Forty-four

AT THE SAME time that Laure Richis and her father were leaving Grasse, Grenouille was at the other end of town in the Arnulfi workshop macerating jonquils. He was alone and he was in good spirits. His days in Grasse were coming to an end. His day of triumph was imminent. Out in his cabin was a crate padded with cotton, in it were twenty-four tiny flacons filled with drops of the congealed aura of twenty-four virgins-precious essences that Grenouille had produced over the last year by cold-oil enfleurage of their bodies, digestion of their hair and clothes, lavage, and distillation. And the twenty-fifth, the most precious and important of all, he planned to fetch today. For his final fishing expedition, he had at the ready a small pot of oils purified several times over, a cloth of finest linen, and a demijohn of high-proof alcohol. The terrain had been studied down to the last detail. The moon was new.

He knew that any attempt to break into the well-protected mansion on the rue Droite was pointless. Which was why he planned, just as dusk fell and before the doors were closed, to sneak in under his cover of odorlessness, which like a magic cape deprived man and beast of their perceptive faculties, and there to hide in some nook of the house. Then later, when everyone was asleep, he would follow the compass of his nose through the darkness and climb up to the chamber that held his treasure. He would set to work on it with his oil-drenched cloths right then and there. All that he would take with him would be, as usual, the hair and clothes, since these could be washed directly in rectified spirit, which could be done more conveniently in the workshop. He estimated it would take an additional night to complete the production of the pomade and to distill the concentrate. And if everything went well-and he had no reason to doubt that everything would go well— then by the day after tomorrow he would possess all of the essences needed for the best perfume in the world, and he would leave Grasse as the world’s most fragrant human being.

Around noon he was finished with his jonquils. He doused the fire, covered the pot of oil, and stepped outside the workshop to cool off. The wind was from the west.

With his very first breath, he knew something was wrong. The atmosphere was not as it should be. In the town’s aromatic garb, that veil of many thousands of woven threads, the golden thread was missing. During the last few weeks the fragrance of that thread had grown so strong that Grenouilie had clearly discerned it from his cabin on the far side of the town. Now it was gone, vanished, untraceable despite the most intensive sniffing. Grenouilie was almost paralyzed with fright.

She is dead, he thought. Then, more terrifying still: Someone else has got to her before me. Someone else has plucked my flower and taken its odor for himself! He could not so much as scream, the shock was too great for that, but he could produce tears that welled up in the corners of his eyes and suddenly streamed down both sides of his nose.

Then Druot, returning home from the Quatre Dauphins for lunch, remarked in passing that early this morning the second consul had left for Grenoble together with twelve mules and his daughter. Gre-nouille forced back the tears and ran off, straight through town to the Porte du Cours. He stopped to sniff in the square before the gate. And in the pure west wind, unsullied by the odors of the town, he did indeed find his golden thread again, thin and fragile, but absolutely unmistakable. The precious scent, however, was not blowing from the northwest, where the road leads toward Grenoble, but more from the direction of Cabris-if not directly out of the southwest.

Grenouille asked the watch which road the second consul had taken. The guard pointed north. Not the road to Cabris? Or the other one, that went south toward Auribeau and La Napoule? Definitely not, said the guard, he had watched with his own eyes.

Grenouille ran back through town to his cabin, packed linen, pomade pot, spatula, scissors, and a small, smooth club of olivewood into his knapsack and promptly took to the road-not the road to Grenoble, but the one to which his nose directed him: to the south.

This road, the direct road to La Napoule, led along the foothills of the Tanneron, through the river valleys of the Frayere and Siagne. It was an easy walk. Grenouille made rapid progress. As Auribeau emerged on his right, clinging to the mountains above him, he could smell that he had almost caught up with the runaways. A little later and he had drawn even with them. He could now smell each one, could smell the aroma of their horses. At most they were no more than a half mile west of him, somewhere in the forests of the Tanneron. They were holding course southwards, toward the sea. Just as he was.

Around five o’clock that evening, Grenouille reached La Napoule. He went to the inn, ate, and asked for cheap lodging. He was a journeyman tanner from Nice, he said, on his way to Marseille. He could spend the night in a stall, they told him. There he lay down in a corner and rested. He could smell the three riders approaching. He need only wait.

Two hours later-it was deep dusk by then-they arrived. To preserve their disguise, they had changed costumes. The two women now wore dark cloaks and veils, Richis a black frock coat. He identified himself as a nobleman on his way from Castellane; in the morning he wanted to be ferried over to the lies de LSrins, the innkeeper should make arrangements for a boat to be ready by sunrise. Were there any other guests in the house besides himself and his people? No, said the innkeeper, only a journeyman tanner from Nice who was spending the night in a stall.

Richis sent the women to their room. He was going out to the stalls, he said, to get something from the saddlebags. At first he could not find the journeyman tanner, he had to ask a groom to give him a lantern. Then he saw him, lying on some straw and an old blanket in one corner, his head resting on his knapsack, sound asleep. He looked so totally insignificant that for a moment Richis had the impression that he was not even there, but was merely a chimera cast by the swaying shadow of the lantern candle. At any rate, Richis was immediately convinced that there was no danger whatever to fear from this almost touchingly harmless creature, and he left very quietly so as not to disturb his sleep and went back into the inn.

He took his evening meal in his own room along with his daughter. He had not explained the purpose and goal of their journey to her and did not do it even now, although she asked him. Tomorrow he would let her in on the secret, he said, but she could be certain that everything that he was planning and doing was for her good and would work toward her future happiness.

After their meal they played a few games of I’hombre, which he lost because he was forever gazing at her face to delight in her beauty instead of looking at his cards. Around nine o’clock he brought her to her room, directly across from his own, kissed her good night, and locked the door from the outside. Then he went to bed himself.

He was suddenly very tired from the exertions of the day and of the night before and equally very satisfied with himself and how things had gone. Without the least thought of care, without any of the gloomy suspicions that until yesterday had plagued him and kept him awake every time he had put out his light, he instantly fell asleep and slept without a dream, without a moan, without a twitch or a nervous toss of his body back and forth. For the first time in a good while, Richis found deep, peaceful, refreshing sleep.

Around the same time, Grenouille got up from his bed in the stall. He too was satisfied with how things were going and felt completely refreshed, although he had not slept a single second. When Richis had come to the stall looking for him, he had only feigned sleep, augmenting the impression of obvious harmlessness he already exuded with his odor of inconspicuous-ness. Moreover, in contrast to the way in which Richis had perceived him, he had observed Richis with utmost accuracy, olfactory accuracy, and Richis’s relief at the sight of him had definitely not escaped him.

And so at their meeting each had convinced himself of the other’s harmlessness, both correctly and falsely, and that was how it should be, Grenouille thought, for his apparent and Richis’s true harmlessness made it much easier for him, Grenouille, to go about his work-an opinion that, to be sure, Richis would definitely have shared had the situation been reversed.

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