I had some business in town, so I bid farewell to the Elliots. Little was I to know at the time that I would see them again soon.
I had a couple of messages to deliver - one to a tavern keeper and another to the local butcher. I delivered the butcher's first, and as I was leaving the tavern, a skinny girl stole a loaf of bread from a street vendor.
She was coming in my direction. I stopped moving. Soon, she would be crossing my path. I held out my arm and stopped her.
The street vendor saundered over slowly, screaming, "Thief! Thief!"
"What do we have here?" I ask, looking down at the girl. She was younger than me, but I couldn't tell exactly how young. It was obvious she hadn't had much to eat recently.
She didn't respond to my question but tried to get away. I easily held her down, keeping her from escaping.
The vendor reached us finally. "Thank you, sir," he said. Then, turning his attention to the girl, he continued, "Now, give me my bread back."
She shook her head and tried to wiggle free again. I let go of her, and she ran off.
"Why did you do that?" the vendor asked.
"Because she is starving," I said reaching into my pocket. "Here is enough for the loaf plus a little more." The vendor didn't seem to care - just so long as he got his money. He walked away, muttering to himself.
I found my horse, and we sped off in the direction of the girl. A couple of times I thought I lost her, but her trail wasn't hard to find once again. I saw her turn into an alley between two buildings. I followed her, overtaking her in a matter of seconds. I pulled the reins, stopping my horse just in front of her.
"Thank you for paying for the bread, but I have no money to give you," she said quickly.
"I do not want your money."
She was breathing hard. She had run for a couple of minutes without letup. "What do you want then?"
I ignored her question. "How about you come with me? I can take you somewhere where you will be safe and well fed."
"I am not going to prison."
"I never said anything about prison. You didn't steal anything. I paid for it."
I reached out my hand, offering to pull her up onto the horse. She looked at the hand for a while, thinking. Eventually, she took it, and I pulled her up to sit behind me.
As we rode, she said nothing. I had a feeling the loaf wasn't just for her, but she didn't mention anything about family. I did finally get her name out of her: Nellie.
We finally made our way to the Elliot farm. They were surprised to see me so soon.
"What are you doing back here?" Mrs. Elliot asked.
"I have a farm helper for you. She owes me the price of a loaf of bread, and I thought she could work it off here. Give her something to eat."
I winked, and Mrs. Elliot nodded. I believed she understood what I really meant. Nellie may end up helping on the farm, but getting her fed was the first priority. Then, maybe she would tell the Elliot's her story.