THE CALIPH AND THE CAD
by O. Henry
Surely there is no pastime more diverting than
that of mingling, incognito, with persons of
wealth and station. Where else but in those
circles can one see life in its primitive,
crude state unhampered by the conventions that
bind the dwellers in a lower sphere?
There was a certain Caliph of Bagdad who was
accustomed to go down among the poor and lowly
for the solace obtained from the relation of
their tales and histories. Is it not strange
that the humble and poverty-stricken have not
availed themselves of the pleasure they might
glean by donning diamonds and silks and playing
Caliph among the haunts of the upper world?
There was one who saw the possibilities of
thus turning the tables on Haroun al Raschid.
His name was Corny Brannigan, and he was a
truck driver for a Canal Street importing
firm. And if you read further you will learn
how he turned upper Broadway into Bagdad and
learned something about himself that he did
not know before.
Many people would have called Corny a snob--preferably
by means of a telephone. His chief interest
in life, his chosen amusement, and his sole
diversion after working hours, was to place
himself in juxtaposition--since he could not
hope to mingle--with people of fashion and
Every evening after Corny had put up his team
and dined at a lunch-counter that made immediateness
a specialty, he would clothe himself in evening
raiment as correct as any you will see in the
palm rooms. Then he would betake himself to that
ravishing, radiant roadway devoted to Thespis,
Thais, and Bacchus.
For a time he would stroll about the lobbies
of the best hotels, his soul steeped in blissful
content. Beautiful women, cooing like doves,
but feathered like birds of Paradise, flicked
him with their robes as they passed. Courtly
gentlemen attended them, gallant and assiduous.
And Corny's heart within him swelled like Sir
Lancelot's, for the mirror spoke to him as he
passed and said: "Corny, lad, there's not a guy
among 'em that looks a bit the sweller than
yerself. And you drivin' of a truck and them
swearin' off their taxes and playin' the red
in art galleries with the best in the land!"
And the mirrors spake the truth. Mr. Corny
Brannigan had acquired the outward polish,
if nothing more. Long and keen observation
of polite society had gained for him its
manner, its genteel air, and--most difficult
of acquirement--its repose and ease.
Now and then in the hotels Corny had managed
conversation and temporary acquaintance with
substantial, if not distinguished, guests.
With many of these he had exchanged cards,
and the ones he received he carefully treasured
for his own use later. Leaving the hotel
lobbies, Corny would stroll leisurely about,
lingering at the theatre entrance, dropping
into the fashionable restaurants as if seeking
some friend. He rarely patronized any of
these places; he was no bee come to suck
honey, but a butterfly flashing his wings
among the flowers whose calyces held no
sweets for him. His wages were not large
enough to furnish him with more than the
outside garb of the gentleman. To have been
one of the beings he so cunningly imitated,
Corny Brannigan would have given his right
One night Corny had an adventure. After
absorbing the delights of an hour's lounging
in the principal hotels along Broadway, he
passed up into the stronghold of Thespis.
Cab drivers hailed him as a likely fare,
to his prideful content. Languishing eyes
were turned upon him as a hopeful source
of lobsters and the delectable, ascendant
globules of effervescence. These overtures
and unconscious compliments Corny swallowed
as manna, and hoped Bill, the off horse,
would be less lame in the left forefoot in
Beneath a cluster of milky globes of electric
light Corny paused to admire the sheen of his
low-cut patent leather shoes. The building
occupying the angle was a pretentious cafe.
Out of this came a couple, a lady in a white,
cobwebby evening gown, with a lace wrap like
a wreath of mist thrown over it, and a man,
tall, faultless, assured--too assured. They
moved to the edge of the sidewalk and halted.
Corny's eye, ever alert for "pointers" in
"swell" behavior, took them in with a sidelong
"The carriage is not here," said the lady.
"You ordered it to wait?"
"I ordered it for nine-thirty," said the man.
"It should be here now."
A familiar note in the lady's voice drew a
more especial attention from Corny. It was
pitched in a key well known to him. The soft
electric shone upon her face. Sisters of
sorrow have no quarters fixed for them. In
the index to the book of breaking hearts
you will find that Broadway follows very
soon after the Bowery. This lady's face
was sad, and her voice was attuned with it.
They waited, as if for the carriage. Corny
waited too, for it was out of doors, and
he was never tired of accumulating and
profiting by knowledge of gentlemanly
"Jack," said the lady, "don't be angry. I've
done everything I could to please you this
evening. Why do you act so?"
"Oh, you're an angel," said the man. "Depend
upon woman to throw the
blame upon a man."
"I'm not blaming you. I'm only trying to
make you happy."
"You go about it in a very peculiar way."
"You have been cross with me all the evening
without any cause."
"Oh, there isn't any cause except--you make
Corny took out his card case and looked over
his collection. He selected one that read:
"Mr. R. Lionel Whyte-Melville, Bloomsbury
Square, London." This card he had inveigled
from a tourist at the King Edward Hotel.
Corny stepped up to the man and presented
it with a correctly formal air.
"May I ask why I am selected for the honor?"
asked the lady's escort.
Now, Mr. Corny Brannigan had a very wise
habit of saying little during his imitations
of the Caliph of Bagdad. The advice of Lord
Chesterfield: "Wear a black coat and hold
your tongue," he believed in without having
heard. But now speech was demanded and
required of him.
"No gent," said Corny, "would talk to a
lady like you done. Fie upon you, Willie!
Even if she happens to be your wife you
ought to have more respect for your clothes
than to chin her back that way. Maybe it
ain't my butt-in, but it goes, anyhow--you
strike me as bein' a whole lot to the wrong."
The lady's escort indulged in more elegantly
expressed but fetching repartee. Corny,
eschewing his truck driver's vocabulary,
retorted as nearly as he could in polite
phrases. Then diplomatic relations were
severed; there was a brief but lively set-to
with other than oral weapons, from which
Corny came forth easily victor.
A carriage dashed up, driven by a tardy and
"Will you kindly open the door for me?" asked
the lady. Corny assisted her to enter, and
took off his hat. The escort was beginning to
scramble up from the sidewalk.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am," said Corny, "if
he's your man."
"He's no man of mine," said the lady. "Perhaps
he--but there's no chance of his being now.
Drive home, Michael. If you care to take
this--with my thanks."
Three red roses were thrust out through the
carriage window into Corny's hand. He took
them, and the hand for an instant; and then
the carriage sped away.
Corny gathered his foe's hat and began to
brush the dust from his clothes.
"Come along," said Corny, taking the other
man by the arm.
His late opponent was yet a little dazed by
the hard knocks he had received. Corny led
him carefully into a saloon three doors away.
"The drinks for us," said Corny, "me and my
"You're a queer feller," said the lady's late
escort--"lick a man and then want to set 'em
"You're my best friend," said Corny exultantly.
"You don't understand? Well, listen. You just
put me wise to somethin'. I been playin' gent a
long time, thinkin' it was just the glad rags I
had and nothin' else. Say--you're a swell, ain't
you? Well, you trot in that class, I guess. I
don't; but I found out one thing--I'm a gentleman,
by--and I know it now. What'll you have to drink?"
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~