Pride and Prejudice

"His hair is more yellow than I thought. It looked darker earlier," remarked Señora Maria Luisa Villaneuva Bocanegra. She peered critically at the tray she was setting up and carefully centred the fine linen cloth so that when she held the tray before her and proffered it, the edging of priceless, hand-made Valenciennes lace would cascade like a waterfall. It would be beautiful. It is in these little things, she thought, that the Patrón's solid worth will be made manifest. It was only fitting that the Patrón's sons realised that their father was a man of substance, a man of importance, a man who had many fine things in his hacienda and a man worthy of their respect.

The housekeeper merely shrugged. "It was darkened by the smoke earlier," said Maria Salazar Morales.

Señora Bocanegra sighed, reminded of the disaster. It had been heartbreaking to see another of her husband's carefully-tended fields put to the torch by those wicked banditos, and not even the excitement of seeing the Patrón's newly-arrived sons amongst the fire-fighters had muted her distress.

Maria reached over the table and patted her arm with a plump hand. " I am sorry that Gaspar's hard work has been destroyed. It will be the last of it, surely. Now that the Patrón's sons are here, we will soon rid the valley of that perro, Pardee."

"Si," agreed Señora Bocanegra. She carefully set the crystal glasses into place, ready for the Patrón to fill them with champagne, each one precisely equidistant from the others. She smiled at the perfection, proud to contribute even this little to the Patrón's triumphant reacquisition of his sons and heirs. "We should have a fiesta to celebrate the homecoming," she said, protesting at the exigencies of their situation, of being an estancia essentially under siege.

"When it is over, perhaps;" said Maria. She said, after a moment: "I do not think that his hair is very yellow, not like some gringos I have seen, but it makes his eyes look pale and cold. Like the dead Señora's eyes." She nodded at the tray. "Will you take it? The Patrón is waiting."

Señora Bocanegra lifted the tray and took it through to the Great Room. The Patrón was there with the little Teresa beside him, at least looking like the pretty girl she was and not the boy she wished to be. Señora Bocanegra was not one of those women who shook their heads at the little Teresa's lack of feminine skirts and ribbons and furbelows, but she did worry about the absurd amount of indulgence the Patrón showed the child, who had much to learn before she would make one of the Patrón's sons a good wife. Señora Bocanegra wondered which one the Patrón intended her for.

"Ah, here's the other Maria," said the Patrón. "Scott, I'd like you to meet Señora Maria Luisa Bocanegra. She helps our Maria when I have guests. Her husband, Gaspar, grows all the estancia's vegetables and the winter fodder for the cattle."

"Señora," said Señor Scott, with a bow, a polite attention that the Senora appreciated even as she winced internally at the Patrón's mangling of her name.

Señora Bocanegra tried not to look as though she was staring at him. He was shorter than the Patrón – but then, who wasn't? – and his blond hair did indeed make his blue eyes look cold. The Señora wondered if he favoured his dead gringa mother. She had never seen the first Señora Lancer, and all Maria Morales would say was that Catherine Lancer had been tall and thin and pale, an alien in this new land, as chilly and remote as the northern city she came from. The first Señora Lancer, said Maria, had not had time to learn to belong.

Señora Bocanegra wondered if Señor Scott would learn to belong. She eyed him surreptitiously as she murmured a greeting. His clothes were extraordinary, she thought. He'd changed completely, of course, to get out of the smoke-damaged clothing he had arrived in. And if she'd thought that the strange pale suit with the dark-red decoration was unlike anything she'd ever seen before, she really didn't know what to make of this black suit with the long-tailed jacket and the white silk shirt with its ruffles. In this land of peacocks masquerading as men, she had never seen a man wear such a thing, not even the most flamboyant of the vaqueros.

She felt the fear almost as a sharp pain. He was rich, this one. He had a worth all of his own. It may be that he was too rich for the Patrón to persuade him to stay, that the estancia would not be inducement enough. There would be no hold on him and he would look higher than the little Teresa, she thought. She glanced down quickly to make sure that the fall of lace was visible and that he would be able to see what a good, rich life the estancia could offer. The estancia needed the Patrón's sons, even the gringo one. It needed the certainty for the future that securing the succession would bring.

"Where's Johnny?" demanded the Patrón, his mouth in the thin line that all the vaqueros knew meant his patience was stretched as thin and taut as wire. "I told him we ate at six."

"Here," said a soft voice from behind them and the Señora started as much as the Patrón and his gringo son did. She hadn't heard him until he spoke. Dios, but he must walk as silent as a cat. " Señora," he added, with a nod of his head. His face had little expression, but his voice and eyes were kind when he greeted her.

Everyone knew that the Patrón's little Juanito had been stolen away by his wicked and foolish Mama. When the segundo, Cipriano, had told Gaspar that the nino was rumoured to have ended up as a pistolero, Señora Bocanegra had been as shocked and intrigued and as (secretly) thrilled as anyone else on the estancia. Oh, they had all been excited when they were told that Señor Scott was coming to Lancer, of course they had; he was the Patrón's firstborn son after all, and he lived far, far away in that cool and remote place that everyone thought of when they thought (very rarely) of his dead mother. Señor Scott was unknown and maybe unknowable; everything about him shouted of not-us and different and gringo. How could it be otherwise? So they had been excited, but apprehensive that they would find him, as he would find them, incomprehensible.

But the pistolero was one of them and his unexpected appearance on the same stagecoach as his hermano had caused an excitement that wasn't about being apprehensive about difference, but about bringing home one of their own. It was a shame about his deep blue, mestizo eyes, reflected the Señora, knowing that those eyes would have been the cause of much pain to the nino. She wasn't fond of half-breeds herself, but this was the Patrón's son and no ordinary mestizo. She could forgive him the blue eyes that were looking at her, now sharp and bright as they weighed her up.

Señora Bocanegra had barely been able to glimpse the pistolero that afternoon, through the thick smoke of Gaspar's burning field. She looked her fill now, openly. He wore ordinary clothes, the clothes that any vaquero might wear; good quality calzoneras, the bottoms unbuttoned to show his boots, with tarnished silver conchos and embroidery around the buttonholes. She noticed, with the usual feminine tolerance for man's inept attempts at anything domestic and practical, that he'd wiped the boots clean without polishing them, but had at least tried to brush the worst of the mud and travel stains from the calzoneras. He'd changed his shirt, too, but the faint smell of smoke still clung to him. She wondered if he'd used his dirty shirt to clean his boots and thought that he probably had.

Most disturbingly, he wore his gun belt around his hips, the plain leather cinched so tightly across his… his… his lower stomach that she marvelled that his voice was so masculine, despite its softness. She wondered if it hurt to wear the gun belt so low and so tight, or if he was used to it.

Intent on her study, she took no notice of what the Patrón was growling at his youngest son about wearing his gun in the hacienda, but she did see the flash of anger in the pistolero's eyes before they were veiled by a fall of hair as dark and as lustrous as her own. It made her shiver, for some reason, and her breath hitched a little in her throat. Juanito – no, Johnny, she corrected herself, remembering he preferred the Anglicised version of his name – did not reply to the Patrón, but turned his back in a way that she could not help but think was very disrespectful of his papa, and spoke to her.

" Señora Maria Luisa …?" He paused, waiting.

"Villaneuva," she supplied. This one was one of their own. He knew the old ways, the right ways.

He inclined his head gravely. "Buenos noches, Señora Maria Luisa Villaneuva Bocanegra. ¿Cómo está? I'm John Lancer Martínez."

"Martínez?" queried Señor Scott, before Señora Bocanegra could do more than wonder why she had shivered a moment ago, and smile and say Bienvenido at Señor Johnny with perhaps a touch more warmth than she had said it to Senor Scott.

"My mother's name," said Señor Johnny, his face expressionless again. "It's the usual custom in Mexico to use your mother's name." He reached out and took the tray from her, setting it down on the table near the Patrón. "That looks too heavy for you to hold so long, Señora."

The Patrón snorted – but at Señor Johnny claiming his mother's name, the Señora thought, rather than his kindness; and although the nino's loyalty to his mother was commendable, indeed she thought that Señor Johnny had said it to provoke, if his smirk and the sideways glance he gave the Patrón was any indication. The Patrón turned his attention to the champagne and the Señora faded back to the kitchen reluctantly, but as unobtrusively as she could.

"Well?" asked Maria, giving her the same indulgent smile that Señora Bocanegra gave the little Teresa.

"Señor Scott seems a fine man, for a gringo," said the Senora.

"The Patrón is a gringo," remarked Maria.

"The Patrón is the Patrón. Senor Scott – well, we shall see how he belongs. Señor Johnny now…" she let her voice trail away and shrugged sadly. "Señor Johnny looks all too much like his mama. It will not endear him to the Patrón."

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The Señora and Maria had their little dance down to a fine art. Maria served the meat, the huge oval platter piled high with succulent beef, while the Señora followed with bowls of steaming vegetables.

"I'd like to know more about these gunslingers," said Señor Scott. He had his napkin laid carefully on his lap, rather than tucked into his collar to protect the silk ruffles but the Señora was interested to see that the shirt was spotless. The ruffles were edged with a very fine, very narrow lace band, she noticed. She thought that the shirt had probably cost more than Gaspar had earned in half a year; the Patrón was a good employer, and the wages were fair but not over-generous. Still, they had their own little house three miles from the hacienda and the Patrón didn't demand, as many patróns did, that the children stay home from school and work in the fields or the barn or as brush-poppers during the cattle drives. Both her sons could read and write, and she was proud of the chances the Patrón had given them.

Señor Johnny looked away from the Señora to stare at Señor Scott. She was sure that he was going to refuse the good vegetables that Gaspar had grown, so as soon as his attention was on his hermano, she added green beans to the plate before him. He was too thin, she thought. He didn't look as if he had been eating well.

"Gunslingers?" repeated Señor Johnny. He looked down at his plate with surprise and shot the Señora a reproachful look. She let her mouth twitch at him in amusement.

"Isn't that what you call them, men like Pardee?"

"Gunfighters, maybe," said Señor Johnny. "Gunhawks. Pistoleros. Hired guns. Shootists, sometimes, 'though that one ain't real common." .He glanced over the table and took in the Patrón's furious expression. "I never heard of gunslingers."

"I don't want to talk about this now," snapped the Patrón, glowering at Señor Johnny as if it were his fault that Señor Scott had raised the topic.

"No," said Señor Scott, equably, "I daresay that you don't, sir, but I'm not familiar with conditions out here and if you expect us to face up to twenty or twenty-five gunfighters—" he accepted one of Señor Johnny's alternatives with a nod "—then I need to know what it is I'm facing."

"Killers," snapped the Patrón, his eyes hard and his mouth tight with anger. "Nothing but hired killers."

The Señora was saddened by the Patrón's anger, although she wasn't surprised. Everyone knew what he felt about pistoleros and how mad he had to have been when he learned what his son had become. Señor Johnny said nothing, looking down at his plate. He was smiling slightly but the Señora wondered if he was as amused as he seemed. He wouldn't look up and his long brown fingers played with his fork, turning the green beans over and over. He didn't eat any of them. Gaspar would be disappointed.

"Some stories are reported in the newspapers back East, of course, and some of these men are famous," said Señor Scott. "I've never heard of Day Pardee, though."

Señor Johnny said, very softly, "I ain't surprised. Ol' Day might be the top dog getting the meat around here but he's a second stringer and that's on his best day. He's fast, but he's not that fast or that good." As the Señora retreated to the side of the room with Maria to wait to offer second helpings, she saw that Señor Johnny glanced sidelong at his hermano. She thought that the expression in those very bright blue eyes was not amused, but angry and sombre. "Who have you heard of, Boston, in those newspapers of yours?"

"I did a lot of reading about it when I decided to come here. I read some dime novels on the train—"

"Well, they'll tell you plenty," said Señor Johnny, and his mouth was as sneering as his tone.

"They were a little lurid," conceded Señor Scott. "The names I remember are Hardin, Madrid, Allison, Stoudsomething—"

"Stoudenmire," said Señor Johnny. "Dallas Stoudenmire. He works in Texas mainly, down Brazos way. He's pretty damn good. And he's straight. If Dallas is drawing down on you, he does it to your face."

"What about the rest? How do you know so much about them?"

"Johnny!" warned the Patrón, voice harsh.

Señor Johnny ignored him. "Well, you know, Boston, they're just folks. They're just folks getting' along as best they can, doin' a job to make themselves a livin'." The sombre blue eyes met his father's. "Some of 'em are good at their trade, that's all. Some of 'em are very good and they have a name."

The Patrón snorted.

"So yeah, most folks out here have heard of them. Wes Hardin's real famous. Now there's a man who's an artist with a gun, but he's got a real mean streak in him has ol' Wes. I ain't certain he's right in the head. 'Course, the old man here will tell you no gunhawk's right in the head, but Wes's sure the craziest bastar… hombre I know."

Señor Johnny glanced at the little Teresa and smiled at her blushes at the almost-slip he made. The Señora looked on indulgently. She had no doubt the pillo, the rascal, hadn't slipped at all.

It was a brilliant smile, lighting up Señor Johnny's face. It wasn't the smile of a pistolero. It didn't sneer, or mock, or provoke. It was open-hearted and as warm as the golden sun. She shifted slightly to see what the Patrón made of it. He looked shocked, staring at Señor Johnny as if he'd never seen him before. She wondered why.

"So who else did you mention, Boston? Oh yeah. Well, John Madrid's a mestizo pistolero down on the border—"

"Mestizo?"

"Half Mex, half gringo. If you're a halfbreed, Boston, then both lots hate you and beat up on you, especially down in the border towns where things are rough. He's done a lot bad things has our Johnny, and had a lot of bad things done to him, but he's no backshooter, not like Day Pardee. Clay Allison I don't know too well. He's said to be a good man in a fight and always fight's fair — more'n you can say about Wes, that's certain-sure. Wes is pretty mean, like I said, and I wouldn't turn my back on him 'case he puts a bullet between my shoulders. Now Wes, he's like Day Pardee." Señor Johnny paused. "Only a helluva lot faster," he added.

"Stop swearing in front of Teresa!" snapped the Patrón. He glowered at Señor Johnny. "Could you take Pardee?" he demanded, fiercely.

"Ain't that what you're payin' me gun money for, Old Man?"

"I'm not hiring your gun, boy! I'm offering you a partnership here in the ranch. There's a difference."

"That right?"

The Patrón's glower got deeper. "Can you take him?" he repeated.

Yep," said Señor Johnny. "Ol' Day won't go up against me if he can help it."

Señor Scott stared. "You're a gunfighter?"

Señor Johnny nodded. "Yep."

"Like Day Pardee," snarled the Patrón.

In the short, unhappy silence Maria nudged the Señora and they moved quietly away to the kitchen. Maria was right, of course, that they shouldn't be listening to this, but the Señora was both sorry that she would miss the rest of the conversation and relieved to be away. She didn't like the way that Señor Johnny smiled this time. There was nothing of his heart in it, like there had been with that last brilliant smile.

"No," said Señor Johnny, with that soft, deadly voice and the smile that was no real smile and that filled the Señora with dread. "Nothing like Day Pardee."

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It was odd, thought Señora Bocanegra, how seldom something that we longed for and prayed for, turns out exactly the way we expected it when it finally arrives. She didn't know, of course, what the Patrón had expected when he decided that his sons would be the ones to tip the scales against Pardee. But she thought that the Patrón had probably forgotten the reserved, chilly, northern perfection of his first wife until reminded of it in the urbane veneer worn by his first born son. And there could be little left of the bright, energetic child that Maria Aguilera Martinez Lancer had stolen more than twenty years before.

"I think," said Señora Bocanegra, "that the Patrón may not have realised what he was doing when he sent for his sons." She shook her head at Maria. "I do not know if this will be good thing. The ninos have been gone too long and Señor Johnny, at least, has seen and done too much."

"Si," said Maria. She looked sadly down at the dishes piled in the bowl of hot water. "But this is his place. Like the other one, he has to learn to belong. They both have to belong."

"Well. We shall see. It will be over soon, I think, with Pardee, and we shall all be safe and they will have time to learn how to belong to us." Señora Maria Luisa Villaneuva Bocanegra leaned forward and lightly kissed Maria's cheek. "I will see you tomorrow, Maria. Gaspar is here to take me home."

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This little story is a response to the Yahoo Lancer Writer Group's summer challenge, "first impressions' and is a missing scene from the pilot, The High Riders. The title is a reverse pun, of course, as the original title of Austen's Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions. Canonically, the Senora exists only as Murdoch calling her name and then looking horrified at seeing (presumably) her body after she and her husband are murdered by Pardee the day after the Lancer boys come home. I was delighted when she decided to take form here, with flesh, blood and a delightful outsider view of the reunion of father and sons.