Книга Perfume. The story of a murderer. Содержание - Forty-six
Once he turned his foot to one side and ever so softly touched Laure’s foot. Not actually her foot, but simply the cloth that enveloped it and beneath that the thin layer of oil drinking up her scent, her glorious scent, his scent.
AS THE BIRDS began to squawk-that is, a good while before the break of dawn-he got up and finished his task. He threw open the cloth and pulled it from the dead woman like a bandage. The fat peeled off nicely from her skin. Little scraps of it were left hanging only in the smallest crannies, and these he had to scrape off with his spatula. The remaining streaks of pomade he wiped off with her undershirt, using it to rub down her body from head to foot one last time, so thoroughly that even the oil in her own pores pearled from her skin, and with it the last flake and filament of her scent. Only now was she really dead for him, withered away, pale and limp as a fallen petal.
He tossed the undershirt into the large scent-impregnated cloth-the only place where she had life now-placed her nightgown and her hair in it as well, and rolled it all up into a small, firm package that he clamped under his arm. He did not even take the trouble to cover the body on the bed. And although the black of night had already become the blue gray of dawn and objects in the room had begun to regain their contours, he did not cast a single glance at the bed to rest his eyes on her at least once in his life. Her form did not interest him. She no longer existed for him as a body, but only as a disembodied scent. And he was carrying that under his arm, taking it with him.
Softly he swung out over the windowsill and climbed down the ladder. The wind had come up again outside, and the sky was clearing, pouring a cold, dark blue light over the land.
A half hour later, the scullery maid started the fire in the kitchen. As she came out of the house to fetch wood she saw the ladder leaning there, but was still too sleepy to make any rhyme or reason of it. Shortly after six the sun rose. Gigantic and golden red, it lifted up out of the sea between the lies de Lerins. Not a cloud was in the sky. A radiant spring day had begun.
With his room facing west, Richis did not awaken until seven. He had slept truly splendidly for the first time in months, and contrary to his custom lay there yet another quarter of an hour, stretching and sighing with enjoyment as he listened to the pleasant hubbub rising up from the kitchen below. When he finally did get up and open the window wide, taking in the beautiful weather outside and breathing in the fresh morning air and listening to the sound of the surf, his good mood knew no bounds, and he puckered his lips and whistled a bright melody.
While he dressed, he went on whistling, and was whistling still as he left his room and on winged feet approached the door to his daughter’s room across the hall. He rapped. And rapped again, very softly, so as not to frighten her. There was no answer. He smiled. He could well understand that she was still sleeping.
Carefully he inserted the key in the lock and turned the bolt, softly, very softly, considerately, not wanting to wake her, eager almost to find her still sleeping, wanting to kiss her awake once again-one iast time, before he must give her to another man.
The door sprang open, he entered, and the sunlight fell full into his eyes. Everything in the room sparkled, as if it were filled with glittering silver, and for a moment he had to shut his eyes against the pain of it.
When he opened them again, he saw Laure lying on her bed, naked and dead and shorn clean and sparkling white. It was like his nightmare, the one he had dreamt in Grasse the night before last and had forgotten again. Every detail came back to him now as if in a blazing flash. In that instant everything was exactly as it had been in the dream, only very much brighter.
THE NEWS OF Laure Richis’s murder spread through the region of Grasse as fast as if the message had been “The king is dead!” or “War’s been declared!” or “Pirates have landed on the coast!”-and the awful sense of terror it triggered was similar as well. All at once the fear that they had so carefully forgotten was back again, as virulent as it had been last autumn and with all the accompanying phenomena: panic, outrage, anger, hysterical suspicions, desperation. People stayed in their houses at night, locked up their daughters, barricaded themselves in, mistrusted one another, and slept no more. Everyone assumed it would continue this time as it had before, a murder a week. The calendar seemed to have been set back six months.
The dread was more paralyzing, however, than six months earlier, for people felt helpless at the sudden return of a danger that they had thought well behind them. If even the bishop’s anathema had proved useless! If even Antoine Richis, the great Richis, the richest man in town, the second consul, a powerful, prudent man who had every kind of assistance available, if even he could not protect his child! If the murderer’s hand was not be deterred even by the hallowed beauty of Laure-for indeed she seemed a saint to everyone who had known her, especially now, afterwards, now that she was dead-what hope was there of escaping this murderer? He was more cruel than the plague, for you could flee before the plague, but not before this murderer, as the case of Richis had proved. Apparently he possessed supernatural powers. He was most certainly in league with the devil, if he was not tue devil himself. And so many people, especially the simpler souls, knew no better course than to go to church and pray, every tradesman to his patron: the locksmiths to St. Aloysius, the weavers to St. Crispin, the gardeners to St. Anthony, the perfumers to St. Joseph. And they took their wives and daughters with them, praying together, eating and sleeping in the church; they did not leave during the day themselves now, convinced that the only possible refuge from this monster-if any refuge was to be had-was under the protection of the despairing parish and the gaze of the Madonna.
Seeing that the church had failed once already, other, quicker wits banded together in occult groups. Hiring at great expense a certified witch from Gour-don, they crept into one of the many limestone grottoes of subterranean Grasse and celebrated black masses to curry the Old Gentleman’s favor. Still others, in particular members of the upper middle class and the educated nobility, put their money on the most modern scientific methods, magnetizing their houses, hypnotizing their daughters, gathering in their salons for secret fluidal meetings, and employing telepathy to drive off the murderer’s spirit with communal thought emissions. The guilds organized a penitential procession from Grasse to La Napoule and back. The monks from the town’s five monasteries established services of perpetual prayer and ceaseless chants, so that soon unbroken lamentation was heard day and night, now on one street comer, now on another. Hardly anyone worked.
Thus, with feverish passivity and something very like impatience, the people of Grasse awaited the murderer’s next blow. No one doubted that it would fall. And secretly everyone yearned to hear the horrible news, if only in the hope that it would not be about him, but someone else.
This time, however, the civil, regional, and provincial authorities did not allow themselves to be infected by the hysterical mood of the citizenry. For the first time since the murderer of maidens had appeared on the scene, well-planned and effective cooperative efforts were instituted among the prefectures of Grasse, Draguignan, and Toulon, among magistrates, police, commissaries, parliament, and the navy.
This cooperation among the powerful arose partly from fear of a general civil uprising, partly from the fact that only since Laure Richis’s murder did they have clues that made systematic pursuit of the murderer possible for the first time. The murderer had been seen. Obviously they were dealing with the ominous journeyman tanner who had spent the night of the murder in the inn stables and disappeared the next morning without a trace. According to the joint testimony of the innkeeper, the groom, and Richis, he was a nondescript, shortish fellow with a brownish coat and a coarse linen knapsack. Although in other respects the recollections of the three witnesses remained unusually vague-they had been unable to describe the man’s face, hair color, or manner of speech-the innkeeper did add that, if he was not mistaken, he had noticed something awkward or limping about the stranger’s posture and gait, as if he had a wounded leg or a crippled foot.