THE FOLLOWING DAY-the marquis was just about to instruct him in the basic poses, gestures, and dance steps he would need for his coming social debut— Grenouille faked a fainting spell and, as if totally exhausted and in imminent danger of suffocation, collapsed onto a sofa.
The marquis was beside himself. He screamed for servants, screamed for fan bearers and portable ventilators, and while the servants scurried about, he knelt down at Grenouille’s side, fanning him with a handkerchief soaked in bouquet of violets, and appealed to him, literally begged him, to get to his feet, and please not to breathe his last just yet, but to wait, if at all possible, until the day after tomorrow, since the survival of the theory of the fluidum letale would otherwise be in utmost jeopardy.
Grenouille twisted and turned, coughed, groaned, thrashed at the handkerchief with his arms, and finally, after falling from the sofa in a highly dramatic fashion, crept to the most distant corner of the room. “Not that perfume!” he cried with his last bit of energy. “Not that perfume! It will kill me!” And only when Taillade-Espinasse had tossed the handkerchief out the window and his violet-scented jacket into the next room, did Grenouille allow his attack to ebb, and in a voice that slowly grew calmer explained that as a perfumer he had an occupationally sensitive nose and had always reacted very strongly to certain perfumes, especially so during this period of recuperation. And his only explanation for the fact that the scent of violets in particular-a lovely flower in its own right -should so oppress him was that the marquis’s perfume contained a high percentage of violet root extract, which, being of subterranean origin, must have a pernicious effect on a person like himself suffering from the influence offluidum letale. Yesterday, at the first application of the scent, he had felt quite queasy, and today, as he had once again perceived the odor of roots, it had been as if someone had pushed him back into that dreadful, suffocating hole where he had vegetated for several years. His very nature had risen up against it, that was all he could say; and now that his grace the marquis had used his art to restore him to a life free of fluidal air, he would rather die on the spot than once again be at the mercy of the dreaded fluidum. At the mere thought of a perfume extracted from roots, he could feel his whole body cramping up. He was firmly convinced, however, that he would recover in an instant if the marquis would permit him to design a perfume of his own, one that would completely drive out the scent of violets. He had in mind an especially light, airy fragrance, consisting primarily of earth-removed ingredients, like eaux of almond and orange blossom, eucalyptus, pine, and cypress oils. A splash of such a scent on his clothes, a few drops on his neck and cheeks-and he would be permanently immune to any repetition of the embarrassing seizure that had just overwhelmed him…
For clarity’s sake, the proper forms of reported speech have been used here, but in reality this was a verbal eruption of uninterrupted blubberings, accompanied by numerous coughs and gasps and struggles for breath, all of which Grenouille accented with quiverings and fidgetings and rollings of the eyes. The marquis was deeply impressed. It was, however, not so much his ward s symptoms of suffering as the deft argumentation, presented totally under the aegis of the theory of fluidum letale, that convinced him. Of course it was the violet perfume! An obnoxious, earth-bound-indeed subterranean-product! He himself was probably infected by it after years of use. Had no idea that day in day out he had been bringing himself ever nearer to death by using the scent. His gout, the stiffness in his neck, the enervation of his member, his hemorrhoids, the pressure in his ears, his rotten tooth-all of it doubtless came from the contagious fluidal stench of violet roots. And that stupid little man, that lump of misery there in the corner of the room, had given him the idea. He was touched. He would have loved to have gone over to him, lifted him up, and pressed him to his enlightened heart. But he feared that he still smelled too much of violets, and so he screamed for his servants yet again and ordered that all the violet perfume be removed from the house, the whole mansion aired, his clothes disinfected in the vital-air ventilator, and that Grenouille at once be conveyed in his sedan chair to the best perfumer in the city. And of course this was precisely what Grenouille had intended his seizure to accomplish.
The science of perfumery was an old tradition in Montpellier, and although in more recent times it had lost ground to its competitor, the town of Grasse, there were still several good perfumers and glovers residing in the city. The most prestigious of them, a certain Runel-well aware of the trade he enjoyed with the house of the marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse as its purveyor of soaps, oils, and scents— declared himself prepared to take the unusual step of surrendering his studio for an hour to the strange journeyman perfumer from Paris who had been conveyed thither in a sedan chair. The latter refused all instructions, did not even want to know where things were; he knew his way around, he said, would manage well enough. And he locked himself in the laboratory and stayed there a good hour, while Runel joined the marquis’s majordomo for a couple of glasses of wine in a tavern, where he was to learn why his violet cologne was no longer a scent worth smelling.
Runel’s laboratory and shop fell far short of being so grandly equipped as Baldini’s perfume shop in Paris had been in its day. An average perfumer would not have made any great progress with its few floral oils, colognes, and spices. Grenouille, however, recognized with the first inhaled sniff that the ingredients on hand would be quite sufficient for his purposes. He did not want to create a great scent; he did not want to create a prestigious cologne such as he had once made for Baldini, one that stood out amid a sea of mediocrity and tamed the masses. Nor was even the simple orange blossom scent that he had promised the marquis his true goal. The customary essences of neroli, eucalyptus, and cypress were meant only as a cover for the actual scent that he intended to produce: that was the scent of humanness. He wanted to acquire the human-being odor-if only in the form of an inferior temporary surrogate-that he did not possess himself. True, the odor of human being did not exist, any more than the human countenance. Every human being smelled different, no one knew that better than Grenouille, who recognized thousands upon thousands of individual odors and could sniff out the difference of each human being from birth on. And yet-there was a basic perfumatory theme to the odor of humanity, a rather simple one, by the way: a sweaty-oily, sour-cheesy, quite richly repulsive basic theme that clung to all humans equally and above which each individual’s aura hovered only as a small cloud of more refined particularity.
That aura, however, the highly complex, unmistakable code of a personal odor, was not perceptible for most people in any case. Most people did not know that they even had such a thing, and moreover did everything they could to disguise it under clothes or fashionable artificial odors. Only that basic odor, the primitive human effluvium, was truly familiar to them; they lived exclusively within it and it made them feel secure; and only a person who gave off that standard vile vapor was ever considered one of their own.
It was a strange perfume that Grenouille created that day. There had never before been a stranger one on earth. It did not smell like a scent, but like a human being who gives off a scent. If one had smelled this perfume in a dark room, one would have thought a second person was standing there. And if a human being, who smelled like a human being, had applied it, that person would have seemed to have the smell of two people, or, worse still, to be a monstrous double creature, like some figure that you can no longer clearly pinpoint because it looks blurred and out of focus, like something at the bottom of a lake beneath the shiver of waves.
And to imitate this human odor-quite unsatisfactorily, as he himself knew, but cleverly enough to deceive others-Grenouille gathered up the most striking ingredients in Runel’s workshop.
There was a little pile of cat shit behind the threshold of the door leading out to the courtyard, still rather fresh. He took a half teaspoon of it and placed it together with several drops of vinegar and finely ground salt in a mixing bottle. Under the worktable he found a thumbnail-sized piece of cheese, apparently from one of Runel’s lunches. It was already quite old, had begun to decompose, and gave off a biting, pungent odor. From the lid of a sardine tub that stood at the back of the shop, he scratched off a rancid, fishy something-or-other, mixed it with rotten egg and castoreum, ammonia, nutmeg, horn shavings, and singed pork rind, finely ground. To this he added a relatively large amount of civet, mixed these ghastly ingredients with alcohol, let it digest, and filtered it into a second bottle. The bilge smelled revolting. Its stink was putrid, like a sewer, and if you fanned its vapor just once to mix it with fresh air, it was as if you were standing in Paris on a hot summer day, at the comer of the rue aux Fers and the rue de la Lingerie, where the odors from Les Halles, the Cimetiere des Innocents, and the overcrowded tenements converged.
On top of this disgusting base, which smelled more like a cadaver than a human being, Grenouille spread a layer of fresh, oily scents: peppermint, lavender, turpentine, lime, eucalyptus, which he then simultaneously disguised and tamed with the pleasant bouquet of fine floral oils-geranium, rose, orange blossom, and jasmine. After a second dilution with alcohol and a splash of vinegar there was nothing left of the disgusting basic odor on which the mixture was built. The latent stench lay lost and unnoticeable under the fresh ingredients; the nauseous part, pampered by the scent of flowers, had become almost interesting; and, strangely enough, there was no putrefaction left to smell, not the least. On the contrary, the perfume seemed to exhale the robust, vivacious scent of life.
Grenouille filled two flacons with it, stoppered them, and stuck them in his pocket. Then he washed the bottles, mortars, funnels, and spoons carefully with water, rubbed them down with bitter-almond oil to remove all traces of odor, and picked up a second mixing bottle. In it he quickly composed another perfume, a sort of copy of the first, likewise consisting of fresh and floral elements, but containing nothing of the witches’ brew as a base, but rather a totally conventional one of musk, ambergris, a tiny bit of civet, and cedarwood oil. By itself it smelled totally different from the first-flatter, more innocent, detoxified-for it lacked the components of the imitation human odor. But once a normal human being applied it and married it to his own odor, it could no longer be distinguished from the one that Grenouille had created exclusively for himself.
After he had poured the second perfume into flacons, he stripped and sprinkled his clothes with the first. Then he dabbed himself in the armpits, between the toes, on the genitals, on the chest, neck, ears, and hair, put his clothes back on, and left the laboratory.