Uncle Cunningham left before dawn the next morning with the money in a nondescript bag, headed for the alley where Mr. Tanner was attacked. Six hundred pounds doesn't look like a lot when it is bound in bunches and neatly stacked, but I knew we were giving the blackmailer a small fortune. After a few years of steady blackmail our family would be bled dry. Right now we had no choice but to pay him every penny he asked for, but that didn't mean we weren't going to do everything in our power to find out who this guy was and stop him. We had to stop him.
I sat up in my window seat wearing my bathrobe, watching the street for Uncle Cunningham's return. Henry was still asleep. He had asked me to wake him before Uncle left, but he looked so peaceful that I couldn't bring myself to do it. There was nothing he could do. I couldn't do anything either, so there was no point in me being awake either. I wished that I could go back to sleep but my nerves had gotten the best of me. The mission was at the forefront of my mind.
There was a soft knock at my door.
"Come on in, Mary," I called quietly, not wanting to wake Henry in the next room.
In she came, wheeling her faithful cart of treats and tea. She looked around for Henry, and when she didn't see him she asked where he was.
"I didn't want to wake him," I replied casually, thinking she'd agree with my decision.
Instead she scowled at me disapprovingly. "You're doing it to him again, ma'am."
Now I knew I was in trouble. For years now, Mary had called me 'Rebecca' in private. When we were alone the only time she called me 'ma'am' was if I had done something wrong.
"What did I do this time?" I asked trying not to sound defensive.
She put her hands on her hips. I was in even worse trouble than I thought. "Were you not there yesterday when he got angry because you kept things from him to try and spare him? What do you think this is? He is going to be mad again, ma'am."
I pursed my lips. Damn, she was right. I hate it when she does that. It's not easy being married, you know. You want to spare your spouse all the pain and anguish that you can, but they don't like secrets. It's an uncomfortable institution sometimes. I sighed. "I can't help it. I love him too much."
"Try harder," she said sternly. "Mr. Hamm loves you too, ma'am, but you don't see him trying to spare you from ugly truths even though men are supposed to do that for their wives in this time. How long do you really expect him to walk in your shadow like a lady in waiting?"
"I hate it when you're right," I said with a sigh. "But Mary, I can't tell him everything. He's not a Heir."
Mary rolled her cart over, lecturing as she went. "That is an arbitrary rule. You decided you couldn't tell him because the Heir's aren't used to having someone to trust besides my family. It's been four years and you still haven't gotten it through your head that Henry is a part of this family now. He has just as much a right to know everything as we do."
"I wish it were that simple."
She put a warm cup of tea in front of me. "It is that simple. Someday you will realize just how simple it really is. Will that be all, ma'am?"
Now I'd really done it. When Mary does the 'Will that be all' routine she was miffed.
I nodded. "Thanks, Mary."
"I'll send Priscilla up in an hour or so to dress you."
She curtsied as best she could and left.
I picked up my tea and stared out the window at the pre-dawn streets. Mary was rights. Deep down I knew she was, but Uncle Cunningham had drilled the rules into my head so deep. It wasn't fair to say it was Uncle's fault. It wasn't anybody's. Henry was a new variable in a centuries long formula for the preservation of the line of Heirs. When Henry married me, Uncle and I told him everything; every last detail. After that the secrets had started. Now that I thought about it, there was no premeditation to it. When you are an Heir you have to keep secrets, and keep them well. It doesn't take long for secrets and fronts to become second nature. Uncle and I couldn't help ourselves. If I was going to change; if I was really going to let Henry in without any limitations, it was going to take effort. I resolved then that there would no more subterfuge, no more secret conversations. That was it. I was done! Now, I had to live up to my resolution, and tell Uncle. I didn't know how he would react, seeing as he had been keeping secrets longer than I had been alive.
I sat there thinking about my promise until the sun's light peaked over the buildings. Priscilla came up to dress me, and I rang for Malcolm to get Henry's clothes ready for the day. I went in to our room and Henry's eyes were already open.
"You didn't wake me up," he yawned. He sat up in bed.
"No, I didn't." I walked over to him casually and brush some stray hairs out of his face. "You looked so peaceful that I couldn't bring myself to. You're not mad at me, are you?"
Henry just smiled.
"Good," I said playfully as I hugged him. He held me tight in his arms. "Let's get dressed and go down to breakfast, huh?"
Halfway through my first cup of tea, Uncle Cunningham came trudging into the breakfast room looking very put out. He explained that he dropped off the money before the sun came up and lurked in a dark corner for an hour waiting to see if someone would pick it up, but no one came.
"They must have been watching me," he continued in a dejected tone. "When I stayed behind, they knew not to move in. I gave up and came home."
I reached over and patted his shoulder. "It's okay, Uncle. We'll find out who they are another way."
Henry cleared his throat. "And how are we to do that?"
"Circle the wagons and have a pow wow," I said seriously.
"What?" said Uncle and Henry in unison.
I'd done it again. When I reflected back on what I had said, I realized that the phrase was contradictory because the pioneers who circled the wagon were not the Native Americans holding a pow wow, but I doubted that was what Uncle and Henry were confused by. My words were about as American west as you could get. It was no wonder they were confused.
"Sorry, I mean we need to gather all the interested parties because there is safety in numbers and talk about what is going on, so we can make a plan."
Uncle nodded apprehensively, still trying to wrap his head around my previous statement. "We'll invite Mr. Tanner and Alexander for tea this afternoon."
When breakfast was over, Henry and Uncle made to get up. They usually spent their morning working in the upstairs office, looking over books, and making business and inventment decisions. When Aberforth Hamm was institutionalized the family fortune was permanently transferred to Henry. He had a natural mind for business and under Uncle Cunningham's careful tutelage, Henry's fortune had grown significantly. Since he never spent it on anything, except his father's bills and mother's allowance, Uncle thought that his fortune might be bigger than ours in ten or twenty years.
"Can y'all wait a minute?" I asked as they started to stand up.
The most important men in my life sat down again, unsure of what was going on.
"I want to talk to you about something." I took a deep breath. "I've decided that we shouldn't have any secrets from each other. I say if Henry is in this family, he has as much of a right to know the whole truth as the Tanners and we do."
I looked at Uncle to gauge his thoughts. He didn't look sold.
"Please, Uncle," I said. "Imagine what it feels like to be him. Whispered conversations stopping when you enter rooms; only being given half the story; always knowing that the only family you have is keeping things from you."
"He understands, dear," Henry said sheepishly.
Uncle still looked uneasy. "It's not that simple."
I reached across the table and took his hands. "Yes, Uncle, it is. We are the ones who decided to exclude him. It's habit not necessity. You trust him don't you."
"Of course, I do, but-"
"No buts, Uncle. It is an issue of trust and habit. I trust Henry, so do you. We simply have to get over our innate need for secrecy. The cat's already out of the bag. He know what we are."
Uncle thought for a moment. "You know, you're quite right. Why have we been so foolish?"
I giggled. "Old habits?"
Uncle freed and hand and patter Henry on the back. "I can't promise we will be good at it. Knock us upside the head when we're being thick."
Henry looked relieved. "No more wondering if you aren't telling me something?"
I smile at him. "No. Today is a new day."