"It's easier for a man to be a survivor than a woman."
"That makes no sense."
She gave him a faintly pitying look. He would never understand what she had to say, but she supposed she owed it to him to try to explain nonetheless. "When a man falls on hard times," she said, "there are quite a number of things he may do, options he may pursue, to reverse his situation. He may join the army, or sign on to a pirate ship. He may look for work, as you have done.
He may use his charm and looks"—she shook her head and smiled reluctantly—"as I imagine you have also done."
"And a woman may not do these things?"
"A woman looking for work does not have many options if she does not wish to leave her home. A governess post might pay marginally better than a lady's companion, but I doubt many employers would look too kindly upon my bringing Susan, Jane, and Lucas with me to live in the servants' wing."
"Touché," he said with an understanding nod.
“And as for charm and looks, well, a woman can use those for three things. She can go into the theater, she can become a man's mistress, or she can marry. As for me, I have no inclination or talent for acting and no wish to shame my family by entering into an illicit relationship." She looked up at him and shrugged. "My only choice is marriage. That, I suppose, is what it means for a woman to be a survivor."
She paused, and the corners of her mouth quivered as if they didn't know whether to attempt a smile or a frown. "Rather distasteful, don't you think?"
James didn't answer her for several moments. He liked to think of himself as a broad-minded individual but he had never once taken the time to imagine what it must be like in the tight, pinching shoes of a woman. He had taken his life, with its myriad choices, for granted.
She tilted her head. "Why are you looking at me so intently?"
She drew back in surprise. "I beg your pardon?"
"I admired you before. You seemed an uncommonly intelligent and amusing young woman. But now I realize that you deserve my respect as well as my admiration."
"Oh. I—I—" She blushed, clearly at a loss for words.
He shook his head. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
"You didn't," she replied, the squeak in her voice proving her a liar.
"Yes, I did, and I certainly didn't mean for this to be such a serious afternoon. We have work to do, but there is no reason it shouldn't be entertaining."
She cleared her throat. “What did you have in mind?''
"We haven't much time, so we are forced to prioritize," he said. "We must focus upon only the very most important skills."
"Kissing and boxing."
Elizabeth dropped her satchel.
"You seem surprised."
"I couldn't possibly imagine which of those two surprises me more."
He swooped down and picked up her bag for her. "It makes perfect sense when you think on it. A gentleman is going to want to kiss a lady before he tenders an offer of marriage."
"Not if he respects her," she pointed out. "I have it on the best authority that men don't kiss unmarried women whom they respect."
"I kissed you."
"Well... that was ... different."
"And I believe we have made it clear that I respect you. But enough of that." He waved her protests away. "You must trust me when I tell you that no gentleman with an ounce of sense in his head is going to marry a woman without testing the waters first."
"Put that way," she muttered, "it's positively poetic."
"However, that can put you in an awkward position."
"Oh, you realize that?" she asked sarcastically.
He shot her a look, clearly irritated by her constant interruption. "Some gentlemen lack basic common sense and judgment, and might not break off the kiss at an appropriate time. That is why we must teach you to box."
"And you're going to do all of this in one afternoon?"
He pulled out his pocket watch and nipped it open, his face a perfect picture of nonchalance. "No, I had thought just the kissing for this afternoon. We can see to the boxing tomorrow."
"And you are trained in the sport of pugilism?"
She eyed him suspiciously. "Aren't lessons terribly expensive? I had heard that there were only a handful of instructors in London who are considered of superior quality."
"There are always ways to obtain what one needs," he said. He looked over at her with a raised eyebrow. “I believe you said I am the sort who always lands on his feet."
"I suppose now you are going to tell me you are the sort who lands on his feet with his arms primed and ready to box?"
He laughed and made a few jabs in the air. "There is nothing like it to keep the blood flowing."
She frowned dubiously. "It doesn't look a very feminine pursuit."
"I thought we had decided we weren't going to subscribe to Mrs. Seeton's view of femininity."
"We're not," she retorted, "but we are trying to find me a husband."
"Ah, yes, your husband," he said darkly.
"I cannot imagine there is a man in England who wants to marry a lady pugilist."
“You don't need to be a pugilist. You just need to be able to punch well enough to show that you cannot be taken advantage of."
She shrugged and made a fist. “Like this?''
"God, no. Don't tuck your thumb in. You're sure to break it."
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