Книга Perfume. The story of a murderer. Содержание - Three
“He doesn’t smell at all,” said the wet nurse.
“And there you have it! That is a clear sign. If he were possessed by the devil, then he would have to stink.”
And to soothe the wet nurse and to put his own courage to the test, Terrier lifted the basket and held it up to his nose.
“I smell absolutely nothing out of the ordinary,” he said after he had sniffed for a while, “really nothing out of the ordinary. Though it does appear as if there’s an odor coming from his diapers.” And he held out the basket to her so that she could confirm his opinion.
“That’s not what I mean,”-said the wet nurse peevishly, shoving the basket away. “I don’t mean what’s in the diaper. His soil smells, that’s true enough. But it’s the bastard himself, he doesn’t smell.”
“Because he’s healthy,” Terrier cried, “because he’s healthy, that’s why he doesn’t smell! Only sick babies smell, everyone knows that. It’s well known that a child with the pox smells like horse manure, and one with scarlet fever like old apples, and a consumptive child smells like onions. He is healthy, that’s all that’s wrong with him. Do you think he should stink? Do your own children stink?”
“No,” said the wet nurse. “My children smell like human children ought to smell.”
Terrier carefully placed the basket back on the ground, for he could sense rising within him the first waves of his anger at this obstinate female. It was possible that he would need to move both arms more freely as the debate progressed, and he didn’t want the infant to be harmed in the process. But for the present, he knotted his hands behind his back, shoved his tapering belly toward the wet nurse, and asked sharply, “You maintain, then, that you know how a human child-which may I remind you, once it is baptized, is also a child of God-is supposed to smell?”
“Yes,” said the wet nurse.
“And you further maintain that, if it does not smell the way you-you, the wet nurse Jeanne Bussie from the rue Saint-Denis!-think it ought to smell, it is therefore a child of the devil?”
He swung his left hand out from behind his back and menacingly held the question mark of his index finger in her face. The wet nurse thought it over. She was not happy that the conversation had all at once turned into a theological cross-examination, in which she could only be the loser.
“That’s not what I meant to say,” she answered evasively. “You priests will have to decide whether all this has anything to do with the devil or not, Father Terrier. That’s not for such as me to say. I only know one thing: this baby makes my flesh creep because it doesn’t smell the way children ought to smell.”
“Aha,” said Terrier with satisfaction, letting his arm swing away again. “You retract all that about the devil, do you? Good. But now be so kind as to tell me: what does a baby smell like when he smells the way you think he ought to smell? Well?”
“He smells good,” said the wet nurse.
“What do you mean, ‘good’?” Terrier bellowed at her. “Lots of things smell good. A bouquet of lavender smells good. Stew meat smells good. The gardens of Arabia smell good. But what does a baby smell like, is what I want to know.”
The wet nurse hesitated. She knew very well how babies smell, she knew precisely-after all she had fed, tended, cradled, and kissed dozens of them… She could find them at night with her nose. Why, right at that moment she bore that baby smell clearly in her nose. But never until now had she described it in words.
“Well?” barked Terrier, clicking his fingernails impatiently.
“Well it’s-” the wet nurse began, “it’s not all that easy to say, because… because they don’t smell the same all over, although they smell good ail over, Father, you know what I mean? Their feet, for instance, they smell like a smooth, warm stone-or no, more like curds… or like butter, like fresh butter, that’s it exactly. They smell like fresh butter. And their bodies smell like… like a griddle cake that’s been soaked in milk. And their heads, up on top, at the back of the head, where the hair makes a cowlick, there, see where I mean, Father, there where you’ve got nothing left…” And she tapped the bald spot on the head of the monk, who, struck speechless for a moment by this flood of detailed inanity, had obediently bent his head down. “There, right there, is where they smell best of all. It smells like caramel, it smells so sweet, so wonderful, Father, you have no idea! Once you’ve smelled them there, you love them whether they’re your own or somebody else’s. And that’s how little children have to smell-and no other way. And if they don’t smell like that, if they don’t have any smell at all up there, even less than cold air does, like that little bastard there, then… You can explain it however you like, Father, but I”-and she crossed her arms resolutely beneath her bosom and cast a look of disgust toward the basket at her feet as if it contained toads-”I, Jeanne Bussie, will not take that thing back!”
Father Terrier slowly raised his lowered head and ran his fingers across his bald head a few tirnes as if hoping to put the hair in order, passed his finger beneath his nose as if by accident, and sniffed thoughtfully.
“Like caramel…?” he asked, attempting to find his stern tone again. “Caramel! What do you know about caramel? Have you ever eaten any?”
“Not exactly,” said the wet nurae. “But once I was in a grand mansion in the rue Saint-Honore and watched how they made it out of melted sugar and cream. It smelled so good that I’ve never forgotten it.”
“Yes, yes. All right,” said Terrier and took his finger from his nose. “But please hold your tongue now! I find it quite exhausting to continue a conversation with you on such a level. I have determined that, for whatever reason, you refuse to nourish any longer the babe put under your care, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and are returning him herewith to his temporary guardian, the cloister of Saint-Merri. I find that distressing, but I apparently cannot alter the fact. You are discharged.”
With that he grabbed the basket, took one last whiff of that fleeting woolly, warm milkiness, and slammed the door. Then he went to his office.
FATHER TERRIER was an educated man. He had not merely studied theology, but had read the philosophers as well, and had dabbled with botany and alchemy on the side. He had a rather high opinion of his own critical faculties. To be sure, he would never go so far as some-who questioned the miracles, the oracles, the very truth of Holy Scripture-even though the biblical texts could not, strictly speaking, be explained by reason alone, indeed often directly contradicted it. He preferred not to meddle with such problems, they were too discomfiting for him and would only land him in the most agonizing insecurity and disquiet, whereas to make use of one’s reason one truly needed both security and quiet. What he most vigorously did combat, however, were the superstitious notions of the simple folk: witches and fortune-telling cards, the wearing of amulets, the evil eye, exorcisms, hocus-pocus at full moon, and all the other acts they performed-it was really quite depressing to see how such heathenish customs had still not been uprooted a good thousand years after the firm establishment of the Christian religion! And most instances of so-called satanic possession or pacts with the devil proved on closer inspection to be superstitious mummery. Of course, to deny the existence of Satan himself, to doubt his power-Terrier could not go so far as that; ecclesiastical bodies other than one small, ordinary monk were assigned the task of deciding about such matters touching the very foundations of theology. But on the other hand, it was clear as day that when a simple soul like that wet nurse maintained that she had spotted a devilish spirit, the devil himself could not possibly have a hand in it. The very fact that she thought she had spotted him was certain proof that there was nothing devilish to be found, for the devil would certainly never be stupid enough to let himself be unmasked by the wet nurse Jeanne Bussie. And with her nose no less! With the primitive organ of smell, the basest of the senses! As if hell smelled of sulfur and paradise of incense and myrrh! The worst sort of superstition, straight out of the darkest days of paganism, when people still lived like beasts, possessing no keenness of the eye, incapable of distinguishing colors, but presuming to be able to smell blood, to scent the difference between friend and foe, to be smelled out by cannibal giants and werewolves and the Furies, all the while offering their ghastly gods stinking, smoking burnt sacrifices. How repulsive! “The fool sees with his nose” rather than his eyes, they say, and apparently the light of God-given reason would have to shine yet another thousand years before the last remnants of such primitive beliefs were banished.