A Very Lucky Man

My friend Mr. Manolache Cuvidi is a well-known character in our society; he is a man of substance, his rather comfortable wealth has been earned through honest work; he's an intelligent and earnest fellow, an ideal husband and an ideal father of a family. Given so many qualities, he could hardly have failed to succeed in the struggle for life: in spite of their backbiting, souls eaten up with envy could do nothing against him. Once, at the time of his first marriage, he owned a large public business – that spelt the beginning of his prosperity, because out of the profit from that business came the embryo of the fine fortune which he now enjoys. Envious intriguers did their damnedest to ruin him and after a bitter campaign – whispered as well as in the press –they did succeed in somewhat changing the current in the upper quarters against my friend Manolache. Audiences, protests, complaints on his part – all proved useless. Then, in order to acknowledge his defeat and on the other hand no longer to knock in vain an official doors – where he had been taken up rather harshly and threatened with the cancellation of his contract and with a ruining law-suit, he had sent his wife to parley with a very influential personage who had helped him in need once, proving highly benevolent to Manolache. Mr. Guvidi was perfectly aware of his own temper: he knew that, given his "proud and unbending nature," he would never have been so capable to handle this delicate affair as his wife. Although extremely young, behind her childish appearance and manners, Mrs. Guvidi boasted much diplomatic tactfulness. Indeed, her husband had reasoned very wisely: what the "rough and tough" man – as he knew himself to be – could easily have compromised, the frail woman brought toward successful solution by her gentleness. Evil wagging tongues had eventually to come to a stop in exhaustion, and our friend, very closely taken under the mighty protection of the lofty personage I mentioned before, could perfectly see to his own business and achieve the substantial gain that his intelligent and tireless labour deserved. More than that: since that occasion, between the Guvidi family and their protector, one of the warmest friendships was struck, which floated in serenity for as many years – that is until cruel death moved Mrs. Guvidi in the prime of her youth. Poor woman! So young, so beautiful and so beloved! Whoever could have imagined it! And what a vacuum she left behind her! "Irreparable loss for all those who remain unsolaced!" Such were the black and sorrowful words we could all read on the broad streamer; but the finest wreath of Parma, attached by the bereaved husband, carried a shorter though much more heart-rending inscription: "Eternal remembrance: Inconsolable Guvidi!"Many years have passed since and time - as it practically always does - has somewhat allayed the "eternal" grief, gradually filling with oblivion the gap left behind her by the charming deceased.When the gap had been completely filled, our friend Manolache married again. A very lucky man!This second wife of his is as young and as beautiful as the dear departed used to be; and in point of diplomatic tactfulness - so necessary when somebody has manifold and important affairs - we can safely say she outdoes her antecessor. That is why the business of Guvidi & Co. increases steadily and prospers immensely: success surely is my friend's slave; luck follows this man like an obedient and faithful dog. I was just thinking what an eventful though serene novel could emerge from a study in the life of this typical happy man, whom everybody knows so well in our society - when the post brought me the following: "Mr. and Mrs. M. Guvidi have the honour of requesting you to spend a Sunday on their estate at the Stonemill.Close friends alone are invited. Strictly informal dress: où il y a de le gêne, il n'y a pas de plaisir. N.D. The carriage will be waiting at the railway station." Style is woman herself… Gracious Mrs. Guvidi! I know her handwriting and her favourite adage which she uses so often and with such a bewitching twinkle in her eyes!As estates go, Stonemill is but a small property; but what a small paradise it is!It lies within 20 minutes of N. station. A magnificent park and a truly English cottage as are so few and rare between in Romania.And ad what price did he buy the estate? You won't believe it, for indeed I myself could hardly be brought to believe it if I did not know for certain. The price? A pair of bay horses… Only that! Fine horses indeed; but anyhow, to acquire an estate which is worth at least a quarter of a million in exchange for a pair of horses which cannot cost more than five thousand five hundred at the dearest!… Here however, another factor, much stronger than interest, was at work: passion.The former owner of Stonemill was the very well-known N., the distinguished sportsman, a rather confirmed bachelor, oozing money and who – it is common knowledge – has an uncontrollable passion for horses. Once he caught sight of Mrs. Guvidi and her bay horses at the chaussée in Bucharest – she was driving them herself – and God knows what the man's frame of mind was at the moment (they say he had gambled at the "Jockey Club" all night and had lost a fortune) and since that moment he had never enjoyed peace of sleep any more.We are told so by our common friend Guvidi himself.For N. those horses became a hobby-horse, a marotte, a monomania or disease – whatever you care to call it. What didn't he do in order to get them? He followed them everywhere; he struck the closest friendship with Guvidi, insisted, begged, ate humble pie… but all in vain. Although the husband had insisted to humour their new friend, the wife would not hear of it. "I'm not trading them for money!" she burst out resolutely."For what then?" N. asked, in the tone of a man who would stick at nothing."For… but you won't accept it…""Anything you want!" "Stonemill," was the curt reply of the woman who now seemed to look at better sight than ever before. Well, well, well! That sounds exaggerated!" Manolache cut in, joining their talk from the bottom of the drawing-room, where he was engrossed in his newspapers. "How dare you butt in when we're talking business? It's none of your business!" The lady cut him short frowning like a spoilt child.Mr. Guvidi shrugged his shoulders and flinched into his newspapers again. "D'you care for it much? …very much?" N. asked her. "Definitely more than you care for… my horses," she answered smiling with a sort of sceptical mischievousness. "That can't be!" N. replied in a thick and husky voice, while his eyes which had seen a lot in their time, piercing right into the young woman's eyes, gave a rather strange twinkle. "I don't believe you until you've proved it to me!" she said in an even lower voice, bringing to a climax her malicious smile.The bargain was struck… Nor could it have been otherwise - or else N. would never have acquired what he yearned for with such deep-felt craving… The bay-horses became his own.And so, for about half a dozen years now, Stonemill has been the property of the Guvidis. I complied with the very kind invitation and I did not regret it either. It is a charming place indeed - and I had a wonderful time in the midst of this ideal family.Nor was it any ordinary party: it was the traditional feast for Nicuţa - their only child who was five on that day. How many presents - and what presents, at that! A fortune!… Among other things a recent photo - framed by four rods of solid gold, their corners stuck together by diamond studs as large as chickpeas: the godfather lovingly holding in his arms his goddaughter who innocently smiles at him. The godfather sprung a fine surprise on the guests: he had the band of the Cavalry Regiment brought over from Bucharest.The dinner was beyond praise and the ball on the lawn was gay and exciting.The next morning, Monday, most of the guests being busy in town, we all had to catch the train that passed at one after midnight.The September night was as clear as clean glass… A mild season and a harvest moon… Scores of horse-carriages trotting lightly and a military brass-band playing a triumphal march at the head of the convoy - simply unforgettable!The Guvidis and the godfather saw us off. We all got into the railway carriage, having kindly thanked our hosts and particularly our hostess who had done the honours of the house with her usual graciousness, etc… N. was not as busy as we were, stayed for one more night at Stonemill. Guvidi, who had by all means to be in the morning in the town of P. – where urgent business summoned him – remained at the station to catch the down train, which we were going to cross at the first stop.It goes without saying that on the train we kept talking about the fantastic party on the previous day and we were unanimous in congratulating our friend Manolache – more or less enviously – on the luck he had always had.Mrs. Z – one of the guests, a respectable dowager who knows every little event that takes place in our society and even more than does actually take place – confided to us ("naturally, banking on our discretion") that N., who no longer was in the best of health had already made his will, bequeathing all his fortune to Manolache's daughter, whom he loved to destruction.And of course, we were all forced to say again:"What a very lucky man Guvidi is!"

by I. L. Caragiale (1852-1912)