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Home > The Stars Shine Down(11)

The Stars Shine Down(11)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

"I know," Lara said. "If you'll take care of the dishes, I'll go collect the rents."

Bertha looked at her dubiously. "I wish you luck."

It was easier than Lara had expected. Most of the boarders were sympathetic and happy to help out the young girl.

Early the following morning Lara took the rent envelopes and went to see Sean MacAllister. The banker was seated in his office when Lara walked in.

"My secretary said you wanted to see me."

"Yes, sir."

MacAllister studied the scrawny, unkempt girl standing before him. "You're James Cameron's daughter, aren't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Sarah."

"Lara."

"Sorry to hear about your father," MacAllister said. There was no sympathy in his voice. "I'll have to make other arrangements, of course, now that your father's too ill to carry out his job. I..."

"Oh, no, sir!" Lara said quickly. "He asked me to handle it for him."

"You?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'm afraid that won't..."

Lara put the envelopes on his desk. "Here are this week's rents."

MacAllister looked at her, surprised. "All of them?"

She nodded.

"And you collected them?"

"Yes, sir. And I'll do it every week until Papa gets better."

"I see." He opened the envelopes and carefully counted the money. Lara watched him enter the amount in a large green ledger.

For some time now MacAllister had intended to replace James Cameron because of his drunkenness and erratic performance, and now he saw his opportunity to get rid of the family.

He was sure that the young girl in front of him would not be able to carry out her father's duties, but at the same time he realized what the town's reaction would be if he threw James Cameron and his daughter out of the boardinghouse into the street. He made his decision.

"I'll try you for one month," he said. "At the end of that time we'll see where we stand."

"Thank you, Mr. MacAllister. Thank you very much."

"Wait." He handed Lara twenty-five dollars. "This is yours."

Lara held the money in her hand, and it was like a taste of freedom. It was the first time she had ever been paid for what she had done.

From the bank, Lara went to the hospital. Dr. Duncan was just coming out of her father's room. Lara felt a sudden sense of panic. "He isn't...?"

"No...no...he's going to be all right, Lara." He hesitated. "When I say 'all right,' I mean he is not going to die...not yet, at least...but he is going to have to stay in bed for a few weeks. He'll need someone to take care of him."

"I'll take care of him," Lara said.

He looked at her and said, softly, "Your father doesn't know it, my dear, but he's a very lucky man."

"May I go in and see him now?"

"Yes."

Lara walked into her father's room and stood there staring at him. James Cameron lay in bed, looking pale and helpless, and he suddenly seemed very old. Lara was engulfed by a wave of tenderness. She was finally going to be able to do something for her father, something that would make him appreciate her and love her. She approached the bed.

"Papa..."

He looked up and muttered, "What the bluidy hell are you doin' here? You've work to dae at the boardin' house."

Lara froze. "I...I know, Papa. I just wanted to tell you that I saw Mr. MacAllister. I told him I would collect the rents until you got better and..."

"Ye collect the rents? Dinna make me laugh." He was shaken with a sudden spasm. When he spoke again, his voice was weak. "It's the Fates," he moaned. "I'm gang to be thrown oot into the streets."

He was not even thinking about what would happen to her. Lara stood there looking at him for a long time. Then she turned and walked out.

James Cameron was brought home three days later, and put to bed.

"You're not to get out of bed for the next couple of weeks," Dr. Duncan told him. "I'll come back and check on you in a day or two."

"I canna stay in bed," James Cameron protested. "I'm a busy mon. I have a lot to dae."

The doctor looked at him and said, quietly, "You have a choice. You can either stay in bed and live, or get up and die."

MacAllister's boarders were, at first, delighted to see the innocent young girl come around to collect their rents. But when the novelty wore off, they had a myriad of excuses:

"I was sick this week, and I had medical bills..."

"My son sends me money every week, but the mail's been delayed..."

"I had to buy some equipment..."

"I'll have the money for you next week for sure..."

But the young girl was fighting for her life. She listened politely and said, "I'm so sorry, but Mr. MacAllister says that the money is due today, and if you don't have it, you'll have to vacate immediately."

And somehow, they all managed to come up with the money.

Lara was inflexible.

"It was easier dealing with your father," one of the boarders grumbled. "He was always willing to wait a few days."

But in the end they had to admire the young girl's spunk.

If Lara had thought that her father's illness would bring him closer to her, she was sadly mistaken. Lara tried to anticipate his every need, but the more solicitous she was, the more badly he behaved.

She brought him fresh flowers every day, and little treats.

"For Gude's sakes!" he cried. "Stop hoverin' aboot. Hae you nae work to dae?"

"I just thought you'd like..."

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