IN JANUARY THE widow Arnulfi married her first journeyman, Dominique Druot, who was thus promoted to mattre gantier et parfumeur. There was a great banquet for the guild masters and a more modest one for the journeymen; Madame bought a new mattress for her bed, which she now shared officially with Druot, and took her gay finery from the armoire. Otherwise, everything remained as it was. She retained the fine old name of Arnulfi and retained her fortune for herself, as well as the management of the finances and the keys to the cellar; Druot fulfilled his sexual duties daily and refreshed himself afterwards with wine; and although he was now the one and only journeyman, Grenouille took care of most of the work at hand in return for the same small salary, frugal board, and cramped quarters.
The year began with a yellow flood of cassias, then hyacinths, violet petals, and narcotic narcissus. One Sunday in March-it was about a year now since his arrival in Grasse-Grenouille set out to see how things stood in the garden behind the wall at the other end of town. He was ready for the scent this time, knew more or less exactly what awaited him… and nevertheless, as he caught a whiff of it, at the Porte Neuve, no more than halfway to the spot beside the wall, his heart beat more loudly and he felt the blood in his veins tingle with pleasure: she was still there, the incomparably beautiful flower, she had survived the winter unblemished, her sap was running, she was growing, expanding, driving forth the most exquisite ranks of buds! Her scent had grown stronger, just as he had expected, without losing any of its delicacy. What a year before had been sprinkled and dappled about was now blended into a faint, smooth stream of scent that shimmered with a thousand colors and yet bound each color to it and did not break. And this stream, Grenouille recognized blissfully, was fed by a spring that grew ever fuller. Another year, just one more year, just twelve more months, and that spring would gush over, and he could come to cap it and imprison the wild flow of its scent.
He walked along the wall to the spot behind which he knew the garden was located. Although the girl was apparently not in the garden but in the house, in her room behind closed windows, her scent floated down to him like a steady, gentle breeze. Grenouille stood quite still. He was not intoxicated or dizzy as he had been the first time he had smelled it. He was filled with the happiness of a lover who has heard or seen his darling from afar and knows that he will bring her home within the year. It was really true-Grenouille, the solitary tick, the abomination, Grenouille the Monster, who had never felt love and would never be able to inspire it, stood there beside the city wall of Grasse on that day in March and loved and was profoundly happy in his love.
True, he did not love another human being, certainly not the girl who lived in the house beyond the wall. He loved her scent-that alone, nothing else, and only inasmuch as it would one day be his alone. He would bring it home within the year, he swore it by his very life. And after this strange oath, or betrothal, this promise of loyalty given to himself and to his future scent, he left the place light of heart and returned to town through the Porte du Cours.
That night, as he lay in his cabin, he conjured up the memory of the scent-he could not resist the temptation-and immersed himself in it, caressed it, and let it caress him, so near to it, as fabulously close as if he possessed it already in reality, his scent, his own scent; and he made love to it and to himself through it for an intoxicatingly, deliciously long time. He wanted this self-loved feeling to accompany him in his sleep. But at the very instant when he closed his eyes, in the moment of the single breath it takes to fall asleep, it deserted him, was suddenly gone, and in its place the room was filled with the cold, acrid smell of goat stall.
Grenouille was terrified. What happens, he thought, if the scent, once I possess it… what happens if it runs out? It’s not the same as it is in your memory, where all scents are indestructible. The real thing gets used up in this world. It’s transient. And by the time it has been used up, the source I took it from will no longer exist. And I will be as naked as before and will have to get along with surrogates, just like before. No, it will be even worse than before! For in the meantime I will have known it and possessed it, my own splendid scent, and I will not be able to forget it, because I never forget a scent. And for the rest of my life I will feed on it in my memory, just as I was feeding right now from the premonition of what I will possess… What do I need it for at all?
This was a most unpleasant thought for Grenouille. It frightened him beyond measure to think that once he did possess the scent that he did not yet possess, he must inevitably lose it. How long could he keep it? A few days? A few weeks? Perhaps a whole month, if he perfumed himself very sparingly with it? And then? He saw himself shaking the last drops from the bottle, rinsing the flacon with alcohol so that the last little bit would not be lost, and then he saw, smelled, how his beloved scent would vanish in the air, irrevocably, forever. It would be like a long slow death, a kind of suffocation in reverse, an agonizing gradual self-evaporation into the wretched world.
He felt chilled. He was overcome with a desire to abandon his plans, to walk out into the night and disappear. He would wander across the snow-covered mountains, not pausing to rest, hundreds of miles into the Auvergne, and there creep into his old cave and fall asleep and die. But he did not do it. He sat there and did not yield to his desire, although it was strong. He did not yield, because that desire was an old one of his, to run away and hide in a cave. He knew about that already. What he did not yet know was what it was like to possess a human scent as splendid as the scent of the girl behind the wall. And even knowing that to possess that scent he must pay the terrible price of losing it again, the very possession and the loss seemed to him more desirable than a prosaic renunciation of both. For he had renounced things all his life. But never once had he possessed and lost.
Gradually the doubts receded and with them the chill. He sensed how the warmth of his blood revitalized him and how the will to do what he had intended to do again took possession of him. Even more powerfully than before in fact, for that will no longer originated from simple lust, but equally from a well-considered decision. Grenouille the tick, presented the choice between drying up inside himself or letting himself drop, had decided for the latter, knowing full well that this drop would be his last. He lay back on his makeshift bed, cozy in his straw, cozy under his blanket, and thought himself very heroic.
Grenouille would not have been Grenouille, however, if he had long been content with a fatalist’s heroic feelings. His will to survive and conquer was too tough, his nature too cunning, his spirit too crafty for that. Fine-he had decided to possess the scent of the girl behind the wall. And if he lost it again after a few weeks and died of the loss, that was fine too. But better yet would be not to die and still possess the scent, or at least to delay its loss as long as humanly possible. One simply had to preserve it better. One must subdue its evanescence without robbing it of its character-a problem of the perfumer’s art.
There are scents that linger for decades. A cupboard rubbed with musk, a piece of leather drenched with cinnamon oil, a glob of ambergris, a cedar chest— they all possess virtually eternal olfactory life. While other things-lime oil, bergamot, jonquil and tuberose extracts, and many floral scents-evaporate within a few hours if they are exposed to the air in a pure, unbound form. The perfumer counteracts this fatal circumstance by binding scents that are too volatile, by putting them in chains, so to speak, taming their urge for freedom-though his art consists of leaving enough slack in the chains for the odor seemingly to preserve its freedom, even when it is tied so deftly that it cannot flee. Grenouille had once succeeded in performing this feat perfectly with some tuberose oil, whose ephemeral scent he had chained with tiny quantities of civet, vanilla, labdanum, and cypress-only then did it truly come into its own. Why should not something similar be possible with the scent of this girl? Why should he have to use, to waste, this most precious and fragile of all scents in pure form? How crude! How extraordinarily unsophisticated! Did one leave diamonds uncut? Did one wear gold in nuggets around one’s neck? Was he, Grenouille, a primitive pillager of scents like Druot or these other maceraters, distillers, and blossom crushers? Or was he not, rather, the greatest perfumer in the world?
He banged his fist against his brow-to think he had not realized this before. But of course this unique scent could not be used in a raw state. He must set it like the most precious gemstone. He must design a diadem of scent, and at its sublime acme, intertwined with the other scents and yet ruling over them, his scent would gleam. He would make a perfume using all the precepts of the art, and the scent of the girl behind the wall would be the very soul of it.
As the adjuvants, as bass, tenor, and soprano, as zenith and as fixative, musk and civet, attar of roses or neroli were inappropriate-that was certain. For such a perfume, for a human perfume, he had need of other ingredients.