Книга Perfume. The story of a murderer. Содержание - Six

She was acquainted with a tanner named Grimal-, who lived near the river in the rue de la Mortellerie and had a notorious need for young laborers-not for regular apprentices and journeymen, but for cheap coolies. There were certain jobs in the trade— scraping the meat off rotting hides, mixing the poisonous tanning fluids and dyes, producing the caustic lyes-so perilous, that, if possible, a responsible tanning master did not waste his skilled workers on them, but instead used unemployed riffraff, tramps, or, indeed, stray children, about whom there would be no inquiry in dubious situations. Madame Gaillard knew of course that by al! normal standards Grenouille would have no chance of survival in Grimal’s tannery. But she was not a woman who bothered herself about such things. She had, after all, done her duty. Her custodianship was ended. What happened to her ward from here on was not her affair. If he made it through, well and good. If he died, that was well and good too-the main thing was that it all be done legally. And so she had Monsieur Grimal provide her with a written receipt for the boy she was handing over to him, gave him in return a receipt for her brokerage fee of fifteen francs, and set out again for home in the rue de Charonne. She felt not the slightest twinge of conscience. On the contrary, she thought her actions not merely legal but also just, for if a child for whom no one was paying were to stay on with her, it would necessarily be at the expense of the other children or, worse, at her own expense, endangering the future of the other children, or worse, her own future-that is, her own private and sheltered death, which was the only thing that she still desired from life.

Since we are to leave Madame Gaillard behind us at this point in our story and shall not meet her again, we shall take a few sentences to describe the end of her days. Although dead in her heart since childhood, Madame unfortunately lived to be very, very old. In 1782, just short of her seventieth birthday, she gave up her business, purchased her annuity as planned, sat in her little house, and waited for death. But death did not come. What came in its place was something not a soul in the world could have anticipated: a revolution, a rapid transformation of all social, moral, and transcendental affairs. At first this revolution had no effect on Madame Oaillard’s personal fate. But then-she was almost eighty by now-all at once the man who held her annuity had to emigrate, was stripped of his holdings, and forced to auction off his possessions to a trouser manufacturer. For a while it looked as if even this change would have no fatal effect on Madame Gaillard, for the trouser manufacturer continued to pay her annuity punctually. But then came the day when she no longer received her money in the form of hard coin but as little slips of printed paper, and that marked the beginning of her economic demise.

Within two years, the annuity was no longer worth enough to pay for her firewood. Madame was forced to sell her house-at a ridiculously low price, since suddenly there were thousands of other people who also had to sell their houses. And once again she received in return only these stupid slips of paper, and once again within two years they were as good as worthless, and by 1797 (she was nearing ninety now) she had lost her entire fortune, scraped together from almost a century of hard work, and was living in a tiny furnished room in the rue des Coquilles. And only then-ten, twenty years too late-did death arrive, in the form of a protracted bout with a cancer that grabbed Madame by the throat, robbing her first of her appetite and then of her voice, so that she could raise not one word of protest as they carted her off to the Hotel-Dieu. There they put her in a ward populated with hundreds of the mortally ill, the same ward in which her husband had died, laid her in a bed shared with total strangers, pressing body upon body with five other women, and for three long weeks let her die in public view. She was then sewn into a sack, tossed onto a tumbrel at four in the morning with fifty other corpses, to the faint tinkle of a bell driven to the newly founded cemetery of Clamart, a mile beyond the city gates, and there laid in her final resting place, a mass grave beneath a thick layer of quicklime.

That was in the year 1799. Thank God Madame had suspected nothing of the fate awaiting her as she walked home that day in 1746, leaving Grenouille and our story behind. She might possibly have lost her faith in justice and with it the only meaning that she could make of life.


FROM HIS first glance at Monsieur Grimal-no, from the first breath that sniffed in the odor enveloping Grimal-Grenouille knew that this man was capable of thrashing him to death for the least infraction. His life was worth precisely as much as the work he could accomplish and consisted only of whatever utility Grimal ascribed to it. And so, Grenouille came to heel, never once making an attempt to resist. With each new day, he would bottle up inside himself the energies of his defiance and contumacy and expend them solely to survive the impending ice age in his ticklike way. Tough, uncomplaining, inconspicuous, he tended the light of life’s hopes as a very small, but carefully nourished flame. He was a paragon of docility, frugality, and diligence in his work, obeyed implicitly, and appeared satisfied with every meal offered. In the evening, he meekly let himself be locked up in a closet off to one side of the tannery floor, where tools were kept and the raw, salted hides were hung. There he slept on the hard, bare earthen floor. During the day he worked as long as there was light-eight hours in winter, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen hours in summer. He scraped the meat from bestially stinking hides, watered them down, dehaired them, limed, bated, and fulled them, rubbed them down with pickling dung, chopped wood, stripped bark from birch and yew, climbed down into the tanning pits filled with caustic fumes, layered the hides and pelts just as the journeymen ordered him, spread them with smashed gallnuts, covered this ghastly funeral pyre with yew branches and earth. Years later, he would have to dig them up again and retrieve these mummified hide carcasses-now tanned leather— from their grave.

When he was not burying or digging up hides, he was hauling water. For months on end, he hauled water up from the river, always in two buckets, hundreds of bucketfuls a day, for tanning requires vast quantities of water, for soaking, for boiling, for dyeing. For months on end, the water hauling left him without a dry stitch on his body; by evening his clothes were dripping wet and his skin was cold and swollen like a soaked shammy.

After one year of an existence more animal than human, he contracted anthrax, a disease feared by tanners and usually fatal. Grimal had already written him off and was looking around for a replacement— not without regret, by the way, for he had never before had a more docile and productive worker than this Grenouille. But contrary to all expectation, Grenouille survived the illness. All he bore from it were scars from the large black carbuncles behind his ears and on his hands and cheeks, leaving him disfigured and even uglier than he had been before. It also left him immune to anthrax-an invaluable advantage-so that now he could strip the foulest hides with cut and bleeding hands and still run no danger of reinfection. This set him apart not only from the apprentices and journeymen, but also from his own potential successors. And because he could no longer be so easily replaced as before, the value of his work and thus the value of his life increased. Suddenly he no longer had to sleep on bare earth, but was allowed to build himself a plank bed in the closet, was given straw to scatter over it and a blanket of his own. He was no longer locked in at bedtime. His food was more adequate. Grimal no longer kept him as just any animal, but as a useful house pet.

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