain, simple and chaste in design. It would be beautiful with his pocket 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.


When Della reached home her bliss gave way to a little prudence and reason. She took out her curling iron, and went to work repairing the damage made by generosity added to love. Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look like a young school child.


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. “Please God,” she whispered, “make him think I’m 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 the responsibility of a family.  He needed a new overcoat and he was without

                                                                                                                                               p.2

gloves. Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as an Irish setter dog at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della. 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. I just had to do it.  My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’, 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, with a peculiar expression on his face.


“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 wrapped his arms tenderly around Della. Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table. “Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. There’s isn’t anything in the way of a haircut 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. ” Her fingers 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 comforting powers of her husband.

For inside the package lay the hair combs, the set of combs that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway store window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, 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 beautiful combs were gone. She hugged them to her chest, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And then Della leaped up like a little spooked 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 flash 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 on your beautiful watch. Give it to me. 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 pork chops on.”

                                                                                                ********

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones. And here I have lamely told to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a tiny apartment 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 the wisest.  Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi!

  1. In paragraph 17, there is an example of alliteration.  What is it?
  • Extending the idea:  What is your most prized material possession?  Who would you be willing to sacrifice that possession for?  Why?  Explain your answer. 
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