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. This excerpt jumps ahead to Chapter 5.
The bus station was at least as crowded as it was earlier. But there was a difference. Then there had been overtones of gaiety brought about by frantically brief Saturday night plans. Now there were undertones of desperation precipitated by the faces of an entirely different crowd. Young army wives and their unhealthy babies and old Mexican women in black shawls on unhealthy religious pilgrimages. I wondered why the men never found solace in those missions of discomfort. Praise be to the Greyhound bus company and the Texas Highway Department for lightening the burden of these weary sinners.
In the short time it had taken me to get the shopping bags, the streets had become deserted. The street cleaners were doing their work. It was as though the monstrous sweeper had sucked up a city of dolls. I had the night to myself.
I swerved suddenly and crossed Houston Street by the Texas Theatre and went down the stairs to the river. It was cooler down there in the midst of the lush shrubbery. Although the usual light wind had blown in at eight thirty, the hot Saturday night crowds had kept the sidewalks from cooling off. My plan was to follow the river, stopping every now and then to rest on a stone bench until I reached the stairway at Commerce and Losoya. There, with luck and perseverance, I would cross a crazy five-point intersection, which was no worse than dozens of legalized death traps where madmen went around on wheels, but tired as I was, I dreaded it.
As I wandered aimlessly in the recent past dreaming about the kisses of Gerald Eaton, I felt someone come up behind me. The steps were in sight, but I couldn’t make a run for them without spilling eggs all over the place, so I kept up a stiff uncomfortable pace. I felt that my pursuer was gaining on me, but perhaps this was only my imagination taking advantage of my exhaustion.
All at once there was a moment of complete calm. The breeze surrounded me with one last playful caress and blew off. The tortured tires on the melted street above stopped shrieking in the night. Then, just as I put my foot on the first step, I thought I heard familiar sounds in the distance. It was Jess playing the guitar and singing “Don’t Fence Me In.” I heard a boisterous laugh and clapping to the melody. That would be Mira, and I pictured her sullen husband grooming himself in the background.
A pair of strong arms met in a firm grip around my breasts. “Underneath the starry above,” Jess was singing. Then the insane drivers took over in a mad chase of death. I felt a bony chin on my head and a hard chest against my back. I was so stupefied with fright and exhaustion that I didn’t think to drop the shopping bags and free my hands for the struggle. Wild fancies spun in and out of my head and I did nothing to resist the attack. The street noises became shrill and jerky, as though I were poking a finger in and out of my ear, while down below all was still and peaceful. Strange.
Then I saw my attacker. He was a soldier, young but frightening. He shoved me up against a fountain and stared at me. No one had ever looked at me like that before. Stripped of any pretense at communication, we were hardly more than snarling animals. I turned my head toward the fountain, but the sunny western limestone was a monster. My dress was pulled up, and he was rubbing against me. I screamed, and he stuck his tongue in my mouth, and I bit it so hard that I must have chewed off a piece. But I couldn’t tell, for I spit so much blood into the monster’s watery face that it hid everything else. The young soldier started to curse and run around in circles. I should have run away right then, but instead I started slamming him around with the shopping bags. I was so hot that I looked down at my feet to see if they were on fire. At that moment my attacker gave me a slight push (by this time he was pretty tired) intended to topple me into the San Antonio River. Fortunately a norther blew up with such force that it pushed me back from the edge of the river, and as I teetered precariously on the edge of the walk that had been lovingly donated by the Texas Historical Society, I watched my Social Security card and the Eaton family disappear down the river in a floating garden of confetti. I ran up the stairs and stood shivering on the corner waiting for the lights to change. “Give me land, lots of land.” There was not a sign of the storm that raged below, but I couldn’t help but feel that my attacker would have succeeded had he struck in the confusion of the streets. The soothing notion that my destiny was not altogether in my own hands gave me a comfortable feeling, and I felt a strange aching pity for the young soldier.
And once more I came back to the little courtyard behind the Angus Hotel.
“I had a nosebleed,” I announced.
They all looked at me for a moment with vague beery grins and went back to what they were doing.