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 No.”
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 times.”
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.