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Home > The Stars Shine Down(6)

The Stars Shine Down(6)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

"I'm giving Peggy a dowry of five thousand dollars," her father told James. "The money will give you a chance to make something of yourself. You can invest it in real estate, and in five years it will double. I'll help you."

But James was not interested in waiting five years. Without consulting anyone, he invested the money in a wildcat oil venture with a friend, and sixty days later he was broke. His father-in-law, furious, refused to help him any further. "You're a fool, James, and I will not throw good money after bad."

The marriage that was going to be James Cameron's salvation turned out to be a disaster, for he now had a wife to support, and no job.

It was Sean MacAllister who had come to his rescue. The town banker was a man in his mid-fifties, a stumpy, pompous man, a pound short of being obese, given to wearing vests adorned with a heavy gold watch chain. He had come to Glace Bay twenty years earlier and had immediately seen the possibilities there. Miners and lumbermen were pouring into the town and were unable to find adequate housing. MacAllister could have financed homes for them, but he had a better plan. He decided it would be cheaper to herd the men together in boardinghouses. Within two years he had built a hotel and five boardinghouses, and they were always full.

Finding managers was a difficult task because the work was exhausting. The manager's job was to keep all the rooms rented, supervise the cooking, handle the meals, and see that the premises were kept reasonably clean. As far as salaries were concerned, Sean MacAllister was not a man to throw away his money.

The manager of one of his boardinghouses had just quit, and MacAllister decided that James Cameron was a likely candidate. Cameron had borrowed small amounts of money from the bank from time to time, and payment on a loan was overdue. MacAllister sent for the young man.

"I have a job for you," MacAllister said.

"You have?"

"You're in luck. I have a splendid position that's just opened up."

"Working at the bank, is it?" James Cameron asked. The idea of working in a bank appealed to him. Where there was a lot of money, there was always a possibility of having some stick to one's fingers.

"Not at the bank," MacAllister told him. "You're a very personable young man, James, and I think you would be very good at dealing with people. I'd like you to run my boardinghouse on Cablehead Avenue."

"A boardinghouse, you say?" There was contempt in the young man's voice.

"You need a roof over your head," MacAllister pointed out. "You and your wife will have free room and board and a small salary."

"How sma?"

"I'll be generous with you, James. Twenty-five dollars a week."

"Twenty-fi...?"

"Take it or leave it. I have others waiting."

In the end James Cameron had no choice. "I'll tach it."

"Good. By the way, every Friday I'll also expect you to collect the rents from my other boardinghouses and deliver the money to me on Saturday."

When James Cameron broke the news to Peggy, she was dismayed. "We don't know anything about running a boardinghouse, James."

"We'll learn. We'll share the work."

And she had believed him. "All right. We'll manage," she said.

And in their own fashion they had managed.

Over the years, several opportunities had come along for James Cameron to get better jobs, employment that would give him dignity and more money, but he was enjoying his failure too much to leave it.

"Why bother?" he would grumble. "When Fate's agin you, naething guid can happen."

And now, on this September night, he thought, They won't even let me enjoy my whores in peace. God damn my wife.

When he stepped out of Madam Kirstie's establishment, a chilly September wind was blowing.

I'd best fortify myself for the troubles aheid, James Cameron decided. He stopped in at the Ancient Mariner.

One hour later he wandered toward the boardinghouse in New Aberdeen, the poorest section of Glace Bay.

When he finally arrived, half a dozen boarders were anxiously waiting for him.

"The doctor is in wi' Peggy," one of the men said. "You'd better hurry, mon."

James staggered into the tiny, dreary back bedroom he and his wife shared. From another room he could hear the whimpering of a newborn baby. Peggy lay on the bed, motionless. Dr. Patrick Duncan was leaning over her. He turned as he heard James enter.

"Wass goin' on here?" James asked.

The doctor straightened up and looked at James with distaste. "You should have had your wife come to see me," he said.

"And throw guid money away? She's only haein' a baby. Wass the big...?"

"Peggy's dead. I did everything I could. She had twins. I couldn't save the boy."

"Oh, Jesus," James Cameron whimpered. "It's the Fates agin."

"What?"

"The Fates. They've always been agin me. Now they've taine my bairn frae me. I dinna..."

A nurse walked in, carrying a tiny baby wrapped in a blanket. "This is your daughter, Mr. Cameron."

"A daughter? Wha' the hell will I dae wi' a daughter?" His speech was becoming more slurred.

"You disgust me, mon," Dr. Duncan said.

The nurse turned to James. "I'll stay until tomorrow and show you how to take care of her."

James Cameron looked at the tiny, wrinkled bundle in the blanket and thought, hopefully: Maybe she'll die, too.

For the first three weeks no one was sure whether the baby would live or not. A wet nurse came in to tend to her. And finally, the day came when the doctor was able to say, "Your daughter is going to live."

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