The Little Red
Purse by Louisa M. Alcott
Among the presents which Lu found on
her tenth birthday was a pretty red plush
purse with a steel clasp and chain, just like
mamma's, only much smaller. In it were ten
bright new cents, that being the sum Lu
received each week to spend as she liked. She
enjoyed all her gifts very much; but this one
seemed to please her even more than the
French doll in blue silk, the pearl ring, or
"Alice in Wonderland,"--three things which
she had wanted for a long time.
"It is so cunning, and the snap makes such
a loud noise, and the chain is so nice on my
arm, and the plush so red and soft, I can't help
loving my dear little purse. I shall spend all
the money for candy, and eat it every bit
myself, because it is my birthday, and I must
celebrate it," said Lu, as she hovered like a bee
round a honey-pot about the table where the
gifts were spread.
Now she was in a great hurry to go out
shopping, with the new purse proudly carried in her
small fat hand. Aunty was soon ready, and
away they went across the pleasant Park, where
the pretty babies were enjoying the last warm
days of autumn as they played among the
"You will be ill if you eat ten cents' worth
of candy to-day," said aunty.
"I 'll sprinkle it along through the day,
and eat each kind seppyrut; then they won't
intersturb me, I am sure," answered Lu, who
still used funny words, and always got interrupt
and disturb rather mixed.
Just then a poor man who had lost his legs
came creeping along with a tray of little
flower-pots to sell.
"Only five cents, miss. Help an unfortnit
man, please, mum."
"Let me buy one for my baby-house. It
would be sweet. Cora Pinky May would love
to have that darling little rose in her best
parlor," cried Lu, thinking of the fine new doll.
Aunty much preferred to help the poor man
than to buy candy, so the flower-pot was soon
bought, though the "red, red rose" was unlike
any ever seen in a garden.
"Now I 'll have five cents for my treat, and
no danger of being ill," said Lu, as they went
But in a few moments a new beggar appeared,
and Lu's tender heart would not let her pass
the old woman without dropping two of her
bright cents in the tin cup.
"Do come to the candy-place at once, or I
never shall get any," begged Lu, as the red
purse grew lighter and lighter every minute.
Three sticks of candy were all she could buy,
but she felt that she could celebrate the
birthday on that, and was ready to go home and
begin at once.
As they went on to get some flowers to dress
the cake at tea-time, Lu suddenly stopped short,
lifted both hands, and cried out in a tone of
"My purse! my purse! I 've lost it. Oh,
I 've lost it!"
"Left it in the store probably. Come and
look for it," said aunty; and back they turned,
just in time to meet a shabby little girl running
after them with the precious thing in her hand.
"Ain't this yours? I thought you dropped
it, and would hate to lose it," she said, smiling
"Oh, I should. It's spandy new, and I love
it dearly. I 've got no more money to pay
you, only this candy; do take a stick," and Lu
presented the red barley sugar.
The little girl took it gladly, and ran off.
"Well, two sticks will do. I 'd rather lose
every bit of it than my darling purse," said Lu,
putting it carefully in her pocket.
"I love to give things away and make people
happy," began Lu, but stopped to watch a dog
who came up to her, wagging his tail as if he
knew what a kind little girl she was, and wanted
to be made happy. She put out her hand to
pat him, quite forgetting the small parcel in it;
but the dog snapped it up before she could
"Oh, my last stick! I did n't mean to give
it to him. You naughty dog, drop it this
minute!" cried poor Lu.
But the beautiful pink cream candy was forever
lost, and the ungrateful thief ran off, after
a vain attempt to eat the flower-pot also. It
was so funny that aunty laughed, and Lu joined
her, after shaking her finger at the dog, who
barked and frisked as if he felt that he had
done a clever thing.
"Now I am quite satisfied, and you will have
a pleasanter birthday for having made four
people and a dog happy, instead of yourself
sick with too many goodies. Charity is a nice
sort of sweetie; and I hope you will buy that
kind with your pocket-money now and then,
my dear," said aunty, as they walked on again.
"Could I do much with ten cents a week?"
"Yes, indeed; you could buy a little book
for lame Sammy, who loves to read, or a few
flowers for my sick girl at the hospital, or a
loaf of bread for some hungry person, or milk
for a poor baby, or you could save up your
money till Christmas, and get presents for
children who otherwise would have none."
"Could I do all those things? I'd like to
get presents best, and I will--I will!" cried
Lu, charmed with the idea of playing Santa
Claus. "I did n't think ten cents would be so
useful. How long to Christmas, aunty?"
"About ten weeks. If you save all your
pocket-money till then, you will have a
dollar to spend."
"A truly dollar! How fine! But all that
time I should n't have any candy. I don't think
I could get along without some. Perhaps if I
was very good some one would give me a bit
now and then;" and Lu looked up with her
most engaging smile and a twinkle in her eye.
"We will see about that. Perhaps 'some
one' will give extra cents for work you may do,
and leave you to decide which kind of sweeties
you would buy."
"What can I do to earn money?" asked Lu.
"Well, you can dry and fold the paper every
morning for grandpa. I will pay you a cent for
that, because nurse is apt to forget it, and he
likes to have it nicely ready for him after
breakfast. Then you might run up and down for
mamma, and hem some towels for me, and take
care of Jip and the parrot. You will earn a good
deal if you do your work regularly and well."
"I shall have dreadful trials going by the
candy-shops and never buying any. I do long
so to go in that I have to look away when you
say No. I want to be good and help poor
people, but I 'm afraid it will be too hard for
me," sighed Lu, foreseeing the temptations before her.
"We might begin to-day, and try the new
plan for a while. If it is too hard, you can give
it up; but I think you will soon like my way
best, and have the merriest Christmas you ever
knew with the money you save."
Lu walked thoughtfully home, and put the
empty purse away, resolved to see how long she
could hold out, and how much she could earn.
Mamma smiled when she heard the plan, but at
once engaged the little girl to do errands about
the house at a cent a job, privately quite sure
that her pretty express would soon stop running.
Grandpapa was pleased to find his paper ready,
and nodded and patted Lu's curly head when
she told him about her Christmas plans. Mary,
the maid, was glad to get rid of combing Jip and
feeding Polly, and aunty made towel hemming
pleasant by telling stories as the little
needle-woman did two hems a day.
Every cent went into the red purse, which Lu
hung on one of the gilt pegs of the easel in the
parlor, for she thought it very ornamental, and
hoped contributions might drop in occasionally.
None did; but as every one paid her
in bright cents, there was soon a fine display,
and the little bag grew heavy with delightful rapidity.
Only once did Lu yield to temptation, and
that was when two weeks of self-denial made
her trials so great that she felt as if she really
must reward herself, as no one else seemed to
remember how much little girls loved candy.
One day she looked pale, and did not want
any dinner, saying she felt sick. Mamma was
away, so aunty put her on the bed and sat by
her, feeling very anxious, as scarlet-fever was
about. By and by Lu took her handkerchief
out, and there, sticking to it, was a large brown
cough-drop. Lu turned red, and hid her face,
saying with a penitent sob, "I don't deserve
to be cuddled. I 've been selfish and silly, and
spent some of my money for candy. I had a
little cold, and I thought cough-drops would do
me good. I ate a good many, and they were
bitter and made me sick, and I 'm glad of it."
Aunty wanted to laugh at the dear little
sinner and her funny idea of choosing bitter candy
as a sort of self-denial; but she comforted her
kindly, and soon the invalid was skipping about
again, declaring that she never would do so
Next day something happened which helped
her very much, and made it easier to like the
new kind of sweeties better than the old. She
was in the dining-room getting an apple for her
lunch, when she saw a little girl come to the
lower door to ask for cold food. The cook was
busy, and sent her away, telling her begging
was forbidden. Lu, peeping out, saw the little
girl sit down on the steps to eat a cold potato
as if she was very hungry, and while she ate she
was trying to tie on a pair of very old boots
some one had given her. It was a rainy day,
and she had only a shawl over her head; her
hands were red with cold; her gown was a faded
cotton one; and her big basket seemed to have
very few scraps in it. So poor, so sad, and
tired did she look, that Lu could not bear to
see it, and she called out in her pitiful child's
"Come in and get warm, little girl. Don't
mind old Sarah. I 'll give you something to
eat, and lend you my rubber boots and
waterproof to go home in."
The poor child gladly went to sit by the
comfortable fire, while Lu with hospitable haste got
crackers and cheese and cake and apples, and
her own silver mug of milk, for her guest,
forgetting, in her zeal, to ask leave. Fortunately
aunty came down for her own lunch in time to
see what was going on, and found Lu busily
buttoning the waterproof, while the little girl
surveyed her rubber boots and small umbrella
"I 'm only lending my things, and she will
return them to-morrow, aunty. They are too
small for me, and the umbrella is broken; and
I 'd love to give them all to Lucy if I could.
She has to go out in the rain to get food for her
family, like a bird, and I don't."
"Birds don't need waterproofs and umbrellas,"
began aunty; and both children laughed
at the idea of sparrows with such things, but
looked a little anxious till aunty went on to say
that Lucy could have these comforts, and to fill
the basket with something better than cold
potatoes, while she asked questions and heard
the sad little story: how father was dead, and the
baby sick, so mother could not work, and the
boys had to pick up chips and cinders to burn,
and Lucy begged food to eat. Lu listened with
tears in her blue eyes, and a great deal of pity
as well as admiration for poor little Lucy, who
was only nine, yet had so many cares and
troubles in her life. While aunty went to get some
flannel for baby, Lu flew to her red purse and
counted out ten cents from her store, feeling so
rich, so glad to have it instead of an empty
bonbon box, and a headache after a candy feast.
"Buy some nice fresh milk for little Totty,
and tell her I sent it--all myself--with my
love. Come again to-morrow, and I will tell
mamma all about you, and you shall be my
poor people, and I 'll help you if I can," she
said, full of interest and good-will, for the sight
of this child made her feel what poverty really
was, and long to lighten it if she could.
Lucy was smiling when she went away, snug
and dry in her comfortable clothes, with the
full basket on her arm; and all that day Lu
talked and thought about her "own poor
people," and what she hoped to do for them.
Mamma inquired, and finding them worthy of
help, let her little girl send many comforts to
the children, and learn how to be wisely
"I shall give all my money to my 'Lucy
children' on Christmas," announced Lu, as that
pleasant time drew near. "I know what they
want, and though I can't save money enough to
give them half the things they need, maybe I
can help a good deal, and really have a nice
bundle to s'prise them with."
This idea took possession of little Lu, and she
worked like a beaver in all sorts of funny ways
to fill her purse by Christmas-time. One thing
she did which amused her family very much,
though they were obliged to stop it. Lu danced
very prettily, and often had what she called
ballets before she went to bed, when she tripped
about the parlor like a fairy in the gay costumes
aunty made for her. As the purse did not fill
as fast as she hoped, Lu took it into her head
one fine day to go round the square where she
lived, with her tambourine, and dance as some
of the girls with the hand-organ men did. So
she dressed herself in her red skirt and black
velvet jacket, and with a fur cap on her head
and a blue cloak over her shoulders, slipped
out into the quiet square, and going to the
farther corner, began to dance and beat her
tambourine on the sidewalk before a house
where some little children lived.
As she expected, they soon came running to
the window, and were charmed to see the pretty
dancer whirling to and fro, with her ribbons
flying and her tambourine bells ringing, till her
breath was gone. Then she held up the
instrument and nodded smilingly at them; and
they threw down cents wrapped in paper,
thinking her music much better than any the organ
men made. Much encouraged, Lu went on
from house to house, and was doing finely,
when one of the ladies who looked out
recognized the child, and asked her if her mother
knew where she was. Lu had to say "No;" and
the lady sent a maid to take her home at once.
That spoiled all the fun; and poor Lu did not
hear the last of her prank for a long time. But
she had made forty-two cents, and felt comforted
when she added that handsome sum to her store.
As if to console her for this disappointment, after
that day several bright ten-cent pieces got into
the red purse in a most mysterious manner.
Lu asked every one in the house, and all
declared that they did not do it. Grandpa could
not get out of his chair without help, and nurse
said she never took the purse to him; so of
course it could not be he who slipped in those
welcome bits of silver. Lu asked him; but he
was very deaf that day, and did not seem to
understand her at all.
"It must be fairies," she said, pondering over
the puzzle, as she counted her treasure and
packed it away, for now the little red purse was
full. "Aunty says there are no fairies; but I
like to think so. Perhaps angels fly around at
Christmas-time as they did long ago, and love
to help poor people, and put those beautiful
bright things here to show that they are pleased
with me." She liked that fancy, and aunty
agreed that some good spirit must have done
it, and was sure they would find out the secret
Lucy came regularly; and Lu always tried to
see her, and so learned what she and Totty and
Joe and Jimmy wanted, but never dreamed of
receiving Christmas morning. It did both little
girls much good, for poor Lucy was comforted
by the kindness of these friends, and Lu learned
about far harder trials than the want of
sugarplums. The day before Christmas she went on
a grand shopping expedition with aunty, for the
purse now held three dollars and seven cents.
She had spent some of it for trifles for her
"Lucy children," and had not earned as much
as she once hoped, various fits of idleness and
other more amusing but less profitable work
having lessened her wages. But she had enough,
thanks to the good spirit, to get toys and books
and candy for her family, and went joyfully away
Christmas Eve to carry her little basket of gifts,
accompanied by aunty with a larger store of
comforts for the grateful mother.
When they got back, Lu entertained her
mother with an account of the delight of the
children, who never had such a Christmas
"They could n't wait till morning, and I
could n't either, and we opened the bundles
right away; and they screamed, mamma, and
jumped for joy and ate everything and hugged
me. And the mother cried, she was so pleased;
and the boys can go to school all neat now, and
so could Lucy, only she has to take care of
Totty while her mother goes to work. Oh, it
was lovely! I felt just like Santa Claus, only
he does n't stay to see people enjoy their things,
and I did."
Here Lu stopped for breath, and when she
got it, had a fine ballet as the only way to work
off her excitement at the success of her "s'prise." It
was a trial to go to bed, but she went at last,
and dreamed that her "Lucy children" all had
wings, and were flying round her bed with
tambourines full of heavenly bonbons, which they
showered down upon her; while aunty in an
immense nightcap stood by clapping her hands
and saying, "Eat all you like, dear; this sort
won't hurt you."
Morning came very soon; and she popped up
her head to see a long knobby stocking hanging
from the mantel-piece. Out of bed skipped
the little white figure, and back again, while
cries of joy were heard as the treasures
appeared one by one. There was a tableful
beside the stocking, and Lu was so busy looking
at them that she was late to breakfast. But
aunty waited for her, and they went down
together some time after the bell rang.
"Let me peep and see if grandpa has found
the silk handkerchief and spectacle-case I
made for him," whispered Lu, as they passed
the parlor door, which stood half open,
leaving a wide crack for the blue eyes to spy
The old gentleman sat in his easy-chair as
usual, waiting while nurse got his breakfast;
but what was he doing with his long staff? Lu
watched eagerly, and to her great surprise saw
him lean forward, and with the hook at the end
take the little red purse off the easel, open it,
and slip in a small white parcel, then hang it
on the gilt peg again, put away the cane, and
sit rubbing his hands and laughing to himself
at the success of his little trick, quite sure that
this was a safe time to play it. Lu was about
to cry out, and rush in, but aunty whispered,
"Don't spoil his fun yet. Go and see what is
in the purse, then thank him in the way he
So Lu skipped into the parlor, trying to look
very innocent, and ran to open the dear red
purse, as she often did, eager to see if the good
fairy had added to the charity fund.
"Why, here 's a great gold medal, and some
queer, shaky writing on the paper. Please see
what it is," said Lu, very loud, hoping grandpa
would hear her this time, for his face was
hidden behind the newspaper he pretended to
"For Lu's poor's purse, from Santa Claus,"
read aunty, glad that at last the kind old fairy
was discovered and ready for his reward.
Lu had never seen a twenty-dollar gold-piece
before; but she could not stop to find out
whether the shining medal was money or a
locket, and ran to grandpa, crying as she pulled
away the paper and threw her arms about his
"I 've found you out, I 've found you out,
my dear old Santa Claus! Merry Christmas,
grandpa, and lots of thanks and kisses!"
It was pretty to see the rosy cheek against
the wrinkled one, the golden and the silver
heads close together, as the old man and the
little girl kissed and laughed, and both talked
at once for a few minutes.
"Tell me all about it, you sly grandpa.
What made you think of doing it that way, and
not let any one know?" cried Lu, as the
old gentleman stopped to rest after a kindly
"cuddle," as Lu called these caresses.
"Well, dear, I liked to see you trying to do
good with your little pennies, and I wanted to
help. I 'm a feeble old man, tied to my chair
and of no use now; but I like a bit of fun, and
love to feel that it is not quite too late to make
some one happy."
"Why, grandpa, you do heaps of good, and
make many, many people happy," said Lu, with
another hug. "Mamma told me all about the
hospital for little children you built, and the
money you gave to the poor soldiers in the war,
and ever so many more good things you 've
done. I won't have you say you are of no use
now. We want you to love and take care of;
and we could n't do without you, could we,
Aunty sat on the arm of the chair with her
arm round the old man's shoulder, and her only
answer was a kiss. But it was enough, and
grandpa went on quite cheerfully, as he held
two plump hands in his own, and watched the
blooming face that looked up at him so eagerly:
"When I was younger, I loved money, and
wanted a great deal. I cared for nothing else,
and worked hard to get it, and did get it after
years of worry. But it cost me my health, and
then I saw how foolish I had been, for all my
money could not buy me any strength or
pleasure and very little comfort. I could not take
it with me when I died, and did not know what
to do with it, because there was so much. So
I tried to see if giving it away would not amuse
me, and make me feel better about having
wasted my life instead of using it wisely. The
more I gave away the better I felt; and now
I'm quite jolly, though I'm only a helpless
old baby just fit to play jokes and love little
girls. You have begun early at this pretty
game of give-away, my dear, and aunty will see
that you keep it up; so that when you are old
you will have much treasure in the other world
where the blessings of the poor are more
precious than gold and silver."
Nobody spoke for a minute as the feeble old
voice stopped; and the sunshine fell on the
white head like a blessing. Then Lu said very
soberly, as she turned the great coin in her
hand, and saw the letters that told its worth,--
"What shall I do with all this money? I
never had so much, and I 'd like to spend it in
some very good and pleasant way. Can you
think of something, aunty, so I can begin at
once to be like grandpa?"
"How would you like to pay two dollars a
month, so that Totty can go to the Sunnyside
Nursery, and be taken care of every day while
Lucy goes to school? Then she will be safe
and happy, and Lucy be learning, as she longs
to do, and the mother free to work," said aunty,
glad to have this dear child early learn to help
those less blessed than herself.
"Could I? How splendid it would be to
pay for a real live baby all myself! How long
would my money do it?" said Lu, charmed
with the idea of a living dolly to care for.
"All winter, and provide clothes besides.
You can make them yourself, and go and see
Totty, and call her your baby. This will be a
sweet charity for you; and to-day is a good day
to begin it, for this is the birthday of the Divine
Child, who was born in a poorer place even than
Lucy's sister. In His name pity and help this
baby, and be sure He will bless you for it."
Lu looked up at the fine picture of the Good
Shepherd hanging over the sofa with holly-leaves
glistening round it, and felt as if she too
in her humble way was about to take a helpless
little lamb in her arms and comfort it. Her
childish face was very sweet and sober as she
"Yes, I will spend my Christmas money so;
for, aunty, I do think your sort of sweetie is
better than mine, and making people happy a
much wiser way to spend my pennies than in
buying the nicest candy in the world."
Little Lu remembered that morning long
after the dear old grandfather was gone, and
kept her Christmas promise so well that very
soon a larger purse was needed for charity
money, which she used so wisely and so
happily. But all her life in one corner of her desk
lay carefully folded up, with the bit of paper
inside, the little red purse.