One Thousand Dollars Summary

O. Henry

One Thousand Dollars

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One Thousand Dollars Summary

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“One Thousand Dollars” is a short story by master American short story writer O. Henry, most famous for his work “The Gift of the Magi,” a Christmas story commonly dramatized during the holidays. “One Thousand Dollars” concerns a carefree young man and a surprise inheritance. The story contains O. Henry’s signatures of witty dialogue and an ironic twist ending.

Two men meet in a lawyer’s office. The lawyer, Mr. Tolman, informs the younger man, called Young Gillian, that his recently deceased uncle has left him exactly $1,000 as part of his will. Gillian is surprised by the specific sum, musing that if it had been $10,000, he might have celebrated, and even $50 would be “less trouble.” Mr. Tolman reminds Gillian that as per the terms of the will, Gillian must provide receipts for anything he buys with the money.

Gillian leaves Mr. Tolman’s office and visits his local social club, where he seeks out a fellow club member named Old Bryson. He interrupts Bryson as he’s reading, which annoys Bryson, who asks Gillian to bother someone else, perhaps someone in the billiards room. Gillian continues with his story anyway. When he tells Bryson of his inheritance, Bryson is also surprised by the sum. Gillian’s uncle, Septimus, was worth  half a million dollars, at least. Gillian explains that most of his uncle’s money went towards scientific research and the building of a hospital. His uncle’s butler and housekeeper each received a ring and $10, along with a young girl in his uncle’s care, Miss Hayden.

Bryson sarcastically suggests that Gillian spend his money on a necklace for his actress girlfriend, Miss Lotta Lauriere, and then on a train ride to Idaho, where Gillian could live on a sheep ranch. Gillian agrees with the first half of this suggestion, and takes a cab to the Columbine Theatre, where Lotta is performing. He goes backstage to see her, but she is in the middle of a performance and can’t go to the jewelry shop. He asks a cabbie what he’d do with the money, and the cabbie says he’d open a bar. He asks a blind beggar the same question, and the beggar reveals he actually has over $1,000 in his bank account.

Gillian goes back to Mr. Tolman’s office and asks whether Miss Hayden received anything else but the ring and the paltry $10. Mr. Tolman says she did not. Gillian visits Mr. Hayden at his late uncle’s house, where she is in mourning clothes. He lies to her, telling her that there was a mistake with the will, and she actually received $1000. He hands her his money, then confesses he loves her. She is kind, but can’t reciprocate. He borrows a pen and paper to write a receipt for how he spent the money—in an act of love towards Miss Hayden, the truly deserving party.

He returns to Mr. Tolman’s office, receipt in hand. Mr. Tolman reveals that there was a secret stipulation in Septimus’ will. If Gillian spent his inheritance in a way that showed good character, he would receive $50,000. If he spent it wastefully, that same money would instead go to Miss Hayden. Mr. Tolman goes to read the receipt, but Gillian snatches it back and shreds it. He lies and claims he spent the money gambling on horses, and walks out of the office, whistling a happy tune. Because of his lie, the woman he loves will be wealthy and happy, and he doesn’t care if she’ll never love him back, or that no one will ever know about his act of kindness.