Fifteen

THE LITTLE MAN named Grenouille first uncorked the demijohn of alcohol. Heaving the heavy vessel up gave him difficulty. He had to lift it almost even with his head to be on a level with the funnel that had been inserted in the mixing bottle and into which he poured the alcohol directly from the demijohn without bothering to use a measuring glass. Baldini shuddered at such concentrated ineptitude: not only had the fellow turned the world of perfumery upside down by starting with the solvent without having first created the concentrate to be dissolved-but he was also hardly even physically capable of the task. He was shaking with exertion, and Baldini was waiting at any moment for the heavy demijohn to come crashing down and smash everything on the table to pieces. The candles, he thought, for God’s sake, the candles! There’s going to be an explosion, he’ll burn my house down…! And he was about to lunge for the demijohn and grab it out of the madman’s hands when Grenouille set it down himself, getting it back on the floor all in one piece, and stoppered it. A clear, light liquid swayed in the bottle-not a drop spilled. For a few moments Grenouille panted for breath, but with a look of contentment on his face as if the hardest part of the job were behind him. And indeed, what happened now proceeded with such speed that BaWini could hardly follow it with his eyes, let alone keep track of the order in which it occurred or make even partial sense of the procedure.

Grenouille grabbed apparently at random from the row of essences in their flacons, pulled out the glass stoppers, held the contents under his nose for an instant, splashed a bit of one bottle, dribbled a drop or two of another, poured a dash of a third into the funnel, and so on. Pipette, test tube, measuring glass, spoons and rods-all the utensils that allow the perfumer to control the complicated process of mixing-Grenouille did not so much as touch a single one of them. It was as if he were just playing, splashing and swishing like a child busy cooking up some ghastly brew of water, grass, and mud, which he then asserts to be soup. Yes, like a child, thought Baldini; all at once he looks like a child, despite his ungainly hands, despite his scarred, pockmarked face and his bulbous old-man’s nose. I took him to be older than he is; but now he seems much younger to me; he looks as if he were three or four; looks just like one of those unapproachable, incomprehensible, willful little prehuman creatures, who in their ostensible innocence think only of themselves, who want to subordinate the whole world to their despotic will, and would do it, too, if one let them pursue their megalomaniacal ways and did not apply the strictest pedagogical principles to guide them to a disciplined, self-controlled, fully human existence. There was just such a fanatical child trapped inside this young man, standing at the table with eyes aglow, having forgotten everything around him, apparently no longer aware that there was anything else in the laboratory but himself and these bottles that he tipped into the funnel with nimble awkwardness to mix up an insane brew that he would confidently swear-and would truly believe!-to be the exquisite perfume Amor and Psyche. Baldini shuddered as he watched the fellow bustling about in the candlelight, so shockingly absurd and so shockingly self-confident. In the old days-so he thought, and for a moment he felt as sad and miserable and furious as he had that afternoon while gazing out onto the city glowing ruddy in the twilight-in the old days people like that simply did not exist; he was an entirely new specimen of the race, one that could arise only in exhausted, dissipated times like these…, But he was about to be taught his lesson, the impertinent boy. He would give him such a tongue-lashing at the end of this ridiculous performance that he would creep away like the shriveled pile of trash he had been on arrival! Vermin! One dared not get involved with anyone at all these days, the world was simply teeming with absurd vermin!

Baldini was so busy with his personal exasperation and disgust at the age that he did not really comprehend what was intended when Grenouille suddenly stoppered up all the flacons, pulled the funnel out of the mixing bottle, grabbed the neck of the bottle with his right hand, capped it with the palm of his left, and shook it vigorously. Only when the bottle had been spun through the air several times, its precious contents sloshing back and forth like lemonade between belly and neck, did Baldini let loose a shout of rage and horror. “Stop it!” he screeched. “That’s enough! Stop it this moment! Basta! Put that bottle back on the table and don’t touch anything else, do you understand, nothing else! I must have been crazy to listen to your asinine gibberish. The way you handle these things, your crudity, your primitive lack of judgment, demonstrate to me that you are a bungler, a barbaric bungler, and a beastly, cheeky, snot-nosed brat besides. You wouldn’t make a good lemonade mixer, not even a good licorice-water vendor, let alone a perfumer! Just be glad, be grateful and content that your master lets you slop around in tanning fluids! Do not dare it ever again, do you hear me? Do not dare ever again to set a foot across the threshold of a perfumer’s shop!”

Thus spoke Baldini. And even as he spoke, the air around him was saturated with the odor of Amor and Psyche. Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.

Grenouille had set down the bottle, removing his perfume-moistened hand from its neck and wiping it on his shirttail. One, two steps back-and the clumsy way he hunched his body together under Baldini’s tirade sent enough waves rolling out into the room to spread the newly created scent in all directions. Nothing more was needed. True, Baldini ranted on, railed and cursed, but with every breath his outward show of rage found less and less inner nourishment. He sensed he had been proved wrong, which was why his peroration could only soar to empty pathos. And when he fell silent, had been silent for a good while, he had no need of Grenouille’s remark: “It’s all done.” He knew that already.

But nevertheless, although in the meantime air heavy with Amor and Psyche was undulating all about him, he stepped up to the old oak table to make his test. He pulled a fresh snowy white lace handkerchief from his coat pocket, the left one, unfolded it and sprinkled it with a few drops that he extracted from the mixing bottle with the long pipette. He waved the handkerchief with outstretched arm to aerate it and then pulled it past his nose with the delicate, well-practiced motion, soaking up its scent. Letting it out again in little puffs, he sat down on a stool. Where before his face had been bright red with erupting anger, all at once he had grown pale. “Incredible,” he murmured softly to himself, “by God— incredible.” And he pressed the handkerchief to his nose again and again and sniffed and shook his head and muttered, “Incredible.” It was Amor and Psyche, beyond the shadow of a doubt Amor and Psyche, that despicable, ingenious blend of scents, so exactly copied that not even Pelissier himself would have been able to distinguish it from his own product. “Incredible…”

Small and ashen, the great Baldini sat on his stool, looking ridiculous with handkerchief in hand, pressing it to his nose like an old maid with the sniffles. By now he was totally speechless. He didn’t even say “incredible” anymore, but nodding gently and staring at the contents of the mixing bottle, could only let out a monotone “Hmm, hrnm, hmm… hmm, hmm, hmm… hmm, hmm, hmm.” After a while, Gre-nouille approached, stepping up to the table soundlessly as a shadow.

“It’s not a good perfume,” he said. “It’s been put together very bad, this perfume has.”

“Hmm, hmm, hmm,” said Baldini, and Grenouille continued, “If you’ll let me, maitre, I’ll make it better. Give me a minute and I’ll make a proper perfume out of it!”

“Hmm, hmm, hmm,” said Baldini and nodded. Not in consent, but because he was in such a helplessly apathetic condition that he would have said “hmm, hmm, hmm,” and nodded to anything. And he went on nodding and murmuring “hmm, hmm, hmm,” and made no effort to interfere as Grenouille began to mix away a second time, pouring the alcohol from the demijohn into the mixing bottle a second time (right on top of the perfume already in it), tipping the contents of flacons a second time in apparently random order and quantity into the funnel. Only at the end of the procedure-Grenouille did not shake the bottle this time, but swirled it about gently like a brandy glass, perhaps in deference to Baldini’s delicacy, perhaps because the contents seemed more precious to him this time-only then, as the liquid whirled about in the bottle, did Baldini awaken from his numbed state and stand up, the handkerchief still pressed to his nose, of course, as if he were arming himself against yet another attack upon his most private self.

“It’s all done, maitre,” Grenouille said. “Now it’s a really good scent.”

“Yes, yes, fine, fine,” Baldini replied and waved him off with his free hand.

“Don’t you want to test it?” Grenouille gurgled on. “Don’t you want to, maitre? Aren’t you going to test it?”

“Later. I’m not in the mood to test it at the moment… have other things on my mind. Go now! Come on!”

And he picked up one of the candlesticks and passed through the door into the shop. Grenouille followed him. They entered the narrow hallway that led to the servants’ entrance. The old man shuffled up to the doorway, pulled back the bolt, and opened the door. He stepped aside to let the lad out.

“Can’t I come to work for you, maitre, can’t I?” Grenouille asked, standing on the threshold, hunched over again, the lurking look returning to his eye.

“I don’t know,” said Baldini. “I shall think about it. Go.”

And then Grenouille had vanished, gone in a split second, swallowed up by the darkness. Baldini stood there and stared into the night. In his right hand he held the candlestick, in his left the handkerchief, like someone with a nosebleed, but in fact he was simply frightened. He quickly bolted the door. Then he took the protective handkerchief from his face, shoved it into his pocket, and walked back through the shop to his laboratory.

The scent was so heavenly fine that tears welled into Baldini’s eyes. He did not have to test it, he simply stood at the table in front of the mixing bottle and breathed. The perfume was glorious. It was to Amor and Psyche as a symphony is to the scratching of a lonely violin. And it was more. Baldini closed his eyes and watched as the most sublime memories were awakened within him. He saw himself as a young man walking through the evening gardens of Naples; he saw himself lying in the arms of a woman with dark curly hair and saw the silhouette of a bouquet of roses on the windowsill as the night wind passed by; he heard the random song of birds and the distant music from a harbor tavern; he heard whisperings at his ear, he heard I-love-you and felt his hair ruffle with bliss, now! now at this very moment! He forced open his eyes and groaned with pleasure. This perfume was not like any perfume known before. It was not a scent that made things smell better, not some sachet, some toiletry. It was something completely new, capable of creating a whole world, a magical, rich world, and in an instant you forgot all the loathsomeness around you and felt so rich, so at ease, so free, so fine…

The hairs that had ruffled up on Baldini’s arm fell back again, and a befuddling peace took possession of his soul. He picked up the leather, the goat leather lying at the table’s edge, and a knife, and trimmed away. Then he laid the pieces in the glass basin and poured the new perfume over them. He fixed a pane of glass over the basin, divided the rest of the perfume between two small bottles, applied labels to them, and wrote the words Nuit Napolitaine on them. Then he extinguished the candles and left.

Once upstairs, he said nothing to his wife while they ate. Above all, he said nothing about the solemn decision he had arrived at that afternoon. And his wife said nothing either, for she noticed that he was in good spirits, and that was enough for her. Nor did he walk over to Notre-Dame to thank God for his strength of character. Indeed, that night he forgot, for the first time ever, to say his evening prayers.

Contents

Обращение к пользователям