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


BEFORE HIM stood the flacon with Peiissier’s perfume. Glistening golden brown in the sunlight, the liquid was clear, not clouded in the least. It looked totally innocent, like a light tea-and yet contained, in addition to four-fifths alcohol, one-fifth of a mysterious mixture that could set a whole city trembling with excitement. The mixture, moreover, might consist of three or thirty different ingredients, prepared from among countless possibilities in very precise proportions to one another. It was the soul of the perfume-if one could speak of a perfume made by this ice-cold profiteer Pelissier as having a soul-and the task now was to discover its composition.

Baldini blew his nose carefully and pulled down the blind at the window, since direct sunlight was harmful to every artificial scent or refined concentration of odors. He pulled a fresh white lace handkerchief out of a desk drawer and unfolded it. Then, holding his head far back and pinching his nostrils together, he opened the flacon with a gentle turn of the stopper. He did not want, for God’s sake, to get a premature olfactory sensation directly from the bottle. Perfume must be smelled in its efflorescent, gaseous state, never as a concentrate. He sprinkled a few drops onto the handkerchief, waved it in the air to drive off the alcohol, and then held it to his nose. In three short, jerky tugs, he snatched up the scent as if it were a powder, immediately blew it out again, fanned himself, took another sniff in waltz time, and finally drew one long, deep breath, which he then exhaled slowly with several pauses, as if letting it slide down a long, gently sloping staircase. He tossed the handkerchief onto his desk and fell back into his armchair.

The perfume was disgustingly good. That miserable Pelissier was unfortunately a virtuoso. A master, to heaven’s shame, even if he had never learned one thing a thousand times overt Baldini wished he had created it himself, this Amor and Psyche. There was nothing common about it. An absolute classic-full and harmonious. And for all that, fascinatingly new. It was fresh, but not frenetic. It was floral, without being unctuous. It possessed depth, a splendid, abiding, voluptuous, rich brown depth-and yet was not in the least excessive or bombastic.

Baldini stood up almost in reverence and held the handkerchief under his nose once again. “Wonderful, wonderful…” he murmured, sniffing greedily. “It has a cheerful character, it’s charming, it’s like a melody, puts you in a good mood at once… What nonsense, a good mood!” And he flung the handkerchief back onto his desk in anger, turned away, and walked to the farthest corner of the room, as if ashamed of his enthusiasm.

Ridiculous! Letting himself be swept up in such eulogies-”like a melody, cheerful, wonderful, good mood.” How idiotic. Childishly idiotic. A moment’s impression. An old weakness. A matter of temperament. Most likely his Italian blood. Judge not as long as you’re smelling! That is rule number one, Baldini, you muttonhead! Smell when you’re smelling and judge after you have smelled! Amor and Psyche is not half bad as a perfume. A thoroughly successful product. A cleverly managed bit of concocting. If not to say conjuring. And you could expect nothing but conjuring from a man like Pelissier. Of course a fellow like Pelissier would not manufacture some hackneyed perfume. The scoundrel conjured with complete mastery of his art, confusing your sense of smell with its perfect harmony. In the classical arts of scent, the man was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In short, he was a monster with talent. And what was worse, a perverter of the true faith.

But you, Baldini, are not going to be fooled. You were surprised for a moment by your first impression of this concoction. But do you know how it will smell an hour from now when its volatile ingredients have fled and the central structure emerges? Or how it will smell this evening when all that is still perceptible are the heavy, dark components that now lie in odorous twilight beneath a veil of flowers? Wait and see, Baldini!

The second rule is: perfume lives in time; it has its youth, its maturity, and its old age. And only if it gives off a scent equally pleasant at all three different stages of its life, can it be called successful. How often have we not discovered that a mixture that smelled delightfully fresh when first tested, after a brief interval was more like rotten fruit, and finally reeked of nothing but the pure civet we had used too much of. Utmost caution with the civet! One drop too much brings catastrophe. An old source of error. Who knows— perhaps Pelissier got carried away with the civet. Perhaps by this evening all that’s left of his ambitious Amor and Psyche will be just a whiff of cat piss. We shall see.

We shall smell it. Just as a sharp ax can split a log into tiny splinters, our nose will fragment every detail of this perfume. And then it will be only too apparent that this ostensibly magical scent was created by the most ordinary, familiar methods. We, Baldini, perfumer, shall catch Pelissier, the vinegar man, at his tricks. We shall rip the mask from his ugly face and show the innovator just what the old craft is capable of. We’ll scrupulously imitate his mixture, his fashionable perfume. It will be born anew in our hands, so perfectly copied that the humbug himself won’t be able to tell it from his own. No! That’s not enough! We shall improve on it! We’ll show up his mistakes and rinse them away, and then rub his nose in it. You’re a bungler, Pelissier! An old stinker is what you are! An upstart in the craft of perfumery, and nothing more.

And now to work, Baldini! Sharpen your nose and smell without sentimentality! Dissect the scent by the rules of the art! You must have the formula by this evening!

And he made a dive for his desk, grabbing paper, ink, and a fresh handkerchief, laid it all out properly, and began his analysis. The procedure was this: to dip the handkerchief in perfume, pass it rapidly under his nose, and extract from the fleeting cloud of scent one or another of its ingredients without being significantly distracted by the complex blending of its other parts; then, holding the handkerchief at the end of his outstretched arm, to jot down the name of the ingredient he had discovered, and repeat the process at once, letting the handkerchief flit by his nose, snatching at the next fragment of scent, and so on…


HE WORKED WITHOUT pause for two hours-with increasingly hectic movements, increasingly slipshod scribblings of his pen on the paper, and increasingly large doses of perfume sprinkled onto his handkerchief and held to his nose.

He could hardly smell anything now, the volatile substances he was inhaling had long since drugged him; he could no longer recognize what he thought had been established beyond doubt at the start of his analysis. He knew that it was pointless to continue smelling. He would never ascertain the ingredients of this newfangled perfume, certainly not today, nor tomorrow either, when his nose would have recovered, God willing. He had never learned fractionary smelling. Dissecting scents, fragmenting a unity, whether well or not-so-well blended, into its simple components was a wretched, loathsome business. It did not interest him. He did not want to continue.

But his hand automatically kept on making the dainty motion, practiced a thousand times over, of dunking the handkerchief, shaking it out, and whisking it rapidly past his face, and with each whisk he automatically snapped up a portion of scent-drenched air, only to let it out again with the proper exhalations and pauses. Until finally his own nose liberated him from the torture, swelling in allergic reaction till it was stopped up as tight as if plugged with wax. He could not smell a thing now, could hardly breathe. It was as if a bad cold had soldered his nose shut; little tears gathered in the corners of his eyes. Thank God in heaven! Now he could quit in good conscience. He had done his duty, to the best of his abilities, according to all the rules of the art, and was, as so often before, defeated. Ultra posse nemo obligatur. Closing time. Tomorrow morning he would send off to Pelissi-er’s for a large bottle of Amor and Psyche and use it to scent the Spanish hide for Count Verhamont, as per order. And after that he would take his valise, full of old-fashioned soaps, scent bags, pomades, and sachets and make his rounds among the salons of doddering countesses. And one day the last doddering countess would be dead, and with her his last customer. By then he would himself be doddering and would have to sell his business, to Pelissier or another one of these upstart merchants-perhaps he would get a few thousand livres for it. And he would pack one or two bags and go off to Italy with his old wife, if she was not dead herself by then. And if he survived the trip, he would buy a little house in the country near Messina where things were cheap. And there in bitterest poverty he, Giuseppe Baldini, once the greatest perfumer of Paris, would die-whenever God willed it. And that was well and good.

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