When O. Henry
writes that "Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the 'Sofronie," he is suggesting that this woman is using a false name in order to make herself sound foreign, aristocratic, and exotic. She hopes to be taken for an artiste
because her customers naturally want wigs and toupees that will look realistic and becoming. The words "too white" suggest that she is not from some such foreign land as Romania, Greece, or Turkey, where more swarthy complexions are common, but, as her speech proves to the reader if not to Della, that she is probably of pure Irish descent and may have been born in Ireland or right across the river in Brooklyn. Madame Sofronie may affect some sort of foreign accent when she is talking to a customer, but she does not have to put on any airs with needy women like Della who come to sell their hair. The word "chilly" in O. Henry's description is not intended to suggest that the woman feels cold but that she that her manner is unfriendly. People who have to deal with small shopkeepers will often observe that there is a big difference between the receptions they get if they are buyers and those they get if they are there to sell them something such as merchandise, stationery, advertising, or insurance. It is as if many of these shopkeepers get so fed up with having to smile at their customers that they have to spew some of their ill will on the occasional drop-in who wants something from them
. This dramatic difference in attitude is also observable by a person who buys something and then later tries to return it for a refund.
This is the line of Madame's dialogue that gives her away to the intelligent reader:
"Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."
Madame Sofronie speaks pure Brooklynese.