It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a mutant power must be in want of a husband.
Whatever her own thoughts—one such woman who we shall meet, Emma, had many and provided evidence of this past the point of conclusive proof-this truth is so fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that she was considered the sincere property of some one or other of their sons, living in a particularly well-sized Lost & Found box instead of a manor.
"My dear Charles," said his partner to him one day, as he tried fervently to concentrate on the chess board, "has someone told you that the Massachusetts Academy is once more occupied?"
Charles made no answer, fixated as he was on the pawn that had him in check.
"It's taken long enough, hasn't it?"
Charles reached a long, soft finger to his rook, but only touched the crenellations like he was testing the sharpness of a blade.
"Don't you want to know the name of our new neighbor, man?" cried Erik impatiently. "He could be a human, for all you know!"
"It would be assuring if he wasn't," Charles replied, which was invitation enough.
"Oh Charles. You'll be so ill-prepared for the great mutant society. Our gilled neighbor Mrs. Long says that the old academy has been taken by a young woman of large fortune. He suspects her of being American, but I attribute this to envy. She's a fetching woman, as I observed myself upon passing her in the town square. But, Mrs. Long goes on, she came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place. There was such satisfaction with the property that she agreed to Mr. Morris's price on first bid. Some of her servants are there now!"
"What is her name?" Charles asked, now tapping the knight and noticing with some irritation that it did not irritate Erik, so wrapped up was he in his matchmaking.
"I take it she's single?" Charles said without question, grudgingly moving the piece.
Erik, having thought through the move ages ago, instantly countered. "Single! And how single, a single woman of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for the boys... shouldn't you agree?"
"However could it affect them? The Massachusetts property is so large, I doubt they'll run across her by any but the largest coincidence."
"Charles, you delight in being tiresome," Erik chided. "Rummage through my head until you find that I am thinking of her marriage. And one of ours, before you think of being not clever again."
"Is that her aim?"
"What bearing does that have on the subject? My statement is that she may fall in love with one of them, and the sooner she falls in love the better, and the soonest that can happen is after you visit her."
"I don't see any occasion for that. You and your lads may go, or they by themselves. That'd be best, come to think of it. If you go, Ms. Grey might not allow you to return."
"And now you flatter me. You couldn't have been charitable over drinks or in our chambers? Here's the truth: I am no more the handsome charmer I once was than you are the naive schoolboy. I don't need any vanity on my part; we have five grown boys for that."
"It would take five young men to equal the vanity you had not so long ago."
Erik sat back, pleased at the cleverness of the sting as only very old couples could be. He conceded the conversation, but not the debate. "You still must go and present yourself to Ms. Grey... since there was never any chance of her spiriting you away, no matter your years."
"Such crust," Charles rued, moving his queen.
Erik checked him without remorse. "If my barbs are sharp, it is only because I sharpen them on five willful boys. Think how blunt they would be if but one of the boys, only Warren, were married off. So you must go. It'd be impossible for us to visit him if you don't."
"Nonsense. Couldn't you go and take a nice letter from I? I'll simply explain in writing how she may have her choice of the boys, although my recommendation would be Scott."
"I would burn such a letter. Besides, Scott isn't better than his kin. He doesn't have the bold features of Warren and he's not as learned as Henry-"
"A near thing," Charles interjected.
"You always give him the preference. For how he worships you."
"You see nothing special in him, but I see the defects you overlook in our children. His brothers are all silly and quarrelsome, like any boy, but Scott has a seriousness which will well-suit him into manhood."
"His mutation is poor. An evolutionary dead-end. No woman would take him, knowing the risk of it passing along to their child. But Warren has the wings of an angel, Henry has the wit of a Cambridge man without any the tuition, and as for Bobby and Kitty-"
"Why must I defend my own children from their own father? Is there that much delight in vexing me? I'm so glad I can please you in this one singular outlet. Oh! You haven't any consideration!"
"I have the greatest sympathy for you. After all, you've had to raise five boys, and I know the trouble they can be."
"And they get it all from you!"
Mr. Xavier was so odd a mixture of puckish wit, self-contained wisdom, reserve, and callousness, that a friendship of forty-odd years had not yet penetrated the outermost layers of his complexity. His dear friend Erik could not be confident of what he'd do next, only what he wouldn't do, a category which Erik complained of relentlessly.
His mind was plainly-read upon five minutes of his company, which was perhaps why those forty-odd years had passed so quickly and relatively painlessly between them. He was a man of black and white, little ambiguity, and uncertain temper. When he was angry he fancied himself besieged. The business of his life was to promote mutant purity; its solace was visiting, news, and very occasionally, Charles.
Charles ended up being the first to see Ms. Gray. He had always intended to visit her, he just considered his own comings and goings a matter of privacy, only parceled out when necessary, and till the evening after the visit Erik did not need to know.
Charles seemed to delight in being as roundabout as Erik was direct, so this was how the visit was disclosed-observing his eldest turning up a hat, he suddenly addressed him with an approving "I hope Ms. Gray will like it, Scott."
"I doubt we'll find out one way or the other," Erik said, seeming to delight in being as bitter as Charles was cheerful. "Unless perhaps we send the hat to her in a box. Anonymously, of course."
"I think, Mr. Lensharr, that you've forgotten how we're to meet Ms. Gray at the assemblies and that Mrs. Long has promised to introduce her," said Scott.
"I daresay Mrs. Long will do no such thing. She has two nephews of her own and they'd need all the help they can get to achieve a good match. Long is a selfish, humanistic woman and I do not think of her."
"Then I'm glad that you aren't dependant on her making introductions," Charles said lightly.
Erik had just enough resolve not to reply to Charles, but not enough to contain himself. Thus, he scolded one of the children. "Must you cough so, Kitty? Or is it just that you have no concern for my concern of your well-being? My nerves shall be shot through in an hour if you don't fetch yourself a glass of water."
"But there's no hurry, Kitty," Charles advised. "You have the whole of an hour."
Kitty looked about, desperately confused. "I had something in my throat," she replied fretfully. "Scott, when's your next ball?"
"Within the fortnight, although schedules may shift."
"Never to our benefit," rattled Erik. "Mrs. Long does not return till the day before, assuming the ball does not come earlier. It will be impossible for her to introduce Ms. Gray; she'll know him as well as we do!"
"Only after you introduce Ms. Gray to her."
Erik's eyes narrow. "How can you tease so shabbily?"
"I applaud your circumspection. How well can any of us really know someone after but a fortnight? I've known you for many a year and your mind's workings remain a true mystery to me. But still, Mrs. Long and her nephews are as entitled to Ms. Gray's company as any, and as it would be simple charity to introduce them, I must do so myself if you decline."
The boys stared at their teacher. Erik said only "Madness. Madness!"
"What is your meaning?" cried Charles. "Do you think common altruism is mad? I cannot agree with you there. What is society without the randomest act of kindness? Do you agree, Henry? I know you to be a young man of deep reflection, who reads great books and swells his mind to grand invention."
Henry wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how.
"While Henry is trying to recall Shakespeare's opinion in place of his own," he continued, "let us return to Ms. Gray."
"You've spoiled the taste of her!" Erik complained. "I don't think I could bear her name without my stomach turning."
"I am sorry to hear it. Why couldn't you have told me sooner? If you'd but hinted at any point prior to this morning, I would certainly not have called on her. It is truly unfortunate. I have already paid the visit, she has now our names and faces."
The astonishment of the lads and of Mr. Lensharr was just as he desired. Erik was so overjoyed that he lapped back around and declared that he had expected as much all the while. "I knew you'd give in. You haven't enough the devil in you to deny our boys the knowing. And what a good joke," he added, almost not sneering, "that you should go this morning and return and not a word on the matter until now."
"I'm glad of your gladness," Charles declared. "Now that your mood's improved, perhaps Kitty can once more cough in peace." As he spoke, he left the room, satisfied with his punchline.
"Such a father you have, my brotherhood," said Erik, once the door was shut. "I do not know how we will return his kindness. We'll just have to endeavor." He kept a trace of irony in his voice in case Charles was waiting outside the door. "Bobby, my boy, young you may be, but I feel certain Ms. Gray will dance with you at the next ball."
"I'm certain as well," said Bobby stoutly. "I am the youngest, but also the best-groomed."
The rest of the evening was spent in debate of this, and the matter of Ms. Gray's return visit.