Книга Perfume. The story of a murderer. Содержание - Fourteen
He stoppered the flacon, laid down his pen, and wiped the drenched handkerchief across his forehead one last time. He could sense the cooling effect of the evaporating alcohol, but nothing else. Then the sun went down.
Baldini stood up. He opened the jalousie and his body was bathed to the knees in the sunset, caught fire like a burnt-out torch glimmering low. He saw the deep red rim of the sun behind the Louvre and the softer fire across the slate roofs of the city. On the river shining like gold below him, the ships had disappeared. And a wind must have come up, for gusts were serrating the surface, and it glittered now here, now there, moving ever closer, as if a giant hand were scattering millions of louis d’or over the water. For a moment it seemed the direction of the river had changed: it was flowing toward Baldini, a shimmering flood of pure gold.
Baldini’s eyes were moist and sad. He stood there motionless for a long time gazing at the splendid scene. Then, suddenly, he flung both window casements wide and pitched the fiacon with Pelissier’s perfume away in a high arc. He saw it splash and rend the glittering carpet of water for an instant.
Fresh air streamed into the room. Baldini gulped for breath and noticed that the swelling in his nose was subsiding. Then he closed the window. At almost the same moment, night fell, very suddenly. The view of a glistening golden city and river turned into a rigid, ashen gray silhouette. Inside the room, all at once it was dark. Baldini resumed the same position as before and stared out of the window. “I shall not send anyone to Pelissier’s in the morning,” he said, grasping the back of his armchair with both hands. “I shall not do it. And I shall not make my tour of the salons either. Instead, I shall go to the notary tomorrow morning and sell my house and my business. That is what I shall do. E basta!”
The expression on his face was that of a cheeky young boy, and he suddenly felt very happy. He was once again the old, the young Baldini, as bold and determined as ever to contend with fate-even if contending meant a retreat in this case. And what if it did! There was nothing else to do. These were stupid times, and they left him no choice. God gives good times and bad times, but He does not wish us to bemoan and bewail the bad times, but to prove ourselves men. And He had given His sign. That golden, blood-red mirage of the city had been a warning: act now, Baldini, before it is too late! Your house still stands firm, your storage rooms are still full, you will still be able to get a good price for your slumping business. The decisions are still in your hands. To grow old living modestly in Messina had not been his goal in life, true-but it was more honorable and pleasing to God than to perish in splendor in Paris. Let the Brouets, Calteaus, and Pelissiers have their triumph. Giuseppe Baldini was clearing out. But he did it unbent and of his own free will!
He was quite proud of himself now. And his mind was finally at peace. For the first time in years, there was an easing in his back of the subordinate’s cramp that had tensed his neck and given an increasingly obsequious hunch to his shoulders. And he stood up straight without strain, relaxed and free and pleased with himself. His breath passed lightly through his nose. He could clearly smell the scent of Amor and Psyche that reigned in the room, but he did not let it affect him anymore. Baidini had changed his life and felt wonderful. He would go up to his wife now and inform her of his decision, and then he would make a pilgrimage to Notre-Dame and light a candle thanking God for His gracious prompting and for having endowed him, Giuseppe Baldini, with such unbelievable strength of character.
With almost youthful elan, he plopped his wig onto his bald head, slipped into his blue coat, grabbed the candlestick from the desk, and left his study. He had just lit the tallow candle in the stairwell to light his way up to his living quarters when he heard a doorbell ring on the ground floor. It was not the Persian chimes at the shop door, but the shrill ring of the servants’ entrance, a repulsive sound that had always annoyed him. He had often made up his mind to have the thing removed and replaced with a more pleasant bell, but then the cost would always seem excessive. The thought suddenly occurred to him-and he giggled as it did-that it made no difference now, he would be selling the obtrusive doorbell along with the house. Let his successor deal with the vexation!
The bell rang shrilly again. He cocked his ear for sounds below. Apparently Chenier had already left the shop. And the servant girl seemed not about to answer it either. So Baldini went downstairs to open the door himself.
He pulled back the bolt, swung the heavy door open-and saw nothing. The darkness completely swallowed the light of his candle. Then, very gradually, he began to make out a figure, a child or a half-grown boy carrying something over his arm.
“What do you want?”
“I’m from Maitre Grimal, I’m delivering the goatskins,” said the figure and stepped closer and held out to him a stack of hides hanging from his cocked arm. By the light of his candle, Baldini could now see the boy’s face and his nervous, searching eyes. He carried himself hunched over. He looked as if he were hiding behind his own outstretched arm, waiting to be struck a blow. It was Grenouille.
THE GOATSKINS for the Spanish leather! Baldini remembered now. He had ordered the hides from Grimal a few days before, the finest, softest goatskin to be used as a blotter for Count Verhamont’s desk, fifteen francs apiece. But he really did not need them anymore and could spare the expense. On the other hand, if he were simply to send the boy back…? Who knew-it could make a bad impression, people might begin to talk, rumors might start: Baldini is getting undependable, Baldini isn’t getting any orders, Baldini can’t pay his bills… and that would not be good; no, no, because something like that was likely to lower the selling price of his business. It would be better to accept these useless goatskins. No one needed to know ahead of time that Giuseppe Baldini had changed his life.
He let the boy inside, and they walked across to the shop, Baldini leading with the candle, Grenouille behind him with the hides. It was the first time Grenouille had ever been in a perfumery, a place in which odors are not accessories but stand unabashedly at the center of interest. Naturally he knew every single perfumery and apothecary in the city, had stood for nights on end at their shop windows, his nose pressed to the cracks of their doors. He knew every single odor handled here and had often merged them in his innermost thoughts to create the most splendid perfumes. So there was nothing new awaiting him. And yet, just as a musically gifted child burns to see an orchestra up close or to climb into the church choir where the organ keyboard lies hidden, Grenouille burned to see a perfumery from the inside; and when he had heard that leather was to be delivered to Baldini, he had done all he could to make sure that he would be the one to deliver it.
And here he stood in Baldini’s shop, on the one spot in Paris with the greatest number of professional scents assembled in one small space. He could not see much in the fleeting light of the candle, only brief glimpses of the shadows thrown by the counter with its scales, the two herons above the vessel, an armchair for the customers, the dark cupboards along the walls, the brief flash of bronze utensils and white labels on bottles and crucibles; nor could he smell anything beyond what he could already smell from the street. But he at once felt the seriousness that reigned in these rooms, you might almost call it a holy seriousness, if the word “holy” had held any meaning whatever for Grenouille; for he could feel the cold seriousness, the craftsmanlike sobriety, the staid business sense that adhered to every piece of furniture, every utensil, to tubs, bottles, and pots. And as he walked behind Baldini, in Baldini’s shadow-for Baldini did not take the trouble to light his way-he was overcome by the idea that he belonged here and nowhere else, that he would stay here, that from here he would shake the world from its foundations.