The Stars Shine Down(8)


by Sidney Sheldon

"Aye. And what else is there? If it isn't women, it's the whiskey, isn't it?"

McSween went into the kitchen, where Lara was washing dishes at the sink. Her eyes were hot with tears. McSween put his arms around her. "Niver ye mind, lassie," he said. "He dinna mean it."

"He hates me."

"Nae, he doesna."

"He's never given me one kind word. Never once. Never!"

There was nothing McSween could say.

In the summer the tourists would arrive at Glace Bay. They came in their expensive cars, wearing beautiful clothes and shopped along Castle Street and dined at the Cedar House and at Jasper's, and they visited Ingonish Beach and Cape Smoky and the Bird Islands. They were superior beings from another world, and Lara envied them and longed to escape with them when they left at the end of summer. But how?

Lara had heard stories about Grandfather Maxwell.

"The auld bastard tried to keep me frae marryin' his precious daughter," James Cameron would complain to any of the boarders who would listen. "He was filthy rich, but do ye think he wad gie me aught? Nae. But I took guid care of his Peggy anyway..."

And Lara would fantasize that one day her grandfather would come to take her away to glamorous cities she had read about: London and Rome and Paris. And I'll have beautiful clothes to wear. Hundreds of dresses and new shoes.

But as the months and the years went by, and there was no word, Lara finally came to realize that she would never see her grandfather. She was doomed to spend the rest of her life in Glace Bay.

Chapter Four

There were myriad activities for a teenager growing up in Glace Bay: There were football games and hockey games, skating rinks and bowling, and in the summer, swimming and fishing. Carl's Drug Store was the popular after-school hangout. There were two movie theaters, and for dancing, the Venetian Gardens.

Lara had no chance to enjoy any of those things. She rose at five every morning to help Bertha prepare breakfast for the boarders and make up the beds before she left for school. In the afternoon she would hurry home to begin preparing supper. She helped Bertha serve, and after supper Lara cleared the table and washed and dried the dishes.

The boardinghouse served some favorite Scottish dishes: howtowdie and hairst bree, cabbieclaw and skirlie. Black Bun was a favorite, a spicy mixture encased in a short paste jacket made from half a pound of flour.

The conversation of the Scotsmen at supper made the Highlands of Scotland come alive for Lara. Her ancestors had come from the Highlands, and the stories about them gave Lara the only sense of belonging that she had. The boarders talked of the Great Glen containing Loch Ness, Lochy, and Linnhe and of the rugged islands off the coast.

There was a battered piano in the sitting room, and some-times at night, after supper, half a dozen boarders would gather around and sing the songs of home: "Annie Laurie," and "Comin' Through the Rye," and "The Hills of Home," and "The Bonnie Banks O'Loch Lomond."

Once a year there was a parade in town, and all the Scotsmen in Glace Bay would proudly put on their kilts or tartans and march through the streets to the raucous accompaniment of bagpipes.

"Why do the men wear skirts?" Lara asked Mungo McSween.

He frowned. "It's nae a skirt, lass. It's a kilt. Our ancestors invented it long ago. In the Highlands a plaid covered a mon's body agin the bitter cold but kept his legs free sae he could race across the heather and peat and escape his enemies. And at night, if he was in the open, the great length of the cloth was both bed and tent for him."

The names of the Scottish places were poetry to Lara. There was Breadalbane Glenfinnan, and Kilbride, Kilninver, and Kilmichael. Lara learned that "kil" referred to a monk's cell of medieval times. If a name began with "inver" or "aber," it meant the village was at the mouth of a stream. If it began with "strath," it was in a valley. "Bad" meant the village was in a grove.

There were fierce arguments every night at the supper table. The Scotsmen argued about everything. Their ancestors had belonged to proud clans, and they were still fiercely protective of their history.

"The House of Bruce produced cowards. They lay down for the English like groveling dogs."

"You dinna ken wha' you're talking aboot, as usual, Ian. 'Twas the great Bruce himself who stood up to the English. 'Twas the House of Stuart that groveled."

"Och, you're a fool, and your clan comes from a long line of fools."

The argument would grow more heated.

"You ken wha' Scotland needed? Mair leaders like Robert the Second. Now, there was a great mon. He sired twenty-one bairns?"

"Aye, and half of them were bastards!"

And another argument would start.

Lara could not believe that they were fighting over events that had happened more than six hundred years earlier.

Mungo McSween said to Lara, "Dinna let it bother ye, lassie. A Scotsman wi' start a fight in an empty house."

It was a poem by Sir Walter Scott that set Lara's imagination on fire:

Oh, young Lochinvar is come out of the west:

Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;

And save his good broadsword he weapon had none;

He rode all unarmed and he rode all alone.

So faith in love, and so dauntless in war,

There never was knight like the young Lochinvar.

And the glorious poem went on to tell how Lochinvar risked his life to rescue his beloved, who was being forced to marry another man.

So daring in love, and so dauntless in war, Have ye e'er heard of gallant like young Lochinvar?

Someday, Lara thought, a handsome Lochinvar will come and rescue me.

One day Lara was working in the kitchen when she came across an advertisement in a magazine, and her breath caught in her throat. It showed a tall, handsome man, blond, elegantly dressed in tails and white tie. He had blue eyes and a warm smile, and he looked every inch a prince. That's what my Lochinvar will look like, Lara thought. He's out there somewhere, looking for me. He'll come and rescue me from here. I'll be at the sink washing dishes, and he'll come up behind me, put his arms around me, and whisper, "Can I help you?" And I'll turn and look into his eyes. And I'll say, "Do you dry dishes?"

Bertha's voice said, "Do I what?"

Lara whirled around. Bertha was standing behind her. Lara had not realized she had spoken aloud.