Editor’s note: The Duchess of Angus is a novel written in the 1950s by Margaret Brown Kilik, who lived in San Antonio briefly during World War II. The story, which is set in the city, follows the day-to-day adventures of 20-year-old Jane Davis, whose life closely mirrors that of Kilik. In advance of the March 17 publication date, Trinity University Press has granted the Rivard Report permission to publish five excerpts, one of which will appear each day this week.

Chapter 1

I had been at Joske’s only two weeks when Wade Howell arrived, as she would have it, directly from Panama. By then I had established myself as a promising, although somewhat unreliable, salesgirl. But Mrs. Smart, the buyer for sportswear, liked my unsensational good looks, so I was treated with more consideration than I deserved. Anyway, it was during the war, and Joske’s, like everyone else, accepted incompetence as a patriotic duty.

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It was no surprise when Mrs. Smart turned the new girl over to me rather than to her assistant buyer. If I had half tried, I could have pushed the assistant right off the floor. She was a tall boney thing with no imagination and no humor. Nothing, in fact, but seniority. However, I did not care to assert myself even that much. I was exhausted from my years of foundering about in academic muck, and I wanted nothing but to float in my lush vacuum. Of course, I would have preferred to loll away the days vaguely reading or walking about through the twisting streets and along the river and perhaps coming to life for a few hours at night. But the thought of my mother working while I wallowed in indolence was more of a disturbance to my contentment than taking a job.

For an hour or so one morning, I looked about for something that was not too demanding. I found it a block away from the hotel at Joske’s department store.

I soon settled on a workable compromise for my new freedom of spirit, which was nothing more than a relaxation of any rigid rules of conduct. As a result, I enrolled in a poetry course and drank a lot of beer.

The day Wade Howell came to work, I had a terrible hangover. I had been to the drinking fountain a dozen times. It was three o’clock, and I was beginning to wonder whether I would be back to normal by closing time. I didn’t mind feeling half dead on the job, but that was the night for the Romantic Poets. I certainly couldn’t expect to be carried away by Keats’s images with a beery head.

As I was returning from my latest trip to the drinking fountain, I felt a disturbance in the air. At first the feeling was so slight that I almost dismissed it as oversensitiveness brought on by thinking about the poets at that unlikely time and place. But when I saw Mrs. Smart charge out of her office, and our eyes met in the middle of the aisle that separated Nardis of Dallas from Cole of California, I knew that my alertness had been justified. Mrs. Smart ran her department by ear, and to work with her successfully, it was necessary to have an awareness of situation. This subtlety was completely lacking in the assistant. I possessed it in abundance. At that moment, I knew without being told that I was being called upon to witness what Mrs. Smart considered an act of deceit.

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Margaret Brown Kilik

Margaret Brown Kilik was a collage artist and writer. Her only novel, The Duchess of Angus, was written in the 1950s and discovered after her death in 2001.