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

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The following day, the maceration, as this procedure was called, continued-the caldron was heated once again, the oil melted and fed with new blossoms. This went on for several days, from morning till evening. It was tiring work. Grenouille had arms of lead, calluses on his hands, and pains in his back as he staggered back to his cabin in the evening. Although Druot was at least three times as strong as he, he did not once take a turn at stirring, but was quite content to pour in more feather-light blossoms, to tend the fire, and now and then, because of the heat, to go out for a drink. But Grenouille did not mutiny. He stirred the blossoms into the oil without complaint, from morning till night, and hardly noticed the exertion of stirring, for he was continually fascinated by the process taking place before his eyes and under his nose: the sudden withering of the blossoms and the absorption of their scent.

After a while, Druot would decide that the oil was finally saturated and could absorb no more scent. He would extinguish the fire, sieve the viscous soup one last time, and pour it into stoneware crocks, where almost immediately it solidified to a wonderfully fragrant pomade.

This was the moment for Madame Araulfi, who came to assay the precious product, to label it, and to record in her books the exact quality and quantity of the yield. After she had personally capped the crocks, had sealed them and borne them to the cool depths of her cellar, she donned her black dress, took out her widow’s veil, and made the rounds of the city’s wholesalers and vendors of perfume. In touching phrases she described to these gentlemen her situation as a woman left all on her own, let them make their offers, compared the prices, sighed, and finally sold— or did not sell. Perfumed pomades, when stored in a cool place, keep for a long time. And when the price leaves something to be desired, who knows, perhaps it will climb again come winter or next spring. Also you had to consider whether instead of selling to these hucksters you ought not to join with other small producers and together ship a load of pomade to Genoa or share in a convoy to the autumn fair in Beaucaire-risky enterprises, to be sure, but extremely profitable when successful. Madame Arnulfi carefully weighed these various possibilities against one another, and sometimes she would indeed sign a contract, selling a portion of her treasure, but hold another portion of it in reserve, and risk negotiating for a third part all on her own. But if during her inquiries she had got the impression that there was a glut on the pomade market and that in the foreseeable future there would be no scarcity to her advantage, she would hurry back home, her veil wafting behind her, and give Druot instructions to subject the whole yield to a lavage and transform it into an essence absolue.

And the pomade would be brought up again from the cellar, carefully warmed in tightly covered pots, diluted with rectified spirits, and thoroughly blended and washed with the help of a built-in stirring apparatus that Grenouille operated. Returned to the cellar, this mixture quickly cooled; the alcohol separated from the congealed oil of the pomade and could be drained off into a bottle. A kind of perfume had been produced, but one of enormous intensity, while the pomade that was left behind had lost most of its fragrance. Thus the fragrance of the blossoms had been transferred to yet another medium. But the operation was still not at an end. After carefully filtering the perfumed alcohol through gauze that retained the least little clump of oil, Druot filled a small alembic and distilled it slowly over a minimum flame. What remained in the matrass was a tiny quantity of a pale-hued liquid that Grenouille knew quite well, but had never smelled in such quality and purity either at Baldini’s or Runel’s: the finest oil of the blossom, its polished scent concentrated a hundred times over to a little puddle of essence absolue. This essence no longer had a sweet fragrance. Its smell was almost painfully intense, pungent, and acrid. And yet one single drop, when dissolved in a quart of alcohol, sufficed to revitalize it and resurrect a whole field of flowers.

The yield was frightfully small. The liquid from the matrass filled three little flacons and no more. Nothing was left from the scent of hundreds of thousands of blossoms except those three flacons. But they were worth a fortune, even here in Grasse. And worth how much more once delivered to Paris or Lyon, to Grenoble, Genoa, or Marseille! Madame Arnulfi’s glance was suffused with beauty when she looked at the little bottles, she caressed them with her eyes; and when she picked them up and stoppered them with snugly fitting glass stoppers, she held her breath to prevent even the least bit of the precious contents from being blown away. And to make sure that after stoppering not the tiniest atom would evaporate and escape, she sealed them with wax and encapsulated them in a fish bladder tightly tied around the neck of the bottle. Then she placed them in a crate stuffed with wadded cotton and put them under lock and key in the cellar.


IN APRIL THEY macerated broom and orange blossoms, in May a sea of roses, the scent from which submerged the city in a creamy, sweet, invisible fog for a whole month. Grenouille worked like a horse. Self-effacing and as acquiescent as a slave, he did every menial chore Druot assigned him. But all the while he stirred, spatulated, washed out tubs, cleaned the workshop, or lugged firewood with apparent mindlessness, nothing of the essential business, nothing of the metamorphosis of scent, escaped his notice. Grenouille used his nose to observe and monitor more closely than Druot ever could have the migration of scent of the flower petals-through the oil and then via alcohol to the precious little flacons. Long before Druot noticed it, he would smell when the oil was overheated, smell when the blossoms were exhausted, when the broth was impregnated with scent. He could smell what was happening in the interior of the mixing pots and the precise moment when the distilling had to be stopped. And occasionally he let this be known-of course, quite unassumingly and without abandoning his submissive demeanor. It seemed to him, he said, that the oil might possibly be getting too hot; he almost thought that they could filter shortly; he somehow had the feeling that the alcohol in the alembic had evaporated now… And in time Druot, who was not fabulously intelligent, but not a complete idiot either, came to realize that his decisions turned out for the best when he did or ordered to be done whatever Grenouille “almost thought” or “somehow had a feeling about.” And since Grenouille was never cocky or know-it-all when he said what he thought or felt, and because he never-particularly never in the presence of Madame Arnulfi!-cast Druofs authority and superior position of first journeyman in doubt, not even ironically, Druot saw no reason not to follow Grenouille’s advice or, as time went on, not to leave more and more decisions entirely to his discretion.

It was increasingly the case that Grenouille did not just do the stirring, but also the feeding, the heating, and the sieving, while Druot stepped round to the Quatre Dauphins for a glass of wine or went upstairs to check out how things were doing with Madame. He knew that he could depend on Grenouille. And although it meant twice the work, Grenouille enjoyed being alone, perfecting himself in these new arts and trying an occasional experiment. And with malicious delight, he discovered that the pomades he made were incomparably finer, that his essence absolue was several percent purer than those that he produced together with Druot.

Jasmine season began at the end of July, August was for tuberoses. The perfume of these two flowers was both so exquisite and so fragile that not only did the blossoms have to be picked before sunrise, but they also demanded the most gentle and special handling. Warmth diminished their scent; suddenly to plunge them into hot, macerating oil would have completely destroyed it. The souls of these noblest of blossoms could not be simply ripped from them, they had to be methodically coaxed away. In a special impregnating room, the flowers were strewn on glass plates smeared with cool oil or wrapped in oil-soaked cloths; there they would die slowly in their sleep. It took three or four days for them to wither and exhale their scent into the adhering oil. Then they were carefully plucked off and new blossoms spread out. This procedure was repeated a good ten, twenty times, and it was September before the pomade had drunk its fill and the fragrant oil could be pressed from the cloths. The yield was considerably less than with maceration. But in purity and verisimilitude, the quality of the jasmine paste or the huile antique de tubereuse won by such a cold enfleurage exceeded that of any other product of the perfumer’s art. Particularly with jasmine, it seemed as if the oiled surface were a mirror image that radiated the sticky-sweet, erotic scent of the blossom with lifelike fidelity-cum grano sails, of course. For Grenouille’s nose obviously recognized the difference between the odor of the blossoms and their preserved scent: the specific odor of the oil-no matter how pure-lay like a gossamer veil over the fragrant tableau of the original, softening it, gently diluting its bravado-and, perhaps, only then making its beauty bearable for normal people… But in any case, cold enfleurage was the most refined and effective method to capture delicate scents. There was no better. And even if the method was not good enough completely to satisfy Grenouille’s nose, he knew quite well that it would suffice a thousand times over for duping a world of numbed noses.

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