THE MARQUIS de La Taillade-Espinasse was thrilled with his new perfume. It was staggering, he said, even for the discoverer of the fluidum letale, to note what a striking influence on the general condition of an individual such a trivial and ephemeral item as perfume could have as a result of its being either earth-bound or earth-removed in origin. Grenouille, who but a few hours before had lain pale and near swooning, now appeared as fresh and rosy as any healthy man his age could. Why-even with all the qualifications appropriate to a man of his rank and limited education-one might almost say that he had gained something very like a personality. In any case, he, Taillade-Espinasse, would discuss the case in the chapter on vital dietetics in his soon-to-be-published treatise on the theory of the fluidum letale. But first he wished to anoint his own body with this new perfume. Grenouille handed him both flacons of conventional floral scent, and the marquis sprinkled himself with it. He seemed highly gratified by the effect. He confessed that after years of being oppressed by the leaden scent of violets, a mere dab of this made him feel as if he had sprouted floral wings; and if he was not mistaken, the beastly pain in his knee was already subsiding, likewise the buzzing in his ears. All in all he felt buoyant, revitalized, and several years younger. He approached Grenouille, embraced him, and called him “my fluidal brother,” adding that this was in no way a form of social address, but rather a purely spiritual one in conspectu universalitatis fluidi letalis, before which-and before which alone!-all men were equal. Also-and this he said as he disengaged himself from Grenouille, in a most friendly disengagement, without the least revulsion, almost as if he were disengaging himself from an equal-he was planning soon to found an international lodge that stood above all social rank and the goal of which would be utterly to vanquish the fluidum letale and replace it in the shortest possible time with purest fluidum vitale-and even now he promised to win Grenouille over as the first proselyte. Then he had him write the formula for the floral perfume on a slip of paper, pocketed it, and presented Grenouille with fifty louis d’or.
Precisely one week after the first lecture, the marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse once again presented his ward in the great hall of the university. The crush was monstrous. All Montpellier had come, not just scientific Montpellier, but also and in particular social Montpellier, among whom were many Sadies desirous of seeing the fabled caveman. And although Taillade’s enemies, primarily the champions of the Friends of the University Botanical Gardens and members of the Society for the Advancement of Agriculture, had mobilized all their supporters, the exhibition was a scintillating success. In order to remind his audience of Grenouille’s condition of only the week before, Taillade-Espinasse first circulated drawings depicting the caveman in all his ugliness and depravity. He then had them lead in the new Gre-nouille dressed in a handsome velvet blue coat and silk shirt, rouged, powdered, and coiffed; and merely by the way he walked, so erect and with dainty steps and an elegant swing of the hips, by the way he climbed to the dais without anyone’s assistance, bowing deeply and nodding with a smile now to one side now to the other, he silenced every skeptic and critic. Even the friends of the university’s botanical garden were embarrassedly speechless. The change was too egregious, the apparent miracle too overwhelming: where but a week ago had cowered a drudge, a brutalized beast, there now stood a truly civilized, properly proportioned human being. An almost prayerful mood spread through the hall, and as Taillade-Espinasse commenced his lecture, perfect silence reigned. He once again set forth his all too familiar theory about earth’sfluidum letale, explained how and with what mechanical and dietetic means he had driven it from the body of his exhibit, replacing it withfluidum vitale. Finally he demanded of all those present, friend and foe alike, that in the face of such overwhelming evidence they abandon their opposition to this new doctrine and make common cause with him, Taillade-Espinasse, against the evilfluidum and open themselves to the beneficial fluidum vitale. At this he spread his arms wide, cast his eyes heavenwards-and many learned men did likewise, and women wept.
Grenouille stood at the dais but did not listen. He watched with great satisfaction the effect of a totally different fluid, a much realer one: his own. As was appropriate for the size of the great hall, he had doused himself with perfume, and no sooner had he climbed the dais than the aura of his scent began to radiate powerfully from him. He saw-literally saw with his own eyes!-how it captured the spectators sitting closest, was transmitted to those farther back, and finally reached the last rows and the gallery. And whomever it captured-and Grenouille’s heart leapt for joy within him-was visibly changed. Under the sway of the odor, but without their being aware of it, people’s facial expressions, their airs, their emotions were altered. Those who at first had gawked at him out of pure amazement now gazed at him with a milder eye; those who had made a point of leaning back in their seats with furrowed critical brows and mouths markedly turned down at the corners now leaned forward more relaxed and with a look of childlike ease on their faces. And as his odor reached them, even the faces of the timorous, frightened, and hypersensitive souls who had borne the sight of his former self with horror and beheld his present state with due misgiving now showed traces of amity, indeed of sympathy.
At lecturer’s end the entire assemblage rose to its feet and broke into frenetic cheering. “Long live the fluidum vitale! Long live Taillade-Espinasse! Hurrah for the fluidal theory! Down with orthodox medicine!”-such were the cries of the learned folk of Montpellier, the most important university town in the south of France, and the marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse experienced the greatest hour of his life.
Grenouille, however, having climbed down from the dais to mingle among the crowd, knew that these ovations were in reality meant for him, for him alone, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille-although not one of those cheering in the hall suspected anything of the sort.