FROM HIS first glance at Monsieur Grimal-no, from the first breath that sniffed in the odor enveloping Grimal-Grenouille knew that this man was capable of thrashing him to death for the least infraction. His life was worth precisely as much as the work he could accomplish and consisted only of whatever utility Grimal ascribed to it. And so, Grenouille came to heel, never once making an attempt to resist. With each new day, he would bottle up inside himself the energies of his defiance and contumacy and expend them solely to survive the impending ice age in his ticklike way. Tough, uncomplaining, inconspicuous, he tended the light of life’s hopes as a very small, but carefully nourished flame. He was a paragon of docility, frugality, and diligence in his work, obeyed implicitly, and appeared satisfied with every meal offered. In the evening, he meekly let himself be locked up in a closet off to one side of the tannery floor, where tools were kept and the raw, salted hides were hung. There he slept on the hard, bare earthen floor. During the day he worked as long as there was light-eight hours in winter, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen hours in summer. He scraped the meat from bestially stinking hides, watered them down, dehaired them, limed, bated, and fulled them, rubbed them down with pickling dung, chopped wood, stripped bark from birch and yew, climbed down into the tanning pits filled with caustic fumes, layered the hides and pelts just as the journeymen ordered him, spread them with smashed gallnuts, covered this ghastly funeral pyre with yew branches and earth. Years later, he would have to dig them up again and retrieve these mummified hide carcasses-now tanned leather— from their grave.
When he was not burying or digging up hides, he was hauling water. For months on end, he hauled water up from the river, always in two buckets, hundreds of bucketfuls a day, for tanning requires vast quantities of water, for soaking, for boiling, for dyeing. For months on end, the water hauling left him without a dry stitch on his body; by evening his clothes were dripping wet and his skin was cold and swollen like a soaked shammy.
After one year of an existence more animal than human, he contracted anthrax, a disease feared by tanners and usually fatal. Grimal had already written him off and was looking around for a replacement— not without regret, by the way, for he had never before had a more docile and productive worker than this Grenouille. But contrary to all expectation, Grenouille survived the illness. All he bore from it were scars from the large black carbuncles behind his ears and on his hands and cheeks, leaving him disfigured and even uglier than he had been before. It also left him immune to anthrax-an invaluable advantage-so that now he could strip the foulest hides with cut and bleeding hands and still run no danger of reinfection. This set him apart not only from the apprentices and journeymen, but also from his own potential successors. And because he could no longer be so easily replaced as before, the value of his work and thus the value of his life increased. Suddenly he no longer had to sleep on bare earth, but was allowed to build himself a plank bed in the closet, was given straw to scatter over it and a blanket of his own. He was no longer locked in at bedtime. His food was more adequate. Grimal no longer kept him as just any animal, but as a useful house pet.
When he was twelve, Grimal gave him half of Sunday off, and at thirteen he was even allowed to go out on weekend evenings for an hour after work and do whatever he liked. He had triumphed, for he was alive, and he possessed a small quantum of freedom sufficient for survival. The days of his hibernation were over. Grenouille the tick stirred again. He caught the scent of morning. He was seized with an urge to hunt. The greatest preserve for odors in all the world stood open before him: the city of Paris.