Twenty

HE CAME DOWN with a high fever, which for the first few days was accompanied by heavy sweats, but which later, as if the pores of his skin were no longer enough, produced countless pustules. Grenouille’s body was strewn with reddish blisters. Many of them popped open, releasing their watery contents, only to fill up again. Others grew into true boils, swelling up thick and red and then erupting like craters, spewing viscous pus and blood streaked with yellow. In time, with his hundreds of ulcerous wounds, Grenouille looked like some martyr stoned from the inside out. Naturally, Baldini was worried. It would have been very unpleasant for him to lose his precious apprentice just at the moment when he was planning to expand his business beyond the borders of the capital and out across the whole country. For increasingly, orders for those innovative scents that Paris was so crazy about were indeed coming not only from the provinces but also from foreign courts. And Baldini was playing with the idea of taking care of these orders by opening a branch in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, virtually a small factory, where the fastest-moving scents could be mixed in quantity and bottled in quantity in smart little flacons, packed by smart little girls, and sent off to Holland, England, and Greater Germany. Such an enterprise was not exactly legal for a master perfumer residing in Paris, but Baldini had recently gained the protection of people in high places; his exquisite scents had done that for him-not just with the commissary, but also with such important personages as the gentleman holding the franchise for the Paris customs office or with a member of the Conseii Royal des Finances and promoter of flourishing commercial undertakings like Monsieur Feydeau de Brou. The latter had even held out the prospect of a royal patent, truly the best thing that one could hope for, a kind of carte blanche for circumventing all civil and professional restrictions; it meant the end of all business worries and the guarantee of secure, permanent, unassailable prosperity.

And Baldini was carrying yet another plan under his heart, his favorite plan, a sort of counterplan to the factory in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, where his wares, though not mass produced, would be made available to anyone. But for a selected number of well-placed, highly placed clients, he wanted to create -or rather, have created-personal perfumes that would fit only their wearer, like tailored clothes, would be used only by the wearer, and would bear his or her illustrious name. He could imagine a Parfum de la Marquise de Cernay, a Parfum de la Marechale de Villar, a Parfum du Due d’Aiguillon, and so on. He dreamed of a Parfum de Madame la Marquise de Pompadour, even of a Parfum de Sa Majeste le Roi, in a flacon of costliest cut agate with a holder of chased gold and, hidden on the inside of the base, the engraved words: “Giuseppe Baldini, Parfumeur.” The king’s name and his own, both on the same object. To such glorious heights had Baldini’s ideas risen! And now Grenouille had fallen ill. Even though Grimal, might he rest in peace, had sworn there had never been anything wrong with him, that he could stand up to anything, had even put the black plague behind him. And here he had gone and fallen ill, mortally ill. What if he were to die? Dreadful! For with him would die the splendid plans for the factory, for the smart little girls, for the patent, and for the king’s perfume.

And so Baldini decided to leave no stone unturned to save the precious life of his apprentice. He ordered him moved from his bunk in the laboratory to a clean bed on the top floor. He had the bed made up with damask. He helped bear the patient up the narrow stairway with his own hands, despite his unutterable disgust at the pustules and festering boils. He ordered his wife to heat chicken broth and wine. He sent for the most renowned physician in the neighborhood, a certain Procope, who demanded payment in advance -twenty francs!-before he would even bother to pay a call.

The doctor come, lifted up the sheet with dainty fingers, took one look at Grenouille’s body, which truly looked as if it had been riddled with hundreds of bullets, and left the room without ever having opened the bag that his attendant always carried about with him. The case, so began his report to Baldini, was quite clear. What they had was a case of syphilitic smallpox complicated by festering measles in stadio ultimo. No treatment was called for, since a lancet for bleeding could not be properly inserted into the deteriorating body, which was more like a corpse than a living organism. And although the characteristic pestilential stench associated with the illness was not yet noticeable-an amazing detail and a minor curiosity from a strictly scientific point of view-there could not be the least doubt of the patient’s demise within the next forty-eight hours, as surely as his name was Doctor Procope. Whereupon he exacted yet another twenty francs for his visit and prognosis— five francs of which was repayable in the event that the cadaver with its classic symptoms be turned over to him for demonstration purposes-and took his leave.

Baldini was beside himself. He wailed and lamented in despair. He bit his fingers, raging at his fate. Once again, just before reaching his goal, his grand, very grand plans had been thwarted. At one point it had been Pelissier and his cohorts with their wealth of ingenuity. Now it was this boy with his inexhaustible store of new scents, this scruffy brat who was worth more than his weight in gold, who had decided now of all times to come down with syphilitic smallpox and festering measles in stadio ultimo. Now of all times! Why not two years from now? Why not one? By then he could have been plundered like a silver mine, like a golden ass. He could have gone ahead and died next year. But no! He was dying now, God damn it all, within forty-eight hours!

For a brief moment, Baldini considered the idea of a pilgrimage to Notre-Dame, where he would light a candle and plead with the Mother of God for Gre-nouille’s recovery. But he let the idea go, for matters were too pressing. He ran to get paper and ink, then shooed his wife out of the sickroom. He was going to keep watch himself. Then he sat down in a chair next to the bed, his notepaper on his knees, the pen wet with ink in his hand, and attempted to take Gre-nouille’s perfumatory confession. For God’s sake, he dare not slip away without a word, taking along the treasures he bore inside him. Would he not in these last hours leave a testament behind in faithful hands, so that posterity would not be deprived of the finest scents of all time? He, Baldini, would faithfully administer that testament, the canon of formulas for the most sublime scents ever smelled, would bring them all to full bloom. He would attach undying fame to Grenouille’s name, he would-yes, he swore it by everything holy-lay the best of these scents at the feet of the king, in an agate flacon with gold chasing and the engraved dedication, “From Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, Parfumeur, Paris.” So spoke-or better, whispered-Baldini into Grenouille’s ear, unremittingly beseeching, pleading, wheedling.

But all in vain. Grenouille yielded nothing except watery secretions and bloody pus. He lay there mute in his damask and parted with those disgusting fluids, but not with his treasures, his knowledge, not a single formula for a scent. Baldini would have loved to throttle him, to club him to death, to beat those precious secrets out of that moribund body, had there been any chance of success… and had it not so blatantly contradicted his understanding of a Christian’s love for his neighbor.

And so he went on purring and crooning in his sweetest tones, and coddled his patient, and-though only after a great and dreadful struggle with himself— dabbed with cooling presses the patient’s sweat-drenched brow and the seething volcanoes of his wounds, and spooned wine into his mouth hoping to bring words to his tongue-all night long and all in vain. In the gray of dawn he gave up. He fell exhausted into an armchair at the far end of the room and stared-no longer in rage, really, but merely yielding to silent resignation-at Grenouille’s small dying body there in the bed, whom he could neither save nor rob, nor from whom he could salvage anything else for himself, whose death he could only witness numbly, like a captain watching his ship sink, taking all his wealth with it into the depths.

And then all at once the lips of the dying boy opened, and in a voice whose clarity and firmness betrayed next to nothing of his immediate demise, he spoke. “Tell me, maftre, are there other ways to extract the scent from things besides pressing or distilling?”

Baldini, believing the voice had come either from his own imagination or from the next world, answered mechanically, “Yes, there are.”

“What are they?” came the question from the bed. And Baldini opened his tired eyes wide. Grenouille lay there motionless among his pillows. Had the corpse spoken?

“What are they?” came the renewed question, and this time Baldini noticed Grenouille’s lips move. It’s over now, he thought. This is the end, this is the madness of fever or the throes of death. And he stood up, went over to the bed, and bent down to the sick man. His eyes were open and he gazed up at Baldini with the same strange, lurking look that he had fixed on him at their first meeting.

“What are they?” he asked.

Baldini felt a pang in his heart-he could not deny a dying man his last wish-and he answered, “There are three other ways, my son: enfleurage it chaud, enfleurage a froid, and enfleurage a I’huile. They are superior to distillation in several ways, and they are used for extraction of the finest of all scents: jasmine, rose, and orange blossom.”

“Where?” asked Grenouille.

“In the south,” answered Baldini. “Above all, in the town of Grasse.”

“Good,” said Grenouille.

And with that he closed his eyes. Baldini raised himself up slowly. He was very depressed. He gathered up his notepaper, on which he had not written a single line, and blew out the candle. Day was dawning already. He was dead tired. One ought to have sent for a priest, he thought. Then he made a hasty sign of the cross with his right hand and left the room.

Grenouille was, however, anything but dead. He was only sleeping very soundly, deep in dreams, sucking fluids back into himself. The blisters were already beginning to dry out on his skin, the craters of pus had begun to drain, the wounds to close. Within a week he was well again.

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