The Strength of
When Clinton Stevens was eleven years old, he was taken very sick with
pneumonia. During convalescence, he suffered an unexpected relapse, and his
mother and the doctor worked hard to keep him alive.
"It is ten to one if he gets well," said Dr. Bemis, shaking his head. "If
he does, he will never be very strong."
Mrs. Stevens smoothed Clinton's pillow even more tenderly than before. Poor
Clinton! who had always been such a rollicking, rosy-cheeked lad. Surely it
was hard to bear.
The long March days dragged slowly along, and April was well advanced
before Clinton could sit at the window, and watch the grass grow green on
the slope of the lawn. He looked frail and delicate. He had a cough, too, a
troublesome "bark," that he always kept back as long as he could.
The bright sunlight poured steadily in through the window, and Clinton held
up his hand to shield his eyes. "Why, Ma Stevens!" he said, after a moment,
"just look at my hands! They are as thin and white as a girl's, and they
used to be regular paws. It does not look as if I would pull many weeds for
Mr. Carter this summer, does it?"
Mrs. Stevens took his thin hands in her own patient ones. "Never mind,
dearie," she said, "they will grow plump and brown again, I hope." A group
of school-children were passing by, shouting and frolicking. Clinton leaned
forward and watched them till the last one was gone. Some of them waved
their caps, but he did not seem elated. "Mother," he said, presently, "I
believe I will go to bed if you will help me. I?I guess I am not quite
so?strong?now as I used to be."
Clinton did not pull weeds for Mr. Carter that summer, but he rode around
with the milkman, and did a little outdoor work for his mother, which
helped him to mend. One morning in July he surprised the village by riding
out on his bicycle; but he overdid the matter, and it was several weeks
before he again appeared. His cough still continued, though not so severe
as in the spring, and it was decided to let him go to school in the fall.
Dr. Bemis told Mrs. Stevens that the schoolroom would be a good place to
test Clinton's strength. And he was right. In no other place does a young
person's strength develop or debase itself so readily, for honor or
dishonor. Of course the doctor had referred to physical strength; but moral
strength is much more important.
Clinton was a bright lad for his years; and, although he had not looked
into his books during the summer, he was placed in the same grade he had
left when taken sick. He did not find much difficulty in keeping up with
any of his studies except spelling. Whenever he received a perfect mark on
that subject, he felt that a real victory had been won.
About Christmas-time the regular examinations were held. The teacher
offered a prize to each grade, the pupil receiving the highest average in
all studies to receive the prize. Much excitement, no little speculation,
and a great deal of studying ensued. Clinton felt fairly confident over all
his studies except spelling. So he carried his spelling-book home every
night, and he and his mother spent the evenings in wrestling with the long
and difficult words.
Examination day came at length, and the afternoon for the seventh grade
spelling was at hand. The words were to be written, and handed in. Across
the aisle from Clinton sat Harry Meyers. Several times when teacher
pronounced a word, Harry looked slyly into the palm of his hand. Clinton
watched him, his cheeks growing pink with shame. Then he looked around at
the others. Many of them had some dishonest device for copying the words.
Clinton swallowed something in his throat, and looked across at Matthews,
who pursed up his lips and nodded, if to say that he understood.
The papers were handed in, and school was dismissed. On Monday, after the
morning exercises, Miss Brooks gave out the prizes to the three grades
under her care. "I have now to award the prize for the highest average to
the seventh grade," she said. "But first I wish to say a few words on your
conduct during the recent examination in spelling. I shall censure no one
in particular, although there is one boy who must set no more bad examples.
No one spelled the words correctly?Clinton Stevens the least of
any?making his average quite low; yet the prize goes to him. I will tell
you why?" as a chorus of O! O's! greeted her ears. "Spelling is Clinton's
hardest subject, but he could easily have spelled more words right had he
not possessed sufficient strength to prevent him from falling into the way
followed by some of you."
As Clinton went up the aisle for his prize, he felt like crying, but he
managed to smile instead. A few days before, Harry Meyers had ridiculed him
because he was not strong enough to throw a snowball from the schoolhouse
to the road; now the teacher had said he was strong!
Clinton's Aunt Jennie came to visit the family in December, bringing her
little daughter Grace with her. Now Grace had a mania for pulling other
people's hair, but there was no one in the Stevens family upon whom she
dared operate except Clinton. She began on him cautiously, then
aggressively. Clinton stood it for a while, and then asked her, politely
but firmly, to stop. She stopped for half a day.
One night Clinton came home from school pale and tired. Some of the boys
had been taunting him on his spare frame, and imitating his cough, which
had grown worse as the winter advanced. Sitting down by the window, he
looked out at the falling snow. Grace slipped up behind him, and gave his
hair a sharp tweak. He struck out, hastily, and hit her. She was not
hurt,?only very much surprised,?but she began to cry lustily, and Aunt
Jennie came hurrying in, and took the child in her arms.
That night after supper Clinton went into the sitting-room, and called
Grace to him. "I want to tell you something," he said. "I am sorry that I
hit you, and I ask your pardon. Will you forgive me, dear?" Grace agreed
quickly, and said, shyly, "Next time I want to pull any one's hair, I will
pull my own."
Aunt Jennie was in the next room and overheard the conversation. "It
strikes me, Sarah," she said to Mrs. Stevens, later, "that Clinton is a
remarkably strong boy for one who is not strong. Most boys would not have
taken the trouble to ask a small girl to forgive them, even if they were
very much in the wrong. But Clinton has a strong character."
The year Clinton was thirteen, the boys planned to have a corn roast, one
August night. "We will get the corn in old Carter's lot," said Harry
Meyers. "He has just acres of it, and can spare a bushel or so as well as
not. I suppose you will go with us, Clint?"
Clinton hesitated. "No," said he. "I guess not; and I should think if you
want to roast corn, you could get it out of your own gardens. But if Mr.
Carter's corn is better than any other, why can you not ask him??"
"O, come, now," retorted Harry, "do not let it worry you! Half the fun of
roasting corn is in?in taking it. And don't you come, Clinton?don't. We
would not have you for the world. You are too nice, Mr. Coughin."
Clinton's cheeks flushed red, but he turned away without a word. When Mr.
Carter quizzed Billy Matthews, and found out all about it, Clinton was made
very happy by the old man's words: "It is not every chap that will take the
stand you took. You ought to be thankful that you have the strength to say
In the fall, when Clinton was fifteen, his health began to fail noticeably,
and Dr. Bemis advised a little wine "to build him up."
"Mother," said the boy, after thinking it over, "I am not going to touch
any wine. I can get well without it, I know I can. I do not want liquor,"
he continued. "'Wine is a mocker,' you know. Did you not tell me once that
Zike Hastings, over in East Bloomfield, became a drunkard by drinking wine
when he was sick?"
"Yes, Clinton, I believe I told you so."
"Well, then, I do not want any wine. I have seen Zike Hastings too many
In December Aunt Jennie and Grace made their annual visit. With them came
Uncle Jonathan, who took a great liking to Clinton.
"My boy," said he one day, placing a big hand on the lad's shoulder, "early
in the new year Aunt Jennie and I start for the Pacific Coast. Should you
like to go with us?"
"Well, I rather guess I should!" gasped the surprised boy, clasping his
hands joyfully. "Very well, then, you shall go," returned Uncle Jonathan,
"and your mother, too."
Clinton began to feel better before they were outside of Pennsylvania. When
they had crossed the Mississippi and reached the prairies, his eyes were
sparkling with excitement. The mountains fairly put new life in him. Uncle
Jonathan watched him with pleasure. "Tell me," he said one day, when they
were winding in and out among the Rockies, "what has given you so much
strength of character?"
"Why, it was this way," said Clinton, bringing his eyes in from a chasm
some hundreds of feet below: "one day when I was beginning to recover from
that attack of pneumonia, I saw a lot of the boys romping along, and I felt
pretty bad because I could not romp and play, too; then I thought that if I
could not be strong that way, I could have the strength to do right; so I
began to try, and??"
"Succeeded admirably," said Uncle Jonathan, approvingly. "And, really, my
boy, I see no reason why you should not shout and play to your heart's
content in a few months."
And Uncle Jonathan's words proved true; for Clinton, in a sun-kissed
California valley, grew well and strong in a few months. But through all
his life he will have cause to be glad that he learned the value of the
strength that is gained by resisting temptation, controlling one's spirit,
and obeying the Lord's commands.