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A Rivermouth Romance
by [?]

A drunken sailor standing on the step of the Bilkins mansion was no novelty. The street, as we have stated, led down to the wharves, and sailors were constantly passing. The house abutted directly on the street; the granite door-step was almost flush with the sidewalk, and the huge old-fashioned brass knocker–seemingly a brazen hand that had been cut off at the wrist, and nailed against the oak as a warning to malefactors–extended itself in a kind of grim appeal to everybody. It seemed to possess strange fascinations for all seafaring folk; and when there was a man-of-war in port the rat-tat-tat of that knocker would frequently startle the quiet neighborhood long after midnight. There appeared to be an occult understanding between it and the blue-jackets. Years ago there was a young Bilkins, one Pendexter Bilkins–a sad losel, we fear–who ran away to try his fortunes before the mast, and fell overboard in a gale off Hatteras. “Lost at sea,” says the chubby marble slab in the Old South Burying-Ground, “aetat 18.” Perhaps that is why no blue-jacket, sober or drunk, was ever repulsed from the door of the Bilkins mansion.

Of course Mrs. Bilkins had her taste in the matter, and preferred them sober. But as this could not always be, she tempered her wind, so to speak, to the shorn lamb. The flushed, prematurely old face that now looked up at her moved the good lady’s pity.

“What do you want?” she asked kindly.

“Me wife.”

“There ‘s no wife for you here,” said Mrs. Bilkins, somewhat taken aback. “His wife!” she thought; “it’s a mother the poor boy stands in need of.”

“Me wife,” repeated Mr. O’Rourke, “for betther or for worse.”

“You had better go away,” said Mrs. Bilkins, bridling up, “or it will be the worse for you.”

“To have and to howld,” continued Mr. O’Rourke, wandering retrospectively in the mazes of the marriage service, “to have and to howld, till death–bad luck to him!–takes one or the ither of us.”

“You ‘re a blasphemous creature,” said Mrs. Bilkins, severely.

“Thim ‘s the words his riverince spake this mornin’, standin’ foreninst us,” explained Mr. O’Rourke. “I stood here, see, and me jew’l stood there, and the howly chaplain beyont.”

And Mr. O’Rourke with a wavering forefinger drew a diagram of the interesting situation on the door-step.

“Well,” returned Mrs. Bilkins, “if you ‘re a married man, all I have to say is, there’s a pair of fools instead of one. You had better be off; the person you want does n’t live here.”

“Bedad, thin, but she does.”

“Lives here?”

“Sorra a place else.”

“The man’s crazy,” said Mrs. Bilkins to herself.

While she thought him simply drunk she was not in the least afraid; but the idea that she was conversing with a madman sent a chill over her. She reached back her hand preparatory to shutting the door, when Mr. O’Rourke, with an agility that might have been expected from his previous gymnastics, set one foot on the threshold and frustrated the design.

“I want me wife,” he said sternly.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bilkins had gone up town, and there was no one in the house except Margaret, whose pluck was not to be depended on. The case was urgent. With the energy of despair Mrs. Bilkins suddenly placed the toe of her boot against Mr. O’Rourke’s invading foot, and pushed it away. The effect of this attack was to cause Mr. O’Rourke to describe a complete circle on one leg, and then sit down heavily on the threshold. The lady retreated to the hat-stand, and rested her hand mechanically on the handle of a blue cotton umbrella. Mr. O’Rourke partly turned his head and smiled upon her with conscious superiority. At this juncture a third actor appeared on the scene, evidently a friend of Mr. O’Rourke, for he addressed that gentleman as “a spalpeen,” and told him to go home.

“Divil an inch,” replied the spalpeen; but he got himself off the threshold, and returned his position on the step.