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The Four Million by by O Henry

Part 4 out of 4

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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
symbolic heart.

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
her friend's.

"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."

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