Miriam lived with her father in a square white house on a steep hill near the city of Samaria in the centre of Canaan.
Her father kept sheep, and also grew some corn and vegetables on the level patches of ground near the house. Sometimes he was quite prosperous; but one year there was a terrible drought and everything dried up in the scorching sun. There was no grass for the sheep, and the garden seemed nothing but bleached stones. Miriam and her father went hungry.
Now it happened that the King of Samaria owned a very large field down in the valley; and, because he had many servants to tend it, and because the valley was damper than the hillside, his field was full of corn. When the harvest was ripe, he sent his reapers to gather in the golden loads. The children stood gazing at the slow creaking ox-wagons, and played among the sheaves.
When all was safely gathered in, the children were invited to go through the field and glean what was left. Miriam took her basket and joined the large and happy crowd of youngsters who were searching about for the fallen ears of corn.
She worked hard for an hour or two, without talking much - stooping to the right and then to the left, looking here, there and everywhere, until her basket was about a quarter full. Then she saw a little boy crying. She stood up. "What is the matter, Abib?" she asked with a smile.
Abib was a lame boy, and he told her how it hurt his back to stoop. She looked around cautiously to see if anyone was watching. Nobody was near, except one of the King's servants. She quickly tipped her -ears of corn into Abib's basket. The little boy was delighted, and stopped crying immediately.
"But what about you?" he asked.
"Oh, I shall catch up all right."
Off she went, working harder than before, so that by lunch-time her basket was half full.
The children were feeling quite faint from the heat of the day, and were glad to be able to sit down in the shade of some trees along the edge of the cornfield. The King's servants brought them food, for the King was good, and kind to the poor. There were chunks of crusty bread for all, and pots of vinegar in which to dip them; and leather bags full of cool, sweet grape-juice.
Then the gleaning began again.
Later on, Miriam found another child in distress. It was Esther, who was really too tiny to be working at all.
"It's a shame, dear!" said Miriam, kindly. "Of course you can't find anything! Here!" She looked around to see if anyone was looking. Nobody was near, except one of the King's servants, so she filled Esther's little basket to the brim, leaving only a few handfuls of corn in her own.
Esther clapped her hands and laughed. But Miriam was not quite so happy when she saw how late it was getting. However, she 'set out bravely, and worked quicker than ever. The afternoon was growing cooler, which made it easier; and she luckily found a corner where some kind-hearted reaper must have thrown down a few handfuls on purpose. Nevertheless, she had scarcely half-filled her basket again when the sun began to set in a fiery red glare over Samaria, showing up the royal palace in black and gold. She hurried about, darting here and there, until the King's servant cried out: "The sun has set. Run along home now, boys and girls, before the jackals are out." Then she had to go.
You can imagine how angry and disappointed her father was when he saw how little she had gleaned. "You haven't done much work today!" he cried, and sent her to her room without any supper. What could she do? She did not like to explain to him that she had been helping others, yet she hated to see him cross. She lay sobbing on her little straw mattress, hungry and exhausted. But after a while she began to think of the lame boy Abib, and the tiny tot Esther, and of how happy their parents would be to get so much corn. That made her happy too.
Suddenly she heard talking in the courtyard; she tiptoed out on to the balcony to see who was there.
A man dressed very grandly in red and blue was speaking to her father. "Information has come to His Majesty," he was saying, "concerning your daughter Miriam."
Her father looked frightened, thinking she must have been getting into trouble. "What is the matter?" he gasped.
"Nothing is the matter, my friend. His Majesty's servants have been watching her in the field today, and have reported that she is the best-working child in the village."
Her father looked astonished. "I don't understand," he said. "I have just sent her to her room in disgrace. Look, this is all she has gleaned! Yet she is a good enough worker as a rule."
Then the King's Messenger told him about Abib and Esther. Miriam blushed and felt uncomfortable, for she had not wanted anyone to know. She slipped back into her room and drew the curtain. But soon her curiosity overcame her, and she crept out again to listen. Her father was saying: "God bless your Lordship, and goodbye!"
Having shown the visitor out, he came bounding up the steps to her, and pointed down into the little moonlit courtyard.
"Look, Miriam !" he cried, "look what the King has sent us!" There was a fine big sheaf of corn, and a goatskin bag full of wine. "And, what do you think? You are invited to visit the palace tomorrow, and whenever you like!"
So Miriam visited the palace whenever she liked, and played with the little princess. When she grew up, she went to live in the palace permanently, and became a servant to the King. She had to work hard (all the King's servants do that!) but she was very happy always, because she was doing His will.