Richis knew that in acting so hastily he was driving the price excessively high for the union of his house with the house of Bouyon. He would have got it cheaper had he waited longer. The baron would have begged for permission to raise the social rank of the daughter of a bourgeois wholesaler through a marriage to his son, for the fame of Laure’s beauty would only grow, just as would Richis’s wealth and Bouyon’s financial miseries. But what did that matter! His opponent in this deal was not the baron, but the unknown murderer. He was the one whose business had to be spoiled. A married woman, deflowered and if possible already pregnant, would no longer fit into his exclusive gallery. The last mosaic stone would be tarnished, Laure would have lost all value for the murderer, his enterprise would have failed. And he was to feel his defeat! Richis wanted to hold the wedding ceremony in Grasse, with great pomp and open to the public. And even if he could not know his adversary, would never know him, he would take personal pleasure in knowing that he was in attendance at the event and would have to watch with his own eyes as that which he most desired was snatched away from under his nose.
The plan was nicely thought out. And once again we must admire Richis’s acumen for coming so close to the truth. For in point of fact the marriage of Laure Richis to the son of the baron de Bouyon would have meant a devastating defeat for the murderer of the maidens of Grasse. But the plan was not yet carried out. Richis had not yet rescued his daughter by marrying her off. He had not yet ferried her across to the safety of the monastery of Saint-Honorat. The three riders were still passing through the inhospitable mountains of the Tanneron. Sometimes the path was so bad that they had to dismount from their horses. It was all going too slowly. By evening, they hoped to reach the sea near La Napoule, a small town west of Cannes.
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 Grenouille 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. Grenouille 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. Grenouille 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 Frayère 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 Iles de Lérins, 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 l’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 inconspicuousness. 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.
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 Ile Sainte-Marguerite, over a mile away to the east, a tiny bright needle-point 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 b
ecause 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 not 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.