As an introduction to his short story, "A Service of Love," O. Henry declares that he will take the premise of "When one loves one's Art no service seems too hard" and draw a conclusion from this premise while at the same time proving it wrong.
An aspiring artist, Joe Larrabeen from the Midwest and Delia Caruthers, a young talented musician meet in New York in an atelier where a number of youthful artists have met to discuss composers and painter. There they are attracted to each other; shortly thereafter, they marry. Living in a "lonesome flat" does not matter to Joe and Delia, for they are happy and in love. "They had their Art, and they had each other."
While they dwell in this flat, Joe takes art lessons from the great Magister; Delia trains under the great musician Rosenstock. "But after a while Art flagged" and the Larrabees are too poor to pay for their respective art lessons. So Delia decides to teach piano. After a couple of days, Delia returns home, excitedly telling her husband that she has found piano pupils. The proud Joe tells his wife that he cannot let his wife "hustle for wages" while he "philanders" in high art. And, he offers to find a job. Delia remonstrates, telling Joe that he must continue his art; after all, she says, in teaching piano, she is yet learning. "When one loves one's Art, no service seems too hard," said Delia.
Both Delia and Joe bring home money; hers, Delia says, is from General Pinkney and his, Joe declares, is from a man from Peoria, Illinois. However, one evening Delia returns home with a wrapped hand that has been burned. As she explains what has happened to her, Joe becomes suspicious and asks her what she has really been doing. So, Delia confesses to having been working in a laundry.
"You're not angry, are you, Joe? And if I hadn't got the work you mightn't have sold your sketches to that man from Peoria."
Then, Joe confesses that he has not sold any paintings; he works in the engine room for this same laundry, and he was the one who sent up the cotton and oil for a girl who had her hand burned. The loving couple laughs, and Joe begins, "When one loves one's Art no service seems--" But, Delia counters, "No..just "When one loves."
Indeed, it is no longer their art that Joe and Delia love enough to work; it is the other for whom they work. The original premise is incorrect.