Failure Was Impossible

The idea first came to me when I started to work on the time machine project and I’ll admit that by the time we got the machine for finally come online, it had progressed to a full blown obsession.

Before I get into it, let’s kick the elephant out of the room so we can sit down and talk. We found that time not only self corrects to keep the timeline correct, it’s aggressive in doing so. You can’t kill your grandfather because well, everything and anything will prevent it from happening. Trust me, the string of coincidences and things that will go wrong is beyond amazing.

The Time Bureau was established not to prevent people from breaking timelines or seeing if they could wipe themselves out of existence before they existed but to make it safe for time and history to be studied safely.

My request took me a full year to research and write.  It took the Bureau another eighteen months to read, consider and check every detail of my research. When I got the word I’d been bumped up to the second tier of research my mother took me for a week’s bacchanal in Paris so we could swill gallons of the best champagne. Once we sobered up, we found the most time period accurate fabrics money could buy for my costume and commissioned a fussy bird-like little woman who sewed the entire ensemble (at an obscene rate) by hand and with the proper techniques.

The timing of my mission took an entire six months of debate alone. If I arrived too soon, my arrival would change time. Too late, and she would lose consciousness before her scheduled death from complications of heart disease and pneumonia. She fell seriously ill on March 5 and died on March 13th but lost consciousness about twenty-four hours before then.

We determined that I’d need to arrive on that last Sunday as close to her losing consciousness as I could. Not so late that she’d already be fading but as close to that mark as I could to give her less time to tell anyone what I would say to her. Also, we’d have to contend with when her caretakers would allow visitors to still have access to her deathbed. We decided I would arrive in Rochester, New York late in the afternoon on Sunday. I would present myself as an admirer who’d seen her giving her speech in Baltimore and had heard she was worsening. Hopefully I could bribe, beg or bully my way to her in that tiny sliver of safe time available to me.

When I stepped into the portal room, it was crammed almost beyond safety with women. Some held candles, others clutched flowers, pictures, pamphlets of elections they’d taken part in. One woman proudly showed a collection of memorabilia belonging to her family that dated all the way back to 1920. There was not a dry eye in the room as I presented my muted plaid travelling outfit and ostrich-feather trimmed hat for the last blessing of the costume and props inspectors.

They gave the final assent to the small collection of items that would convince the great lady of who I was and where I’d come from, then I was allowed to make the time crossing.

Enough has been written about the Crossings so I will omit any elaborate description of what has already been sufficiently recorded. I experienced the famed sense of time bending, the feeling of your bones melting and reforming and my favorite, ice forming on every inch of your body.

I arrived around the corner from the great lady’s home in an alley, shucked off my transit blanket and dusted stray ice from my painstakingly arranged coiffure and the ostrich feathers. While it was only March it was not such a bitter night that arriving covered with ice wouldn’t attract attention.

I righted myself and for luck patted the suffragette’s jail door pin that had been passed down in my family. My many times great grandmother would have enjoyed this.

The housekeeper who answered the door frowned at my arrival. “The house is not receiving at this time…”

I stepped forward. “I’m so sorry. I know your mistress is ill. I saw her speech in Baltimore and I had heard she was ailing terribly.  I’m from the National Sufferage Convention and I had heard that she has taken a turn for the worse.” I gulped, real tears springing into my eyes. I could not fail this. I could not let this one last barrier stop me from righting this one great wrong, this one terrible injustice that the merciless flow and passage of time would allow me to correct. “I…just pray that you allow me one private moment with her. I beg one private moment of her time to pass a message to her that I believe with all my heart will give her the greatest comfort in this terrible hour.”

The housekeeper frowned, glanced over her shoulder up towards the great lady’s final sickroom. She studied my face with an intent and serious expression. “She’s most gravely ill now you understand…”

I clasped her hand desperately. “We had received word she was sinking quickly. I owe her this one last message. I have come so far to give it to her and I beg you to allow me to speak to her before it is too late.”

The housekeeper hesitated. “I could pass the message to her…”

I shook my head. “I fear my message is private in nature. I am sworn to give it to no one but her and to God.” I shook my head as a worried expression crossed her face. “Don’t fear. What I will say to your mistress will only give comfort to her. I will be as brief as I can and I swear that I will neither tire her out nor impose upon what time remains to her.”

The housekeeper sighed and relented. “I’ll give you but a moment as you’re from the Convention. Be quick though.  Admirer of hers or no, she’s not much in shape for visitors now.” She dabbed at her eyes with a muslin handkerchief that looked rather damp already. “I’d tell you to come another day, but I’ve got my fears she may not even last through the night.”

I pressed her hand, the both of us unable to speak a moment. I dug a dry handkerchief out of my reticule and handed it to her. She wiped her eyes, nodded in silent gratitude and led me up the stairs.

At the end of the hall lay the great lady’s bedroom. It was fairly simple and sparse as befitted a spinster lady who’d had her mind on a far greater prize than earthly riches. The only note of frivolity was the surprisingly stylish clothes I could see hung in the closet.

A small plump lady with white hair tied into a knot sat beside the bed holding the age-diminished hand of a woman with a gaunt but famously determined face.  The bedridden woman had a brief fit of rattly coughing, then looked up at the white-haired woman. “Miss Shaw, it was so good of you to come. I am beginning to fear that this ailment is proving to be the end of me. I’m so very tired now that I feel I could go to sleep and never wake again.”

The white-haired lady shook her head. “You must be wrong! There is so much still left to do and the Cause needs you so badly! We cannot lose you, there is so much yet to be done!” Her voice was English accented and rough with tears.

The gaunt lady sighed and in that soft sound I could hear a lifetime of struggle.  “Dear Miss Shaw, “To think I have had more than sixty years of hard struggle for a little liberty, and then to die without it seems so cruel!” Her eyes drifted towards me as I stood in the door. “Who would you be?”

I stepped inside the sickroom and curtseyed to both women. “My name is Julia Wells. I’m a believer in Women’s Suffrage. I had heard you were ailing badly and came to give my regards to you Miss Anthony.”

Susan Anthony smiled wanly. “Doctor Ricker said I have developed pneumonia and every time he comes in here he looks more serious.” She winced and her hands roved over her coverlet for a moment. “Miss Shaw still harbors hope, but I’m not a young woman anymore.” She studied me a moment. “You seem familiar, perhaps I saw you at my last speech in Baltimore?”

“I was not so fortunate Miss Anthony but I am a longtime admirer of yours.” I swallowed hard and touched my brooch for strength. “I was wondering…Miss Anthony might I speak to you for a few moments alone? I have a message to pass to you that is somewhat private.”

“Miss Anthony, I hardly think it’s fitting to leave you alone with a stranger.” The white-haired woman protested but Miss Anthony squeezed her hand reassuringly.

“Miss Shaw I hardly think this young woman will do me any great harm. You can stay just outside my room and I will call for you if I need. I confess I’m somewhat curious as to what message our visitor bears.” I was amazed by how the lines in her face so easily blossomed into a smile. I’d seen so many serious, even grim looking photographs of this great lady that it was almost strange to see her smile.

Miss Shaw gave a deep sigh but rose gracefully and walked over to me. She studied me for a moment, frowning slightly then spoke crisply to me. “I will allow you a few moments, but I will not have you exhausting her.  Please also refrain from bothering her greatly on suffragist business.” She glanced back at the bed and the stricken woman. “Whether or not she is indeed dying, she is hardly in a fit state to compose another speech or to give even more to the movement that she has already.”

I shook my head and impulsively took her hands. “Believe me, I intend only to pass on a message of hope and comfort. You will not have to worry about me overstaying my welcome. I’m afraid my time here is actually quite limited and the quicker I’m on my way, the better for me. I’m expected back home shortly and my journey will be quite a long one.”

Miss Shaw’s face relaxed slightly. “See to it you keep your word please. I’ll be right outside should you need me Miss Anthony.” She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and with one last quelling glance at me hurried from the room.

I sat down in the chair next to Miss Anthony’s bed. “I heard what you said about your struggle. Have you truly worked for women’s suffrage for so long?”

Susan B. Anthony nodded and winced with pain for a moment. “I have always considered that failure must be impossible in gaining rights for women but our Creator has deemed that I should not be successful in my work.” Her eyes fluttered shut and she turned her face to the pillow. “I pass with only four states granting women votes and no one granting women true suffrage.”

I took her hand and fumbled for the right words. “Miss Anthony…the message that I’ve come to give you touches directly on this matter!”

Miss Anthony opened her hazel eyes. “What message could you possibly have to give me? Has word come from the Women’s Convention? Has…there been news about the vote?”

“No Miss Anthony.” I took a deep breath. “You see, I have travelled here to tell you that women will indeed get the vote!” I drew a newspaper from May 21rst, 1919 announcing the House of Representatives passing 19th Amendment from my satchel and held it up for Miss Anthony to read.

Her hazel eyes focused on the newspaper and grew wide with surprise. Her hand weakly rose to touch it and she blinked for a moment. “1919? This paper’s date cannot be correct!” She shot me a suspicious look.

I shook my head and gripped her other hand. “It is. You see Miss Anthony…through the Grace of God and the works of humankind I have been able to travel back in time to give you the message that women indeed receive full suffrage and the vote!”
“Travel through time?” She stared at me in shock. “Travel through time? How on Earth could that be done?”

“Miss Anthony, I know it seems most unlikely, but I assure you it’s possible, at least to me today. With great effort, time travel is possible and I am not mad or here to waste your precious time. I won’t be able to tell you how it’s done or how it works as I am not allowed to be here for very long.” I laid aside the newspaper and drew my personal tablet from my satchel. I tapped the screen and brought up newsreels about the 19th Amendment and women being granted the vote.

Miss Anthony’s eyes grew even wider as she took in my tablet, the footage of women fighting for equality, their rights and their votes. Tears streamed down her temples and into her hair and pillows openly.  I gave her a handkerchief and she sobbed into it. “I don’t pretend to understand how you are showing me this. I don’t pretend to understand it at all…but this is real? This will come to pass?” Her breathing grew shallow and rapid, her body desperately trying to keep up with her excitement.

“Be calm Miss Anthony! Take a deep breath!” I waited until her breathing eased somewhat. “Yes, yes it does! Miss Anthony, I swear this is all true!” I put aside the tablet and drew one more item from my satchel. I placed my voting stub into her hand, the official stamps, seal and my fingerprint on it proudly. “This is my own voting record from the last election.” I swallowed hard. “I made a promise to quite a few women back home that above all else, I would lay proof into your hand that women do indeed get the vote.”

“God be praised.” Miss Anthony’s fingers creaked as they closed around my vote, feeling its reality. Her eyes shone as she gazed at my voting stub. “We do get it at last?”

I nodded. “My fellow time travelers…we’ve thought for a very long time what a terrible injustice it was for you to die without knowing your life’s work came to pass. We felt…we thought that once we had the power to do so, that it was only a matter of justice for you to have the comfort of knowing your work comes to fruition before you passed.”

Miss Anthony’s eyes were still filled with tears but sharply intelligent. “You also confirm then my suspicions that my current infirmity is my final one.”

I placed my proofs back into my satchel. “My apologies but that is true as well.”

She closed her eyes. “Never apologize for the truth child. God has ordained the hour of my passing and as I’ve said, I can feel that on me.” She took my hand again and as I touched her wrist, I could feel how thready and uncertain her pulse was growing. “Please tell my sister and Miss Shaw these wonderful tidings.”

“I can’t Miss Anthony. This journey was made for you alone, but your loved ones will see part of what I showed you unfold.”

“Then thank you. I have given my all to our Cause for all my life and even am leaving all my earthly property to keep our battle going.” Her eyes opened and I could see it was becoming an effort. “This gives me such comfort.” She stroked my voting stub again, her fingers tracing the raised seals and stamped letters. Her eyes crept closed again and she seemed to sink a bit into her pillows.

“I can’t even begin to describe the world women build after that Miss Anthony.” I took her hands as she fought to stay awake. “Women get a great deal more than just the vote.”

Her hands slipped away from the voting stub and she relaxed back against her pillows. “Failure…was impossible…”

I gently arranged the hands that had held the history of a nation on the coverlet. Miss Anthony would continue to sink in and out of consciousness, then would fall into a final coma before passing. I returned my proofs carefully to my satchel and with the appropriate words to the ladies of the house, I slipped back to my own era, one tiny wrong at last right.


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