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

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Most liberating for him was the fact that other people were so far away. More people lived more densely packed in Paris than in any other city in the world. Six, seven hundred thousand people lived in Paris. Its streets and squares teemed with them, and the houses were crammed full of them from cellars to attics. There was hardly a corner of Paris that was not paralyzed with people, not a stone, not a patch of earth that did not reek of humans.

As he began to withdraw from them, it became clear to Grenouille for the first time that for eighteen years their compacted human effluvium had oppressed him like air heavy with an imminent thunderstorm. Until now he had thought that it was the world in general he wanted to squirm away from. But it was not the world, it was the people in it. You could live, so it seemed, in this world, in this world devoid of humanity.

On the third day of his journey he found himself under the influence of the olfactory gravity of Orleans. Long before any visible sign indicated that he was in the vicinity of a city, Grenouille sensed a condensation of human stuff in the air and, reversing his original plan, decided to avoid Orleans. He did not want to have his newfound respiratory freedom ruined so soon by the sultry climate of humans. He circled the city in a giant arc, came upon the Loire at Chateauneuf, and crossed it at Sully. His sausage lasted that far. He bought himself a new one and, leaving the river behind, pushed on to the interior.

He now avoided not just cities, but villages as well. He was almost intoxicated by air that grew ever more rarefied, ever more devoid of humankind. He would approach a settlement or some isolated farm only to get new supplies, buying his bread and disappearing again into the woods. After a few weeks even those few travelers he met on out-of-the-way paths proved too much for him; he could no longer bear the concentrated odor that appeared punctually with farmers out to mow the first hay on the meadows. He nervously skirted every herd of sheep-not because of the sheep, but to get away from the odor of the shepherds. He headed straight across country and put up with mile-long detours whenever he caught the scent of a troop of riders still several hours distant. Not because, like other itinerant journeymen and vagabonds, he feared being stopped and asked for his papers and then perhaps pressed into military service -he didn’t even know there was a war on-but solely because he was disgusted by the human smell of the horsemen. And so it happened quite naturally and as the result of no particular decision that his plan to take the fastest road to Grasse gradually faded; the plan unraveled in freedom, so to speak, as did all his other plans and intentions. Grenouille no longer wanted to go somewhere, but only to go away, away from human beings.

Finally, he traveled only by night. During the day he crept into thickets, slept under bushes, in underbrush, in the most inaccessible spots, rolled up in a ball like an animal, his earthen-colored horse blanket pulled up over his body and head, his nose wedged in the crook of an elbow so that not the faintest foreign odor could disturb his dreams. He awoke at sunset, sniffed in all directions, and only when he could smell that the last farmer had left his fields and the most daring wanderer had sought shelter from the descending darkness, only when night and its presumed dangers had swept the countryside clean of people, did Grenouille creep out of hiding and set out again on his journey. He did not need light to see by. Even before, when he was traveling by day, he had often closed his eyes for hours on end and merely followed his nose. The gaudy landscape, the dazzling abrupt definition of sight hurt his eyes. He was delighted only by moonlight. Moonlight knew no colors and traced the contours of the terrain only very softly. It covered the land with a dirty gray, strangling life all night long. This world molded in lead, where nothing moved but the wind that fell sometimes like a shadow over the gray forests, and where nothing lived but the scent of the naked earth, was the only world that he accepted, for it was much like the world of his soul.

He headed south. Approximately south-for he did not steer by magnetic compass, but only by the compass of his nose, which sent him skirting every city, every village, every settlement. For weeks he met not a single person. And he might have been able to cradle himself in the soothing belief that he was alone in a world bathed in darkness or the cold light of the moon, had his delicate compass not taught him better.

Humans existed by night as well. And there were humans in the most remote regions. They had only pulled back like rats into their lairs to sleep. The earth was not cleansed of them, for even in sleep they exuded their odor, which then forced its way out between the cracks of their dwellings and into the open air, poisoning a natural world only apparently left to its own devices. The more Grenouille had become accustomed to purer air, the more sensitive he was to human odor, which suddenly, quite unexpectedly, would come floating by in the night, ghastly as the stench of manure, betraying the presence of some shepherd’s hut or charcoal burner’s cottage or thieves’ den. And then he would flee farther, increasingly sensitive to the increasingly infrequent smell of humankind. Thus his nose led him to ever more remote regions of the country, ever farther from human beings, driving him on ever more insistently toward the magnetic pole of the greatest possible solitude.


THAT POLE, the point of the kingdom most distant from humankind, was located in the Massif Central of the Auvergne, about five days’ journey south of Clermont, on the peak of a six-thousand-foot-high volcano named Plomb du Cantal.

The mountain consisted of a giant cone of blue-gray rock and was surrounded by an endless, barren highland studded with a few trees charred by fire and overgrown with gray moss and gray brush, out of which here and there brown boulders jutted up like rotten teeth. Even by light of day, the region was so dismal and dreary that the poorest shepherd in this poverty-stricken province would not have driven his animals here. And by night, by the bleaching light of the moon, it was such a godforsaken wilderness that it seemed not of this world. Even Lebrun, the bandit of the Auvergne, though pursued from all sides, had preferred to fight his way through to the Cevennes and there be captured, drawn, and quartered rather than to hide out on the Plomb du Cantal, where certainly no one would have sought or found him, but where likewise he would certainly have died a solitary, living death that had seemed to him worse still. For miles around the mountain, there lived not one human being, nor even a respectable mammal-at best a few bats and a couple of beetles and adders. No one had scaled the peak for decades.

Grenouille reached the mountain one August night in the year 1756. As dawn broke, he was standing on the peak. He did not yet know that his journey was at an end. He thought that this was only a stopping place on the way to ever purer air, and he turned full circle and let his nose move across the vast panorama of the volcanic wilderness: to the east, where the broad high plain of Saint-Flour and the marshes of the Riou River lay; to the north, to the region from which he had come and where he had wandered for days through pitted limestone mountains; to the west, from where the soft wind of morning brought him nothing but the smells of stone and tough grass; finally to the south, where the foothills of the Plomb stretched for miles to the dark gorges of the Truyere. Everywhere, in every direction, humanity lay equally remote from him, and a step in any direction would have meant closer proximity to human beings. The compass spun about. It no longer provided orientation. Grenouille was at his goal. And at the same time he was taken captive.

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