“This,” said Will Law, sadly, “is this all the message I may take?”
“It is all.”
“Though it is the last?”
“It is the last.”
THE LITTLE SUPPER OF THE REGENT
Paris, city of delights, Paris drunk with gold, mad with the delirium of excesses, Paris with no aim except joy, no method but extravagance, held within her gilded gates one citadel of sensuality which remained ever an object of mystery, a source of curiosity even in that dissipated and pleasure-sated city. In the Palais Royal, back of the regally beautiful gardens, back of the noble rows of trees, beyond the gates of iron and the guards in uniform, lived France’s regent, in a city of libertines the prince of libertines. In a city where there were more mistresses than wives, he it was who led the list of the licentious. In a city of unregulated vice and yet of exquisitely ordered taste, he it was who accorded to himself daily pleasures which were admittedly beyond approach. How unspeakably unbridled, how delightfully wicked, how temptingly ingenious in their features the little suppers of the regent might be—these were matters of curious interest to all, of intimate knowledge to but few.
It was to one of these famous yet mysterious gatherings that the regent of France had invited the master of that great and glittering bubble house, wherein dwelt so insecurely the affairs of France. John Law, director-general of the finances, controller of the Company of the Indies, was chosen by Philippe of Orleans for a position not granted to the crafty Dubois or to the shrewd D’Argenson, the last of that strange trinity who made his council. John Law, gallant, graceful, owner of a reputation as wit and beau scarce behind that of his sudden fame as financier, was admitted not only to the business affairs of the gay duke, but to his pleasures as well. To him and his brother Will, still associated in large measure in the stupendous operations of the director-general, there came the invitation of the regent, practically the command of the king, to join the regent after the opera for a little supper at the Palais Royal.
Law would have excused himself from this unsought honor. “Your Grace will observe,” said he, “that my time is occupied to the full. The people scarcely suffer me to rest at night. Perhaps your Grace might not care for company so dull as mine.”
“Fie! my friend, my very good friend,” replied Philippe. “Have you become devot? Whence this sudden change? Consider; ’tis no hardship to meet such ladies as Madame de Sabran, or Madame de Prie—designer though I fear De Prie is for the domestic felicity of the youthful king—nor indeed my good friend, La Parabere, somewhat pale and pensive though she groweth. And what shall I say for Madame de Tencin, the spirituelle, who is to be with us; or Madame de Caylus, niece of Maintenon, but the very opposite of Maintenon in every possible way? Moreover, we are promised the attendance of Mademoiselle Aisse. She hath become devout of late, and thinks it a sin even to powder her hair, but Aisse devout is none the less Aisse the beautiful.”