Книга Perfume. The story of a murderer. Содержание - Thirty-one

The lecture was an immense success. The learned audience applauded the lecturer vigorously and lined up to pass the dais where Grenouille was standing. In his state of preserved deterioration and with all his old scars and deformities, he did indeed look so impressively dreadful that everyone considered him beyond recovery and already half decayed, although he himself felt quite healthy and robust. Many of the gentlemen tapped him up and down in a professional manner, measured him, looked into his mouth and eyes. Several of them addressed him directly and inquired about his life in the cave and his present state of health. But he kept strictly to the instructions the marquis had given him beforehand and answered all such questions with nothing more than a strained death rattle, making helpless gestures with his hands to his larynx, as if to indicate that too was already rotted away by thefluidum letale Taillade.

At the end of the demonstration, Taillade-Espinasse packed him back up and transported him home to the storage room of his manor. There, in the presence of several selected doctors from the medical faculty, he locked Grenouille in his vital ventilation machine, a box made of tightly jointed pine boards, which by means of a suction flue extending far above the house roof could be flooded with air extracted from the higher regions, and thus free of lethal gas. The air could then escape through a leather flap-valve placed in the floor. The apparatus was kept in operation by a staff of servants who tended it day and night, so that the ventilators inside the flue never stopped pumping. And so, surrounded by the constant purifying stream of air, Grenouille was fed a diet of foods from earth-removed regions-dove bouillon, lark pie, ragout of wild duck, preserves of fruit picked from trees, bread made from a special wheat grown at high altitudes, wine from the Pyrenees, chamois milk, and frozen frothy meringue from hens kept in the attic of the mansion-all of which was presented at hourly intervals through the door of a double-walled air lock built into the side of the chamber.

This combined treatment of decontamination and revitalization lasted for five days. Then the marquis had the ventilators stopped and Grenouille brought to a washroom, where he was softened for several hours in baths of lukewarm rainwater and finally waxed from head to toe with nut-oil soap from Potosi in the Andes. His finger— and toenails were trimmed, his teeth cleaned with pulverized lime from the Dolomites, he was shaved, his hair cut and combed, coifFed and powdered. A tailor, a cobbler were sent for, and Grenouille was fitted out in a silk shirt, with white jabot and white ruffles at the cuffs, silk stockings, frock coat, trousers, and vest of blue velvet, and handsome buckled shoes of black leather, the right one cleverly elevated for his crippled foot. The marquis personally applied white talcum makeup to Gre-nouille’s scarred face, dabbed his lips and cheeks with crimson, and gave a truly noble arch to his eyebrows with the aid of a soft stick of linden charcoal. Then he dusted him with his own personal perfume, a rather simple violet fragrance, took a few steps back, and took some time to find words for his delight.

“Monsieur,” he began at last, “I am thrilled with myself. I am overwhelmed at my own genius. I have, to be sure, never doubted the correctness of my fluidal theory; of course not; but to find it so gloriously confirmed by an applied therapy overwhelms me. You were a beast, and I have made a man of you. A veritable divine act. Do forgive me, I am so touched! -Stand in front of that mirror there and regard yourself. You will realize for the first time in your life that you are a human being; not a particularly extraordinary or in any fashion distinguished one, but nevertheless a perfectly acceptable human being. Go on, monsieur! Regard yourself and admire the miracle that I have accomplished with you!”

It was the first time that anyone had ever said “monsieur” to Grenouille.

He walked over to the mirror and looked into it.

Before that day he had never seen himself in a mirror. He saw a gentleman in a handsome blue outfit, with a white shirt and silk stockings; and instinctively he ducked, as he had always ducked before such fine gentlemen. The fine gentleman, however, ducked as well, and when Grenouille stood up straight again, the fine gentleman did the same, and then they both stared straight into each other’s eyes.

What dumbfounded Grenouille most was the fact that he looked so unbelievably normal. The marquis was right: there was nothing special about his looks, nothing handsome, but then nothing especially ugly either. He was a little short of stature, his posture was a little awkward, his face a little expressionless-in short, he looked like a thousand other people. If he were now to go walking down the street, not one person would turn around to look at him. A man such as he now was, should he chance to meet him, would not even strike him as in any way unusual. Unless, of course, he would smell that the man, except for a hint of violets, had as little odor as the gentleman in the mirror-or himself, standing there in front of it.

And yet only ten days before, farmers had run away screaming at the sight of him. He had not felt any different from the way he did now; and now, if he closed his eyes, he felt not one bit different from then. He inhaled the air that rose up from his own body and smelled the bad perfume and the velvet and the freshly glued leather of his shoes; he smelled the silk cloth, the powder, the makeup, the light scent of the soap from Potosi. And suddenly he knew that it had not been the dove bouillon nor the ventilation hocus-pocus that had made a normal person out of him, but solely these few clothes, the haircut, and the little masquerade with cosmetics.

He blinked as he opened his eyes and saw how the gentleman in the mirror blinked back at him and how a little smile played about his carmine lips, as if signaling to him that he did not find him totally unattractive. And Grenouille himself found that the gentleman in the mirror, this odorless figure dressed and made up like a man, was not all that bad either; at least it seemed to him as if the figure-once its costume had been perfected-might have an effect on the world outside that he, Grenouille, would never have expected of himself. He nodded to the figure and saw that in nodding back it flared its nostrils surreptitiously.


THE FOLLOWING DAY-the marquis was just about to instruct him in the basic poses, gestures, and dance steps he would need for his coming social debut— Grenouille faked a fainting spell and, as if totally exhausted and in imminent danger of suffocation, collapsed onto a sofa.

The marquis was beside himself. He screamed for servants, screamed for fan bearers and portable ventilators, and while the servants scurried about, he knelt down at Grenouille’s side, fanning him with a handkerchief soaked in bouquet of violets, and appealed to him, literally begged him, to get to his feet, and please not to breathe his last just yet, but to wait, if at all possible, until the day after tomorrow, since the survival of the theory of the fluidum letale would otherwise be in utmost jeopardy.

Grenouille twisted and turned, coughed, groaned, thrashed at the handkerchief with his arms, and finally, after falling from the sofa in a highly dramatic fashion, crept to the most distant corner of the room. “Not that perfume!” he cried with his last bit of energy. “Not that perfume! It will kill me!” And only when Taillade-Espinasse had tossed the handkerchief out the window and his violet-scented jacket into the next room, did Grenouille allow his attack to ebb, and in a voice that slowly grew calmer explained that as a perfumer he had an occupationally sensitive nose and had always reacted very strongly to certain perfumes, especially so during this period of recuperation. And his only explanation for the fact that the scent of violets in particular-a lovely flower in its own right -should so oppress him was that the marquis’s perfume contained a high percentage of violet root extract, which, being of subterranean origin, must have a pernicious effect on a person like himself suffering from the influence offluidum letale. Yesterday, at the first application of the scent, he had felt quite queasy, and today, as he had once again perceived the odor of roots, it had been as if someone had pushed him back into that dreadful, suffocating hole where he had vegetated for several years. His very nature had risen up against it, that was all he could say; and now that his grace the marquis had used his art to restore him to a life free of fluidal air, he would rather die on the spot than once again be at the mercy of the dreaded fluidum. At the mere thought of a perfume extracted from roots, he could feel his whole body cramping up. He was firmly convinced, however, that he would recover in an instant if the marquis would permit him to design a perfume of his own, one that would completely drive out the scent of violets. He had in mind an especially light, airy fragrance, consisting primarily of earth-removed ingredients, like eaux of almond and orange blossom, eucalyptus, pine, and cypress oils. A splash of such a scent on his clothes, a few drops on his neck and cheeks-and he would be permanently immune to any repetition of the embarrassing seizure that had just overwhelmed him…

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