To start at the beginning ...
Ruth answered the knock at the door and found Jacob standing on the front step, shifting nervously from foot to foot. “The well has thawed,” Jacob’s face was pink from the cold, and yet Ruth could see the color rise in his ears as he caught her eye and then looked away. Ruth smiled at him and thanked him. He nodded and hurried off down the street, his shepherd’s staff tapping on the frozen ground has he walked away.
“I will be right back, Mama,” Ruth called over her shoulder as she donned her cloak and grabbed a large water pot. “The well has thawed finally.”
“Be careful, Little Ruth. There are many strangers in town now. Go directly to the well and then back again. No exploring today,” Ruth’s mother said, sweeping her hair out of her face as she kneaded a large lump of dough, leaving a smudge of flour across her forehead. Ruth smiled at her mother, concealing her laughter and started out the front door.
“Yes, Mama,” she called and then closed the door behind her.
She walked quickly down the street toward the center of town taking in the crowds of people all around her. She listened to the raucous animals of burden, loaded down with bags and people. Studying the variety of clothing the men and women wore, she marveled at the different accents and languages being spoken by the travelers. In the frozen air she could smell the sweat of the animals and the pungent fragrances and perfumes and oils packed to sell at the market. She made her way to the well and fell in line, staying attentive to the bustle of activity around her.
Soon it was her turn to draw up water for her family. Ruth worked hard, pulling on the rope, dumping the precious water in her large pot. Bucket after bucket she lifted, her hands turning raw from the rope. She felt sweat drip down her neck in spite of the frigid air. She was breathing hard as she lowered the bucket the last time and handed the rope to the young boy behind her. Stooping, she lifted the pot and balanced it on her head as she had been taught and then made her way slowly and carefully back to the inn. Her mother opened the door for her and helped relieve her of her burden.
“Well done, Ruth. While you were gone, more guests arrived. Please help carry their belongings to their room,” she indicated several bags on the floor at the feet of an older man and his young wife. Two small children stood silently, hiding behind their mother’s dress. Ruth bowed and hefted two bags onto her shoulders while the family fetched the remaining parcels and followed her up the stairs to their room.
Returning to the main floor, Ruth found her mother talking with other man and soon she scurried off to help him settle his family in one of their three remaining rooms. “We will be full before dinner-time,” her mother remarked, stirring a pot of lamb stew that sat bubbling over the fire. “I am afraid that we will be turning people away before the night is through. Who thought it wise to demand a census during the coldest months of the year? There will be people sleeping in the streets tonight.” She paused and looked heavenward, “We thank you, Yahweh, for our humble home. Help us to be a blessing to someone today.”