Ten

“CHENIER!” BALDINI cried from behind the counter where for hours he had stood rigid as a pillar, staring at the door. “Put on your wig!” And out from among the kegs of olive oil and dangling Bayonne hams appeared Chenier-Baldini’s assistant, somewhat younger than the latter, but already an old man himself-and moved toward the elegant front of the shop. He pulled his wig from his coat pocket and shoved it on his head. “Are you going out, Monsieur Baldini?”

“No,” said Baldini. “I shall retire to my study for a few hours, and I do not wish to be disturbed under any circumstances.”

“Ah, I see! You are creating a new perfume.”

BALDSNI: Correct. With which to impregnate a Spanish hide for Count Verhamont. He wants something like… like… I think he said it’s called Amor and Psyche, and comes he says from that… that bungler in the rue Saint-Andre-des-Arts, that… that…

CHENIER: Pelissier.

BALDINI: Yes. Indeed. That’s the bungler’s name. Amor and Psyche, by Pelissier.-Do you know it?”

CHENIER: Yes, yes. I do indeed. You can smell it everywhere these days. Smell it on every street corner. But if you ask me-nothing special! It most certainly can’t be compared in any way with what you will create, Monsieur Baldini.

BALDSNI: Naturally not.

CHENIER: It’s a terribly common scent, this Amor and Psyche.

BALDINI: Vulgar?

CHENIER: Totally vulgar, like everything from Pelissier. I believe it contains lime oil.

BALDINI: Really? What else?

CHENIER: Essence of orange blossom perhaps. And maybe tincture of rosemary. But I can’t say for sure.

BALDINI: It’s of no consequence at all to me in any case.

CHENIER: Naturally not.

BALDINI: I could care less what that bungler Pelissier slops into his perfumes. I certainly would not take my inspiration from him, I assure you.

CHENIER: You’re absolutely right, monsieur.

BALDINI: As you know, I take my inspiration from no one. As you know,! create my own perfumes.

CHENIER: I do know, monsieur.

BALDINI: I alone give birth to them.

CHENIER: I know.

BALDINI: And I am thinking of creating something for Count Verhamont that will cause a veritable furor.

CHENIER: I am sure it will, Monsieur Baldini.

BALDINI: Take charge of the shop. I need peace and quiet. Don’t let anyone near me, Chenier.

And with that, he shuffled away-not at all like a statue, but as befitted his age, bent over, but so far that he looked almost as if he had been beaten-and slowly climbed the stairs to his study on the second floor.

Chenier took his place behind the counter, positioning himself exactly as his master had stood before, and stared fixedly at the door. He knew what would happen in the next few hours: absolutely nothing in the shop, and up in Baldini’s study, the usual catastrophe. Baldini would take off his blue coat drenched in frangipani, sit down at his desk, and wait for inspiration. The inspiration would not come. He would then hurry over to the cupboard with its hundreds of vials and start mixing them haphazardly. The mixture would be a failure. He would curse, fling open the window, and pour the stuff into the river. He would try something else, that too would be a failure, he would then rave and rant and throw a howling fit there in the stifling, odor-filled room. At about seven o’clock he would come back down, miserable, trembling and whining, and say: “Chenier, I’ve lost my nose, I cannot give birth to this perfume, I cannot deliver the Spanish hide to the count, all is lost, I am dead inside, I want to die, Chenier, please, help me die!” And Chenier would suggest that someone be sent to Pelissier’s for a bottle of Amor and Psyche, and Baldini would acquiesce, but only on condition that not a soul should learn of his shame. Chenier would swear himself to silence, and tonight they would perfume Count Verhamont’s leather with the other man’s product. That was how it would be, no doubt of it, and Chenier only wished that the whole circus were already over. Baldini was no longer a great perfumer. At one time, to be sure, in his youth, thirty, forty years ago, he had composed Rose of the South and Baldini’s Gallant Bouquet, the two truly great perfumes to which he owed his fortune. But now he was old and exhausted and did not know current fashions and modern tastes, and whenever he did manage to concoct a new perfume of his own, it was some totally old-fashioned, unmarketable stuff that within a year they had to dilute ten to one and peddle as an additive for fountains. What a shame, Chenier thought as he checked the sit of his wig in the mirror-a shame about old Baldini; a shame about his beautiful shop, because he’s sure to ruin it; and a shame about me, because by the time he has ruined it, I’ll be too old to take it over…

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