The next morning Nina woke up abruptly to someone shaking her and calling, “Girl, girl, wake up!” She wearily opened her eyes and looked up at the face of a tan, wrinkled man wearing a torn blue shirt and denim overalls.
“I was–sleeping,” she replied.
“Why were you sleeping on my property?” he questioned.
“I did not know that this was your property, sir,” she said standing up. “I will leave.”
“Why did you set up these logs?” The man asked.
“Because I wanted to make a house for myself,” she said.
“Where is the house you live in?” he asked. “Is it nearby?”
“I live in this house, sir,” she said, solemnly pointing at the lean-to.
“Do you have a family?” he asked, his brown eyes narrowing.
“No, sir,” she said. “I am alone.”
He looked thoughtfully at the ground and said, “Well, I could take you to an orphanage and–” As soon as he said “orphanage,” Nina darted into the woods at a breakneck speed. The man ran after her. The man may not have been as fast as little Nina, but he had endurance. Finally, after racing through the trees and underbrush, he caught up with her and grabbed her shoulder. “Why did you run away?” he gasped.
“Because you are not sending me to an orphanage!” she retorted, her eyes flashing.
“Okay, then. If you do not want to go to the orphanage then come on to my house and I will decide what to do with you,” he said and let go of her. Nina was so shocked that he’d let go of her shoulder. Should she go with him or run away again? “Are you coming?” he said, slowly walking away.
“Yes,” she said. She decided she was going to try to trust this man. She followed the man back through the woods. They passed the place Nina had made her home and she grabbed her things. Soon they exited the woods and entered a huge Kentucky field. Most of the field was fenced off, and Nina saw about five horses in the fence.
“What is your name, girl?” the man asked.
“Nina,” she replied.
“Nina?” he queried. “Is that short for something?”
“Yes,” she said.
“What for?” he questioned.
“What does it matter to you?” she answered. “I am Nina.”
“Okay, then, Nina,” he said. “There is my home,” he said as he pointed past the field. The simple log house with a window in the front and smoke coming from the chimney was so quaint and lovely, at least in Nina’s mind. Anyone else would have probably considered it just an old, boring Kentucky home, but Nina thought it was beautiful. As they continued up the dirt path leading to the house, a little girl came running out. She was about five years old with curly brown hair tied up in a ribbon.
“Father!” she called, as she ran up the path and hugged the man.
“Susan!” he called back chuckling.
“Who is this?” she asked, looking shyly up at Nina.
“This is Nina,” said the man. “She will be visiting us for a while.” Then they all entered the house.
In the house everyone was busy. The man’s wife was scrambling eggs at the fireplace, a brown haired girl that looked about Nina’s age was washing a curly-haired toddler at a washbasin on the other side of the room, and another curly brown-haired girl was setting plates around the table. All of the girls and his wife had on simple cotton dresses and dirty white aprons.
“Oh, who is this?” his wife asked, poising her spoon in midair.
“This is Nina,” the man explained. “I found her sleeping in the woods.”
“Hello,” Nina said quietly. Then an older boy and a younger boy, also wearing plain cotton clothes, came in carrying water. The older boy had brown hair and hazel eyes and the younger boy had blonde hair and blue eyes. The younger boy set his jug of water on a nearby shelf and the older boy set his bucket by the fireplace.
“You found this girl in the woods?” his wife asked. “Why was she there? Does she have a family?”
“She does not have a family or a home,” he explained.
“Sit down, Nina, and eat some food,” his wife said with a smile. “Far be it from us not to practice some pure religion like the Bible says. Right, children?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said the children simultaneously, as they all sat down for breakfast.
The man said grace and then he announced, “Nina will be staying with us for a while. We do not know how long.” Then he turned to Nina. “Nina, I am George Walsh and this is my family: my wife Elsie, my eldest Andrew,” he said, motioning toward the older boy. “My daughters Annamarie and Katherine,” he continued, motioning toward the older girls. “My son Jonah, and, of course, Susan, and Charity,” he said as he introduced the youngest children.
“It is nice to meet you all,” Nina said properly.
“What is your last name, Nina?” Jonah asked.
“Jameson,” she replied with a smile, as Mrs. Walsh served the eggs. Nina tried to eat slowly, but the food was so good that she had trouble containing herself. It was a good and happy breakfast.
After breakfast and kitchen chores were done, Annamarie asked, “Nina, do you want to meet our horses? Katherine and I are going to the horse barn to feed the horses and thought you might want to come along.”
“Sure, I will come,” Nina said. Then the three girls set off across the field.
The high grass, wildflowers, and various weeds tickled the girl’s bare feet and legs as they strolled along toward the barn. The sun shone brightly over the beautiful trees of Kentucky. “I love horses,” Annamarie randomly stated, shaking Nina from a world of thought.
“They are very pretty and graceful,” Nina replied.
“I love to ride them!” Katherine called. “It gives me such a thrill.”
“How old are you Nina?” Annamarie asked.
“Fourteen,” Nina replied.
“Then you are Annamarie’s age,” Katherine commented happily.
“Which horse would you like to ride?” Annamarie asked as they entered the shade of the wooden barn.
“I do not know. What is that horse’s name?” Nina asked, pointing at their pretty black Arabian horse.
“Bonnie,” Annamarie said as she put some food in her bucket.
“What is this one called?” Nina asked, coming to the next stall in which was a brown American paint horse with a mane and tail of the same color.
“Cowboy. He is my favorite,” Annamarie replied before going on to the third stall in which resided a dark brown American quarter horse with an even darker mane and tail. “This one is named Ranger.”
“Oh, he is so pretty!” Nina called. “I want to ride him.” Then the girls went on to feed the last three horses: an American paint horse named Willy, a white quarter horse named Angel, and Angel’s white colt Snowy. When they were all done feeding the horses, Katherine cheerfully said,
“Let us not just ride our horses; let us have a race!”
“What a grand idea!” Annamarie called. “Would you like to race, Nina?”
“Sure,” Nina said, a competitive gleam shining in her eyes. “I used to live on a farm, so I am pretty stiff competition. Are you sure you are up for the challenge?”
“Oh, certainly,” Annamarie said, her eyes glistening as well. “You used to live on a farm, but I have lived on a farm my whole life!”
“Oh, Annamarie,” Katherine sighed. “You never pass up a competition!”
“Well you are the one who decided to race,” Annamarie commented to Katherine. “I will ride Cowboy.”
“I will ride Bonnie,” Katherine said.
“And I will take Ranger,” Nina said. They got all the horses tack on, bridles, bits, and all. Then Annamarie jumped onto Cowboy and called,
“Come on girls, let us go race!” They trotted out of the barn and lined up for the race.
“Go!” Katherine yelled, and the race was on. Nina charged with all of her might, gently prodding Ranger to go faster and faster. She did not look back, but only toward the finish line. She rushed closer and closer to the finish line. She could taste victory when…
“I won!” Annamarie called loudly. Nina crossed the finish line right behind her and leaped off of Ranger’s back.
“You were really fast, Nina!” Annamarie congratulated. “In all honesty, you surprised me. You must have practiced a lot when you lived on a farm.”
“Oh, yes,” Nina said. “I raced often.”
“Well, I have got chores to do, and so do you , Katherine. Let us cool down the horses and then get those chores done.”
“Oh, yes, and maybe after chores you could meet the cows,” Katherine commented.
“Oh, yes,” Nina laughed. “I will.” Then the girls started walking the horses across the field.
The next few days passed pleasantly as Nina enjoyed riding Ranger and playing with Coco, the energetic dog. One of the best things about the Walsh farm was the good food they provided for her. She had not eaten such wholesome food since her mother had fallen ill. And she was delighted to sleep by the warm fireplace at night. Those days were very special.