Perfume: The Story of a Murderer - Page 12

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And Baldini was carrying yet another plan under his heart, his favorite plan, a sort of counterplan to the factory in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, where his wares, though not mass produced, would be made available to anyone. But for a selected number of well-placed, highly placed clients, he wanted to create—or rather, have created—personal perfumes that would fit only their wearer, like tailored clothes, would be used only by the wearer, and would bear his or her illustrious name. He could imagine a Parfum de la Marquise de Cernay, a Parfum de la Maréchale de Villar, a Parfum du Duc d’Aiguillon, and so on. He dreamed of a Parfum de Madame la Marquise de Pompadour, even of a Parfum de Sa Majesté le Roi, in a flacon of costliest cut agate with a holder of chased gold and, hidden on the inside of the base, the engraved words: “Giuseppe Baldini, Parfumeur.” The king’s name and his own, both on the same object. To such glorious heights had Baldini’s ideas risen! And now Grenouille had fallen ill. Even though Grimal, might he rest in peace, had sworn there had never been anything wrong with him, that he could stand up to anything, had even put the black plague behind him. And here he had gone and fallen ill, mortally ill. What if he were to die? Dreadful! For with him would die the splendid plans for the factory, for the smart little girls, for the patent, and for the king’s perfume.

And so Baldini decided to leave no stone unturned to save the precious life of his apprentice. He ordered him moved from his bunk in the laboratory to a clean bed on the top floor. He had the bed made up with damask. He helped bear the patient up the narrow stairway with his own hands, despite his unutterable disgust at the pustules and festering boils. He ordered his wife to heat chicken broth and wine. He sent for the most renowned physician in the neighborhood, a certain Procope, who demanded payment in advance—twenty francs!—before he would even bother to pay a call.

The doctor come, lifted up the sheet with dainty fingers, took one look at Grenouille’s body, which truly looked as if it had been riddled with hundreds of bullets, and left the room without ever having opened the bag that his attendant always carried about with him. The case, so began his report to Baldini, was quite clear. What they had was a case of syphilitic smallpox complicated by festering measles in stadio ultimo. No treatment was called for, since a lancet for bleeding could not be properly inserted into the deteriorating body, which was more like a corpse than a living organism. And although the characteristic pestilential stench associated with the illness was not yet noticeable—an amazing detail and a minor curiosity from a strictly scientific point of view—there could not be the least doubt of the patient’s demise within the next forty-eight hours, as surely as his name was Doctor Procope. Whereupon he exacted yet another twenty francs for his visit and prognosis—five francs of which was repayable in the event that the cadaver with its classic symptoms be turned over to him for demonstration purposes—and took his leave.

Baldini was beside himself. He wailed and lamented in despair. He bit his fingers, raging at his fate. Once again, just before reaching his goal, his grand, very grand plans had been thwarted. At one point it had been Pélissier and his cohorts with their wealth of ingenuity. Now it was this boy with his inexhaustible store of new scents, this scruffy brat who was worth more than his weight in gold, who had decided now of all times to come down with syphilitic smallpox and festering measles in stadio ultimo. Now of all times! Why not two years from now? Why not one? By then he could have been plundered like a silver mine, like a golden ass. He could have gone ahead and died next year. But no! He was dying now, God damn it all, within forty-eight hours!

For a brief moment, Baldini considered the idea of a pilgrimage to Notre-Dame, where he would light a candle and plead with the Mother of God for Grenouille’s recovery. But he let the idea go, for matters were too pressing. He ran to get paper and ink, then shooed his wife out of the sick-room. He was going to keep watch himself. Then he sat down in a chair next to the bed, his notepaper on his knees, the pen wet with ink in his hand, and attempted to take Grenouille’s perfumatory confession. For God’s sake, he dare not slip away without a word, taking along the treasures he bore inside him. Would he not in these last hours leave a testament behind in faithful hands, so that posterity would not be deprived of the finest scents of all time? He, Baldini, would faithfully administer that testament, the canon of formulas for the most sublime scents ever smelled, would bring them all to full bloom. He would attach undying fame to Grenouille’s name, he would—yes, he swore it by everything holy—lay the best of these scents at the feet of the king, in an agate flacon with gold chasing and the engraved dedication, “From Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, Parfumeur, Paris.” So spoke—or better, whispered—Baldini into Grenouille’s ear, unremittingly beseeching, pleading, wheedling.

But all in vain. Grenouille yielded nothing except watery secretions and bloody pus. He lay there mute in his damask and parted with those disgusting fluids, but not with his treasures, his knowledge, not a single formula for a scent. Baldini would have loved to throttle him, to club him to death, to beat those precious secrets out of that moribund body, had there been any chance of success … and had it not so blatantly contradicted his understanding of a Christian’s love for his neighbor.

And so he went on purring and crooning in his sweetest tones, and coddled his patient, and—though only after a great and dreadful struggle with himself—dabbed with cooling presses the patient’s sweat-drenched brow and the seething volcanoes of his wounds, and spooned wine into his mouth hoping to bring words to his tongue—all night long and all in vain. In the gray of dawn he gave up. He fell exhausted into an armchair at the far end of the room and stared—no longer in rage, really, but merely yielding to silent resignation—at Grenouille’s small dying body there in the bed, whom he could neither save nor rob, nor from whom he could salvage anything else for himself, whose death he could only witness numbly, like a captain watching his ship sink, taking all his wealth with it into the depths.

And then all at once the lips of the dying boy opened, and in a voice whose clarity and firmness betrayed next to nothing of his immediate demise, he spoke. “Tell me, maître, are there other ways to extract the scent from things besides pressing or distilling?”

Baldini, believing the voice had come either from his own imagination or from the next world, answered mechanically, “Yes, there are.”

“What are they?” came the question from the bed. And Baldini opened his tired eyes wide. Grenouille lay there motionless among his pillows. Had the corpse spoken?

“What are they?” came the renewed question, and this time Baldini noticed Grenouille’s lips move. It’s over now, he thought. This is the end, this is the madness of fever or the throes of death. And he stood up, went over to the bed, and bent down to the sick man. His eyes were open and he gazed up at Baldini with the same strange, lurking look that he had fixed on him at their first meeting.

“What are they?” he asked.

Baldini felt a pang in his heart—he could not deny a dying man his last wish—and he answered, “There are three other ways, my son: enfleurage à chaud, enfleurage à froid, and enfleurage à l’huile. They are superior to distillation in several ways, and they are used for extraction of the finest of all scents: jasmine, rose, and orange blossom.”

“Where?” asked Grenouille.

“In the south,” answered Baldini. “Above all, in the town of Grasse.”

“Good,” said Grenouille.

And with that he closed his eyes. Baldini raised himself up slowly. He was very depressed. He gathered up his notepaper, on which he had not written a single line, and blew out the candle. Day was dawning already. He was dead tired. One ought to have sent for a priest, he thought. Then he made a hasty sign of the cross with his right hand and left the room.

Grenouille was, however, anything but dead. He was only sleeping very soundly, deep in dreams, sucking fluids back into himself. The blisters were already beginning to dry out on his skin, the craters of pus had begun to drain, the wounds to clo

se. Within a week he was well again.

21

He would have loved then and there to have left for the south, where he could learn the new techniques the old man had told him about. But that was of course out of the question. He was after all only an apprentice, which was to say, a nobody. Strictly speaking, as Baldini explained to him—this was after he had overcome his initial joy at Grenouille’s resurrection—strictly speaking, he was less than a nobody, since a proper apprentice needed to be of faultless, i.e., legitimate, birth, to have relatives of like standing, and to have a certificate of indenture, all of which he lacked. Should he, Baldini, nevertheless decide one day to help him obtain his journeyman’s papers, that would happen only on the basis of Grenouille’s uncommon talents, his faultless behavior from then on, and his, Baldini’s, own infinite kindness, which, though it often had worked to his own disadvantage, he would forever be incapable of denying.

To be sure, it was a good while before he fulfilled his promised kindness—just a little under three years. During that period and with Grenouille’s help, Baldini realized his high-flying dreams. He built his factory in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, succeeded in his scheme for exclusive perfumes at court, received a royal patent. His fine fragrances were sold as far off as St. Petersburg, as Palermo, as Copenhagen. A musk-impregnated item was much sought after even in Constantinople, where God knows they already had enough scents of their own. Baldini’s perfumes could be smelled both in elegant offices in the City of London and at the court in Parma, both in the royal castle at Warsaw and in the little Schloss of the Graf von und zu Lippe-Detmold. Having reconciled himself to living out his old age in bitterest poverty near Messina, Baldini was now at age seventy indisputably Europe’s greatest perfumer and one of the richest citizens of Paris.

Early in 1756—he had in the meantime acquired the adjoining building on the Pont-au-Change, using it solely as a residence, since the old building was literally stuffed full to the attic with scents and spices—he informed Grenouille that he was now willing to release him, but only on three conditions: first, he would not be allowed to produce in the future any of the perfumes now under Baldini’s roof, nor sell their formulas to third parties; second, he must leave Paris and not enter it again for as long as Baldini lived; and third, he was to keep the first two conditions absolutely secret. He was to swear to this by all the saints, by the poor soul of his mother, and on his own honor.

Grenouille, who neither had any honor nor believed in any saints or in the poor soul of his mother, swore it. He would have sworn to anything. He would have accepted any condition Baldini might propose, because he wanted those silly journeyman’s papers that would make it possible for him to live an inconspicuous life, to travel undisturbed, and to find a job. Everything else was unimportant to him. What kinds of conditions were those anyway! Not enter Paris again? What did he need Paris for! He knew it down to its last stinking cranny, he took it with him wherever he went, he had owned Paris for years now. —Not produce any of Baldini’s top-selling perfumes, not pass on their formulas? As if he could not invent a thousand others, just as good and better, if and when he wanted to! But he didn’t want to at all. He did not in the least intend to go into competition with Baldini or any other bourgeois perfumer. He was not out to make his fortune with his art; he didn’t even want to live from it if he could find another way to make a living. He wanted to empty himself of his innermost being, of nothing less than his innermost being, which he considered more wonderful than anything else the world had to offer. And thus Baldini’s conditions were no conditions at all for Grenouille.

He set out in spring, early one May morning. Baldini had given him a little rucksack, a second shirt, two pairs of stockings, a large sausage, a horse blanket, and twenty-five francs. That was far more than he was obligated to do, Baldini said, considering that Grenouille had not paid a sol in fees for the profound education he had received. He was obligated to pay two francs in severance, nothing more. But he could no more deny his own kindly nature than he could the deep sympathy for Jean-Baptiste that had accumulated in his heart over the years. He wished him good luck in his wanderings and once more warned him emphatically not to forget his oath. With that, he accompanied him to the servants’ entrance where he had once taken him in, and let him go.

He did not give him his hand—his sympathy did not reach quite that far. He had never shaken hands with him. He had always avoided so much as touching him, out of some kind of sanctimonious loathing, as if there were some danger that he could be infected or contaminated. He merely said a brief adieu. And Grenouille nodded and ducked away and was gone. The street was empty.

22

Baldini watched him go, shuffling across the bridge to the island, small, bent, bearing his rucksack like a hunchback, looking from the rear like an old man. On the far side, where the street made a dogleg at the Palais de Parlement, he lost sight of him and felt extraordinarily relieved.

He had never liked the fellow, he could finally admit it now. He had never felt comfortable the whole time he had housed him under his roof and plundered him. He felt much as would a man of spotless character who does some forbidden deed for the first time, who uses underhanded tricks when playing a game. True, the risk that people might catch up with him was small, and the prospects for success had been great; but even so, his nervousness and bad conscience were equally great. In fact, not a day had passed in all those years when he had not been haunted by the notion that in some way or other he would have to pay for having got involved with this man. If only it turns out all right!—that had been his continual anxious prayer—if only I succeed in reaping the profits of this risky adventure without having to pay the piper! If only I succeed! What I’m doing is not right, but God will wink His eye, I’m sure He will. He has punished me hard enough many times in my life, without any cause, so that it would only be just if He would deal graciously with me this time. What wrong have I actually done, if there has been a wrong? At the worst I am operating somewhat outside guild regulations by exploiting the wonderful gifts of an unskilled worker and passing off his talent as my own. At the worst I have wandered a bit off the traditional path of guild virtue. At the very worst, I am doing today what I myself have condemned in the past. Is that a crime? Other people cheat their whole life long. I have only fudged a bit for a couple of years. And only because of purest chance I was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Perhaps it wasn’t chance at all, but God Himself, who sent this wizard into my house, to make up for the days of humiliation by Pélissier and his cohorts. Perhaps Divine Providence was not directing Himself at me at all, but against Pélissier! That’s perfectly possible! How else would God have been able to punish Pélissier other than by raising me up? My luck, in that case, would be the means by which divine justice has achieved its end, and thus I not only ought to accept it, but I must, without shame and without the least regret.…

Such had often been Baldini’s thoughts during those years—mornings, when he would descend the narrow stairway to his shop, evenings, when he would climb back up carrying the contents of the cashbox to count the heavy gold and silver coins, and at night, when he lay next to the snoring bag of bones that was his wife, unable to sleep for fear of his good fortune.

But now such sinister thoughts had come to an end. His uncanny guest was gone and would never return again. Yet the riches remained and were secure far into the future. Baldini laid a hand to his chest and felt, beneath the cloth of his coat, that little book beside his beating heart. Six hundred formulas were recorded there, more than a whole generation of perfumers would ever be able to implement. If he were to lose everything today, he could, with just this wonderful little book, be a rich man once again within a year. Truly he could not ask for more!

From the gables of the houses across the way, the morning sun fell golden and warm on his face. Baldini was still looking to the south, down the street in the direction of the Palais de Parlement—it was simply too delightful not to see a

nything more of Grenouille!—and, washed over by a sense of gratitude, he decided to make that pilgrimage to Notre-Dame today, to cast a gold coin in the alms box, to light three candles, and on his knees to thank his Lord for having heaped such good fortune on him and having spared him from retribution.

But then that same afternoon, just as he was about to head for the church, something absurd happened: a rumor surfaced that the English had declared war on France. That was of itself hardly disquieting. But since Baldini had planned to send a shipment of perfume to London that very day, he postponed his visit to Notre-Dame and instead went into the city to make inquiries and from there to go out to his factory in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and cancel the shipment to London for the present. That night in bed, just before falling asleep, he had a brilliant idea: in light of the hostilities about to break out over the colonies in the New World, he would launch a perfume under the name of Prestige du Québec, a heroic, resinous scent, whose success—this much was certain —would more than repay him for the loss of business with England. With that sweet thought in his silly old head, relieved and bedded now on its pillow, beneath which the pressure of the little book of formulas was pleasantly palpable, Maître Baldini fell asleep and awoke no more in this life.


Tags: Patrick Süskind Horror
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