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

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Chenier took his place behind the counter, positioning himself exactly as his master had stood before, and stared fixedly at the door. He knew what would happen in the next few hours: absolutely nothing in the shop, and up in Baldini’s study, the usual catastrophe. Baldini would take off his blue coat drenched in frangipani, sit down at his desk, and wait for inspiration. The inspiration would not come. He would then hurry over to the cupboard with its hundreds of vials and start mixing them haphazardly. The mixture would be a failure. He would curse, fling open the window, and pour the stuff into the river. He would try something else, that too would be a failure, he would then rave and rant and throw a howling fit there in the stifling, odor-filled room. At about seven o’clock he would come back down, miserable, trembling and whining, and say: “Chenier, I’ve lost my nose, I cannot give birth to this perfume, I cannot deliver the Spanish hide to the count, all is lost, I am dead inside, I want to die, Chenier, please, help me die!” And Chenier would suggest that someone be sent to Pelissier’s for a bottle of Amor and Psyche, and Baldini would acquiesce, but only on condition that not a soul should learn of his shame. Chenier would swear himself to silence, and tonight they would perfume Count Verhamont’s leather with the other man’s product. That was how it would be, no doubt of it, and Chenier only wished that the whole circus were already over. Baldini was no longer a great perfumer. At one time, to be sure, in his youth, thirty, forty years ago, he had composed Rose of the South and Baldini’s Gallant Bouquet, the two truly great perfumes to which he owed his fortune. But now he was old and exhausted and did not know current fashions and modern tastes, and whenever he did manage to concoct a new perfume of his own, it was some totally old-fashioned, unmarketable stuff that within a year they had to dilute ten to one and peddle as an additive for fountains. What a shame, Chenier thought as he checked the sit of his wig in the mirror-a shame about old Baldini; a shame about his beautiful shop, because he’s sure to ruin it; and a shame about me, because by the time he has ruined it, I’ll be too old to take it over…


GIUSEPPE BALDINI had indeed taken off his redolent coat, but only out of long-standing habit. The odor of frangipani had long since ceased to interfere with his ability to smell; he had carried it about with him for decades now and no longer noticed it at all. And although he had closed the doors to his study and asked for peace and quiet, he had not sat down at his desk to ponder and wait for inspiration, for he knew far better than Chenier that inspiration would not strike-after all, it never had before. He was old and exhausted, that much was true, and was no longer a great perfumer, but he knew that he had never in his life been one. He had inherited Rose of the South from his father, and the formula for Baidini’s Gallant Bouquet had been bought from a traveling Genoese spice salesman. The rest of his perfumes were old familiar blends. He had never invented anything. He was not an inventor. He was a careful producer of traditional scents; he was like a cook who runs a great kitchen with a routine and good recipes, but has never created a dish of his own. He staged this whole hocus-pocus with a study and experiments and inspiration and hush-hush secrecy only because that was part of the professional image of a perfumer and glover. A perfumer was fifty percent alchemist who created miracles-that’s what people wanted. Fine! That his art was a craft like any other, only he knew, and was proud of the fact. He didn’t want to be an inventor. He was very suspicious of inventions, for they always meant that some rule would have to be broken. And he had no intention of inventing some new perfume for Count Verhamont. Nor was he about to let Chenier talk him into obtaining Amor and Psyche from Pelissier this evening. He already had some. There it stood on his desk by the window, in a little glass flacon with a cut-glass stopper. He had bought it a couple of days before. Naturally not in person. He couldn’t go to Pelissier and buy perfume in person! But through a go-between, who had used yet another go-between… Caution was necessary. Because Baldini did not simply want to use the perfume to scent the Spanish hide-the small quantity he had bought was not sufficient for that in any case. He had something much nastier in mind: he wanted to copy it.

That was, moreover, not forbidden. It was merely highly improper. To create a clandestine imitation of a competitor’s perfume and sell it under one’s own name was terribly improper. But more improper still was to get caught at it, and that was why Chenier must know nothing about it, for Chenier was a gossip.

How awful, that an honest man should feel compelled to travel such crooked paths! How awful, that the most precious thing a man possesses, his own honor, should be sullied by such shabby dealings! But what was he to do? Count Verhamont was, after all, a customer he dared not lose. He had hardly a single customer left now. He would soon have to start chasing after customers as he had in his twenties at the start of his career, when he had wandered the streets with a boxful of wares dangling at his belly. God knew, he, Giuseppe Baldini-owner of the largest perfume establishment in Paris, with the best possible address-only managed to stay out of the red by making house calls, valise in hand. And that did not suit him at all, for he was well over sixty and hated waiting in cold antechambers and parading eau des millefleurs and four thieves’ vinegar before old marquises or foisting a migraine salve off on them. Besides which, there was such disgusting competition in those antechambers. There was that upstart Brouet from the rue Dauphine, who claimed to have the greatest line of pomades in Europe; or Calteau from the rue Mauconseil, who had managed to become purveyor to the household of the duchesse d’Artois; or this totally unpredictable Antoine Pelissier from the rue Saint-Andre-des-Arts, who every season launched a new scent that the whole world went crazy over.

Perfumes like Pelissier’s could make a shambles of the whole market. If the rage one year was Hungary water and Baldini had accordingly stocked up on lavender, bergamot, and rosemary to cover the demand-here came Pelissier with his Air de Muse, an ultra-heavy musk scent. Suddenly everyone had to reek like an animal, and Baldini had to rework his rosemary into hair oil and sew the lavender into sachets. If, however, he then bought adequate supplies of musk, civet, and castor for the next year, Pelissier would take a notion to create a perfume called Forest Blossom, which would be an immediate success. And when, after long nights of experiment or costly bribes, Baldini had finally found out the ingredients in Forest Blossom-Pelissier would trump him again with Turkish Nights or Lisbon Spice or Bouquet de la Cour or some such damn thing. The man was indeed a danger to the whole trade with his reckless creativity. It made you wish for a return to the old rigid guild laws. Made you wish for draconian measures against this nonconformist, against this inflationist of scent. His license ought to be revoked and a juicy injunction issued against further exercise of his profession… and, just on principle, the fellow ought to be taught a lesson! Because this Pelissier wasn’t even a trained perfumer and glover. His father had been nothing but a vinegar maker, and Pelissier was a vinegar maker too, nothing else. But as a vinegar maker he was entitled to handle spirits, and only because of that had the skunk been able to crash the gates and wreak havoc in the park of the true perfumers. What did people need with a new perfume every season? Was that necessary? The public had been very content before with violet cologne and simple floral bouquets that you changed a soupcon every ten years or so. For thousands of years people had made do with incense and myrrh, a few balms, oils, and dried aromatic herbs. And even once they had learned to use retorts and alembics for distilling herbs, flowers, and woods and stealing the aromatic base of their vapors in the form of volatile oils, to crush seeds and pits and fruit rinds in oak presses, and to extract the scent from petals with carefully filtered oils-even then, the number of perfumes had been modest. In those days a figure like Pelissier would have been an impossibility, for back then just for the production of a simple pomade you needed abilities of which this vinegar mixer could not even dream. You had to be able not merely to distill, but also to act as maker of salves, apothecary, alchemist, and craftsman, merchant, humanist, and gardener all in one. You had to be able to distinguish sheep suet from calves’ suet, a victoria violet from a parma violet. You had to be fluent in Latin. You had to know when heliotrope is harvested and when pelargonium blooms, and that the jasmine blossom loses its scent at sunrise. Obviously Pelissier had not the vaguest notion of such matters. He had probably never left Paris, never in all his life seen jasmine in bloom. Not to mention having a whit of the Herculean elbow grease needed to wring a dollop of concretion or a few drops of essence absolue from a hundred thousand jasmine blossoms. Probably he knew such things-knew jasmine-only as a bottle of dark brown liquid concentrate that stood in his locked cabinet alongside the many other bottles from which he mixed his fashionable perfumes. No, in the good old days of true craftsmen, a man like this coxcomb Pelissier would never have got his foot in the door. He lacked everything: character, education, serenity, and a sense for the hierarchy within a guild. He owed his few successes at perfumery solely to the discovery made some two hundred years before by that genius Mauritius Frangipani-an Italian, let it be noted!-that odors are soluble in rectified spirit. By mixing his aromatic powder with alcohol and so transferring its odor to a volatile liquid, Frangipani had liberated scent from matter, had etherialized scent, had discovered scent as pure scent; in short, he had created perfume. What a feat! What an epoch-making achievement! Comparable really only to the greatest accomplishments of humankind, like the invention of writing by the Assyrians, Euclidean geometry, the ideas of Plato, or the metamorphosis of grapes into wine by the Greeks. A truly Promethean act! And yet, just as ail great accomplishments of the spirit cast both shadow and light, offering humankind vexation and misery along with their benefits, so, too, Frangipani’s marvelous invention had its unfortunate results. For now that people knew how to bind the essence of flowers and herbs, woods, resins, and animal secretions within tinctures and fill them into bottles, the art of perfumery was slipping bit by bit from the hands of the masters of the craft and becoming accessible to mountebanks, at least a mountebank with a passably discerning nose, like this skunk Pelissier. Without ever bothering to learn how the marvelous contents of these bottles had come to be, they could simply follow their olfactory whims and concoct whatever popped into their heads or struck the public’s momentary fancy.

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