Empire by Gore Vidal Read Free Book Online

Book: Empire by Gore Vidal Read Free Book Online
Authors: Gore Vidal
Henry’s name, playful tribute to his friend’s absolute unprotean nature.
    “The darkly beautiful Princesse d’Agrigente was not easy, once seen, ever to forget. I knew her back in the seventies, the beautiful decade, after our unbeautiful war was won. Did you know Sanford?”
    Hay nodded. The pain which had started to radiate from the lumbar region suddenly surrendered to the pillow’s pressure. “He was onMcDowell’s staff early in the war. I think he wanted to marry Kate Chase …”
    “Surely he was not alone in this madness?” Hay sensed the Porcupine’s smile beneath the beard, pale blue in the ghostly light.
    “We were many, it’s true. Kate was the Helen of Troy of E Street. But Sprague got her. And Sanford got Emma d’Agrigente.”
    “What else?” Hay thought of his own good luck. He had never thought that he could ever make a living. For a young man from Warsaw, Illinois, who liked to read and write, who had gone east to college, and graduated from Brown, there were only two careers. One was the law, which bored him; the other, the ministry, which intrigued him, despite a near-perfect absence of faith. Even so, he had been wooed by various ministers of a variety of denominations. But he had said no, finally, to the lot, for, as he wrote his lawyer uncle, Milton: “I would not do for a Methodist preacher, for I am a poor horseman. I would not suit the Baptists, for I would dislike water. I would fail as an Episcopalian, for I am no ladies’ man.” This last was disingenuous. Hay had always been more than usually susceptible to women and they to him. But as he had looked, at the age of twenty-two, no more than twelve years old, neither in Warsaw nor, later, in Springfield, was he in any great demand as a ladies’ man.
    Instead, Hay had grimly gone into his uncle’s law office; got to know his uncle’s friend, a railroad lawyer named Abraham Lincoln; helped Mr. Lincoln in the political campaign that made him president; and then boarded the train with the President-elect to go to Washington for five years, one month and two weeks. Hay had been present in the squalid boardinghouse when the murdered President had stopped breathing, on a mattress soaked with blood.
    Hay had then gone to Paris, as secretary to the American legation. Later, he had served, as a diplomat, in Vienna and Madrid. He wrote verse, books of travel; was editor of the
New York Tribune
. He lectured on Lincoln. He wrote folksy poems, and his ballads of Pike County sold in the millions. But there was still no real money until the twenty-four-year-old Cleveland heiress Clara Stone asked him to marry her; and he had gratefully united himself with a woman nearly a head taller than he with an innate tendency to be as fat as it was his to be lean.
    At thirty-six Hay was saved from poverty. He moved to Cleveland; worked for his father-in-law—railroads, mines, oil, Western UnionTelegraph; found that he, too, had a gift for making money once he had money. He served, briefly, as assistant secretary of state; and wrote, anonymously, a best-selling novel,
The Bread-Winners
, in which he expressed his amiable creed that although men of property were the best situated to administer and regulate America’s wealth and that labor agitators were a constant threat to the system, the ruling class of a city in the Western Reserve (Cleveland was never named) was hopelessly narrow, vulgar, opinionated. Henry Adams had called him a snob; he had agreed. Both agreed that it was a good idea that he had published the book anonymously; otherwise, the Major could not have offered him the all-important embassy at London. Had the Senate suspected that Hay did not admire all things American, he would not have been confirmed.
    “Money makes the difference.” Hay took a deep puff of his Havana cigar: what on earth, he suddenly wondered, were they to
with Cuba? Then, aware not only of the vapidity of what he had said but also of the thin blue

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