On the 14th December 1995 Lord Haddington's mother, the Dowager Countess, Lady Sarah Haddington, died. She was a few months short of 100 and had been quite frail for some time.
I'd been living in the east wing of Mellerstain for just a couple of months. The winter snow blanketed the countryside; pristine white and beautiful.
Lord Haddington's mother, Lady Sarah, was brought back to Mellerstain from the Nenthorn House nursing home. Her coffin was laid on trestles in the centre of the library. She laid there facing south, looking towards the serene snow-white back gardens.
Here she would stay for a few days; her many friends and relatives would come to say their final goodbyes.
Four large candles were at each corner of the coffin. I would light them at about 8 a.m. and douse them at 8 p.m. each day.
On the second morning Lady Jane Haddington came into the library just after I'd lit the candles. With her was little Isobel, aged five. Isobel (full title Lady Isobel Jean Baillie-Hamilton) is the youngest of the three children.
The two of them stood there quietly for a moment or two, Isobel holding her Mum's hand. It was very quiet and Isobel was looking up at the coffin.
She then looked at her mother and, pointing to the coffin said: "Is Grandmama in there, Mummy?"
"Yes dear." That was all that Lady Jane said. There was a pause for a few moments.
Isobel then said: "Well, can I see her Mummy?"
"No dear." And another few moments went by.
Isobel: "Well why can't I see her?"
"Darling, it's only her body in there; she's gone to live in Heaven."
Isobel was still unsure. "Yes, but why can't I ..." and with that Lady Jane headed for the door, still clutching little Isobel's hand.
I can remember that episode as though it were just today. I went to the west wing in June this year to give Isobel her 18th birthday card and small gift. She is still that young pretty-faced girl to me. I retold the above story to her; she had no recollection of it. I am not surprised. So much has happened in the intervening years; prep school and then boarding school down in the south of England.
She had recently returned from a few months in South Africa, working at a Lodge in her gap year. She will soon be going to uni, reading philosophy. How fast this tempus fugits!!