Mr. Carlisle shifted his gaze hastily to the gardener and back to Emery. For a moment, he looked defensive and angry. But then that faded away, leaving a weary, defeated resignation. "I had hoped that name would never come back to haunt me." He shrugged his shoulders, a flicker of evasiveness reappearing in his eyes. "How much do you know?"
The gardener raised his chin defiantly. "I know that Clayton was the best gardener you ever had. I know that he had a wife and children depending on him. I know that he was the sort of person you could trust. And I know that you got rid of him the morning after your daughter supposedly died." His voice grew louder. "I know that he couldn't find a job anywhere after you fired him. I know that his family fell into hard times that just grew harder and harder. Last I heard, he was far away, looking for a job outside of your influence, and his family lived in the city on the brink of starvation."
Mr. Carlisle winced as the gardener flung each sentence at him.
"Whatever happened that night, I know that Clayton didn't deserve the way you treated him. It was your fear and intense family pride that made you overreact to everything, to take unnecessary 'precautions' against word leaking out." The gardener shook his head. "If this girl had wreaked vengence on your daughter, it would have served you right. But, no, the Claytons aren't like that. Instead of reaping what you deserved, the very family you ruined were the ones to bring you back from the disaster."
Mr. Carlisle's face was fixed on the gardener's and his expression was unreadable.
"You may fire me for saying this," The gardener shifted his weight and his voice lowered to a normal tone. "But if this isn't God giving you a second chance to make things right, I don't know what is."
Beth lifted her head, her big eyes pleading with her father. "Can Emery stay here? With me? Please?"
"I'll do it -- I'll fix this." Mr. Carlisle's voice was soft, almost unrecognizable. "Emery Clayton, you will have employment here for as long as you desire it, with Beth. I will bring your mother and siblings here, and they will live in your old cottage again. My investigators will track down your father and bring him home. The money he has lost from not working here, I will restore to him. And, if he will take it, I will give him his position as head gardener. Everyone..." He reached out, brushing Beth's hair from her forehead." "...everyone will be home again."
Emery's mind spun, not quite comprehending this sudden change in situation. Never had she dreamed such a thing was possible. Not once, when she stopped to help Beth, did she imagine that doing so would bring her family back to their humble prosperity.
Lady Carlisle snuggled Beth closer, resting her cheek against Beth's hair. "For so long, this chapter lingered -- painfully kept open. My little girl was gone, but not gone. And our whole household was falling apart because of it. And now that's been resolved." She lifted her eyes to Emery, smiling at the look of overwhelming shock on Emery's face. "For the first time in seven years, I am looking forward to tomorrow. When an old chapter closes, a new one opens. And this one will be a good one -- I just know it."