I was thinking about the Easter weekend ahead as I shut down the computer. Dr Appleton, my boss, had converted part of the ground floor of his home, The Rectory, to a surgery. It was a pleasant working environment, and a great improvement on my last job in the city centre. Dr Appleton and his wife didn’t mind me taking my lunch out into their large and beautiful garden on sunny days. Mrs Appleton was rarely seen, so it wasn‘t as though I was invading her privacy.
Looking out of the office window, I admired the bed of cheerful daffodils, and the perfect green lawn beyond. Such a garden was pretty much wasted on the Appleton family, for apart from the reclusive Mrs Appleton, Dr Appleton didn’t seem to notice it existed, and their daughter, Lydia, was either at school or up in her bedroom. I couldn’t help thinking how much my three children would enjoy such a garden.
Of course the Appletons employed the services of a gardener, and a cleaner came every day to see to the house. I wondered whether Mrs Appleton appreciated what a lucky woman she was.
My late afternoon reverie was disturbed by noises from above. Raised voices and the occasional thump. Moments later, Dr Appleton, pale-faced, hurried down the stairs and into the office.
“Ah, Margaret. I’m glad I caught you,” he said, pushing his spectacles up his nose. “I have a great favour to ask. I wonder if you would be able to take Lydia home to stay with you for a few days. You see there’s been a bit of an incident …”
“Is everything all right, Doctor?”
Dr Appleton paused a moment. “Margaret, I’m going to tell you something highly confidential. I need your assurance that you won’t tell a soul, not even your husband.”
“You have my word, Doctor.”
“My wife has a long history of self-harming. Slashing at her arms and legs with a razor blade.”
“How awful. She certainly seems a very nervous person from the little I’ve seen of her.”
“Yes, very highly strung. But this time she’s gone too far. She’s harmed Lydia. That’s why I’m asking you to take care of Lydia for a few days. I need to make some arrangements.”
“Lydia will be fine with us,” I said, totally bewildered by the turn of events.
“Thank you. I’ll just go upstairs and get her.”
A few minutes later, Dr Appleton returned with his daughter. She looked pale, and it was evident that she had been crying. Dr Appleton pulled back the left sleeve of her jumper. I was horrified to see three angry welts on the girl’s arm. Dr Appleton swiftly attended to the wounds with antiseptic and plasters.
“You’ll be fine now, Lydia. You can go home with Mrs Hutton, she’ll look after you.”
Lydia did not respond, merely staring blankly ahead of her.
Dr Appleton handed over a small suitcase, and I opened the front door.
“I’ll call you as soon as I’ve made arrangements,” said Dr Appleton before he shut the door. I wondered what he meant, but meanwhile I had his fragile, damaged daughter in my care. I glanced at the girl as we walked.
“It’s not far, Lydia. I live in the next street.”
Lydia remained silent. I couldn’t help wondering what sort of a mother could cut her daughter’s arm like that.
Within minutes we were home. Seen through a stranger’s eyes, I realised how small and shabby it was compared to The Rectory. But perhaps Lydia was in no state to notice the difference.
“Come into the kitchen, love, and I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.”
John was in the kitchen, helping Catherine paint an Easter egg she had made at school from papier mache.
“Lydia, this is my husband John, and my daughter Catherine. Her brothers should be home soon. Lydia is Dr Appleton’s daughter, she’ll be staying with us for a few days,” I added.
John raised his eyebrows but said nothing, for I had brought home other stray children and animals from time to time during the fourteen years of our marriage.
“How old are you, Lydia?” asked Catherine. “I’m nine and three quarters.”
“I’ll be eleven next month,” said Lydia quietly, taking a seat at the table.
Lydia had drunk most of her cup of tea by the time the boys arrived, bounding into the kitchen like an untidy whirlwind and slinging their school bags on the floor.
“Lydia, meet Robbie and Sean. Boys, this is Dr Appleton’s daughter, Lydia.”
“She’s coming to stay with us,” said Catherine, rinsing her paint brush in a cup of water and admiring her art work.
“Okay, you lot,” said John. “Get yourselves washed, tea will be ready soon. I’ve made soup.”
Lydia looked astounded. When the boys and Catherine had departed, she fixed her eyes upon John. “I didn’t know men could cook, Mr Hutton.”
As I cleared away Catherine’s painting things and laid the table, John explained to Lydia that most of the finest chefs in the world are men.
After we’d eaten and the kids had taken themselves off into the sitting room to show Lydia the latest games on their Wii, I went upstairs to blow up the air bed. I hoped Catherine wouldn’t mind giving up her bed for a few nights. As I reached up on top of the wardrobe for the sleeping bag, John called up the stairs.
“Telephone for you, love.”
It was Dr Appleton. “I’ve managed to get Hortense into a clinic in Switzerland. We’re flying out in the morning. I’ll call again in a few days when I have a better idea how long we’ll be away.”
“No problem, Doctor. Lydia will be fine with us.”
“I’m very grateful.”
I couldn’t help worrying that I was in fact an accessory to a crime. Dr Appleton had been able to conceal his wife’s actions and spirit her away to Switzerland; the situation would have been far different for an ordinary man.
Later that night when the children were settled I had a chance to talk properly with John, but of course made no mention of Lydia’s injuries. I simply told him that Mrs Appleton had had a nervous breakdown and the doctor was taking her to a clinic in Switzerland.
“I hope you don’t mind another mouth to feed for a while,” I said.
“It’s not as though she eats a great deal,” he said with a grin, turning out the light.
The next day, as I washed the breakfast dishes, I looked out of the window at our three and Lydia playing some sort of ball game in the garden. Lydia seemed to be holding her own, and I only hoped that the cuts on her arm, thankfully concealed by her jumper, wouldn’t break open and bleed.
“We’ll need to wait until dark to get ready for tomorrow’s Easter egg hunt,” said John, looking up from his newspaper.
“I’ve had an idea about that,” I said. “How about we hide the eggs in the garden at The Rectory? I’m sure Dr Appleton wouldn’t mind.”
“Sounds great, love. It’s a fabulous garden.”
I looked at the clear, blue sky. “There’s no rain expected. I could nip over and do it this afternoon.”
I had bought six bags of colourful, tiny, foil-wrapped eggs in the pound shop in town. Enough for each child to find plenty and not to matter if they didn’t find them all. I smiled to myself, marvelling that even at thirteen Robbie’s enthusiasm for the annual Easter egg hunt showed no sign of waning.
That night as the children went up to bed they made it clear that they were very much looking forward to plenty of chocolate the following day.
“Church first thing in the morning, mind,” admonished John. “We need to remember that Jesus died on the cross for our sins before we go ahead and commit the sin of gluttony.”
“It’s up to us to make sure it was worth Jesus’ while,” piped up Sean. John and I fell about laughing.
After church we made our way over to The Rectory. Lydia looked a little anxious as we walked up the drive.
“It’s okay, love. Your parents are away in Switzerland, remember.”
She smiled up at me. “Thanks, Mrs Hutton. I’d forgotten.”
“You’re a lucky girl to have such a lovely garden.”
“I like it better at your house. I get lonely here,” she said, and my heart went out to the poor little rich girl.
Later, back at home, eating the fruits of their labour, the kids agreed it was the best Easter egg hunt ever.
“You were very sneaky, Mum, hiding that one under the cement thingy in the fountain,” said Catherine. “Phew, I’m stuffed with chocolate. Do you want another egg, Lyd?” she asked, peeling one for her new friend. It was lovely to see Lydia smiling, but I wondered what the Appletons would make of their daughter’s name being shortened to Lyd.
By Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015