Nina Jameson stirred restlessly in her bed trying to get some sleep as two ten-year-old orphans argued in the bed beside her. They were pulling at the blanket on the bed they shared. One of them called loudly, “You have more of the blanket than I do.”
“Not true!” the other girl retorted. “You have all of the blanket; I have none! You pulled it all away!”
Nina yanked her own plain white cotton blanket over her head. Un
der the blanket she felt safe and secure, away from the mess of the orphan asylum. She had been at the asylum for a few months, and she found it very lonely and miserable, especially since she was not supposed to be there.
When her parents had become deathly sick that summer, they asked Nina’s uncle, Humphrey Jameson, to raise her after they were gone. Her uncle had said he would do as they asked, but after they died he sent her to the orphan asylum immediately. Nina knew she should forgive her uncle, and she tried her best to forgive, but she was still very angry at him for sending her to the awful asylum.
The girls continued to squabble in the bed beside her. Nina thought of the past few months at the asylum. She missed her parents. Tears started rolling down her face.
“Nina Jameson!” said a stern voice as the blanket was thrown off her. The teary-eyed girl turned to see Mrs. Bingham, one of the two ladies running the asylum, glare down at her. Mrs. Bingham had a bun of shiny brown hair, much like Nina’s own, and a a navy blue dress with buttons all the way down the front. Buttons were the fashion all ladies must have in those days. Two ladies, Mrs. Bingham and Mrs. Frank, took shifts watching the girls. Mrs. Frank was a very kind and tender-hearted woman, but Mrs. Bingham was a strict woman, not standing for disobedience or what she would consider ridiculous behavior. She wasn’t mean, necessarily, but she was demanding. “Why are you hiding?” Mrs. Bingham asked. “And why in the world is a grown girl like you crying?” Nina sat up quickly, her hazel eyes blazing.
“Mrs. Bingham,” Nina said with an authoritative voice, “I know that you are in charge of me and these other children, and that you are my elder, thus I must treat you with respect, but I am coming to a point where I cannot hide my feelings and be a hypocrite anymore! I feel absolutely no respect for you, even though I should. I think you are overly demanding and strict, and you do not understand us at all! Do you not know that we have feelings, and that we are all orphans who have lost our parents? If you lost both of your parents would you not cry? Not only have I lost my parents, I was sent here by my uncle who is supposed to be raising me! Now you know why I was crying.” Then Nina teared up and charged toward the old wooden door at the side of the dark room, but Mrs. Bingham caught her.
“You are not going anywhere, young lady,” she said through gritted teeth, her brown eyes staring angrily at Nina. “You will receive a sound thrashing for the thrashing your tongue let out. Mary, go get the strap,” she said to a little towhead girl sitting on a bed nearby.
“Yes, ma’am,” the frightened girl said, returning a little bit later with the strap in her hand. Mrs. Bingham took it and gave Nina’s hand four sound whacks. Nina’s eyes watered from the pain. She felt like spewing out more nasty words, but she knew it would only cause more trouble.
“Now answer my question,” she said. “Why were you hiding?”
“I was trying to get some sleep,” Nina replied, then she slipped back into bed.
“Good enough,” Mrs. Bingham said as she left. “Now get some sleep, all of you!” Nina buried herself in her blanket again. Never had her her hand hurt so badly and never had she felt so lonely. She suddenly realized what to do. She was done with this orphan asylum. She had to escape! But how would she? She then got an idea. She would unlock the window and climb down to the ground using a rope. It seemed like a good idea, except that she did not have a rope. I could make a rope out of bed sheets, she realized. I will leave in the morning, she thought, and fell asleep.
The next morning Nina woke up early. She made sure everyone was asleep, then she slipped out of bed and pulled on her torn purple shawl. She crept over to a basket of dirty laundry. Then she quietly took two sheets out of the basket and tied them together. The sun was just starting to rise as she took her plain white pillowcase and put into it everything she owned–her old blue gingham dress that did not fit her any more, and some small gifts from her uncle which included sixty-eight cents. (She was certain her uncle had given the gifts to her in order to relieve his conscience after what he had done.) She used her red hair ribbon to tie her blanket around the pillowcase. She unlocked the window, opened it, and gently dropped the bundle to the ground. Then she tied the rope of dirty sheets to the leg of a heavy bureau and let the sheets down through the window. Finally she lowered herself to the ground. She grabbed her bundle and ran from the orphan asylum as quickly as she could. I am a fugitive now, she thought. Mrs. Bingham is probably awake and searching for me! She slowed down as she entered Dayton’s downtown district. She stopped to pull off her rather noticeable shawl, and crumpled it into her pillowcase. She noticed a supply store at the corner of Franklin and Main Street, and decided to hide in a nearby alley until the supply store opened.
An hour later, she left the alley and walked across the street. Then she noticed a hair pin on the ground before her. She picked up the pin, wiped it clean, and used it to put her hair up like a lady. It was hard using just one pin, but she managed anyhow. She grabbed her bundle with her right hand, stuck her head up as proudly as possible, and strode into the small supply store like a grown woman.
“What would you like, miss?” the clerk asked.
“I would like to sell you some things I do not need anymore,” she said as she pulled the gifts from her uncle out of her pillowcase. “A doll, a bracelet, two books, and a few doll dresses.”
“Let me see,” the clerk said as he pulled his wire-rimmed spectacles from a small drawer to his right. He examined her belongings and found them to be in impeccable shape because Nina had hardly touched them. Meanwhile her hair pin started to fall out and half of her hair fell onto her shoulders. The other half was soon to follow, and she struggled to pin her hair up again. As soon as her bun was secure, the clerk looked up and handed her a generous sum of money for her belongings. She shoved her blanket into her pillowcase and then she left. She headed three blocks up Main Street to the Cincinnati-Hamilton & Dayton Rail Road station. She was planning to go far away, really far away. She entered the large, white-walled station and looked at the list of train departures. The next train was going to Cincinnati. She planned to get another ticket from there.
“One ticket to Cincinnati, please,” she said to the man at the booth. Her sweaty hand pushed the money toward him.
“Here, miss,” the man said as he gave her a ticket. She took it and sat down on one of the little wooden seats in the station. But as soon as she sat down, she realized she was hungry. She went to the bakery across the busy street and bought a loaf of bread. About fifteen minutes later, after Nina had eaten some of her bread, a train came chugging into the station.
After some passengers disembarked, the conductor stepped off the train and called, “Eight o’clock train to Cincinnati!” Nina stood up swiftly and handed her ticket to the conductor. Then she stepped into the dirty, dim passenger car and sat down on one of the rough wooden benches. She set her pillowcase beside her on the bench. There were many people on the train. The women wore a variety of deep colors. Many had plain skirts and bodices while others displayed ruffles, flounces, and other stylish frills. Some of the men wore three-piece suits and had carpet bags in hand. Then the train started with a jolt. She felt so lonely and nervous. She had never left Dayton before, and she had never ridden in a train. Every town looked similar, every field the same, until the conductor announced that Cincinnati was their next stop. She suddenly felt a strange sensation. She felt like she was slowly falling backward, but she knew she was not. As she looked ahead, she saw the land rising. She realized she was going up a hill for the first time in her life. Excitement overcame any trace of anxiety as she entered Cincinnati. She got off the train and purchased a ticket to Ashland, Kentucky. She figured that no one would find her there, in another state. As they left the station, the sky started to turn red and yellow. And before it turned completely dark, Nina was fast asleep.
She woke early the next morning and rubbed her sleepy eyes. She stretched her cramped neck and then looked out the window. It was still dark out. She tried to get more sleep, but she was unable to. We must be near Ashland now, she thought as she lifted her bread to her mouth and looked outside again. What she saw took her breath away. The eastern sky was like a rainbow, with stripes of red, pink, green, and blue. Higher in the sky was a violet and blue mixture. Thin, sleek clouds lined the sky. Sycamores and poplars stood erect on either side of the railway. A long bridge lay before her. Excitement swelled within her as they crossed the Ohio River. Then the train took an immediate right, heading northwest along the river. Nina stared out the window at the city. Then the train stopped and the conductor called, “Ashland, Kentucky!” Nina quickly grabbed her pillowcase and headed out the door. She walked across the platform and into the train station. There were wooden benches by the big glass windows. A few men sat by the ticket booth. She quickly walked through the station and out into the bright sunlight. The fresh air bore a tiny chill.
“Whatcha doin’ here, little girl?” asked an old man with a southern drawl as she started to head
down Eighth Street. “Are you meetin’ your father at the coal yard?” Oh, how she wished she was!
“No, sir,” she said. “I just arrived on the train.”
“Who is watchin’ you?” he asked.
“I’m on my own,” she replied simply.
“Ain’t you too young to be alone?” he queried.
“No, I am not. I am older than I look,” said Nina as confidently as she could.
“Well, be careful, girly. It’s a dangerous world out there,” he said as he walked away.
Nina was tempted to run, but she didn’t want to draw attention. She walked down Eighth Street hauling her pillowcase as if she had business to do. At the end of Eighth Street and across Railway Avenue the city came to an abrupt halt. Before her lay beautiful wooded acreage. She slipped in and found a tiny clearing in which to make a shelter. She started looking around for some large branches. All day long she leaned the branches against a big tree and piled small leafy branches on top. She only stopped once to eat some bread. By suppertime, her scratched hands were screaming, as well as her hungry stomach. She went inside her shelter, finished her loaf of bread, made herself a pine needle bed, and lay down. Kentucky is gorgeous, she thought as she fell asleep.
Here is a historical map of Dayton from 1872, three years before this story is set.
Below you’ll find a historical map of Ashland, Kentucky.
How do you like the story so far? What do you think will happen to Nina? Please comment below and tell me what you think!