An Expensive Lesson


An old Swedish couple, Brother and Sister Palm, worked in the shoe shop of the Co-op Store in our town. Brother Palm’s hand was intriguing to watch as he mended the shoes. Jimmie and I would go to the shop just to watch him work his stiff fingers and see the hole that ran through the center of his palm.

Brother Palm didn’t like children chewing pine gum, so he’d always give us cobbler’s wax when we went to the shop.

One day when Jimmie and I were there we saw a dime in one of his tack cups and we both began to think about what that dime could buy.

“Brother Palm would never miss a dime,” I whispered to Jimmie.

“I’ll get Brother Palm to show me something in the rear of his shop while you take the money and run away,” Jimmie suggested.

The plan worked perfectly, and we each bought a bottle of soda water at Joe Coslett’s Novelty Store.

It took a long, long time for me to get over the guilty feeling I had about that dime. Every time I saw Brother Palm, I remembered I had stolen from him.

Each winter the ward sent the boys out on Saturdays to chop wood for the widows, the aged, and the disabled. I worked harder at the Palm home than anywhere else to try and work that dime off my conscience.

After I grew up I saw very little of Brother Palm. But, when I did, he would always put his crippled hand in mine, and then I’d remember the dime I took from his tack cup. I wanted to tell him about it and give him a dollar to quiet my conscience, but I lacked the courage to confess my dishonesty.

Later, I was hired as a clerk in the old Co-op Store where Brother Palm did all his business. When he traded with me, I always put ten cents’ worth more of goods in his sack than I charged him for. Then when he left, I’d put one of my own dimes in the cashbox and mark it “paid” on the store’s ledger.

Soon the old man learned that his money bought more from me, and he would not trade with any other clerk. When someone else offered to serve him he would say, “Thank you. I will wait for Brother Palmer.”

After a while I began to realize that I wasn’t clearing my conscience of that long-ago theft. The only way for me to stop feeling guilty about that stolen dime was to confess what I had done and ask his forgiveness.

The next time Brother Palm came to trade, I gave him his order as usual and asked him to come into the office for a little talk. I opened my ledger account and showed him how I had charged myself—“sugar to Palm 10¢,” “oatmeal to Palm,” “rice to Palm,” and so on, totaling $3.70. He was amazed and asked, “What does all this mean? Has Louisa been buying things and forgetting to pay for them?”

I answered, “No, it was not Sister Palm. You bought them yourself.”

He turned to me with a puzzled and challenging look and said, “There must be a mistake! I never buy ten cents’ worth of sugar, I buy a half dollar’s worth, and I always buy a quarter’s worth of rice or mush.”

Then I told him about the dime I had stolen long ago from his shop and how I was reminded of it each time I saw the hole in his hand. I explained that I had been trying all this time to square my debt by putting ten cents’ worth more of goods in his sacks than he paid for. “I paid the extra amount and then marked it paid in the ledger,” I continued.

Pointing to the list of figures I said, “You see, Brother Palm, I’ve paid my debt many times over, but I’ve found that I can’t clear my conscience that way, so I am telling you the whole story and asking for your forgiveness.”

The old man smiled and said, “Oh, Brother Palmer, I do forgive you. I’m only sorry you didn’t tell me sooner.”

Then he stood up and put out his hand for me to shake. My finger slid into the hole in his palm and at last the guilty feeling left me.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mike Muir