Sixteen

THE NEXT MORNING he went straight to Grimal. First he paid for his goat leather, paid in full, without a grumble or the least bit of haggling. And then he invited Grimal to the Tour d’Argent for a bottle of white wine and negotiations concerning the purchase of Grenouille, his apprentice. It goes without saying that he did not reveal to him the why’s and wherefore’s of this purchase. He told some story about how he had a large order for scented leather and to fill it he needed unskilled help. He required a lad of few needs, who would do simple tasks, cutting leather and so forth. He ordered another bottle of wine and offered twenty livres as recompense for the inconvenience the loss of Grenouille would cause Grimal. Twenty livres was an enormous sum. Grimal immediately took him up on it. They walked to the tannery, where, strangely enough, Grenouille was waiting with his bundle already packed. Baldini paid the twenty livres and took him along at once, well aware that he had just made the best deal of his life.

Grimal, who for his part was convinced that he had just made the best deal of his life, returned to the Tour d’Argent, there drank two more bottles of wine, moved over to the Lion d’Or on the other bank around noon, and got so rip-roaring drunk there that when he decided to go back to the Tour d’Argent late that night, he got the rue Geoffroi L’Anier confused with the rue des Nonaindieres, and instead of coming out directly onto the Pont-Marie as he had intended, he was brought by ill fortune to the Quai des Ormes, where he splashed lengthwise and face first into the water like a soft mattress. He was dead in an instant. The river, however, needed considerable time to drag him out from the shallows, past the barges moored there, into the stronger main current, and not until the early morning hours did Grimal the tanner-or, better, his soaked carcass-float briskly downriver toward the west.

As he passed the Pont-au-Change, soundlessly, without bumping against the bridge piers, sixty feet directly overhead Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was going to bed. A bunk had been set up for him in a back corner of Baldini’s laboratory, and he was now about to take possession of it-while his former employer floated down the cold Seine, all four limbs extended. Grenouille rolled himself up into a little ball like a tick. As he fell off to sleep, he sank deeper and deeper into himself, leading the triumphant entry into his innermost fortress, where he dreamed of an odoriferous victory banquet, a gigantic orgy with clouds of incense and fogs of myrrh, held in his own honor.

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