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

As the sun rose, he was still standing on the same spot, his nose held up to the air. With a desperate effort he tried to get a whiff of the direction from which threatening humanity came, and of the opposite direction to which he could flee still farther. He assumed that in whatever direction he turned he ought to detect some latent scrap of human odor. But there was nothing. Here there was only peace, olfactory peace, if it can be put that way. Spread all about, as if softly rustling, lay nothing but the drifting, homogeneous odor of dead stones, of gray lichen, and of withered grasses-nothing else.

Grenouille needed a very long time to believe what he was not smelling. He was not prepared for his good luck. His mistrust fought against his good sense for quite a while. He even used his eyes to aid him as the sun rose, and he scanned the horizon for the least sign of human presence, for the roof of a hut, the smoke of a fire, a fence, a bridge, a herd. He held his hands to his ears and listened, for a scythe being whetted, for the bark of a dog or the cry of a child. That whole day he stood fast in the blazing heat on the peak of the Plomb du Cantal and waited in vain for the slightest evidence. Only as the sun set did his mistrust gradually fade before an ever increasing sense of euphoria. He had escaped the abhorrent taint! He was truly completely alone! He was the only human being in the world!

He erupted with thundering jubilation. Like a shipwrecked sailor ecstatically greeting the sight of an inhabited island after weeks of aimless drifting, Grenouille celebrated his arrival at the mountain of solitude. He shouted for joy. He cast aside his rucksack, blanket, walking stick, and stamped his feet on the ground, threw his arms to the sky, danced in circles, roared his own name to the four winds, clenched his fists, shaking them triumphantly at the great, wide country lying below him and at the setting sun-triumphantly, as if he personally had chased it from the sky. He carried on like a madman until late into the night.


HE SPENT THE next few days settling in on the mountain-for he had made up his mind that he would not be leaving this blessed region all that soon. First he sniffed around for water and in a crevasse a little below the top found it running across the rock in a thin film. It was not much, but if he patiently licked at it for an hour, he could quench his daily need for liquids. He also found nourishment in the form of small salamanders and ring snakes; he pinched off their heads, then devoured them whole. He also ate dry lichen and grass and mossberries. Such a diet, although totally unacceptable by bourgeois standards, did not disgust him in the least. In the past weeks and months he had no longer fed himself with food processed by human hands-bread, sausage, cheese -but instead, whenever he felt hungry, had wolfed down anything vaguely edible that had crossed his path. He was anything but a gourmet. He had no use for sensual gratification, unless that gratification consisted of pure, incorporeal odors. He had no use for creature comforts either and would have been quite content to set up camp on bare stone. But he found something better.

Near his watering spot he discovered a natural tunnel leading back into the mountain by many twists and turns, until after a hundred feet or so it came to an end in a rock slide. The back of the tunnel was so narrow that Grenouille’s shoulders touched the rock and so low that he could walk only hunched down. But he could sit, and if he curled up, could even lie down. That completely satisfied his requirements for comfort. For the spot had incalculable advantages: at the end of the tunnel it was pitch-black night even during the day, it was deathly quiet, and the air he breathed was moist, salty, cool. Grenouille could smell at once that no living creature had ever entered the place. As he took possession of it, he was overcome by a sense of something like sacred awe. He carefully spread his horse blanket on the ground as if dressing an altar and lay down on it. He felt blessedly wonderful. He was lying a hundred and fifty feet below the earth, inside the loneliest mountain in France-as if in his own grave. Never in his life had he felt so secure, certainly not in his mother’s belly. The world could go up in flames out there, but he would not even notice it here. He began to cry softly. He did not know whom to thank for such good fortune.

In the days that followed he went into the open only to lick at his watering spot, quickly to relieve himself of his urine and excrement, and to hunt lizards and snakes. They were easy to bag at night when they retreated under flat stones or into little holes where he could trace them with his nose.

He climbed back up to the peak a few more times during the first weeks to sniff out the horizon. But soon that had become more a wearisome habit than a necessity, for he had not once scented the least threat.

And so he finally gave up these excursions and was concerned only with getting back into his crypt as quickly as possible once he had taken care of the most basic chores necessary for simple survival. For here, inside the crypt, was where he truly lived. Which is to say, for well over twenty hours a day in total darkness and in total silence and in total immobility, he sat on his horse blanket at the end of the stony corridor, his back resting on the rock slide, his shoulders wedged between the rocks, and enjoyed himself.

We are familiar with people who seek out solitude: penitents, failures, saints, or prophets. They retreat to deserts, preferably, where they live on locusts and honey. Others, however, live in caves or cells on remote islands; some-more spectacularly-squat in cages mounted high atop poles swaying in the breeze. They do this to be nearer to God. Their solitude is a self-mortification by which they do penance. They act in the belief that they are living a life pleasing to God. Or they wait months, years, for their solitude to be broken by some divine message that they hope then speedily to broadcast among mankind.

Grenouille’s case was nothing of the sort. There was not the least notion of God in his head. He was not doing penance nor waiting for some supernatural inspiration. He had withdrawn solely for his own personal pleasure, only to be near to himself. No longer distracted by anything external, he basked in his own existence and found it splendid. He lay in his stony crypt like his own corpse, hardly breathing, his heart hardly beating-and yet lived as intensively and dissolutely as ever a rake had lived in the wide world outside.


THE SETTING FOR these debaucheries was-how could it be otherwise-the innermost empire where he had buried the husks of every odor encountered since birth. To enhance the mood, he first conjured up those that were earliest and most remote: the hostile, steaming vapors of Madame Gaillard’s bedroom; the bone-dry, leathery bouquet of her hands; the vinegary breath of Father Terrier; the hysterical, hot maternal sweat of Bussie the wet nurse; the carrion stench of the Cimetiere des Innocents; the homicidal odor of his mother. And he wallowed in disgust and loathing, and his hair stood on end at the delicious horror.

Sometimes, if this repulsive aperitif did not quite get him into stride, he would allow himself a brief, odoriferous detour to Grimal’s for a whiff of the stench of raw, meaty skins and tanning broths, or he imagined the collective effluvium of six hundred thousand Parisians in the sultry, oppressive heat of late summer.

And then all at once, the pent-up hate would erupt with orgasmic force-that was, after all, the point of the exercise. Like a thunderstorm he rolled across these odors that had dared offend his patrician nose. He thrashed at them as hail thrashes a grainfield; like a hurricane, he scattered the rabble and drowned them in a grand purifying deluge of distilled water. And how just was his anger. How great his revenge. Ah! What a sublime moment! Grenouille, the little man, quivered with excitement, his body writhed with voluptuous delight and arched so high that he slammed his head against the roof of the tunnel, only to sink back slowly and lie there lolling in satiation. It really was too pleasant, this volcanic act that extinguished all obnoxious odors, really too pleasant… This was almost his favorite routine in the whole repertoire of his innermost universal theater, for it imparted to him the wonderful sense of righteous exhaustion that comes after only truly grand heroic deeds.

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