Edward trencoms nose, p.1
Edward Trencom's Nose,
EDWARD TRENCOM’S NOSE
Giles Milton is a writer and journalist. He has contributed articles to most of the British national newspapers as well as many foreign publications, and specializes in the history of travel and exploration. In the course of his researches he has travelled extensively in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the Americas. He has written five previous non-fiction books, including the bestselling Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, which have been translated into fifteen languages worldwide. This is his first novel.
Also by Giles Milton
The Riddle and the Knight
Big Chief Elizabeth
First published 2007 by Macmillan
This electronic edition published 2012 by Macmillan
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ISBN 978-0-330-54147-3 EPUB
Copyright © Giles Milton 2007
The right of Giles Milton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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Table of Contents
Chapter I: 3 SEPTEMBER 1666
Chapter II: JANUARY 1969
Chapter V: 21 JANUARY 1969
Chapter VIII: 23 JANUARY 1969
Chapter I: JULY 1942
Chapter II: 28 JANUARY 1969
Chapter III: 29 JANUARY 1969
Chapter IV: 9 SEPTEMBER 1922
Chapter V: 7 FEBRUARY 1969
Chapter VII: 10 FEBRUARY 1969
Chapter VIII: 25 MARCH 1878
Chapter IX: 12 FEBRUARY 1969
Chapter X: 29 MAY 1853
Chapter XI: 14 FEBRUARY 1969
Chapter I: 20 FEBRUARY 1969
Chapter II: 25 FEBRUARY 1824
Chapter III: 21 FEBRUARY 1969
Chapter IV: 24 FEBRUARY 1969
Chapter V: 16 AUGUST 1774
Chapter VI: 11 P.M., 2 MARCH 1969
Chapter VII: 3 MARCH 1969
Chapter VIII: 12 APRIL 1769
Chapter IX: 5 MARCH 1969
Chapter XI: TUESDAY, 12 JULY 1728
Chapter XII: APRIL 1969
Chapter I: 10 SEPTEMBER 1666
Chapter II: 3 APRIL 1969
Chapter III: APRIL 1969
Chapter IV: 18 APRIL 1969
Chapter V: JANUARY 1667
Chapter VI: 25 APRIL 1969
Chapter VII: 2 MAY 1969
Chapter IX: 2 SEPTEMBER 1671
Chapter X: 6 MAY 1969
Chapter XI: 10 MAY 1969
Chapter XII: 11 MAY 1969
Chapter XIII: 12 MAY 1969
For Alex B.
The longest of beards
‘Throw up your chin a moment, so that I may catch the profile of your face better. Yes, that’s the d’Urberville nose and chin – a little debased.’
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles
But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past
16 JULY 1969
When Edward finally stirred from his sleep, he found himself in a room that he thought he recognized. He rolled over; opened one eye. Yes, yes, just as he had hoped. Satisfied that he was indeed in familiar territory, he pulled up the blanket and allowed himself to drift gently back into the world of sleep.
He was caught in that blissful state of non-being that lies somewhere between slumber and wakefulness. He was aware of his legs, but only as weights. He could feel his hands but only their warmth. Yet his nose was alert to the fact that something in the here and now – in this very bedroom – was causing him a most agreeable, most delectable sensation. Yes, indeed. His nose was twitching and tingling as it detected a smell – a smell of cheese that was pleasantly familiar.
For more than two months, Edward had lain in a palsied state in his bedroom at Number 22, Sunnyhill Road. He remembered nothing of being brought back to England. The boat journey to Italy, the plane trip home – the details were cloudy and intangible, as if they belonged to the world of dreams. Although he had been wide awake throughout the trip, his glazed expression had reflected the absolute vacancy of his inner head. The monks of Mount Athos had at first thought that he had suffered from some sort of stroke – that he was beyond redemption. A few of them said that he was afflicted by delusion and pride – that sins had gripped his mind in much the same way as demons can possess men’s souls.
Edward had still been delirious when Elizabeth brought him back to Streatham and tucked him up in the comfort of his own bed. He did not seem to recognize his wife. He had not even known he was home. He didn’t speak; he spent much of his time asleep. It was as if his very lifeblood had been plunged into a hibernant state and that nothing but the warmth of summer would rouse him from his slumbers.
The doctors diagnosed that he was suffering from the severe aftershock that (they said) often followed a trauma. Their only prescription was sleep and rest. Complete relaxation – that was what Edward Trencom most needed.
Now, seven weeks after being helped into the marital bed, Edward’s slowly ticking brain was stirred by a smell that he was sure he recognized. ‘Yes!’ Sniff, sniff. ‘Yes – yes!’ He could feel his nasal passages clearing themselves. There was a tingle in his olfactory bulb. His head seemed filled with the thick scent of goats, milk-sheds and wild smilax. ‘Oh – mmn – yes!’ And then, quite without warning (and preceded by a long loud yawn), a single word popped out of Edward’s mouth: ‘touloumotyri’. And as he said this, his nose twitched for a second time, his eyes sprang open and he found himself sitting bolt upright in his own bedroom with his wife sitting next to
Without saying another word, Edward took the cheese from Elizabeth’s fingers and sniffed it again. It seemed to cast a spell over his body, like a wilting flower that is put into a vase of fresh, cold water. It was as if the cheese itself was reinvigorating him – clawing him back into the world. He could feel saliva welling in his mouth. He found himself having to swallow. And his belly, of which he had not been aware for weeks, was suddenly shot through with pangs of hunger. He could feel the cavernous emptiness within.
He popped the cheese onto his tongue and savoured the ripe tang. And then, unable to control himself any longer, he squashed the creamy cheese against the back of his front teeth, forcing it through the gaps with his tongue.
‘Ah, yes,’ he said in a low voice. ‘That’s touloumotyri all right. It’s one of Teodoro’s – and it’s a September cheese, definitely a September cheese.’
He savoured the taste for a moment longer, detecting the subtle aftertaste of the fiery tsipouro that Teodoro used to wash the rind. And then – suddenly – Edward became consciously aware of Elizabeth’s presence. Until now, he had been so lost in his world that he hadn’t even noticed the fact that she was sitting on the bed, less than two feet away.
He looked her up and down in a detached sort of way, as if he was still not sure if he really was awake. But, as it gradually dawned on him that he was, and that Elizabeth was indeed sitting on the bed, his eyes began to focus on something unexpected.
‘What’s happened to you?’ he said abruptly. ‘You’ve changed – you look different.’
Elizabeth smiled and smoothed her blouse over her tummy. ‘Yes,’ she said, feeling a prickle of excitement course over her body. ‘Edward, darling – I’m pregnant. We’re going to have a baby – and you – you’re going to be a father.’
There was a long pause as Edward’s brain continued to process the several unexpected facts that had occurred in the last minute. So it was true, then. He was awake. He really was sitting in his own bedroom – and his wife, Elizabeth …
There was a break in his thoughts as he was sidetracked into examining the altered shape of his wife. Hmm – she looks rather good. Yes, and I’ve always liked her in that blouse and – how strange! Did she just say that she’s pregnant?
‘But how?’ he asked with a look of complete stupefaction. ‘When? Why didn’t you tell me before?’
‘Ssh!’ soothed Elizabeth. ‘Don’t think too much. Lie back on the bed. You’re still very weak.’
‘But …’ Edward settled into the soft pillows and pondered. His mind led him back to the last scene that he could remember with any clarity. It seemed so vivid, so absolutely real. And yet, well, it also seemed so very far away. It was almost as if he had been awoken with a start and his mind had not yet shaken off the images of his slumber. He suddenly recalled Father Seraphim’s words – how the abbot had told Edward that it was time for him to rally to the cause. He pulled himself up again and looked at Elizabeth.
‘They were all there, Elizabeth, all of them. I saw them laid out in their coffins. I was shown their skeletons. And then—’
‘Don’t worry yourself about that now,’ said Elizabeth. ‘There were many people who helped us home – we both had a very lucky escape. I think the demons are in the past.’
Edward leaned over his wife in order to cut himself another slice of cheese. He felt desperately hungry.
‘And here’s the strangest thing,’ he said. ‘My nose is back on form. It’s back to normal – in tip-top condition. I can smell everything. And not just the touloumotyri.’
‘So where do we go from here?’ asked Elizabeth. ‘What happens now?’
‘I must reopen Trencoms,’ said Edward. ‘That’s a certainty. And we shall have a party – in honour of dear Mr George. Where would we be without Mr George? We’ll invite everyone we know – except for Monsieur d’Autun – and we’ll feast on your gratin dauphinois. But before we do any of that, Mrs Cheese, I think that we have some catching up to do. You know, it’s been a long, long time …’
Elizabeth smiled and lay back on the bed. ‘Come here, Mr Cheese,’ she said playfully. ‘Let me have a look at you.’
And at exactly the moment when she planted her first proper kiss on the lips of her newly restored husband, Mrs Hanson at Number 47 peered into their bedroom from her house across the street.
‘Good gracious,’ she said as she twitched back the curtain. ‘It looks as if Mr Trencom is at long last on the mend.’
3 SEPTEMBER 1666
Humphrey Trencom rolled over and sniffed at the air. He was caught in that blissful state of non-being that lies somewhere between slumber and wakefulness. He was aware of his legs but only as weights. He could feel his hands but only their warmth. Yet his vigilant nose was already alert to the fact that something in the here and now – in this very chamber – was not quite right.
In the time it took to trigger an alarm in his somnolent brain, Humphrey allowed his thoughts to drift back to the world of sleep. He had been dreaming of roasted capons and honeyed parsnips, of succulent woodcock and jellied eels. His sleepy reverie had transported him to the great banqueting hall of Whitehall Palace, where he was the seating partner of King Charles II. His brain had failed to register that this was as unlikely as it was improbable. Instead, it was once again focusing itself upon the long oak trestle that seemed to stretch to the furthest end of the room.
In the dream-filled orbit of Humphrey’s head, the tabletop was laden with partridge pies, pomegranate pastries and quince conserves. There were castors of pepper and gallipots of oils, pitchers of chocolate and posnets of sauce. At the centrepiece of this display was a great tower of English cheeses – more than twenty different varieties that were stacked up on a decorative pewter platter. Humphrey himself had supplied all the cheeses for this morphean banquet and he was about to proffer his expert advice to the monarch, who was currently seated on his right.
‘And which,’ asked the king with uncommon familiarity, ‘do you particularly recommend we try?’
Humphrey’s favourite had long been the smoked Norfolk tynwood. Gingerly and with great care, he eased it from the base of the tower, causing the pile to wobble slightly. Then, after showing it to the king, he sliced a thick wedge from the tynwood round. He noticed that the pock-marked rind was coated in a thin film of ash that imparted an oaky softness to the lemony flesh of the cheese. Humphrey put it to his nose and inhaled deeply. Ah, yes – there was a tangible richness to the scent. The smell of bonfires and woodsmoke was working its way deep into his consciousness, causing his still-sleeping mouth to dribble with saliva.
It was at exactly this point in the dream that his conscious nose flashed a message of alarm to his not-quite-conscious brain. And just a second or two later, an abruptly awoken Humphrey realized that not everything was quite as it should be on this hot late-summer’s morning.
The smell of smoke had not come from the slice of Norfolk tynwood; rather, it was drifting in through the casement window – invisible to the eye but altogether present in the sensitive nostrils of Humphrey Trencom.
‘Mercy!’ he said to himself as he sat bolt upright in bed. ‘Something is most certainly amiss.’ He straightened his nightcap, which had slipped over his eyes, and swung his legs over the side of the bed. As he did so, he noticed that the room was infused with a dull orange glow. With a growing sense of alarm, he climbed the four steps up to the high leaded window that had a view over much of the city.
The sight that greeted his eyes was so shocking and unexpected that he had to clutch at the woodwork to stop himself from reeling. ‘Oh, Lord,’ he said. ‘Oh, my good Lord.’ As far as he could see, from St Giles’s in the north to Thames Street in the west, the entire city of London was aflame. Canning Street was a sheet
It took Humphrey approximately three seconds to comprehend the scale of the disaster and a further two seconds to realize that his own life was quite possibly in grave danger. The parish of St Agatha, less than a hundred yards from his home, was consumed by fire. The Golden Cocke was sending out a funnel of sparks; the Fox and Grapes was a smoking ruin. Humphrey peered through the pall of smoke and realized that the pitched leaded roof of old St Paul’s, which he could just make out, seemed to be a molten torrent. Liquid metal was pouring from the gargoyles and splashing onto the ground below.
He raced down the back stairs and out onto the lane. The air was a soupy mixture of acrid smoke – much stronger and more pungent than it had been in his own chamber. Humphrey could smell pitch and tar and burning brimstone.
Foster Lane was crowded with people – women, squealing babies, maids and soldiers. Broken furniture lay strewn across the cobbles. Carts and wagons were blocking the street.
‘What in the devil’s name is happening?’ roared Humphrey to a passing soldier. ‘Where should we go?’
‘The whole city is afire,’ came the reply. ‘Get yourself down to the riverside.’
As soon as he realized that escape was still open to him, and that his own life was therefore not in imminent danger, Humphrey’s thoughts became desperately focused on his shop.
‘My cheeses,’ he thought. ‘What shall I do with my cheeses?’
Several options flashed through his mind. He could load them onto a wagon. He could pay people to carry them to the waterfront. He could try hauling them down into the cellars. But when he stared down the lane and saw it choked with people, he realized that none of these was realistic. London was on fire and no one would help to save his cheese.
The flames were growing dangerously close. The very air had been heated to a furnace and flames and squibs were dropping from the heavens. King Street and Milk Street were now ablaze and several dwellings on Lothbury were burning fiercely. It was only a matter of time before the wall of fire would reach Trencoms.
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