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 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 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, 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 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 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 fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
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 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 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 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 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 mental labor.
“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 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 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 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, Jim!”
And them 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 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. 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.
“Print is dead,” I said as my family entered the book store. It was a stupid thing to say, I admit, and probably rude. I’ve never said “God is dead” while walking into a church. It’s just that the first thing I noticed was a bunch of people staring at their phones. Staring at their […]
All thanks to Alaric7 at Tumblr for posting this very handy list of links to free e-books!
Browse works by Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad and other famous authors here.
- Classic Bookshelf: This site has put classic novels online, from Charles Dickens to Charlotte Bronte.
- The Online Books Page: The University of Pennsylvania hosts this book search and database.
- Project Gutenberg: This famous site has over 27,000 free books online.
- Page by Page Books: Find books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells, as well as speeches from George W. Bush on this site.
- Classic Book Library: Genres here include historical fiction, history, science fiction, mystery, romance and children’s literature, but they’re all classics.
- Classic Reader: Here you can read Shakespeare, young adult fiction and more.
- Read Print: From George Orwell to Alexandre Dumas to George Eliot to Charles Darwin, this online library is stocked with the best classics.
- Planet eBook: Download free classic literature titles here, from Dostoevsky to D.H. Lawrence to Joseph Conrad.
- The Spectator Project: Montclair State University’s project features full-text, online versions of The Spectator and The Tatler.
- Bibliomania: This site has more than 2,000 classic texts, plus study guides and reference books.
- Online Library of Literature: Find full and unabridged texts of classic literature, including the Bronte sisters, Mark Twain and more.
- Bartleby: Bartleby has much more than just the classics, but its collection of anthologies and other important novels made it famous.
- Fiction.us: Fiction.us has a huge selection of novels, including works by Lewis Carroll, Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson, Flaubert, George Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others.
- Free Classic Literature: Find British authors like Shakespeare and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, plus other authors like Jules Verne, Mark Twain, and more.
If you don’t absolutely need to pay for your textbooks, save yourself a few hundred dollars by reviewing these sites.
- Textbook Revolution: Find biology, business, engineering, mathematics and world history textbooks here.
- Wikibooks: From cookbooks to the computing department, find instructional and educational materials here.
- KnowThis Free Online Textbooks: Get directed to stats textbooks and more.
- Online Medical Textbooks: Find books about plastic surgery, anatomy and more here.
- Online Science and Math Textbooks: Access biochemistry, chemistry, aeronautics, medical manuals and other textbooks here.
- MIT Open Courseware Supplemental Resources: Find free videos, textbooks and more on the subjects of mechanical engineering, mathematics, chemistry and more.
- Flat World Knowledge: This innovative site has created an open college textbooks platform that will launch in January 2009.
- Free Business Textbooks: Find free books to go along with accounting, economics and other business classes.
- Light and Matter: Here you can access open source physics textbooks.
- eMedicine: This project from WebMD is continuously updated and has articles and references on surgery, pediatrics and more.
Math and Science
Turn to this list to find books about math, science, engineering and technology.
- FullBooks.com: This site has “thousands of full-text free books,” including a large amount of scientific essays and books.
- Free online textbooks, lecture notes, tutorials and videos on mathematics: NYU links to several free resources for math students.
- Online Mathematics Texts: Here you can find online textbooks likeElementary Linear Algebra and Complex Variables.
- Science and Engineering Books for free download: These books range in topics from nanotechnology to compressible flow.
- FreeScience.info: Find over 1800 math, engineering and science books here.
- Free Tech Books: Computer programmers and computer science enthusiasts can find helpful books here.
Even children’s books are now available online. Find illustrated books, chapter books and more.
- byGosh: Find free illustrated children’s books and stories here.
- Munseys: Munseys has nearly 2,000 children’s titles, plus books about religion, biographies and more.
- International Children’s Digital Library: Find award-winning books and search by categories like age group, make believe books, true books or picture books.
- Lookybook: Access children’s picture books here.
Philosophy and Religion
For books about philosophy and religion, check out these websites.
- Bored.com: Bored.com has music ebooks, cooking ebooks, and over 150 philosophy titles and over 1,000 religion titles.
- Ideology.us: Here you’ll find works by Rene Descartes, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, David Hume and others.
- Free Books on Yoga, Religion and Philosophy: Recent uploads to this site include Practical Lessons in Yoga and Philosophy of Dreams.
- The Sociology of Religion: Read this book by Max Weber, here.
- Religion eBooks: Read books about the Bible, Christian books, and more.
From Shakespeare to George Bernard Shaw to more contemporary playwrights, visit these sites.
- ReadBookOnline.net: Here you can read plays by Chekhov, Thomas Hardy, Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and others.
- Plays: Read Pygmalion, Uncle Vanya or The Playboy of the Western World here.
- The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: MIT has made available all of Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies, and histories.
- Plays Online: This site catalogs “all the plays [they] know about that are available in full text versions online for free.”
- ProPlay: This site has children’s plays, comedies, dramas and musicals.
Modern Fiction, Fantasy and Romance
These websites boast collections of graphic novels, romance novels, fantasy books and more.
- Public Bookshelf: Find romance novels, mysteries and more.
- The Internet Book Database of Fiction: This forum features fantasy and graphic novels, anime, J.K. Rowling and more.
- Free Online Novels: Here you can find Christian novels, fantasy and graphic novels, adventure books, horror books and more.
- Foxglove: This British site has free novels, satire and short stories.
- Baen Free Library: Find books by Scott Gier, Keith Laumer and others.
- The Road to Romance: This website has books by Patricia Cornwell and other romance novelists.
- Get Free Ebooks: This site’s largest collection includes fiction books.
- John T. Cullen: Read short stories from John T. Cullen here.
- SF and Fantasy Books Online: Books here include Arabian Nights,Aesop’s Fables and more.
- Free Novels Online and Free Online Cyber-Books: This list contains mostly fantasy books.
For books in a foreign language like French, Spanish and even Romanian, look here.
- Project Laurens Jz Coster: Find Dutch literature here.
- ATHENA Textes Francais: Search by author’s name, French books, or books written by other authors but translated into French.
- Liber Liber: Download Italian books here. Browse by author, title, or subject.
- Biblioteca romaneasca: Find Romanian books on this site.
- Bibliolteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes: Look up authors to find a catalog of their available works on this Spanish site.
- KEIMENA: This page is entirely in Greek, but if you’re looking for modern Greek literature, this is the place to access books online.
- Proyecto Cervantes: Texas A&M’s Proyecto Cervantes has cataloged Cervantes’ work online.
- Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum: Access many Latin texts here.
- Project Runeberg: Find Scandinavian literature online here.
- Italian Women Writers: This site provides information about Italian women authors and features full-text titles too.
- Biblioteca Valenciana: Register to use this database of Catalan and Valencian books.
- Ketab Farsi: Access literature and publications in Farsi from this site.
- Afghanistan Digital Library: Powered by NYU, the Afghanistan Digital Library has works published between 1870 and 1930.
- CELT: CELT stands for “the Corpus of Electronic Texts” features important historical literature and documents.
- Projekt Gutenberg-DE: This easy-to-use database of German language texts lets you search by genres and author.
History and Culture
Refresh your memory of world history, the classics and U.S. history here.
- LibriVox: LibriVox has a good selection of historical fiction.
- The Perseus Project: Tufts’ Perseus Digital Library features titles from Ancient Rome and Greece, published in English and original languages.
- Access Genealogy: Find literature about Native American history, the Scotch-Irish immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries, and more.
- Free History Books: This collection features U.S. history books, including works by Paul Jennings, Sarah Morgan Dawson, Josiah Quincy and others.
- Most Popular History Books: Free titles include Seven Days and Seven Nights by Alexander Szegedy and Autobiography of a Female Slave by Martha G. Browne.
Look for rare books online here.
- Questia: Questia has 5,000 books available for free, including rare books and classics.
- JR’s Rare Books and Commentary: Check this site for PDF versions of some rare books.
Arts and Entertainment
This list features books about celebrities, movies, fashion and more.
- Books-On-Line: This large collection includes movie scripts, newer works, cookbooks and more.
- Chest of Books: This site has a wide range of free books, including gardening and cooking books, home improvement books, craft and hobby books, art books and more.
- Free e-Books: Find titles related to beauty and fashion, games, health, drama and more.
- 2020ok: Categories here include art, graphic design, performing arts, ethnic and national, careers, business and a lot more.
- Free Art Books: Find artist books and art books in PDF format here.
- Free Web design books: OnlineComputerBooks.com directs you to free web design books.
- Free Music Books: Find sheet music, lyrics and books about music here.
- Free Fashion Books: Costume and fashion books are linked to the Google Books page.
Here you can find mystery books from Sherlock Holmes to more contemporary authors.
- MysteryNet: Read free short mystery stories on this site.
- TopMystery.com: Read books by Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, GK Chesterton and other mystery writers here.
- Mystery Books: Read books by Sue Grafton and others.
These poetry sites have works by Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe and others.
- The Literature Network: This site features forums, a copy of The King James Bible, and over 3,000 short stories and poems.
- Poetry: This list includes “The Raven,” “O Captain! My Captain!” and “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.”
- Poem Hunter: Find free poems, lyrics and quotations on this site.
- Famous Poetry Online: Read limericks, love poetry, and poems by Robert Browning, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Lord Byron and others.
- Google Poetry: Google Books has a large selection of poetry, fromThe Canterbury Tales to Beowulf to Walt Whitman.
- QuotesandPoem.com: Read poems by Maya Angelou, William Blake, Sylvia Plath and more.
- CompleteClassics.com: Rudyard Kipling, Allen Ginsberg and Alfred Lord Tennyson are all featured here.
- PinkPoem.com: On this site, you can download free poetry ebooks.
For even more free book sites, check out this list.
- Banned Books: Here you can follow links of banned books to their full text online.
- World eBook Library: This monstrous collection includes classics, encyclopedias, children’s books and a lot more.
- DailyLit: DailyLit has everything from Moby Dick to the more recent phenomenon, Skinny Bitch.
- A Celebration of Women Writers: The University of Pennsylvania’s page for women writers includes Newbery winners.
- Free Online Novels: These novels are fully online and range from romance to religious fiction to historical fiction.
- ManyBooks.net: Download mysteries and other books for your iPhone or eBook reader here.
- Authorama: Books here are pulled from Google Books and more. You’ll find history books, novels and more.
- Prize-winning books online: Use this directory to connect to full-text copies of Newbery winners, Nobel Prize winners and Pulitzer winners.
for future reference