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

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Just as with maceration, after only a brief time he had likewise surpassed his tutor Druot in the art of cold perfumery-and had made this clear to him in the approved, discreet, and groveling fashion. Druot gladly left it to him to go to the slaughterhouse and buy the most suitable fats, to purify and render them, to filter them and adjust their proportions-a terribly difficult task that Druot himself was always skittish about performing, since an adulterated or rancid fat, or one that smelled too much of pig, sheep, or cow, could ruin the most expensive pomade. He let Gre-nouille decide how to arrange the oiled plates in the impregnating room, when to rotate the blossoms, and whether the pomade was sufficiently impregnated. Druot soon let Grenouille make all the delicate decisions that he, just as Baldini before him, could only approximate with rules of thumb, but which Grenouille made by employing the wisdom of his nose— something Druot, of course, did not suspect.

“He’s got a fine touch,” said Druot. “He’s got a good feel for things.” And sometimes he also thought: Really and truly, he is more talented than me, a hundred times a better perfumer. And all the while he considered him to be a total nitwit, because Grenouille-or so he believed-did not cash in at all on his talent, whereas he, Druot, even with his more modest gifts, would soon become a master perfumer. And Grenouilie encouraged him in this opinion, displaying doltish drudgery and not a hint of ambition, acting as if he comprehended nothing of his own genius and were merely executing the orders of the more experienced Druot, without whom he would be a cipher. After their fashion, they got along quite well.

Then came autumn and winter. Things were quieter in the workshop. The floral scents lay captive in their crocks and flacons in the cellar, and if Madame did not wish some pomade or other to be washed or for a sack of dried spices to be distilled, there was not all that much to do. There were still the olives, a couple of basketfuls every week. They pressed the virgin oil from them and put what was left through the oil mill.

And wine, some of which Grenouille distilled to rectified spirit.

Druot made himself more and more scarce. He did his duty in Madame’s bed, and when he did appear, stinking of sweat and semen, it was only to head off at once for the Quatre Dauphins. Nor did Madame come downstairs often. She was busy with her investments and with converting her wardrobe for the period that would follow her year of mourning. For days, Grenouille might often see no one except the maid who fixed his midday soup and his evening bread and olives. He hardly went out at all. He took part in corporate life-in the regular meetings and processions of the journeymen-only just often enough as to be conspicuous neither by his absence nor by his presence. He had no friends or close acquaintances, but took careful pains not to be considered arrogant or a misfit. He left it to the other journeymen to find his society dull and unprofitable. He was a master in the art of spreading boredom and playing the clumsy fool-though never so egregiously that people might enjoy making fun of him or use him as the butt of some crude practical joke inside the guild. He succeeded in being considered totally uninteresting. People left him alone. And that was all he wanted.


HE SPENT HIS time in the workshop. He explained to Druot that he was trying to invent a formula for a new cologne. In reality, however, he was experimenting with scents of a very different sort. Although he had used it very sparingly, the perfume that he had mixed in Montpellier was slowly running out. He created a new one. But this time he was not content simply to imitate basic human odor by hastily tossing together some ingredients; he made it a matter of pride to acquire a personal odor, or better yet, a number of personal odors.

First he made an odor for inconspicuousness, a mousy, workaday outfit of odors with the sour, cheesy smell of humankind still present, but only as if exuded into the outside world through a layer of linen and wool garments covering an old man’s dry skin. Bearing this smell, he could move easily among people. The perfume was robust enough to establish the olfactory existence of a human being, but at the same time so discreet that it bothered no one. Using it, Grenouille was not actually present, and yet his presence was justified in the most modest sort of way-a bastard state that was very handy both in the Arnulfi household and on his occasional outings in the town.

On certain occasions, to be sure, this modest scent proved inconvenient. When he had errands to run for Druot or wanted to buy his own civet or a few musk pods from a merchant, he might prove to be so perfectly inconspicuous that he was either ignored and no one waited on him, or was given the wrong item or forgotten while being waited on. For such occasions he had blended a somewhat more redolent, slightly sweaty perfume, one with a few olfactory edges and hooks, that lent him a coarser appearance and made people believe he was in hurry and on urgent business. He also had good success with a deceptive imitation of Druot’s aura seminalis, which he learned to produce by impregnating a piece of oily linen with a paste of fresh duck eggs and fermented wheat flour and used whenever he needed to arouse a certain amount of notice.

Another perfume in his arsenal was a scent for arousing sympathy that proved effective with middle-aged and elderly women. It smelled of watery milk and fresh, soft wood. The effect Grenouille created with it-even when he went out unshaved, scowling, and wrapped in a heavy coat-was of a poor, pale lad in a frayed jacket who simply had to be helped. Once they caught a whiff of him, the market women filled his pockets with nuts and dried pears because he seemed to them so hungry and helpless. And the butcher’s wife, an implacably callous old hag if there ever was one, let him pick out, for free, smelly old scraps of meat and bone, for his odor of innocence touched her mother’s heart. He then took these scraps, digested them directly in alcohol, and used them as the main component for an odor that he applied when he wanted to be avoided and left completely alone. It surrounded him with a slightly nauseating aura, like the rancid breath of an old slattern’s mouth when she awakens. It was so effective that even Druot, hardly a squeamish sort, would automatically turn aside and go in search of fresh air, without any clear knowledge, of course, of what had actually driven him away. And sprinkling a few drops of the repellent on the threshold of his cabin was enough to keep every intruder, human or animal, at a distance.

Protected by these various odors, which he changed like clothes as the situation demanded and which permitted him to move undisturbed in the world of men and to keep his true nature from them, Gre-nouille devoted himself to his real passion: the subtle pursuit of scent. And because he had a great goal right under his nose and over a year still left to him, he not only went about the task with burning zeal, but he also systematically planned how to sharpen his weapons, polish his techniques, and gradually perfect his methods. He began where he had left off at Baldini’s, with extracting the scent from inert objects: stone, metal, glass, wood, salt, water, air…

What before had failed so miserably using the crude process of distillation succeeded now, thanks to the strong absorptive powers of oil. Grenouille took a brass doorknob, whose cool, musty, brawny smell he liked, and wrapped it in beef tallow for a few days. And sure enough, when he peeled off the tallow and examined it, it smelled quite clearly like the doorknob, though very faintly. And even after a lavage in alcohol, the odor was still there, infinitely delicate, distant, overshadowed by the vapor of the spirits, and in this world probably perceptible only to Gre-nouille’s nose-but it was certainly there. And that meant, in principle at least, at his disposal. If he had ten thousand doorknobs and wrapped them in tallow for a thousand days, he could produce a tiny drop of brass-doorknob essence absolue strong enough for anyone to have the indisputable illusion of the original under his nose.

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