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Home > The Stars Shine Down(7)

The Stars Shine Down(7)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

And he looked at James Cameron and said under his breath, "God have mercy on the poor child."

The wet nurse said, "Mr. Cameron, you must give the child a name."

"I dinna care wha' the hell ye call it. Ye gie her a name."

"Why don't we name her Lara? That's such a pretty..."

"Suit your bloody self."

And so she was christened Lara.

There was no one in Lara's life to care for her or nurture her. The boardinghouse was filled with men too busy with their own lives to pay attention to the baby. The only woman around was Bertha, the huge Swede who was hired to do the cooking and handle the chores.

James Cameron was determined to have nothing to do with his daughter. The damned Fates had betrayed him once again by letting her live. At night he would sit in the living room with his bottle of whiskey and complain. "The bairn murdered my wife and my son."

"You shouldn't say that, James."

"Weel, it's sae. My son would hae grown up to be a big strapping mon. He would hae been smart and rich and taine good care of his father in his auld age."

And the boarders let him ramble on.

James Cameron tried several times to get in touch with Maxwell, his father-in-law, hoping he would take the child off his hands, but the old man had disappeared. It would be just my luck the auld fool's daid, he thought.

Glace Bay was a town of transients who moved in and out of the boardinghouses. They came from France and China and the Ukraine. They were Italian and Irish and Greek, carpenters and tailors and plumbers and shoemakers. They swarmed into lower Main Street, Bell Street, North Street, and Water Street, near the waterfront area. They came to work the mines and cut timber and fish the seas. Glace Bay was a frontier town, primitive and rugged. The weather was an abomination. The winters were harsh with heavy snowfalls that lasted until April, and because of the heavy ice in the harbor, even April and May were cold and windy, and from July to October it rained.

There were eighteen boardinghouses in town, some of them accommodating as many as seventy-two guests. At the boardinghouse managed by James Cameron, there were twenty-four boarders, most of them Scotsmen.

Lara was hungry for affection, without knowing what the hunger was. She had no toys or dolls to cherish nor any playmates. She had no one except her father. She made childish little gifts for him, desperate to please him, but he either ignored or ridiculed them.

When Lara was five years old, she overheard her father say to one of the boarders, "The wrong child died, ye ken. My son is the one who should hae lived."

That night Lara cried herself to sleep. She loved her father so much. And she hated him so much.

When Lara was six, she resembled a Keane painting, enormous eyes in a pale, thin face. That year a new boarder moved in. His name was Mungo McSween, and he was a huge bear of a man. He felt an instant affection for the little girl.

"What's your name, wee lassie?"

"Lara."

"Ah. 'Tis a braw name for a braw bairn. Dae ye gan to school then?"

"School? No."

"And why not?"

"I don't know."

"Weel, we maun find out."

And he went to find James Cameron. "I'm tauld your bairn daes nae gae to school."

"And why should she? She's only a girl. She dinna need no school."

"You're wrong, mon. She maun have an education. She maun be gien a chance in life."

"Forget it," James said. "It wad be a waste."

But McSween was insistent, and finally, to shut him up, James Cameron agreed. It would keep the brat out of his sight for a few hours.

Lara was terrified by the idea of going to school. She had lived in a world of adults all her short life, and had had almost no contact with other children.

The following Monday Big Bertha dropped her off at St. Anne's Grammar School, and Lara was taken to the principal's office.

"This is Lara Cameron."

The principal, Mrs. Cummings, was a middle-aged gray-haired widow with three children of her own. She studied the shabbily dressed little girl standing before her. "Lara. What a pretty name," she said, smiling. "How old are you, dear?"

"Six." She was fighting back tears.

The child is terrified, Mrs. Cummings thought. "Well, we're very glad to have you here, Lara. You'll have a good time, and you're going to learn a lot."

"I can't stay," Lara blurted out.

"Oh? Why not?"

"My papa misses me too much." She was fiercely determined not to cry.

"Well, we'll only keep you here for a few hours a day."

Lara allowed herself to be taken into a classroom filled with children, and she was shown to a seat near the back of the room.

Miss Terkel, the teacher, was busily writing letters on a blackboard.

"A is for apple," she said. "B is for boy. Does anyone know what C is for?"

A tiny hand was raised. "Candy."

"Very good! And D?"

"Dog."

"And E?"

"Eat."

"Excellent. Can anyone think of a word beginning with F?"

Lara spoke up. "Fuck."

Lara was the youngest one in her class, but it seemed to Miss Terkel that in many ways she was the oldest. There was a disquieting maturity about her.

"She's a small adult, waiting to grow taller," her teacher told Mrs. Cummings.

The first day at lunch, the other children took out their colorful little lunch pails and pulled out apples and cookies and sandwiches wrapped in wax paper.

No one had thought to pack a lunch for Lara.

"Where is your lunch, Lara?" Miss Terkel asked.

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