Forty-five

GRENOUILLE SET to work with professional circumspection. He opened his knapsack, took out the linen, pomade, and spatula, spread the cloth over the blanket on which he had lain, and began to brush on the fatty paste. This job took time, for it was important that the oil be applied in thinner or thicker layers depending on what part of the body would end up lying on a particular patch of the cloth. The mouth and armpits, breasts, genitals, and feet gave off greater amounts of scent than, for instance, shins, back, and elbows; the palms more than the backs of the hands; eyebrows more than eyelids, etc.-and therefore needed to be provided with a heavier dose of oil. Grenouille was creating a model, as it were, transferring onto the linen a scent diagram of the body to be treated, and this part of the job was actually the one that satisfied him most, for it was a matter of an artistic technique that incorporated equally one’s knowledge, imagination, and manual dexterity, while at the same time it anticipated on an ideal plane the enjoyment awaiting one from the final results. Once he had applied the whole potful of pomade, he dabbed about here and there, removing a bit of oil from the cloth here, adding another there, retouching, checking the greasy landscape he had modeled one last time-with his nose, by the way, not with his eyes, for the whole business was carried on in total darkness, which was perhaps yet another reason for Grenouille’s equably cheerful mood. There was nothing to distract him on this night of new moon. The world was nothing but odor and the soft sound of surf from the sea. He was in his element. Then he folded the cloth together like a tapestry, so that the oiled surfaces lay against one another. This was a painful procedure for him, because he knew well that despite the utmost caution certain parts of the sculpted contours would be flattened or shifted. But there was no other way to transport the cloth. After he had folded it up small enough to be carried under his arm without all too much difficulty, he tucked spatula, scissors, and the little olivewood club in his pockets and crept out into the night.

The sky was clouded over. There were no lights burning in the inn. The only glimmer on this pitch-dark night was the winking of the lighthouse at the fort on the He Sainte-Marguerite, over a mile away to the east, a tiny bright needlepoint in a raven-black cloth. A light, fishy wind was blowing from the bay. The dogs were asleep.

Grenouille walked to the back dormer of the threshing shed, where a ladder stood propped. He picked the ladder up, and balancing it vertically, three rungs clamped under his free right arm, the rest of it pressed against his right shoulder, he moved across the courtyard until he was under her window. The window stood half ajar. As he climbed the ladder, as easily as a set of stairs, he congratulated himself on the circumstances that made it possible for him to harvest the girl’s scent here in La Napoule. In Grasse, where the house had barred windows and was tightly guarded, all this would have been much more difficult. She was even sleeping by herself here. He would not have to bother with eliminating the maid.

He pushed up the casement, slipped into the room, and laid down his cloth. Then he turned to the bed. The dominant scent came from her hair, for she was lying on her stomach with her head pressed into the pillow and framed by the crook of her arm— presenting the back of her head in an almost ideal position for the blow by the club.

The sound of the blow was a dull, grinding thud. He hated it. He hated it solely because it was a sound, a sound in the midst of his otherwise soundless procedure. He could bear that gruesome sound only by clenching his teeth, and, after it was all over, standing off to one side stiff and implacable, as if he feared the sound would return from somewhere as a resounding echo. But it did not return, instead stillness returned to the room, an increased stillness in fact, for now even the shuffle of the girl’s breathing had ceased. And at once Grenouille’s tenseness dissolved (one might have interpreted it more as a posture of reverence or some sort of crabbed moment of silence) and his body fell back to a pliable ease.

He tucked the club away and from here on was all bustle and business. First he unfolded the impregnating cloth, spread it loosely on its back over the table and chairs, taking care that the greased side not be touched. Then he pulled back the bedclothes. The glorious scent of the girl, welling up so suddenly warm and massive, did not stir him. He knew that scent, of course, and would savor it, savor it to intoxication, later on, once he truly possessed it. But now the main thing was to capture as much of it as possible, let as little of it as possible evaporate; for now the watchwords were concentration and haste.

With a few quick snips of his scissors, he cut open her nightgown, pulled it off, grabbed the oiled linen, and tossed it over her naked body. Then he lifted her up, tugged the overhanging cloth under her, rolled her up in it as a baker rolls strudel, tucking in the corners, enveloping her from toes up to brow. Only her hair still stuck out from the mummy clothes. He cut it off close to her scalp and packed it inside her nightgown, which he then tied up into a bundle. Finally he took a piece of cloth still dangling free and flapped it over the shaved skull, smoothed down the overlapping ends, gently pressed it tight with a finger. He examined the whole package. Not a slit, not a hole, not one bulging pleat was left through which the girl’s scent could have escaped. She was perfectly packed. There was nothing to do but wait, for six hours, until the gray of dawn.

He took the little armchair on which her clothes lay, dragged it to the bed, and sat down. The gentle breath of her scent still clung to the ample black cloak, blending with the odor of aniseed cakes she had put in her pocket as a snack for the journey. He put his feet up on the end of the bed, near her feet, covered himself with her dress, and ate aniseed cakes. He was tired. But he did not want to fall asleep, because it was improper to sleep on the job, even if your job was merely to wait. He recalled the nights he had spent distilling in Baldini’s workshop: the soot-blackened alembic, the flickering fire, the soft spitting sound the distillate made as it dripped from the cooling tube into the Florentine flask. From time to time you had to tend the fire, pour in more distilling water, change Florentine flasks, replace the exhausted stuff you were distilling. And yet it had always seemed to him that you stayed awake not so that you could take care of these occasional tasks, but because being awake had its own unique purpose. Even here in this bedchamber, where the process of enfleurage was proceeding all on its own, where in fact premature checking, turning, or poking the fragrant package could only cause trouble-even here, it seemed to Grenouille, his waking presence was important. Sleep would have endangered the spirit of success.

It was not especially difficult for him to stay awake and wait, despite his weariness. He loved this waiting. He had also loved it with the twenty-four other girls, for it was aot a dull waiting-till-it’s-over, not even a yearning, expectant waiting, but an attendant, purposeful, in a certain sense active, waiting. Something was happening while you waited. The most essential thing was happening. And even if he himself was doing nothing, it was happening through him nevertheless. He had done his best. He had employed all his artistic skill. He had made not one single mistake. His performance had been unique. It would be crowned with success… He need only wait a few more hours. It filled him with profound satisfaction, this waiting. He had never felt so fine in all his life, so peaceful, so steady, so whole and at one with himself-not even back inside his mountain-as during these hours when a craftsman took his rest sitting in the dark of night beside his victim, waiting and watching. They were the only moments when something like cheerful thoughts formed inside his gloomy brain.

Strangely enough, these thoughts did not look toward the future. He did not think of the scent that he would glean in a few hours, nor of the perfume made of the auras of twenty-five maidens, nor of future plans, happiness, and success. No, he thought of his past. He remembered the stations of his life, from Madame Gaillard’s house and the moist, warm woodpile in front of it to his journey today to the little village of La Napoule, which smelled like fish. He thought of Grimal the tanner, of Giuseppe Baldini, of the marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse. He thought of the city of Paris, of its great effluvium, that evil smell of a thousand iridescences; he thought of the redheaded girl in the rue des Marais, of open country, of the spare wind, of forests. He thought, too, of the mountain in the Auvergne-he did not avoid such memories in the least-of his cave, of the air void of human beings. He thought of his dreams. And he thought of all these things with great satisfaction. Yes, it seemed to him as he looked back over it that he was a man to whom fortune had been especially kind, and that fate had led him down some tortuous paths, but that ultimately they had proved to be the right ones-how else would it have been possible for him to have found his way here, into this dark chamber, at the goal of his desires? He was, now that he really considered it, a truly blessed individual!

Feelings of humility and gratitude welled up within him. “I thank you,” he said softly, “I thank you, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, for being what you are!” So touched was he by himself.

Then his eyelids closed-not for sleep, but so that he could surrender himself completely to the peace of this holy night. The peace filled his heart. But it seemed also as if it reigned all about him. He smelled the peaceful sleep of the maid in the adjoining room, the deep contentment of Antoine Richis’s sleep on the other side of the corridor; he smelled the peaceful slumber of the innkeeper and his servants, of the dogs, of the animals in their stalls, of the whole village, and of the sea. The wind had died away. Everything was still. Nothing disturbed the peace.

Once he turned his foot to one side and ever so softly touched Laure’s foot. Not actually her foot, but simply the cloth that enveloped it and beneath that the thin layer of oil drinking up her scent, her glorious scent, his scent.

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