Oh, Lord. I stood on tiptoes and turned in a circle, looking for Detective Riordan or one of the cops. None were in sight. Of course, for all I knew the man in the gray suit was fingering his Bible or some Socialist manifesto, but I had to be sure.
I began working my way around to the front of the stage, but it was slow going. The Convention Center at Wayne Gardens was packed to the rafters for the event. These people had arrived early to claim spaces at the front and were only very grudgingly giving way for me to pass.
I glanced at Elizabeth as she began speaking again. "Before we hear from Miss Addams and Miss PankhurstSylvia," Elizabeth added, glancing back at the young lady with a smile, "I'd like to introduce one of the great leaders of the woman suffrage movement, who in 1884 helped found the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association, and has given loyal service to its cause ever since. As president, she led the drive that culminated four years ago in a decisive first stepwomen who pay taxes winning the vote on tax and bond issuesand is now leading us in our fight for real equality. Please join me in welcoming the president of MESA, Mrs. Clara Arthur!" Clapping, Elizabeth stepped back from the lectern and waited for Mrs. Arthur to take her place.
I squeezed between a pair of matrons, tipping my derby and shouting, "Excuse me," so as to be heard over the tumult. Both women gave me withering glances. One reached out and swatted me in the side with her purse. The bag slammed into my burned right hand, and the glove did little to cushion the sharp edge of the bag from striking the inflamed nerves. Swallowing the comment that came to mind, I winced and pushed on.
Mrs. Arthur's powerful voice boomed out over the crowd. "We have an extraordinary opportunity before us!" She paused and continued more quietly, though with no less passion. "But we have only three weeks to persuade those not yet persuaded. We must use that timeall of that timeto exert our will. This is not only a question of the vote. It is a question of a fundamental right of human beings. The right to have a say in our lives. The right to stand shoulder to shoulder with men as equals!"
The crowd responded as one, shouting and surging forward, knocking me off balance and nearly to the floor. My eyes focused again on the spot I'd seen the man. Now he was gone, lost in the sea of hats. I kept moving, zigzagging through the crowd toward the other side of the stage, craning my neck to catch a glimpse of him. Therea hundred feet from me and perhaps fifty feet from the stairway that led backstage.
No one stood guard at the base of the steps.
A policeman was supposed to be there. Detective Riordan had posted men at all the stage entrances. I checked when I arrived. Then again, Riordan's man was a Detroit cop. Was he on someone else's payroll?
I spun again, searching in vain for a policeman. Now I started shoving and shouldering my way toward the steps, shouting, "Coming through! Watch out!"
The crowd quieted again, and Mrs. Arthur got back to it. "You all know the story of Jane Addams and Hull House. Miss Addams, a tireless supporter of our cause, will tell us of her discussions with Colonel Roosevelt and his Progressive Party staff."
The man in the gray suit bobbed in and out of my view as he moved toward the stairway. When he reached it, he turned back once before disappearing up into the darkness. I had narrowed the gap between us to thirty feet, but he was free of the crowd while I still waded through the mass of people.
"Sylvia Pankhurst," Mrs. Arthur continued, "is the daughter of Emmeline and sister of Christabel Pankhurst, two of the other courageous leaders in the British suffrage movement. She has been jailed twice for her actions, sent to the miserable Holloway Prison, where she suffered through months of hunger, thirst, and sleep strikes to bring attention to the plight of English women."
Copyright © 2013 by D. E. Johnson
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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