Patrick Suskind: «Perfume. The story of a murderer»
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
Patrick Suskind: «Perfume. The story of a murderer»
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
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
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.
I N MAY OF that same year, the naked body of a fifteen-year-old girl was found in a rose field,
halfway between Grasse and the hamlet of Opio east of town. She had been killed by a heavy blow to
the back of the head. The farmer who discovered her was so disconcerted by the gruesome sight that
he almost ended up a suspect himself, when in a quivering voice he told the police lieutenant that he
had never seen anything so beautiful-when he had really wanted to say that he had never seen anything
She was indeed a girl of exquisite beauty. She was one of those languid women made of dark
honey, smooth and sweet and terribly sticky, who take control of a room with a syrupy gesture, a toss
of the hair, a single slow whiplash of the eyes-and all the while remain as still as the center of a
hurricane, apparently unaware of the force of gravity by which they irresistibly attract to themselves
the yearnings and the souls of both men and women. And she was young, so very young, that the flow
of her allure had not yet grown viscous. Her full limbs were still smooth and solid, her breasts plump
and pert as hard-boiled eggs, and the planes of her face, brushed by her heavy black hair, still had the
most delicate contours and secret places. Her hair, however, was gone. The murderer had cut it off and
taken it with him, along with her clothes.
People suspected the gypsies. Gypsies were capable of anything. Gypsies were known to weave
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Patrick Suskind: «Perfume. The story of a murderer»
carpets out of old clothes and to stuff their pillows with human hair and to make dolls out of the skin
and teeth of the hanged. Only gypsies could be involved in such a perverse crime. There were,
however, no gypsies around at the time, not a one near or far; gypsies had last come through the area in
For lack of gypsies, people decided to suspect the Italian migrant workers. But there weren’t any
Italians around either, it was too early in the year for them; they would first arrive in the region in
June, at the time of the jasmine harvest, so it could not have been the Italians either. Finally the
wigmakers came under suspicion, and they were searched for the hair of the murdered girl. To no
avail. Then it was the Jews who were suspect, then the monks of the Benedictine cloister, reputedly a
lecherous lot-although all of them were well over seventy-then the Cistercians, then the Freemasons,
then the lunatics from the Charite, then the charcoal burners, then the beggars, and last but not least the
nobility, in particular the marquis of Cabris, for he had already been married three times and
organized-so it was said-orgiastic black masses in his cellars, where he drank the blood of virgins to
increase his potency. Of course nothing definite could be proved. No one had witnessed the murder,
the clothes and hair of the dead woman were not found. After several weeks the police lieutenant
halted his investigation.
In mid-June the Italians arrived, many with families, to hire themselves out as pickers. The
farmers put them to work as usual, but, with the murder still on their minds, forbade their wives and
daughters to have anything to do with them. You couldn’t be too cautious. For although the migrant
workers were in fact not responsible for the actual murder, they could have been responsible for it on
principle, and so it was better to be on one’s guard.
Not long after the beginning of the jasmine harvest, two more murders occurred. Again the
victims were very lovely young girls, again of the languid, raven-haired sort, again they were found
naked and shorn and lying in a flower field with the backs of their heads bludgeoned. Again there was
no trace of the perpetrator. The news spread like wildfire, and there was a threat that hostile action
might be taken against the migrants-when it was learned that both victims were Italians, the daughters
of a Genoese day laborer.
And now fear spread over the countryside. People no longer knew against whom to direct their
impotent rage. Although there were still those who suspected the lunatics or the cryptic marquis, no
one really believed that, for the former were under guard day and night, and the latter had long since
departed for Paris. So people huddled closer together. The farmers opened up their barns for the
migrants, who until then had slept in the open fields. The townsfolk set up nightly patrols in every
neighborhood. The police lieutenant reinforced the watch at the gates. But all these measures proved
useless. A few days after the double murder, they found the body of yet another girl, abused in the
same manner as the others. This time it was a Sardinian washerwoman from the bishop’s palace; she
had been struck down near the great basin of the Fontaine de la Foux, directly before the gates of the
town. And although at the insistence of the citizenry the consuls initiated still further measures-the
tightest possible control at the gates, a reinforced nightwatch, a curfew for all female persons after
nightfall-all that summer not a single week went by when the body of a young girl was not discovered.
And they were always girls just approaching womanhood, and always very beautiful and usually dark,
sugary types. Soon, however, the murderer was no longer rejecting the type of girl more common
among the local population: soft, pale-skinned, and somewhat more full-bodied. Even brown-haired
girls and some dark blondes-as long as they weren’t too skinny-were among the later victims. He
tracked them down everywhere, not just in the open country around Grasse, but in the town itself, right
in their homes. The daughter of a carpenter was found slain in her own room on the fifth floor, and no
one in the house had heard the least noise, and although the dogs normally yelped the moment they
picked up the scent of any stranger, not one of them had barked. The murderer seemed impalpable,
incorporeal, like a ghost.
People were outraged and reviled the authorities. The least rumor caused mob scenes. A
traveling salesman of love potions and other nostrums was almost massacred, for word spread that one
of the ingredients in his remedies was female hair. Fires were set at both the Cabris mansion and the
Hopital de la Charite. A servant returning home one night was shot down by his own master, the
woolen draper Alexandre Misnard, who mistook him for the infamous murderer of young girls.
Whoever could afford it sent his adolescent daughters to distant relatives or to boarding schools in
Patrick Suskind: «Perfume. The story of a murderer»
Nice, Aix, or Marseille. The police lieutenant was removed from office at the insistence of the town
council. His successor had the college of medicine examine the bodies of the shorn beauties to
determine the state of their virginity. It was found that they had all remained untouched.
Strangely enough, this knowledge only increased the sense of horror, for everyone had secretly
assumed that the girls had been ravished. People had at least known the murderer’s motive. Now they
knew nothing at all, they were totally perplexed. And whoever believed in God sought succor in the
prayer that at least his own house should be spared this visitation from hell.
The town council was a committee of thirty of the richest and most influential commoners and
nobles in Grasse. The majority of them were enlightened and anticlerical, paid not the least attention to
the bishop, and would have preferred to turn the cloisters and abbeys into warehouses or factories. In
their distress, the proud, powerful men of the town council condescended to write an abject petition
begging the bishop to curse and excommunicate this monster who murdered young girls and yet whom
temporal powers could not capture, just as his illustrious predecessor had done in the year 1708, when
terrible locusts had threatened the land. And indeed, at the end of September, the slayer of the young
women of Grasse, having cut down no fewer than twenty-four of its most beautiful virgins out of every
social class, was made anathema and excommunicated both in writing and from all the pulpits of the
city, including a ban spoken by the bishop himself from the pulpit of Notre-Dame-du-Puy.
The result was conclusive. From one day to the next, the murders ceased. October and November
passed with no corpses. At the start of December, reports came in from Grenoble that a murderer there
was strangling young girls, then tearing their clothes to shreds and pulling their hair out by the
handfuls. And although these coarse methods in no way squared with the cleanly executed crimes of
the Grasse murderer, everyone was convinced that it was one and the same person. In their relief that
the beast was no longer among them but instead ravaging Grenoble a good seven days’ journey distant,
the citizens of Grasse crossed themselves three times over. They organized a torchlight procession in
honor of the bishop and celebrated a mass of thanksgiving on December 24. On January 1, 1766, the
tighter security measures were relaxed and the nighttime curfew for women was lifted. Normality
returned to public and private life with incredible speed. Fear had melted into thin air, no one spoke of
the terror that had ruled both town and counlryside only a few months before. Not even the families
involved still spoke of it. It was as if the bishop’s curse had not only banned the murderer, but every
memory of him. And the people were pleased that it was so.
But any man who still had a daughter just approaching that special age did not, even now, allow
her to be without supervision; twilight brought misgivings, and each morning, when he found her
healthy and cheerful, he rejoiced-though of course without actually admitting the reason why.
T HERE WAS one man in Grasse, however, who did not trust this peace. His name was Antoine
Richis, he held the title of second consul, and he lived in a grand residence at the entrance to the rue
Richis was a widower and had a daughter named Laure. Although not yet forty years old and of
undi-minished vigor, he intended to put off a second marriage for some time yet. First he wanted to
find a husband for his daughter. And not the first comer, either, but a man of rank. There was a baron
de Bouyon who had a son and an estate near Vence, a man of good reputation and miserable financial
situation, with whom Richis had already concluded a contract concerning the future marriage of their
children. Once he had married Laure off, he planned to put out his own courting feelers in the direction
of the highly esteemed houses of Dree, Maubert, or Fontmichel-not because he was vain and would be
damned if he didn’t get a noble bedmate, but because he wanted to found a dynasty and to put his own
posterity on a track leading directly to the highest social and political influence. For that he needed at
least two sons, one to take over his business, the other to pursue a law career leading to the parliament
in Aix and advancement to the nobility. Given his present rank, however, he could hold out hopes for
such success only if he managed intimately to unite his own person and family with provincial
Only one thing justified such high-soaring plans: his fabulous wealth. Antoine Richis was far and
away the wealthiest citizen anywhere around. He possessed latifundia not only in the area of Grasse,
Patrick Suskind: «Perfume. The story of a murderer»
where he planted oranges, oil, wheat, and hemp, but also near Vence and over toward Antibes, where
he leased out his farms. He owned houses in Aix and houses in the country, owned shares in ships that
traded with India, had a permanent office in Genoa, and was the largest wholesaler for scents, spices,
oils, and leathers in France.
The most precious thing that Richis possessed, however, was his daughter. She was his only
child, just turned sixteen, with auburn hair and green eyes. She had a face so charming that visitors of
all ages and both sexes would stand stockstill at the sight of her, unable to pull their eyes away,
practically licking that face with their eyes, the way tongues work at ice cream, with that typically
stupid, single-minded expression on their faces that goes with concentrated licking. Even Richis would
catch himself looking at his daughter for indefinite periods of time, a quarter of an hour, a half hour
perhaps, forgetting the rest of the world, even his business-which otherwise did not happen even in his
sleep-melting away in contemplation of this magnificent girl and afterwards unable to say what it was
he had been doing. And of late-he noticed this with uneasiness-of an evening, when he brought her to
her bed or sometimes of a morning when he went in to waken her and she still lay sleeping as if put to
rest by God’s own hand and the forms of her hips and breasts were molded in the veil of her
nightgown and her breath rose calm and hot from the frame of bosom, contoured shoulder, elbow, and
smooth forearm in which she had laid her face-then he would feel an awful cramping in his stomach
and his throat would seem too tight and he would swallow and, God help him, would curse himself for
being this woman’s father and not some stranger, not some other man, before whom she lay as she lay
now before him, and who then without scruple and full of desire could lie down next to her, on her, in
her. And he broke out in a sweat, and his arms and legs trembled while he choked down this dreadful
lust and bent down to wake her with a chaste fatherly kiss. During the year just past, at the time of the
murders, these fatal temptations had not yet come over him. The magic that his daughter worked on
him then-or so at least it seemed to him-had still been a childish magic. And thus he had not been
seriously afraid that Laure would be one of the murderer’s victims, since everyone knew that he
attacked neither children nor grown women, but exclusively ripening but virginal girls. He had indeed
augmented the watch of his home, had had new grilles placed at the windows of the top floor, and had
directed Laure’s maid to share her bedchamber with her. But he was loath to send her away as his
peers had done with their daughters, some even with their entire families. He found such behavior
despicable and unworthy of a member of the town council and second consul, who, he suggested,
should be a model of composure, courage, and resolution to his fellow citizens. Besides which, he was
a man who did not let his decisions be made for him by other people, nor by a crowd thrown into
panic, and certainly not by some anonymous piece of criminal trash. And so all during those terrible
days, he had been one of the few people in the town who were immune to the fever of fear and kept a
cool head. But, strange to say, this had now changed. While others publicly celebrated the end of the
rampage as if the murderer were already hanged and had soon fully forgotten about those dreadful
days, fear crept into Antoine Richis’s heart like a foul poison. For a long time he would not admit that
it was fear that caused him to delay trips that ought to have been made some time ago, or to be
reluctant merely to leave the house, or to break off visits and meetings just so that he could quickly
return home. He gave himself the excuse that he was out of sorts or overworked, but admitted as well
that he was a bit concerned, as every father with a daughter of marriageable age is concerned, a
thoroughly normal concern… Had not the fame of her beauty already gone out to the wider world? Did
not people stretch their necks even now when he accompanied her to church on Sundays? Were not
certain gentlemen on the council already making advances, in their own names or in those of their
B UT, THEN, one day in March, Richis was sitting in the salon and watched as Laure walked
out into the garden. She was wearing a blue dress, her red hair falling down over it and blazing in the
sunlight-he had never seen her look so beautiful. She disappeared behind a hedge. And it took about
two heartbeats longer than he had expected before she emerged again-and he was frightened to death,
for during those two heartbeats he thought he had lost her forever.
That same night he awoke out of a terrifying dream, the details of which he could no longer
Patrick Suskind: «Perfume. The story of a murderer»
remember, but it had had to do with Laure, and he burst into her room convinced that she was dead,
lay there in her bed murdered, violated, and shorn-and found her unharmed.
He went back to his chamber, bathed in sweat and trembling with agitation, no, not with
agitation, but with fear, for he finally admitted it to himself: it was naked fear that had seized him, and
in admitting it he grew calmer and his thoughts clearer. To be honest, he had not believed in the
efficacy of the bishop’s anathema from the start, nor that the murderer was now prowling about
Grenoble, nor that he had ever left town. No, he was still living here, among the citizens of Grasse, and
at some point he would strike again. Richis had seen several of the girls murdered during August and
September. The sight had horrified him, and at the same time, he had to admit, fascinated him, for they
all, each in her own special way, had been of dazzling beauty. He never would have thought that there
was so much unrecognized beauty in Grasse. The murderer had opened his eyes. The murderer
possessed exquisite taste. And he had a system. It was not just that all the murders had been carried out
in the same efficient manner, but the very choice of victims betrayed intentions almost economical in
their planning. To be sure, Richis did not know what the murderer actually craved from his victims,
since he could not have robbed them of the best that they offered-their beauty and the charm of
youth… or could he? In any case, it seemed to him, as absurd as it sounded, that the murderer was not
a destructive personality, but rather a careful collector. For if one imagined-and so Richis imagined-all
the victims not as single individuals, but as parts of some higher principle and thought of each one’s
characteristics as merged in some idealistic fashion into a unifying whole, then the picture assembled
out of such mosaic pieces would be the picture of absolute beauty, and the magic that radiated from it
would no longer be of human, but of divine origin. (As we can see, Richis was an enlightened thinker
who did not shrink from blasphemous conclusions, and though he was not thinking in olfactory
categories, but rather in visual ones, he was nevertheless very near the truth.) Assuming then-Richis
continued in his thoughts -that the murderer was just such a collector of beauty and was working on
the picture of perfection, even if only in the fantasy of his sick brain; assuming, moreover, that he was
the man of sublime taste and perfect methods that he indeed appeared to be-then one could not assume
that he would waive claim to the most precious component on earth needed for his picture: the beauty
of Laure. His entire previous homicidal work would be worth nothing without her. She was the
keystone to his building.
As he drew this horrifying conclusion, Richis was sitting in his nightshirt on the edge of his bed,
and he was amazed at how calm he had become. He no longer felt chilled, was no longer trembling.
The vague fear that had plagued him for weeks had vanished and was replaced by the awareness of a
specific danger: Laure had quite obviously been the goal of all the murderer’s endeavors from the
beginning. And all the other murders were adjuncts to the last, crowning murder. It remained quite
unclear what material purpose these murders were intended to serve or if they even had one at all. But
Richis had perceived the essence of the matter: the murderer’s systematic method and his idealistic
motive. The longer he thought about it, the better both of these pleased him and the greater his
admiration for the murderer-an admiration, admittedly, that reflected back upon him as would a
polished mirror, for after all, it was he, Richis, who had picked up his opponent’s trail with his own
refined and analytical powers of reasoning.
If he, Richis, had been the murderer and were himself possessed by the murderer’s passions and
ideas, he would not have been able to proceed in any other fashion than had been employed thus far,
and like him, he would do his utmost to crown his mad work with the murder of the unique and
This last thought appealed to him especially. Because he was in the position to put himself inside
the mind of the would-be murderer of his daughter, he had made himself vastly superior to the
murderer. For all his intelligence, that much was certain, the murderer was not in the position to put
himself inside Richis’s mind-if only because he could not even begin to suspect that Richis had long
since imagined himself in the murderer’s own situation. This was fundamentally no different from how
things worked in business-mutatis mutandis, to be sure. You were master of a competitor whose
intentions you had seen through; there was no way he could get the better of you-not if your name was
Antoine Richis, and you were a natural fighter, a seasoned fighter. After all, the largest wholesale
perfume business in France, his wealth, his office as second consul, these had not fallen into his lap as
gracious gifts, but he had fought for them, with doggedness and deceit, recognizing dangers ahead of
Patrick Suskind: «Perfume. The story of a murderer»
time, shrewdly guessing his competitors’ plans, and outdistancing his opponents. And in just the same
way he would achieve his future goals, power and noble rank for his heirs. And in no other way would
he counter the plans of the murderer, his competitor for the possession of Laure-if only because Laure
was also the keystone in the edifice of his, of Richis’s, own plans. He loved her, certainly; but he
needed her as well. And he would let no one wrest from him whatever it was he needed to realize his
own highest ambitions-he would hold on tooth and claw to that.
He felt better now. Having succeeded by these nocturnal deliberations in bringing his struggle
with the demon down to the level of a business rivalry, he felt fresh courage, indeed arrogance, take
hold of him.
The last remnants of fear were gone, the despondency and anxious care that had tormented him
into doddering senility had vanished, the fog of gloomy forebodings in which he had tapped about for
weeks had lifted. He found himself on familiar terrain and felt himself equal to every challenge.
R ELIEVED, ALMOST elated, he sprang from his bed, pulled the bell rope, and ordered the
drowsy valet who staggered into his room to pack clothes and provisions because at daybreak he
intended to set out for Grenoble in the company of his daughter. Then he dressed and chased the rest of
the servants from their beds.
In the middle of the night, the house on the rue Droite awoke and bustled with life. The fire
blazed up in the kitchen, excited maids scurried along the corridors, servants dashed up and down the
stairs, in the vaulted cellars the keys of the steward rattled, in the courtyard torches shone, grooms ran
among the horses, others tugged mules from their stalls, there was bridling and saddling and running
and loading— one would have almost believed that the Austro-Sardinian hordes were on the march,
pillaging and torching, just as in 1746, and that the lord of the manor was mobilizing to flee in panic.
Not at all! The lord of the manor was sitting at his office desk, as sovereign as a marshal of France,
drinking cafe au lait, and providing instructions for the constant stream of domestics barging in on
him. All the while, he wrote letters to the mayor, to the first consul, to his secretary, to his solicitor, to
his banker in Marseille, to the baron de Bouyon, and to diverse business partners.
By around six that morning, he had completed his correspondence and given all the orders
necessary to carry out his plans. He tucked away two small traveling pistols, buckled on his money
belt, and locked his desk. Then he went to awaken his daughter.
By eight o’clock, the little caravan was on the move. Richis rode at its head; he was a splendid
sight in his gold-braided, burgundy coat beneath a black riding coat and black hat with jaunty feathers.
He was followed by his daughter, dressed less showily, but so radiantly beautiful that the people along
the street and at the windows had eyes only for her, their fervent ah’s and oh’s passing through the
crowd while the men doffed their hats-apparently for the second consul, but in reality for her, the regal
woman. Then, almost unnoticed, came her maid, then Richis’s valet with two packhorses-the
notoriously bad condition of the road to Grenoble meant that a wagon could not be used-and the end of
the parade was drawn up by a dozen mules laden with all sorts of stuff and supervised by two grooms.
At the Porte du Cours the watch presented arms and only let them drop when the last mule had
tramped by. Children ran behind them for a good little while, waving at the baggage crew as they
slowly moved up the steep, winding road into the mountains.
The departure of Antoine Richis and his daughter made a strange but deep impression on people.
It was as if they had witnessed some archaic sacrificial procession. The word spread that Richis was
going to Grenoble, to the very city where the monster who murdered young girls was now residing.
People did not know what to think about that. Did what Richis was doing show criminal negligence or
admirable courage? Was he daring or placating the gods? They had only the vague foreboding that
they had just seen this beautiful girl with the red hair for the last time. They suspected that Laure
Richis might be lost.
This suspicion would prove correct, although the presumptions it was based upon were
completely false. Richis was not heading for Grenoble at all. The pompous departure was nothing but a
diversionary tactic. A mile and a half northwest of Grasse, near the village of Saint-Vallier, he ordered
a halt. He handed his valet letters of attorney and transmittal and ordered him to bring the mule train
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested