The Brief Debut of Tildy by O Henry
If you do not know Bogle's Chop House and Family Restaurant it is
your loss. For if you are one of the fortunate ones who dine
expensively you should be interested to know how the other half
consumes provisions. And if you belong to the half to whom waiters'
checks are things of moment, you should know Bogle's, for there you
get your money's worth--in quantity, at least.
Bogle's is situated in that highway of ~bourgeoisie~, that boulevard
of Brown-Jones-and-Robinson, Eighth Avenue. There are two rows of
tables in the room, six in each row. On each table is a caster-
stand, containing cruets of condiments and seasons. From the pepper
cruet you may shake a cloud of something tasteless and melancholy,
like volcanic dust. From the salt cruet you may expect nothing.
Though a man should extract a sanguinary stream from the pallid
turnip, yet wili his prowess be balked when he comes to wrest salt
from Bogle's cruets. Also upon each table stands the counterfeit of
that benign sauce made "from the recipe of a nobleman in India."
At the cashier's desk sits Bogle, cold, sordid, slow, smouldering,
and takes your money. Behind a mountain of toothpicks he makes your
change, files your check, and ejects at you, like a toad, a word
about the weather. Beyond a corroboration of his meteorological
statement you would better not venture. You are not Bogle's friend;
you are a fed, transient customer, and you and he may not meet again
until the blowing of Gabriel's dinner horn. So take your change and
go--to the devil if you like. There you have Bogle's sentiments.
The needs of Bogle's customers were supplied by two waitresses and a
Voice. One of the waitresses was named Aileen. She was tall,
beautiful, lively, gracious and learned in persiflage. Her other
name? There was no more necessity for another name at Bogle's than
there was for finger-bowls.
The name of the other waitress was Tildy. Why do you suggest
Matilda? Please listen this time--Tildy--Tildy. Tildy was dumpy,
plain-faced, and too anxious to please to please. Repeat the last
clause to yourself once or twice, and make the acquaintance of the
The Voice at Bogle's was invisible. It came from the kitchen, and
did not shine in the way of originality. It was a heathen Voice, and
contented itself with vain repetitions of exclamations emitted by the
waitresses concerning food.
Will it tire you to be told again that Aileen was beautiful? Had she
donned a few hundred dollars' worth of clothes and joined the Easter
parade, and had you seen her, you would have hastened to say so
The customers at Bogle's were her slaves. Six tables full she could
wait upon at once. They who were in a hurry restrained their
impatience for the joy of merely gazing upon her swiftly moving,
graceful figure. They who had finished eating ate more that they
might continue in the light of her smiles. Every man there--and they
were mostly men--tried to make his impression upon her.
Aileen could successfully exchange repartee against a dozen at once.
And every smile that she sent forth lodged, like pellets from a
scatter-gun, in as many hearts. And all this while she would be
performing astounding feats with orders of pork and beans, pot
roasts, ham-and, sausage-and-the-wheats, and any quantity of things
on the iron and in the pan and straight up and on the side. With all
this feasting and flirting and merry exchange of wit Bogle's came
mighty near being a salon, with Aileen for its Madame Recamier.
If the transients were entranced by the fascinating Aileen, the
regulars were her adorers. There was much rivalry among many of the
steady customers. Aileen could have had an engagement every evening.
At least twice a week some one took her to a theatre or to a dance.
One stout gentleman whom she and Tildy had privately christened "The
Hog" presented her with a turquoise ring. Another one known as
"Fresby," who rode on the Traction Company's repair wagon, was going
to give her a poodle as soon as his brother got the hauling contract
in the Ninth. And the man who always ate spareribs and spinach and
said he was a stock broker asked her to go to "Parsifal" with him.
"I don't know where this place is," said Aileen while talking it over
with Tildy, "but the wedding-ring's got to be on before I put a
stitch into a travelling dress--ain't that right? Well, I guess!"
In steaming, chattering, cabbage-scented Bogle's there was almost a
heart tragedy. Tildy with the blunt nose, the hay-coloured hair, the
freckled skin, the bag-o'-meal figure, had never had an admirer. Not
a man followed her with his eyes when she went to and fro in the
restaurant save now and then when they glared with the beast-hunger
for food. None of them bantered her gaily to coquettish interchanges
of wit. None of them loudly "jollied" her of mornings as they did
Aileen, accusing her, when the eggs were slow in coming, of late
hours in the company of envied swains. No one had ever given her a
turquoise ring or invited her upon a voyage to mysterious, distant
Tildy was a good waitress, and the men tolerated her. They who sat
at her tables spoke to her briefly. with quotations from the bill of
fare; and then raised their voices in honeyed and otherwise-flavoured
accents, eloquently addressed to the fair Aileen. They writhed in
their chairs to gaze around and over the impending form of Tildy,
that Aileen's pulchritude might season and make ambrosia of their
bacon and eggs.
And Tildy was content to be the unwooed drudge if Aileen could
receive the flattery and the homage. The blunt nose was loyal to the
short Grecian. She was Aileen's friend; and she was glad to see her
rule hearts and wean the attention of men from smoking pot-pie and
lemon meringue. But deep below our freckles and hay-coloured hair
the unhandsomest of us dream of a prince or a princess, not
vicarious, but coming to us alone.
There was a morning when Aileen tripped in to work with a slightly
bruised eye; and Tildy's solicitude was almost enough to heal any
"Fresh guy," explained Aileen, "last night as I was going home at
Twenty-third and Sixth. Sashayed up, so he did, and made a break.
I turned him down, cold, and he made a sneak; but followed me down to
Eighteenth, and tried his hot air again. Gee! but I slapped him a
good one, side of the face. Then he give me that eye. Does it look
real awful, Til? I should hate that Mr. Nicholson should see it when
he comes in for his tea and toast at ten."
Tildy listened to the adventure with breathless admiration. No man
had ever tried to follow her. She was safe abroad at any hour of the
twenty-four. What bliss it must have been to have had a man follow
one and black one's eye for love!
Among the customers at Bogle's was a young man named Seeders, who
worked in a laundry office. Mr. Seeders was thin and had light hair,
and appeared to have been recently rough-dried and starched. He was
too diffident to aspire to Aileen's notice; so he usually sat at one
of Tildy's tables, where he devoted himself to silence and boiled
One day when Mr. Seeders came in to dinner he had been drinking beer.
There were only two or three customers in the restaurant. When Mr.
Seeders had finished his weakfish he got up, put his arm around
Tildy's waist, kissed her loudly and impudently, walked out upon the
street, snapped his fingers in the direction of the laundry, and hied
himself to play pennies in the slot machines at the Amusement Arcade.
For a few moments Tildy stood petrified. Then she was aware of
Aileen shaking at her an arch forefinger, and saying:
"Why, Til, you naughty girl! Ain't you getting to be awful, Miss
Slyboots! First thing I know you'll be stealing some of my fellows.
I must keep an eye on you, my lady."
Another thing dawned upon Tildy's recovering wits. In a moment she
had advanced from a hopeless, lowly admirer to be an Eve-sister of
the potent Aileen. She herself was now a man-charmer, a mark for
Cupid, a Sabine who must be coy when the Romans were at their banquet
boards. Man had found her waist achievable and her lips desirable.
The sudden and amatory Seeders had, as it were, performed for her a
miraculous piece of one-day laundry work. He had taken the sackcloth
of her uncomeliness, had washed, dried, starched and ironed it, and
returned it to her sheer embroidered lawn--the robe of Venus herself.
The freckles on Tildy's cheeks merged into a rosy flush. Now both
Circe and Psyche peeped from her brightened eyes. Not even Aileen
herself had been publicly embraced and kissed in the restaurant.
Tildy could not keep the delightful secret. When trade was slack she
went and stood at Bogle's desk. Her eyes were shining; she tried not
to let her words sound proud and boastful.
"A gentleman insulted me to-day," she said. "He hugged me around the
waist and kissed me."
"That so?" said Bogle, cracking open his business armour. "After
this week you get a dollar a week more."
At the next regular meal when Tildy set food before customers with
whom she had acquaintance she said to each of them modestly, as one
whose merit needed no bolstering:
"A gentleman insulted me to-day in the restaurant. He put his arm
around my waist and kissed me."
The diners accepted the revelation in various ways--some
incredulously, some with congratulations; others turned upon her the
stream of badinage that had hitherto been directed at Aileen alone.
And Tildy's heart swelled in her bosom, for she saw at last the
towers of Romance rise above the horizon of the grey plain in which
she had for so long travelled.
For two days Mr. Seeders came not again. During that time Tildy
established herself firmly as a woman to be wooed. She bought
ribbons, and arranged her hair like Aileen's, and tightened her waist
two inches. She had a thrilling but delightful fear that Mr. Seeders
would rush in suddenly and shoot her with a pistol. He must have
loved her desperately; and impulsive lovers are always blindly
Even Aileen had not been shot at with a pistol. And then Tildy
rather hoped that he would not shoot at her, for she was always loyal
to Aileen; and she did not want to overshadow her friend.
At 4 o'clock on the afternoon of the third day Mr. Seeders came in.
There were no customers at the tables. At the back end of the
restaurant Tildy was refilling the mustard pots and Aileen was
quartering pies. Mr. Seeders walked back to where they stood.
Tildy looked up and saw him, gasped, and pressed the mustard spoon
against her heart. A red hair-bow was in her hair; she wore Venus's
Eighth Avenue badge, the blue bead necklace with the swinging silver
Mr. Seeders was flushed and embarrassed. He plunged one hand into
his hip pocket and the other into a fresh pumpkin pie.
"Miss Tildy," said he, "I want to apologise for what I done the other
evenin'. Tell you the truth, I was pretty well tanked up or I
wouldn't of done it. I wouldn't do no lady that a-way when I was
sober. So I hope, Miss Tildy, you'll accept my 'pology, and believe
that I wouldn't of done it if I'd known what I was doin' and hadn't
of been drunk."
With this handsome plea Mr. Seeders backed away, and departed,
feeling that reparation had been made.
But behind the convenient screen Tildy had thrown herself flat upon
a table among the butter chips and the coffee cups, and was sobbing
her heart out--out and back again to the grey plain wherein travel
they with blunt noses and hay-coloured hair. From her knot she had
torn the red hair-bow and cast it upon the floor. Seeders she
despised utterly; she had but taken his kiss as that of a pioneer and
prophetic prince who might have set the clocks going and the pages to
running in fairyland. But the kiss had been maudlin and unmeant; the
court had not stirred at the false alarm; she must forevermore remain
the Sleeping Beauty.
Yet not all was lost. Aileen's arm was around her; and Tildy's red
hand groped among the butter chips till it found the warm clasp of
"Don't you fret, Til," said Aileen, who did not understand entirely.
"That turnip-faced little clothespin of a Seeders ain't worth it. He
ain't anything of a gentleman or he wouldn't ever of apologised."