Книга Perfume. The story of a murderer. Содержание - Twenty-two


BALDINI WATCHED him go, shuffling across the bridge to the island, small, bent, bearing his rucksack like a hunchback, looking from the rear like an old man. On the far side, where the street made a dogleg at the Palais de Parlement, he lost sight of him and felt extraordinarily relieved.

He had never liked the fellow, he could finally admit it now. He had never felt comfortable the whole time he had housed him under his roof and plundered him. He felt much as would a man of spotless character who does some forbidden deed for the first time, who uses underhanded tricks when playing a game. True, the risk that people might catch up with him was small, and the prospects for success had been great; but even so, his nervousness and bad conscience were equally great. In fact, not a day had passed in all those years when he had not been haunted by the notion that in some way or other he would have to pay for having got involved with this man. If only it turns out all right!-that had been his continual anxious prayer-if only I succeed in reaping the profits of this risky adventure without having to pay the piper! If only I succeed! What I’m doing is not right, but God will wink His eye, I’m sure He will. He has punished me hard enough many times in my life, without any cause, so that it would only be just if He would deal graciously with me this time. What wrong have I actually done, if there has been a wrong? At the worst I am operating somewhat outside guild regulations by exploiting the wonderful gifts of an unskilled worker and passing off his talent as my own. At the worst I have wandered a bit off the traditional path of guild virtue. At the very worst, I am doing today what I myself have condemned in the past. Is that a crime? Other people cheat their whole life long. I have only fudged a bit for a couple of years. And only because of purest chance I was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Perhaps it wasn’t chance at all, but God Himself, who sent this wizard into my house, to make up for the days of humiliation by Pelissier and his cohorts. Perhaps Divine Providence was not directing Himself at me at all, but against Pelissier! That’s perfectly possible! How else would God have been able to punish Pelissier other than by raising me up? My luck, in that case, would be the means by which divine justice has achieved its end, and thus I not only ought to accept it, but I must, without shame and without the least regret…

Such had often been Baldini’s thoughts during those years-mornings, when he would descend the narrow stairway to his shop, evenings, when he would climb back up carrying the contents of the cashbox to count the heavy gold and silver coins, and at night, when he lay next to the snoring bag of bones that was his wife, unable to sleep for fear of his good fortune.

But now such sinister thoughts had come to an end. His uncanny guest was gone and would never return again. Yet the riches remained and were secure far into the future. Baldini laid a hand to his chest and felt, beneath the cloth of his coat, that little book beside his beating heart. Six hundred formulas were recorded there, more than a whole generation of perfumers would ever be able to implement. If he were to lose everything today, he could, with just this wonderful little book, be a rich man once again within a year. Truly he could not ask for more!

From the gables of the houses across the way, the morning sun fell golden and warm on his face. Baldini was still looking to the south, down the street in the direction of the Palais de Parlement-it was simply too delightful not to see anything more of Grenouille!-and, washed over by a sense of gratitude, he decided to make that pilgrimage to Notre-Dame today, to cast a gold coin in the alms box, to light three candles, and on his knees to thank his Lord for having heaped such good fortune on him and having spared him from retribution.

But then that same afternoon, just as he was about to head for the church, something absurd happened: a rumor surfaced that the English had declared war on France. That was of itself hardly disquieting. But since Baldini had planned to send a shipment of perfume to London that very day, he postponed his visit to Notre-Dame and instead went into the city to make inquiries and from there to go out to his factory in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and cancel the shipment to London for the present. That night in bed, just before falling asleep, he had a brilliant idea: in light of the hostilities about to break out over the colonies in the New World, he would launch a perfume under the name of Prestige du Quebec, a heroic, resinous scent, whose success-this much was certain-would more than repay him for the loss of business with England. With that sweet thought in his silly old head, relieved and bedded now on its pillow, beneath which the pressure of the little book of formulas was pleasantly palpable, Maitre Baldini fell asleep and awoke no more in this life.

For that night a minor catastrophe occurred, which, with appropriate delays, resulted in a royal decree requiring that little by little all the buildings on all the bridges of Paris be torn down. For with no apparent reason, the west side of the Pont-au-Change, between the third and fourth piers, collapsed. Two buildings were hurtled into the river, so completely and suddenly that none of their occupants could be rescued. Fortunately, it was a matter of only two persons, to wit: Giuseppe Baldini and his wife, Teresa. The servants had gone out, either with or without permission. Chenier, who first returned home in the small hours slightly drunk-or rather, intended to return home, since there was no home left-suffered a nervous breakdown. He had sacrificed thirty long years of his life in hopes of being named heir in Baldini’s will, for the old man had neither children nor relatives. And now, at one blow, the entire inheritance was gone, everything, house, business, raw materials, laboratory, Baldini himself-indeed even the will, which perhaps might have offered him a chance of becoming owner of the factory.

Nothing was found, not the bodies, not the safe, not the little books with their six hundred formulas. Only one thing remained of Giuseppe Baldini, Europe’s greatest perfumer: a very motley odor-of musk, cinnamon, vinegar, lavender, and a thousand other things-that took several weeks to float high above the Seine from Paris to Le Havre.



WHEN THE House of Giuseppe Baldini collapsed, Grenouille was already on the road to Orleans. He had left the enveloping haze of the city behind him; and with every step he took away from it, the air about him grew clearer, purer, and cleaner. It became thinner as well. Gone was the roiling of hundreds, thousands of changing odors at every pace; instead, the few odors there were-of the sandy road, meadows, the earth, plants, water-extended across the countryside in long currents, swelling slowly, abating slowly, with hardly an abrupt break.

For Grenouille, this simplicity seemed a deliverance. The leisurely odors coaxed his nose. For the first time in his life he did not have to prepare himself to catch the scent of something new, unexpected, hostile -or to lose a pleasant smell-with every breath. For the first time he could almost breathe freely, did not constantly have to be on the olfactory lookout. We say “almost,” for of course nothing ever passed truly freely through Grenouille’s nose. Even when there was not the least reason for it, he was always alert to, always wary of everything that came from outside and had to be let inside. His whole life long, even in those few moments when he had experienced some inkling of satisfaction, contentment, and perhaps even happiness, he had preferred exhaling to inhaling-just as he had begun life not with a hopeful gasp for air but with a bloodcurdling scream. But except for that one proviso, which for him was simply a constitutional limitation, the farther Grenouille got from Paris, the better he felt, the more easily he breathed, the lighter his step, until he even managed sporadically to carry himself erect, so that when seen from a distance he looked almost like an ordinary itinerant journeyman, like a perfectly normal human being.

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