Serial novel: “The Plot to Kill Susan B. Anthony”

Editor’s note: “The Plot to Kill Susan B. Anthony” is a novel written by William Fleeman, a Cassadaga-area resident. This week, we continue with Chapter 4 of the book.

It was unusually chilly for a summer morning, so MacDuff had laid a small fire in the hearth. MacDuff and I sat on the settee facing Mrs. Beecher Hooker. The driver occupied the window seat next to the clothes tree.

“Oh, my,” Mrs. Beecher Hooker said, looking closely at me. “You do remind me of Susan! When she was a young woman, that is. You are about her height, I should think.” Mrs. Beecher Hooker stage-whispered into her hand, “But my dear, you are prettier, by far, and I see that you do not need a corset. And I do adore your hair, so shiny black.”

I accepted her compliments with a smile.

MacDuff leaned forward. “Mrs. Beecher Hooker, you said in your wire that someone could be plotting to kill your friend Susan B. Anthony.

“Yes, although I would rather it were my life that was in jeopardy.” Mrs. Beecher Hooker sighed. “But, Mr. MacDuff, there is no could be about it.”

She opened her purse and removed an envelope. MacDuff gave me a nod. I took the envelope, removed the single page, and read the message, silently.It was brief:

“Make no mistake, Miss Susan B. Anthony must die.

Should she live to see the leaves fall.”

MacDuff and I studied the message together. It was typed on an older machine and, though brief, the letter showed signs that the author was an educated man or woman. I had noticed, as we read, that the paper was not of common grade. It was unusually thick, and expensive. I pointed out to MacDuff that some of the typewriter keys had pierced the thick paper.

“Looks like the typist has a heavy hand,” MacDuff said.

The message was unsigned, the envelope cancelled by a clerk in the Main Post Office at Broadway and Park Row.

“Millicent?”

“Yes?”

“The envelope_ look at the backside.”

“Black sealing wax.”

We all knew what that meant. No one in 1891 used black sealing wax except when sending a death notice. Our would-be assassin had a flair for the dramatic.

“But why would the writer be so stupid as to give advance notice of a killing?” I said.

“Yeah, strange isn’t it, Millicent,” MacDuff said.

We determined that the person who wrote the letter might live somewhere in Lower Manhattan. Of course, we agreed that he could hail from Chicago, or Dallas, or San Francisco- even London or Paris_with an accomplice in New York City who received the letter and then re-mailed it from the Manhattan Post Office using a new envelope.

MacDuff looked at Mrs. Beecher Hooker. “I suppose you’ve shown the letter to Miss Anthony?”

“Yes. Miss Anthony is staying in New York just now with friends. I went to see her before I came here_but I did not tell her I would be consulting a detective.”

“How’d she take it, when you showed her the letter?”

“As I thought she would, Mr. MacDuff. She smiled, and with a wave of her hand dismissed the matter. ‘Not worth bothering about, Belle,’ she said.”

Of course, MacDuff and I knew this wasn’t the first time someone had threatened to harm Susan B. Anthony. We knew that she had had things thrown at her, and had been burned in effigy. On one occasion, a life-size cardboard image of Miss Anthony had been dragged through the streets of Boston behind a Hansom cab. Recalling these events, Mrs. Beecher Hooker shook her head in disgust.

“And twenty years ago,” said Mrs. Beecher Hooker, “when Miss Anthony spoke in a park in Rochester, New York_her home town, mind you!_a man in the crowd said he’d ‘a mind to hang her by the neck from one of the trees.'”

“How did Miss Anthony respond to that threat?” I said.

Mrs. Beecher Hooker smiled. “She didn’t blink an eye, Miss Millicent. She simply ignored the man. Of course, nothing came of the threat,” Mrs. Beecher Hooker said. “The man walked away in a huff, and that was the end of it.”

I could not help smiling. I had heard of Miss Anthony’s fearlessness.

“Have you gone to the police yet?” MacDuff said, waving the letter like a flag.

“Oh no!” Mrs. Beecher Hooker rearranged her skirts. “Miss Anthony,” she said, “is a woman of single-minded purpose, Mr. MacDuff.”

She explained that Miss Anthony had only one thing in her mind at all times, to raise the Suffrage flag, and keep waving it until all women were given the right to vote. Mrs. Beecher Hooker said that Susan would never forgive her if she went to the police.

“Nor,” she added, “would Susan ever forgive me if she discovered that I had consulted not just one, but two private detectives.”

“But Miss Anthony’s life is in imminent danger, I said. “And surely the cause of Woman’s Suffrage would be delayed fifty years if anything happened to her now!”

According to Mrs. Beecher Hooker, Miss Anthony would never accept that line of reasoning, and would never agree to involve the official police. She said Miss Anthony knows the value of publicity, but believes that in this case the publicity would bring far greater harm to the Suffrage cause than would her own death. She believes that many people would hesitate to attend Suffrage events, lest something happen to them.

“Besides, Mrs. Beecher Hooker said, “she does not believe the threat is a serious one.”

MacDuff shook his head.

“So Miss Anthony thinks the person who wrote this death threat _ that’s what it is, Mrs. Beecher Hooker. Make no mistake, it is a death threat,” MacDuff said. “But she thinks the person who wrote it is just some kind of crackpot, is that it?”

“Yes. Crackpot_ she chose that exact word! ‘He’s a crackpot,’ she said, whose threats would come to nothing.” Mrs. Beecher Hooker paused. “Do you suppose she might be right, Mr. MacDuff?”

MacDuff stared at her. “Mrs. Beecher Hooker,” he emphasized each word, I don’t take chances with anybody’s life.”