Bell, Book, and Wardrobe is part of the A Regency Christmas Doubled Regency romance anthology, four delightful tales all about twins, being released December 1, 2022, by Dreamstone Publishing.
My hero of Bell, Book, and Wardrobe is a British colonel during the Burmese War, specifically in December 1825. Ian Coates is the younger brother and twin to Evan, Earl of Claiborne. He is sent home after this battle, for he is injured. In late February 1826, he, quite by accident meets Miss Galla Casson at a coaching inn in Oxfordshire. This meeting is pivotal to the plot of Bell, Book, and Wardrobe, but first let us learn something of one of the wars which followed the Napoleonic Wars, the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826).
In November 1825, the Burmese forces under Maha Ne Myo mainly consisted of several Shan regiments led by their own Shan sawbwas, made a daring push to recapture Pyay, and nearly succeeded. But by early December, the superior firepower of the British had won out and defeated the last-ditch effort by the Burmese.
Following the rainy season, the Burmese army in three columns approached Prome. Both flanks of the British position were threatened, but the control of the river was maintained by the command of the flotilla and a detachment, 26th Madras Native Infantry, at Padaung on the right bank. Despite their superiority in numbers, the Burmese forces remained in the protection of the cover of the jungle for several days after their arrival and maintained harassments against the British flanks. As noted by The Annual Register, Burmese warfare style at that time involved “creeping onwards slowly and certainly, stockading and entrenching … at every step, risking no general engagement …”
On 1 December General Campbell left four regiments of native infantry in Prome and marched against the division of Maha Ne Myo at Sinbaik, on the left position. To divert the attention of the centre position, a cannon barrage of the flotilla, led by Sir James Brisbane, commenced against the works on the river coordinated with Campbell’s march. The barrage was maintained for approximately two hours to maintain the diversion. At the Nawin (Naweng) river, the British army was divided into two columns, and the two columns marched parallel to each other along the river. The right column, led by Brigadier-General Cotton, first encountered the left division of Burmese army, estimated to be 10,000 men strong. The British stormed the Burmese position with a bayonet charge, and caused the Burmese to rout. The left column encountered the retreating Burmese finished their rout. Despite their swift defeat, the Shans troops were noted for their bravery; according to The Annual Register, the Shans ” … fought bravely … [and] maintained the contest till the greater part of them were cut down.”
On 2 December, after the rout of Maha Ne Myo of the left division, Campbell was quick to follow up with an attack on the centre division of the Burmese army, led by Kee-Woonghee, on the Napadi hills. An attack against the defence at the base of the hills was led by six companies of the 87th regiment, and the Burmese army was quickly overwhelmed, retreating to the defensive positions on the hills. The Burmese army maintained a strong position on the Napadi hills, which were accessible only by a narrow road and guarded with artillery. The British army employed a multi-prong attack on the hills: the 13th and 38th regiment of the 1st Bengal brigade engaged the Burmese army from the front while the 87th regiment engaged from the right. The Burmese army was driven from the hills subsequently, and as a result, the two divisions positioned on the eastern shore of the Irrawaddy river had been routed.
On 5 December an attack on the Burmese division led by Minhla Minkhaung commenced with the transport of the troops to the western shore of Irrawaddy river. A rocket brigade and a mortar battery opened fire at the Burmese position and the Burmese troops retreated from the artillery attack. A manned attack led by General Cotton, Brigadier Richard Armstrong, and Colonel Godwin stormed the Burmese position immediately following the artillery attack and dispersed the remaining Burmese troops. [Wikipedia]
Bell, Book, and Wardrobe: A Georgian Romance
They may be able to disguise their appearance, but not the love in their hearts.
Miss Galla Casson wished with all her being her cousin Lady Helena Aldrete had consulted her before Helena ran off with a simple “Mr. Groton,” a country solicitor. However, Helena had not. Now, in desperation, Galla must pretend to be her cousin at a Christmas house party where Helena was to meet her intended, but just long enough for the Holy days to come to an end and for Galla to earn employment in London.
Colonel Ian Coates did not relish pretending to be his brother, Evan, the Earl of Claiborne, but in order to reclaim several precious heirlooms stolen from Evan in a savage attack, Ian practices his deception. The only problem is the woman who is to marry Evan’s assumed attacker is a woman Ian has previously presented a small piece of his heart.
Ian’s and Galla’s double deception threatens to overset their purpose in being at the same house party until a bell, a book, and a wardrobe lead them to a lifetime of singular devotion.
Book Excerpt from first half of Chapter One:
1826, Late Georgian England
Ian Coates claimed a spot near the fireplace. This evening would determine whether his deception would prove true or not. Despite Ian’s and Evan’s countenances being nearly identical, such was all they held in common.
“Not true,” he murmured beneath his breath. Most importantly, they shared a loyalty to family, especially to their mother whose idea this charade had been. Martin Coates may have been the powerful Earl of Claiborne, but it was the Countess of Claiborne who had crafted the rise of the earldom to its current prominence. Lady Geraldine Woolf had been a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte, and his mother had honed her connections carefully, so when she married the future Earl of Claiborne, she set her husband’s steps on the road to success. By the time their father had passed two years prior from a weak heart, Ian’s elder brother, Evan Coates, had inherited not only a much-coveted peerage, but also a number of their father’s mannerism, while Ian was their “passionate” mother made over, through and through.
“I did not expect you to attend this house party, Claiborne,” Lord Kingsolver said as he approached.
Ian had to remind himself all in attendance at Wilton Hall thought him to be his twin. He had spent the last three weeks practicing Evan’s mannerisms, which were much more fastidious than were his own. Therefore, he touched his fingertip to his mouth as if wetting it and reached up to smooth his eyebrow. Such was a habit Evan often practiced, as if his elder brother meant to add the “spit and polish” before he spoke. “Why should . . . I not?” Ian asked, making certain to add the occasional elongated pause between the words, another characteristic his brother had developed while speaking for his party in the House of Lords, where gentlemen were often obliged to speak over the shouts of objections from others. Timing the words to fall in between the few silent spaces was an unspoken, but true, skill of successful members of the aristocracy.
“Heard you were near death,” Kingsolver explained.
“Only a bit shaken,” Ian repeated, while lifting his cane as proof of his injury. In reality, Evan had been robbed and beaten nearly to death. His brother was fortunate to be alive.
Such was the reason for Ian’s presence at the Christmas house party being hosted by Lady Jarvis Wilton for her nephew Lord Stephen Wilton. Wilton reportedly had been one of the last men with Evan before the attack occurred.
“I am not assured I can be Evan with any degree of truth,” Ian had told his mother as they watched over his brother. There were few patches of skin on Evan’s person not sporting cuts and bruises.
“Who knows our Evan better than you?” his mother had argued. “You have been connected since before your birth.”
Ian knew her correct, but the path of their lives had been quite different. They had naturally attended school and university together, sharing all their experiences, but Evan had been groomed to be the next Earl of Claiborne while Ian was to be simply the Honourable Mr. Coates, more importantly, Colonel Coates, late of the British Army, a man who often found himself adrift, but few others knew of the turmoil he carried about. Ian worked hard to keep such a secret, especially from those who viewed him as an earl’s son.
“Look what they did to my son!” his mother had said with a mix of despair and resolve in her voice.
Such was when Ian had put his mind to the task his mother had designed. The surgeon had said it would be a month to six weeks before Evan could even rise from his bed and likely another month or two before he would be back to some sort of normal, although Lady Claiborne had other ideas, and few dared stand against her ladyship when she set her mind to a task.
Somehow, after the attack, his mother had managed to whisk Evan off to the family’s home estate in Hampshire before anyone could learn of the extent of Evan’s injuries. She had even managed to postpone Evan’s marriage to Lady Alberta Jamison, the eldest daughter of the Marquess of McElmurray, without raising questions of a breach of promise suit. It was impossible to hide the fact Evan had been attacked, for it was in the newsprints of the day, but the extent of his injuries and the need to find the missing family jewels was a secret his mother had managed to contain, for they all wanted the marriage to happen, for it was a brilliant match for both families.
“I wish I could tell you more of what occurred when Evan foolishly followed several of his ‘so-called friends’ to one of London’s most notorious gaming halls,” his mother had declared as she watched the shallow rise and fall of Evan’s chest, “but those involved shut down communications immediately.”
Ian had opened his mouth to protest his brother’s innocence, but their mother had raised her hand to halt his words. “I know Evan is far from being a saint,” she said without looking at Ian. “I have always been cognizant of the foibles belonging to each of my sons. However, Evan had made me a solemn promise to cut ties with certain gentlemen before his marriage to Lady Alberta.”
“Evan never makes a promise he does not mean to keep,” Ian had said softly. In that manner, they were more than alike.
“Exactly,” his mother had confirmed. She grinned at him then. “You will be required to permit your beard to grow out before you attend the Wiltons’ Christmas party, as well as become accustomed to styling your hair differently if you are to pretend to be your brother.”
Ian did not relish the idea of pretending to be Evan, but he would deny his mother nothing within his power. “What do you know of what occurred?”
The countess again looked hard upon Evan’s bruised face. “Your brother has said only one word since the Metropolitan Police carried him to my door. He said what sounded of ‘Smithers,’ but it could equally have been ‘Wilkerson’ or ‘Wilton.’ They were all seen with him earlier in the evening and briefly with him at the Red Rooster. Evan was reported to have been so inebriated as to be staggering frequently and falling down. His purse was missing; he had no jewelry upon him, not the jeweled stick pin and diamond ring I presented your father on our wedding night and Evan has worn since Martin’s passing or the family’s signet ring holding the family’s crest. As you know, such has been passed down for five generations.”
With no further arguments, Ian had permitted his beard to grow enough to cover the slight scar he had along his chin line, as well as to favor his brother’s style of dress and mannerisms. He had allowed Evan’s valet to alter several of his brother’s jackets and waistcoats to fit him and placed his personal toilette in the hands of the venerable Mr. Quinn, leaving his batman, Mr. Cutlar, to assist the countess with Evan, and had set out for the Wilton estate, where he meant to pretend he did not suspect any of his brother’s acquaintances of an act most foul.
“I am glad your ‘little’ evening out brought you no real harm,” Kingsolver continued. “Likely, it will be your last escapade before Lady Alberta brings you up to toe the line, heh?”
Ian fought the urge to tell the man of how it was not in Evan’s nature to be involved in an “escapade” of any kind, but such was not his mission at this house party, nor was he so convinced of Evan’s “goodness” as was his mother. He had heard more than one reference to his brother’s taste for cards and a possible mistress since Ian had returned to England from the latest war. Yet, he knew his mother was not a fool. Lady Geraldine Coates knew each of her son’s “stories.” If she was convinced Ian could find his father’s stick pin and the family rings, he would put his mind to discovering who had arranged the attack on his brother. Ian had employed his skills of reconnaissance often enough for the British Army and would do his best to return the family jewelry to his mother’s care.
“I thought my appearance at Wilton Hall would soften the speculation of my demise,” he said in bored tones.
“What of that brother of yours?” Kingsolver asked, apparently testing the idea Ian could be Evan.
“Ian is in Wales, I believe, handling some of the legal matters dealing with the Menai Suspension Bridge. Not aware of what all that entails, but he has a head for such matters. I am simply glad the government puts their trust in my family.”
In truth, Ian had been recently in Wales on both personal business, carrying the news of the demise of several of his fellow soldiers to their families, as well as revisions to the contracts for the bridge built by Thomas Telford, an engineer. The bridge had opened in January of this very year and connected the island of Anglesey and the mainland of Wales.
Before more could pass between him and Kingsolver, Lady Hendrics slid her arm through Ian’s and nestled close to him. His lordship’s eyebrow rose in a bit of disapproval when she said, “Claiborne, darling. I am delighted you are here. I thought this would be a most dull entertainment, but it shan’t be with you among Wilton’s guests.”
Kingsolver bowed and quietly withdrew. If Ian had had a choice, he would have followed the man.
Instead, he declared in a voice which he hoped would reach the lady’s husband, who notedly kept company with Wilton and Smithers, “I fear I shan’t be such good company.” He lifted his cane as proof. “I am not so agile as one might assume. I will not be available for walks in the garden or standing up on the dance floor.”
Her ladyship smiled up at him as she leaned in to say seductively, “I can name an activity in which you will not require your cane.”
Ian had not spent as much time in society as had his brother, but he prayed Evan had never lain with the likes of Lady Hendrics. Remembering to respond as Evan, he unlaced their arms. “I am . . . to be a married man in a matter . . . of months, my lady,” he hissed in warning tones.
Her eyebrows rose in derision. “A little indiscretion never bothered you previously.” She licked her bottom lip in what he supposed to be a seductive manner, but all Ian could think was she appeared frightened or desperate, before she patted his supposedly bruised cheek with a gentle caress. As she moved away, Ian noted the deathly glare Lord Hendrics presented him. Before he could decide how to respond, Lady Wilton escorted another guest into the room. Ian’s eyes landed upon a familiar face, and, like it or not, his breathing hitched higher.
He had spent two hours with the lady some months back at a coaching inn outside of Oxfordshire. A torrential rain had made traveling too dangerous and so the passengers from two different coaches, as well as a number of gentlemen making their way on horseback, sought shelter within. He had been using the family’s traveling coach at the time, on his way to his home seat to spend time with his mother and brother and learn to be a civilized human being once again after so many years at war. Seating at the inn had been limited, and the innkeeper had asked the lady’s permission to seat a married couple and Ian at her table.
Mr. and Mrs. Daversham had eaten quickly and then carried their chairs over to join several of others of their traveling companions for cards, essentially leaving Ian and an unescorted female to share a table and a meal. He had had no complaints, for she was the most intelligent and amiable and beautiful woman he had encountered in more years than he could name, although he was relatively assured other men would not find her as strikingly handsome as did he, for, in his humble opinion, the lady’s intelligence and amiability were equally as important as was her comely countenance. She spoke to him fluently on literature and history and political issues, and Ian had been quite mesmerized by the woman.
Unfortunately, he learned she was traveling on to Berkshire to assume a position in a relative’s home. With embarrassment, she had explained something of her father’s passing and having no one else to claim as a relation. He knew, as a companion to a cousin, the lady was below him socially, even as a second son, but he had thought of the woman often and had been tempted upon more than one occasion to seek her out. She had told him she would be living with Lord Aldrete. He did not know much of his lordship, but Ian assumed the earl would have welcomed him into his home if Ian had been brave enough to pursue his connection to the woman, which he was not. He had proven himself brave in other ways, but not in that manner.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Lady Wilton was saying when he realized he had been daydreaming, “please permit me to give you the acquaintance of my grandniece, Lady Helena Aldrete. It is our hope Lady Helena will soon be joined to my nephew, Lord Wilton.”
With effort, Ian swallowed the protest rushing to his lips.
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