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

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Once upstairs, he said nothing to his wife while they ate. Above all, he said nothing about the solemn decision he had arrived at that afternoon. And his wife said nothing either, for she noticed that he was in good spirits, and that was enough for her. Nor did he walk over to Notre-Dame to thank God for his strength of character. Indeed, that night he forgot, for the first time ever, to say his evening prayers.


THE NEXT MORNING he went straight to Grimal. First he paid for his goat leather, paid in full, without a grumble or the least bit of haggling. And then he invited Grimal to the Tour d’Argent for a bottle of white wine and negotiations concerning the purchase of Grenouille, his apprentice. It goes without saying that he did not reveal to him the why’s and wherefore’s of this purchase. He told some story about how he had a large order for scented leather and to fill it he needed unskilled help. He required a lad of few needs, who would do simple tasks, cutting leather and so forth. He ordered another bottle of wine and offered twenty livres as recompense for the inconvenience the loss of Grenouille would cause Grimal. Twenty livres was an enormous sum. Grimal immediately took him up on it. They walked to the tannery, where, strangely enough, Grenouille was waiting with his bundle already packed. Baldini paid the twenty livres and took him along at once, well aware that he had just made the best deal of his life.

Grimal, who for his part was convinced that he had just made the best deal of his life, returned to the Tour d’Argent, there drank two more bottles of wine, moved over to the Lion d’Or on the other bank around noon, and got so rip-roaring drunk there that when he decided to go back to the Tour d’Argent late that night, he got the rue Geoffroi L’Anier confused with the rue des Nonaindieres, and instead of coming out directly onto the Pont-Marie as he had intended, he was brought by ill fortune to the Quai des Ormes, where he splashed lengthwise and face first into the water like a soft mattress. He was dead in an instant. The river, however, needed considerable time to drag him out from the shallows, past the barges moored there, into the stronger main current, and not until the early morning hours did Grimal the tanner-or, better, his soaked carcass-float briskly downriver toward the west.

As he passed the Pont-au-Change, soundlessly, without bumping against the bridge piers, sixty feet directly overhead Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was going to bed. A bunk had been set up for him in a back corner of Baldini’s laboratory, and he was now about to take possession of it-while his former employer floated down the cold Seine, all four limbs extended. Grenouille rolled himself up into a little ball like a tick. As he fell off to sleep, he sank deeper and deeper into himself, leading the triumphant entry into his innermost fortress, where he dreamed of an odoriferous victory banquet, a gigantic orgy with clouds of incense and fogs of myrrh, held in his own honor.


WITH THE acquisition of Grenouille, the House of Giuseppe Baidini began its ascent to national, indeed European renown. The Persian chimes never stopped ringing, the herons never stopped spewing in the shop on the Pont-au-Change.

The very first evening, Grenouille had to prepare a large demijohn full of Nuit Napolitaine, of which over eighty flacons were sold in the course of the next day. The fame of the scent spread like wildfire. Chenier’s eyes grew glassy from the moneys paid and his back ached from all the deep bows he had to make, for only persons of high, indeed highest, rank-or at least the servants of persons of high and highest rank— appeared. One day the door was flung back so hard it rattled; in stepped the footman of Count d’Argenson and shouted, as only footmen can shout, that he wanted five bottles of this new scent. Chenier was still shaking with awe fifteen minutes later, for Count d’Argenson was commissary and war minister to His Majesty and the most powerful man in Paris.

While Chenier was subjected to the onslaught of customers in the shop, Baidini had shut himself up in his laboratory with his new apprentice. He justified this state of affairs to Chenier with a fantastic theory that he called “division of labor and increased productivity.” For years, he explained, he had patiently watched while Pelissier and his ilk-despisers of the ancient craft, all-had enticed his customers away and made a shambles of his business. His forbearance was now at an end. He was accepting their challenge and striking back at these cheeky parvenus, and, what was more, with their own weapons. Every season, every month, if necessary every week, he would play trumps, a new perfume. And what perfumes they would be! He would draw fully upon his creative talents. And for that it was necessary that he— assisted only by an unskilled helper-would be solely and exclusively responsible for the production of scents, while Chenier would devote himself exclusively to their sale. By using such modern methods, they would open a new chapter in the history of perfumery, sweeping aside their competitors and growing incomparably rich-yes, he had consciously and explicitly said “they,” because he intended to allow his old and trusted journeyman to share a given percentage of these incomparable riches.

Only a few days before, Chenier would have regarded such talk as a sign of his master’s incipient senility. “Ready for the Charite,” he would have thought. “It won’t be long now before he lays down the pestle for good.” But now he was not thinking at all. He didn’t get around to it, he simply had too much to do. He had so much to do that come evening he was so exhausted he could hardly empty out the cashbox and siphon off his cut. Not in his wildest dreams would he have doubted that things were not on the up and up, though Baldini emerged from his laboratory almost daily with some new scent.

And what scents they were! Not just perfumes of high, indeed highest, quality, but also cremes and powders, soaps, hair tonics, toilet waters, oils… Everything meant to have a fragrance now smelled new and different and more wonderful than ever before. And as if bewitched, the public pounced upon everything, absolutely everything-even the newfangled scented hair ribbons that Baldini created one day on a curious whim. And price was no object. Everything that Baldini produced was a success. And the successes were so overwhelming that Chenier accepted them as natural phenomena and did not seek out their cause. That perhaps the new apprentice, that awkward gnome, who was housed like a dog in the laboratory and whom one saw sometimes when the master stepped out, standing in the background wiping off glasses and cleaning mortars-that this cipher of a man might be implicated in the fabulous blossoming of their business, Chenier would not have believed had he been told it.

Naturally, the gnome had everything to do with it. Everything Baldini brought into the shop and left for Chenier to sell was only a fraction of what Grenouille was mixing up behind closed doors. Baldini couldn’t smell fast enough to keep up with him. At times he was truly tormented by having to choose among the glories that Grenouille produced. This sorcerer’s apprentice could have provided recipes for all the perfumers of France without once repeating himself, without once producing something of inferior or even average quality. As a matter of fact, he could not have provided them with recipes, i.e., formulas, for at first Grenouille still composed his scents in the totally chaotic and unprofessional manner familiar to Baldini, mixing his ingredients impromptu and in apparent wild confusion. Unable to control the crazy business, but hoping at least to get some notion of it, Baldini demanded one day that Grenouille use scales, measuring glasses, and the pipette when preparing his mixtures, even though he considered them unnecessary; further, he was to get used to regarding the alcohol not as another fragrance, but as a solvent to be added at the end; and, for God’s sake, he would simply have to go about things more slowly, at an easier and slower pace, as befitted a craftsman.

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