The Fairbairn Girls

The Fairbairn Girls

by Una-Mary Parker


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847514721
Publisher: Severn House Publishers
Publication date: 06/01/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.55(w) x 8.74(h) x (d)

About the Author

Una-Mary Parker, a former newspaper columnist, social editor of Tatler magazine and TV and radio commentator, has written over twenty best-selling novels.

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The Fairbairn Girls

By Una-Mary Parker

Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 2013 Una-Mary Parker, Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8258-5


Lasswade Hall, 1904

If only. The words reverberated again and again in Laura's head. If only she'd listened to her sisters. If only she'd not been so impulsive; she who was normally so careful, weighing everything up before she made a decision. Why had she rushed into it, when others had begged her to wait a bit longer? Why had her acute intuition utterly failed this time? Most of all, why had no one actually warned her?

A heavy crash from the floor above made her duck her head involuntarily. It was followed by another and another. Laura sank into a chair and buried her face in her hands. It was happening again and she didn't know how she was going to bear it. How long would it last this time? A few days? A week? Probably longer. And what about Caroline? Fear ran in icy rivulets down her spine and a feeling of utter despair washed over her. Then she drew herself up. This would never do. She must be strong. As she walked over to her bureau, a framed photograph on a side table caught her eye. It had been taken in 1891 when she'd been seventeen, at a family gathering to celebrate her engagement to Rory Drummond.

Grouped on the lawn in front of her family's imposing home in Argyllshire, she stood with her parents, her eight sisters, two brothers and a collection of dogs. All the girls wore long white lace and muslin dresses with large hats adorned with flowers and feathers. Papa looked so distinguished in the kilt with a velvet doublet while her mother, in a silk dress with a train, wore the biggest hat of all.

Laura studied her own likeness, taking in the girlish smile and wide, innocent eyes filled with joy, and felt a sudden stab of sadness. Papa had always claimed the family had been cursed by someone using the Rowan tree as an instrument of destruction. Superstition caused most Scotsmen to hold the Rowan in awe, for it held the power of good and evil. Laura no longer believed that. Over the years she had begun to fear that she might be the mistress of her own destruction. But as she stared at the photo she was lost in her memories of how happy she and her family had been in those days. How wonderful the future had promised to be. If only ...


Lochlee Castle, 1891

'Come along, girls,' the Countess of Rothbury urged. 'The guests will be arriving in a few minutes and we must be in the drawing room to receive them. It's getting cold out here, too. The little ones will catch a chill.'

Elegant in a pale lavender silk dress trimmed with velvet and a hat embellished with violets and roses, she tried to round up her children as she hurried across the lawn back to the castle. They were celebrating the engagement of their second daughter, Lady Laura, and to mark the occasion they'd had their picture taken, some sitting, others standing in a formal group.

The photographer, who'd been summoned from Edinburgh for the occasion, had taken longer than expected because he'd got carried away by the magnificent backdrop of a fourteenth-century castle with ramparts and turrets set amidst the mountains that rose from the stony edges of Loch Etive. It was said to be the finest castle in Argyllshire, and had been in the Fairbairn family for five hundred years.

'It's colder indoors than it is out here,' observed Lizzie, the eldest, in somewhat crisp tones as she grabbed Catriona, the baby of the family, and swung her up in her arms. The other daughters chatted as they moved in a drift of white lawn and lace, the flowers on their broad-brimmed hats quivering like a herbaceous border in the stiff breeze.

Meanwhile, the Earl of Rothbury strode ahead with his favourite Labrador, Megan, by his side.

'Hurry up, boys!' he shouted to his sons, but Frederick and Henry were watching the photographers packing up their bulky equipment and ignored him.

'I wish I had a camera,' Henry said, gazing longingly at the sturdy wooden tripod and the black cases holding glass slides.

'What would you take pictures of?' Freddie scoffed. He was thirteen and the heir to the earldom and the Lochlee estate. Freddie considered himself to be vastly superior to his brother, who was four years younger.

'The horses, of course. Especially Snowdrop,' Henry replied without hesitation.

'Oh, you and Snowdrop! You're as bad as Papa when it comes to horses.'

Henry, turning pink, looked enraged. 'What's wrong with that?'

'When I inherit I'll get rid ...' But Frederick's voice was drowned out by a burst of laughter as his sisters jostled each other in their haste to get indoors as it suddenly started to rain. Their good-natured banter echoed across the lawn as they held on to their hats.

'Come on, Laura! It's you everyone wants to see today,' shouted Beattie, struggling with her frilled skirt up the steps.

'That's right, Laura,' Lizzie piped up. 'You're the centre of attention today and I'll never forgive you for getting engaged before me! I am the eldest, after all.'

Laura's hazel eyes were shining with amusement as she caught up with them. 'Only by fourteen months,' she retorted. 'I think that seventeen is the perfect age to get married. It's only Mama who says I've got to wait another year. If I had my way I'd get married next week.'

'Come on, you two lovebirds,' Georgie chided. 'I'm starving. When are we going to have tea?'

Overhearing her, Lady Rothbury glanced back at her plump daughter and spoke firmly. 'Tea will be served throughout the afternoon but you must make sure all our guests have everything they want before you go diving in, Georgie.'

Georgie's expression became sulky and her full mouth drooped at the corners. Well developed for a fourteen-year-old, she unsettled people with her knowing brown eyes, which gave her a rather bold look.

'I don't see why,' she muttered under her breath.

'It's a case of FHB,' Beattie pointed out. 'You know ... Family Hold Back.'

Georgie looked rebellious. 'I'm not going to!' It was so unfair, she thought. All her sisters were willowy thin and they all ate as much as her, but she was the one who put on weight.

'You can eat as much as you like at my wedding,' Laura pointed out peaceably.

'Bags I actually get to the altar before you, though,' Lizzie insisted, puffing under Catriona's weight. 'By this time next year who knows what might happen between me and James?'

Laura looked at Lizzie, her eyes widening. 'You mean ...? Has he ...?'

Lizzie frowned. 'Shhhh!' she whispered, glancing in Beattie's direction. 'If she finds out the whole county will know about it by this evening.'

Laura nodded. Beattie was the big mouth in the family, incapable of keeping a secret.

Inside the great hall of Lochlee Castle, the butler and several footmen stood awaiting the arrival of over a hundred guests who had been invited to the afternoon reception. Excitement and expectation charged the normally uneventful atmosphere. Lord Rothbury strongly objected to having his own routine interrupted by people who cluttered up the place, chattering and expecting fuss and formality.

Today the large reception rooms were brightened by vases of flowers, and in the dining room the long refectory table was covered by a damask cloth, as white and smooth as snow. On the sideboard silver samovars gleamed in readiness to provide endless cups of tea.

The staff who worked at Lochlee, many of them since the age of sixteen, were aware that this was a special occasion: the first engagement of one of the Fairbairn girls. The housekeeper, Mrs Spry, had made sure everyone was up by dawn so that everything ran like clockwork as they polished the suits of armour that stood in the hall, cleaned and refilled the oil lamps and raked the gravel in the drive ready for the arrival of the horse-drawn carriages.

Down in the kitchen the activity had reached fever pitch as the cook, Mrs Lyddon, and her assistant finished baking the last batch of macaroons, sponge cakes crowned with icing, muffins and savoy biscuits, which the maids arranged on great silver trays and the footmen then carried up to the dining room.

The engagement of Lady Laura Fairbairn to Mr Rory Drummond, son of Sir Hector Drummond, was the talk of the county. It was thought to be a match made in heaven by many and the gossip in the village was rife. Douglas Cameron, the local postman, was the first to air his opinion to all and sundry.

'I ken the Drummonds have a large estate in Hampshire so the wee gurril's no fool!' he said knowingly.

'Och, aye! But fancy, the second daughter getting engaged before the first!' observed Mrs McGregor, who lived next to the post office. 'It must be putting Lady Elizabeth's nose right out of joint. I bet the feathers flew when that engagement was announced.'

Now the hour had arrived when the gentry could meet the future bridegroom, and within hours their opinions of the forthcoming marriage would filter down to the working classes, who would have a fine time discussing them.

Lady Rothbury smoothed her white kid gloves and, although her heart was fluttering with anticipation, she looked calm and in complete control: a queen bee at the centre of a hive heaving with the activity of servants, who skimmed about doing their duty both inside and outside the castle.

In the vast drawing room where priceless tapestries hung on the walls and silk rugs covered the parquet floor, the family chatter was suddenly broken by the booming tones of McEwan the butler as he announced the first guests.

'His Grace the Duke of Melrose and Her Grace the Duchess of Melrose.' There was a pause and then more arrivals were announced. 'Lord and Lady Gargunnock.'

In her element now, Lady Rothbury greeted each guest as if they were the most important person to grace the reception, while her husband stood stiffly beside her, nodding a brief 'how do you do' as if they were the last person he was interested in. Nearby, Laura stood proudly with Rory, as if she could hardly believe her good fortune, her eyes glowing with happiness and her face gently flushed.

Diana, hovering a few feet away, had never been to a grown-up reception before and she started trembling, overwhelmed by the occasion.

Beattie came up to her and put her arm gently around her sister's waist. 'It's only a tea party, Di, not a ball at Buckingham Palace,' she whispered gently.

'But what shall I say if someone talks to me?' Diana bleated.

'Reply politely but don't worry. Grown-ups find girls of our age boring. I bet they make a direct line for Freddie.'

'Why Freddie? He is boring.'

Beattie giggled. 'The Garunnocks have a daughter, Imogen. She's nine years old.'

Diana looked confused. 'But why ...?'

'If she married Freddie she'd become Viscountess Fairbairn, and then one day when Papa dies she'd be the next Countess of Rothbury and live here.'

'But Freddie and Imogen are still children,' Diana protested.

Beattie smiled. 'That's the way it works, Di. Laura was lucky to meet Rory but I bet Ma already had someone in mind for her. Look how they've been cultivating James Fraser for years; he's just the right age for Lizzie.'

Diana's pale skin flushed pink. 'Well, I certainly hope they haven't got anyone lined up for me! When I'm older I intend to fall in love naturally.'

'What if they lined up one of the Queen's grandsons for you?' Beattie teased. 'Prince Albert, perhaps?' 'They all seem to be called Albert,' Diana grumbled.

At that moment Eleanor, the most timid of the Fairbairn girls, came up to them. She was small for eleven, and mousey-looking, unlike all the others, who were tall and distinguished with rich dark hair and cream skin.

'What are we supposed to do?' she asked, glancing nervously around as the room filled up with more and more guests.

Her father, overhearing her, spun round and glared down at her angrily. 'What do you think you're supposed to do?' he thundered. 'Swing from the chandeliers? Stand on the piano and do a jig? That's the stupidest question I've ever heard.'

Eleanor's eyes filled with tears and she tried to hide behind Beattie.

'She's shy, Papa,' Beattie protested, taking Eleanor's hand. 'Come along, sweetheart. There are some lovely cakes in the dining room.' Beattie led her gently away.

Frowning with irritation, Lord Rothbury watched them leave the room, and then he suddenly smiled and his cold grey eyes warmed with affection as his Labrador ambled lazily towards him. Bending down, he stroked her smooth black head. 'Come, Megan,' he whispered softly. 'You don't like this circus any more than I do. Never mind – we'll go for a run as soon as I can get out of here.'

'William!' Exasperated, his wife hurried over. 'It's a pity you don't treat your family and friends with the same fondness you lavish on your blessed dogs,' she whispered fiercely. 'For heaven's sake help me to welcome the guests. This is Laura's day and it's the least you can do.'

He shrugged. 'Damned waste of time and money if you ask me. It's not their wedding reception.' He glanced balefully around the now crowded room.

'Please try to look pleasant and welcoming, William. It isn't much to ask.' Aware at that moment of more arrivals, she turned swiftly with a beaming smile. 'Ah, my dear Lady Northope, how delightful to see you again. It's so nice of you to join us to celebrate Laura's engagement.'

For the next two hours Lady Rothbury continued to smile gallantly and greet new guests gushingly before working her way skilfully around the rooms to make sure that Lizzie, Georgie, Beattie and Diana were introduced to everyone, and most especially those who had eligible sons. With eight more daughters to get off her hands she reckoned one couldn't start soon enough to cultivate the right people.

Meanwhile, Lord Rothbury had decided he'd had enough. Making polite conversation to a bunch of people he had no interest in was for him like having to endure a form of torture. He signalled to the butler. 'McEwan, get Meads to saddle Megara for me and bring her round to the front.'

'Right now, M'Lord?' he asked, astonished.

'Well, obviously not tomorrow! Of course I want to ride now. And tell someone to let the dogs out of the kennels. I don't see why they should have their afternoon ruined by a bunch of damned socialites.'

'Very well, M'Lord.' McEwan had worked long enough for the Rothburys to know that one didn't cross the master.

By the time his favourite chestnut mare had been brought round, Lord Rothbury was waiting impatiently in the drive, dressed in his riding clothes and with his beloved Megan by his side.

'Where are the others?' he demanded. At that moment a river of brown, black, white and grey fur belted through a gate that had been opened, and twelve dogs of various breeds and sizes were tearing around, barking and leaping about with excitement as they realized they were going out with their master.

'All right! All right! Let's get going.' His bad mood had vanished and his ruddy face was wreathed in smiles. Mounting easily in spite of his weight, he set off in the direction of the wild beauty of Beinn Larachan with the dogs racing ahead. Megara pricked up her ears and broke into a smooth three-beat canter. The rain clouds had parted and the sun was shining on the freshly showered mountainside. At that moment a golden eagle swooped and dipped then rose again, its wings spread wide in glorious freedom.

This was William Rothbury's world and it was all he wanted.

Rory put his arm around Laura's slim waist and led her into the garden, where the sun was now setting behind the distant blue hills.

The last of the guests had drifted away and the only sound was the rustling of leaves in the breeze that swept across the Loch. Laura shivered, suddenly feeling cold. This magical summer of falling in love with Rory was nearly over and a bleak, melancholy winter beckoned. With a pang she realized the happiest summer of her life was coming to an end and, as she looked down at her diamond and sapphire engagement ring, she felt for a moment like weeping.

'Peace at last!' Rory remarked lightly 'Shall we go for a little walk?'

'Could it be that you'd like to be alone with me?' Laura asked, her eyes over-bright and her voice trying to strike a cheerful note.

His expression softened as he pulled her closer. 'Laura, this is agony. Do we really have to wait another year before we can get married?'

'I'm afraid we do, my love.' She reached up and stroked his cheek. 'Mama made it a condition of our getting engaged now.'

'I don't know how I'm going to get through twelve months without you.'

'I'll write to you, often,' she promised.

'Nothing's going to change between us, is it?' He looked wistfully into her hazel eyes.

Laura reached for his hand and held it between her own. 'Rory, a century apart wouldn't change anything between us. I love you so much and I'm longing to become your wife. You do believe me, don't you? I wish today had been our wedding day.'

He pulled her close with sudden passion and spoke as if in pain. 'I wish to God it was.'


Excerpted from The Fairbairn Girls by Una-Mary Parker. Copyright © 2013 Una-Mary Parker, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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