“MAMMA, let me read tonight,” said seven year-old Maxine as her mother took the Bible from the table for their devotions.
“Very well,” agreed the mother, and Maxine got her own little Bible to read from. “Shall I read the 23rd Psalm again?” she asked.
“Well,” hesitated Mrs. Martin, “you read that pretty often; suppose you try another tonight. I'll help you with the words. Let's try the 91st Psalm. That's a good one to read when Daddy's gone.”
So Maxine began reading:
“He that d-w-e-l-l-e-t-h.”
“Dwelleth,” prompted her mother.
“Dwelleth in the s-e-c-r-e-t.”
“Secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the A-l-m-i-g-h-t-y.”
Thus went the reading of the Psalm by the little girl, stumbling over the big words. So intent were mother and daughter on the reading that neither heard the faint rustle outside the window nor saw the dark face peering through the pane. It was summer and the window was partly raised so that the words spoken inside were clearly audible to that crouched, watching figure so near.
“He shall give His angels charge over thee. What does that mean, Mamma?” Maxine interrupted herself to ask.
“It means, dear, that God sends His angels to take care of us so that no harm will come to us. They are watching over us all the time.”
“Right now?” questioned the child. “Right now when Daddy's gone and it's dark outdoors? Are there angels here now?”
“Yes, right now,” assured the mother. “God and His angels are watching right now.” And they proceeded with the reading once more.
Could they have seen the figure outside their window they would have noticed his quick look about him at the mother's words. She said God was watching. Where was God? Who was God? It was a name he habitually used vilely, and he had a vague notion that God was some terrible Being. “The wrath of God,” these words, that he had once heard spoken by a preacher at a service one night, came suddenly to mind. Somewhere in the darkness, unseen by him was this God who could see all. The woman had spoken so confidently of His watching eye. Then, if God were watching over this mother and daughter, He could see him, too. The wrath of God! What would God do to him? Would His wrath suddenly fall upon him and destroy him? Fear made him almost motionless and while he was crouching down to the ground he heard a clear child's voice lifted in prayer. Little Maxine had finished her reading and praying.
“Thank You, God, for having Your angels take care of Mamma and me, and be with Daddy tonight, and help all the bad people tonight to stop being bad.”
The fear in the man's heart gave way to a new emotion. A lump rose in his throat and tears smarted his eyelids.
He had a little girl, too, just about her size. What was she doing now, while this little girl was saying her prayers and would soon be tucked in bed by loving hands? He could imagine her in the dingy little room they called home. Perhaps she had crept into bed by now, trying to get to sleep, or maybe crying again. He remembered one night recently when he had gone home to find her crying because she was hungry. There had not been anything to eat. He had slapped her for being a baby and told her if she did not like the way he fed her she could get somebody else to take care of her. Anyway, if she had any backbone she would get out and steal something if she was hungry. The wife and mother had died two years before and this was how he had cared for the little girl. He thought of her now; poor, thin, hungry-looking, ragged. Scant attention had he given her, spending his days and nights in drinking, gambling, and petty thievery.
He thought of himself as a child. How different his life might have been had he been reared as this child he had been watching read and pray. How different his child would be with proper training. Slowly he raised himself from the ground and stumbled away. He was going home - home to his own little daughter.
“Mamma, what was that noise outside?” asked Maxine.
“I never heard anything,” her mother answered.
“I guess it must have been the angels' wings brushing against the lilac bushes,” murmured the child sleepily, curling up in bed.
But the next morning while outdoors Mrs. Martin noticed footprints under the window by the lilacs. They were the prints of a man's shoe. Her heart seemed almost to stop its beating for a moment. Had Maxine really heard something last night? Had danger been close to them?
The man who crouched beneath the window that night, bent on mischief, went to his room to pray for the first time in his life. He did not know how to pray but he wanted God and God heard his cry. Life for the young daughter became a new thing. She could scarcely comprehend it all, even when the man explained that it was Jesus who had changed him. Daddy did not drink any more and did not gamble. He had a real job instead and brought home groceries and clothes to her. They moved out of the stuffy little room into a nice, airy, sunny one with a carpet on the floor. Daddy took her to Sunday School and church, and at night he read Bible stories and taught her to pray. And many times he read to her from the 91st Psalm: “He shall give His angels charge over thee.”
- Mrs. Audre Pitts