Now, the VOA Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.
We present a special Christmas story called "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry. Here is Shep O'Neal with the story.
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 burned with the
silent knowledge of being poor. 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 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.
finished her crying and dried her face. She stood by the window and looked out
unhappily at a gray cat walking along a gray fence 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.
earned 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 -- something
close to being worthy of the honor of belonging to Jim.
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. Quickly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its
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.
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 quickly she
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." Della ran up the steps to the shop,
out of breath.
you buy my hair?" asked Della.
hair," said Madame. "Take your hat off and let us have a look at it."
Down came the beautiful brown waterfall
"Twenty dollars," said Madame,
lifting the hair with an experienced hand.
"Give it to me
quick," said Della.
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 chain -- 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.
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
"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?"
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.
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 pretty."
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.
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. My hair 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-- what a beautiful, nice
gift I have for you."
cut off 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.
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 haircut that 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."
fingers quickly tore at the string and paper. There was a scream of joy; and
then, 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 combs -- 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 hair that 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.
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
"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."
of obeying, Jim fell on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head
"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.
heard the American story "The Gift of the Magi." This story was written by O. Henry and
adapted into Special English by Karen Leggett. Your storyteller was Shep
O'Neal. The producer was Lawan Davis.
I'm Shirley Griffith.