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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 fallen leaves.

"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 on again.

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 despair,--

"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 pleasantly.

"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 save it.

"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?" asked Lu.

"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 any more.

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 voice,--

"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 with pride.

"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 charitable.

"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 some time.

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 before.

"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 through.

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 likes best."

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 read.

"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 neck,--

"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?"

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 said softly,--

"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.

 
 
 

EBooks - Fiction, Nonfiction 1000s of them ~ Index