MARY PROUDE was afraid of the dark. She lay in her great high posted bed and watched the fantastic shadows made by Betsey's candle. Weird little imps they seemed, and Betsey's back was getting farther and farther away. In another minute Mary knew that she would be alone and it would be dark, pitch dark. She caught her breath and cast a furtive look at the heavy drapery that enveloped her bed. Then she shut her eyes and buried her head in the pillows. "Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name," she prayed, trying to choke back the tears.
Faster and faster she said the words and then suddenly she stopped. Like a flash she thought of something that Betsey had read to her after church. She could not remember the exact words, but it was about prayer, how it helped you and now it was the way to tell good people from bad, because those who did not mean to do the right thing could imitate others in everything except in praying right. That was the thing that struck Mary Proude. Every night for months past when the last glimmer of Betsey's candle had gone she had repeated the Lord's Prayer over and over again as fast as she could until, tired out, she had dropped off to sleep. She did not know just why she did it, but she felt sure that nothing could hurt her while she was praying. To-night, however, a new thought struck her. "If what Betsey read is true," she said to herself, "then I'm not really praying at all, I'm just saying words over. A very wicked person could do what I've been doing." Mary Proude was so interested in thinking about it that she forgot to be afraid, and dropped off quietly to sleep.
The next day she felt even more sure that just saying words was not really praying. But how was she to find oat more about it? Mary's father and mother had died when she was only three years old and she lived with her guardian, Sir Edward Partridge. Everybody was very kind to her, but she felt sure nobody would understand what she meant. In fact, Mary had never heard of anyone who prayed in any other way than by reading from a book or repeating prayers learned from a book. So she shut herself in her room alone and kneeling by her bed, cried, "Lord, what is prayer?" And presently she found herself just talking to her Heavenly Father, telling Him what she wanted to know and asking Him to help her solve her difficulties. And then she knew that her Heavenly Father had shown her what kind of prayer He desires.
That night, when Betsey took away the light, Mary Proude was not afraid, for she knew that she could tell her Heavenly Father all her troubles and that He was very near to her.