Out On A Limb by Vicki L. Nelson

Word Count 6,675

13th in the Small Matters Series

Scott is 14, Johnny is 11

My chores finished, I strolled into hacienda, hands in pocket and whistling’ a tune.

As soon as I crossed the threshold, I heard a noise that sounded like cats fightin’ over bagpipes, comin’ from Pa’s study. It took me a couple of seconds to figure out that it was my brother, Scott, who was makin’ all the racket.

It’s never a good thing to be in Pa’s study because that means either an ear-blisterin,’ rear-blisterin’ or worse, both. 

Judgin’ by Scott’s yowls, I figured it to be the second.

I rushed over to the door to the study to see if I could save him.

We may fight and argue sometimes, but we never like to see the other get a lickin.’

I stopped at the door, tryin’ to take it all in.

Pa was tryin’ to drag Scott over his lap, but my brother was digging’ in his heels. 

Now, Pa’s a big, strong man but he was findin’ it hard to wrestle Scott into position. 

My brother was wriggling around so much, I figured somebody musta someone dropped a worm down his drawers.

“What’s wrong, Pa?  I didn’t do anything!”

“Scott Garrett Lancer!  What do you mean you didn’t do anything? What’s the meaning of these viewing cards?  I cannot believe you were going to show these to your little brother!”

“But, Pa!  I wanted to surprise you both!  I just got the packet in the mail and I knew you’d want to see them.  They’re French postcards, Pa; you like looking at slides of different countries!  You know architecture and all?”

Pa seemed surprised and slowly lowered his hand. 

Setting Scott on his feet, he asked, “What do you mean…French postcards?”

“I mean the buildings and sights of Paris – the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Paris Opera House, Versailles, and the Arc de Triomphe.  I figured you and Johnny would like seeing them!  I haven’t even looked at them because I wanted you to be the first!”

Scott had received a stereoscope from his abuelo.  Scott didn’t want nothin’ to do with him for a time, but now they had taken to writing’ to each other and, sometimes Old Man Garrett, sent Scott presents.

Pa looked a might uncomfortable and cleared his throat.  “Where did you get these French postcards, Son?”

“Dan Cassidy told me about them at school.  He knew I had a stereoscope so he showed me an ad in the Sacramento Bee and I sent for them.  Don’t you like them, Pa?”

“Scott, you know you shouldn’t listen to Dan Cassidy.  He’s older than you and always getting you into trouble.  Besides, French postcards are not the sights of Paris!”

“Really, Pa?  Then what are they?” 

Scott was trying to peek over Pa’s shoulder and I was right there behind him, peeking’ over his shoulder. 

I was real curious, too, about what had made Pa so mad.

“French Postcards are….ahem…well, French Postcards are not appropriate for young boys.” 

Then Pa threw them into the fireplace where the flames made quick work of them.  

Scott and I looked at each other in disappointment.

“Aw!” we whined.

“Never you mind!  Now go get cleaned up for the evening meal.”

Scott and I dragged ourselves out of the study and up the stairs to get cleaned up.

“Gosh, Scott…you came real close to getting’ a lickin’ from Pa!  What do you suppose them French postcards had on ’em?”

Scott let out a big sigh and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Don’t I know it?  I thought sure I was a goner!  I don’t know what was on those French postcards, but Pa about blew his stack!  I guess we’ll never find out now because he burned them up.”

I nodded in agreement.

“He never lets us have no fun!”

“Any fun,” corrected Scott.

“That’s what I said!”


Scott nearly getting’ a lickin’ from Pa was quite a surprise for the both of us.

It had been quite a while since Pa had dusted either of our britches. 

He was in a much nicer mood lately. 

Probably ’cause he’s been seeing’ Miss Nancy pretty regular.

Scott and I liked her ’cause we helped her and Pa get together. 

She was pretty with long dark red hair and green eyes. 

She sure smelled good, too, like something called lemon verbena! 

Sometimes my brother and I said things that made Pa throw us a black look, but Miss Nancy would laugh. 

She never seemed to get upset at Scott and me…unlike Pa.

I think Pa might be gettin’ serious about Miss Nancy, though. 

He sure spends a lot of time with her lately and sometimes I think he’s forgotten about Scott and me.

I’m not really sure how I feel about Miss Nancy any more.


After dinner and dessert, Pa made a big announcement.

“Boys, we’re going to have a guest for the weekend!” 

He looked mighty pleased when he said it.

Scott and I looked at each across the table and Scott was the first to ask, “Who, Pa?”

“I’ve asked Miss Nancy to be our guest this weekend.  I’ll pick her up tomorrow and bring her here in time for dinner.  We will all attend church on Sunday,then go on a picnic afterward.  Won’t that be nice?”

Scott seemed happy enough about it because he nodded his head in agreement.

I didn’t say nuthin’ and Pa looked over at me.

“You haven’t said anything, Johnny.  Aren’t you excited that Miss Nancy will be our guest this weekend?  You and Scott seem to like her a lot.”

I looked down at my plate and shrugged.

“I dunno.  Is it gonna be like a sleepover like Scott and I have with our friends?  Is she gonna sleep in your room?”

Pa’s face got red and he spit out a big mouthful of red wine all over the table, just missing’ Scott.

“Of course not!   Miss Nancy will stay in the upstairs guest room.  It is not at all like when you and Scott have guests sleep over.”

Scott looked at me and rolled his eyes as if he was thinkin’ that I was a dummy!

That made me mad and I kicked him under the table.

“Why ain’t it the same thing, Pa?”

“It’s ‘why isn’t’ it and it just isn’t that’s all.  Unmarried women and men do not have sleepovers!”

I was about to open my mouth to protest when Scott kicked me under the table and frowned.

Pa was givin’ me what Scott and I like to call ‘the death stare’ so I knew my questions were like wavin’ red flag in front of a bull. 

Still, I wasn’t ready to give up.

“But why, Pa?  I don’t understand.”

“Because it isn’t, John Lancer, and that’s the end of the discussion!”

Boy, Pa can be so unfair sometimes! 

He’s always tellin’ us that there’s no such thing as a stupid question and then he goes and clams up! 

How’s a fella supposed to learn anything that way?


After the evening meal, we always gather around in the Great Room for family time.

Scott and I usually play checkers or some sort of game unless he feels like reading. 

He and Pa are great ones for buryin’ their noses in a book, but I hate reading. 

It’s b-o-r-i-n-g!

So if he’s got his nose stuck in a book, there’s no talkin’ him into playin’ a game with me.  I’ve tried wheedling with him but he’s stubborn as a mule. 

I kept on pesterin’ him, though, until Pa told me, “That’s enough, Johnny!  Leave your brother alone.  It wouldn’t hurt you to read a book once in a while.”

Then I’ll usually draw or braid reins, but I ain’t happy about it and I usually let everybody know it.

Pa usually sits and reads The Bee and has a glass of Scotch. 

Sometimes he’ll smoke his pipe. 

And sometimes he’ll tell Scott and me stories about him bein’ a kid in Scotland. 

We like when he tells us about that. 

Wish he did it more often.

Tonight Scott was readin’ a book, and Pa was readin’ the newspaper, smokin’ his pipe. 

So, I was drawin’ pictures of horses.

I’m crazy about them!

I can’t wait to start breakin’ them, but Pa says it will be quite some time ’til I’m big enough.

Scott’s shootin’ up in height, but I don’t seem to be.

It’ll be forever before Pa thinks I’m ready to break horses.

We heard the Grandfather clock chime the hour and Scott looked over his book at me. 

We always hope that Pa will forget what time it is, but he never does.

“Ahem…bedtime, boys.”

We’d tried arguin’ with him in the past, but couldn’t win so we got up, reluctantly. 

I walked over to give Pa a hug and a kiss on the cheek. 

Scott walked over and shook hands with Pa. 

Now that he’s fourteen, he thinks he’s too grown up to give Pa a hug and a kiss. 

So Pa shakes Scott’s hand and always looks highly amused when he does it. 

Sometimes, he gives Scott a swat to his skinny butt when he turns around. 

It always makes him jump.

I think it’s funny, but Scott doesn’t. 

He’ll roll his eyes at me, rub his backside, and whine, “Pa!”

I smirk when Pa does it because it takes my brother down a notch or two. 

Ask me, he’s getting’ too big for his britches!

Pa just laughs and says, “Good night, Son…good night, Johnny.  Pleasant dreams.”


We raced up the stairs and I went into my room to get ready for bed. 

I was just slippin’  my nightshirt over my head when Scott busted in.

“Hey, doesn’t anybody knock around here?”

“Why? I’m just your brother.”

I snorted in disgust. 

If you walk in on Scott without knockin’, he gets all mad about it.  Like he’s got somethin’ I ain’t got!

“Johnny, you didn’t seem happy about Miss Nancy coming to spend the weekend.”

“That’s ’cause I ain’t!”

“Why not?  We like her.  She’s pretty, she smells good, and she’s nice.  Pa’s a lot less grumpy since he started seeing her.”

“Well, that’s just it…Pa don’t have much time for us now that he’s seein’ Miss Nancy.”

Scott got a gleam in his eye, “Oh, I get it.  You’re jealous of Miss Nancy!”

“No, I ain’t!  Shut up!”

I musta raised my voice because we both heard Pa yellin’ from downstairs.

“I hear an awful lot of chatter up there for two boys who are supposed to be in bed!  Do I need to come up there?

Scott’s eyes got big as he looked over at me. 

“No, Sir,” we said in unison.

Next thing I know, my brother was runnin’ for his room, the hem of his nightshirt flappin’ in the breeze.

I fell asleep and dreamed that Pa and Miss Nancy got married and then they had a bunch of kids. 

They moved me and Scott out in the barn and let the new kids live in the hacienda! 

‘Course that made me wake up in a bad mood, which I carried down with me to the breakfast table.

Pa noticed and asked me if I got out on the wrong side of the bed.

I looked at him and said, “How can I get out of the wrong side of the bed?  There’s only one side to get out of!”

Scott laughed and almost snorted milk out of his nose.

Pa glared at him and then told me to watch my step.

Then he had a discussion with Scott and me about how he expected us both to be on our best behavior when Miss Nancy was our guest.

Scott agreed right off, the traitor, while I said nothin.’

“John,” said Pa.  “I expect you to be on your best behavior this weekend, understand?”

I frowned down at my plate and took a few seconds to mumble, “Yeah.”

Pa arched an eyebrow at me.  “What was that?”

I looked up at him and could see I’d pushed him about as far as I could. 

“Yes sir,” I replied.  “I’ll be good as gold.”

What Pa and Scott didn’t know was I had my fingers crossed behind my back.


After breakfast on Saturday, Pa informed Scott and me that he was takin’ the buggy into Green River to pick up Miss Nancy.  Afterward, they were havin’ lunch in town and would be back around 3:00 pm. 

“I want you boys to get your chores done, then get cleaned up.  Put on your good clothes and stay closeto the hacienda so you look presentable when I bring Miss Nancy by.”

Now Scott didn’t seem too upset by this, but I kicked up a fuss.

“Aw, Pa!  I gotta wear my Sunday best two days in a row?  My suit is scratchy and my collar nearly strangles me!”

Pa stared down at me.

“Johnny, it wouldn’t hurt you to act like a little gentleman a little more often.  Look at your brother, he doesn’t seem to mind.”

Scott puffed out his chest importantly and looked pretty pleased with himself. 

He smirked at me and I wanted to launch myself at him, but I couldn’t what with Pa standing right there.

Maybe I could catch him in the barn later!

I realized Pa was waitin’ for an answer from me.

“Aw okay, Pa.  If I choke to death, though, everyone’s gonna be sorry!”

Pa chuckled.  “I’ll take that chance, Johnny.”


Pa drove off and Scott and I headed out to take care of our morning chores. 

I managed to catch him in the barn and took him down with a flying tackle.

“You’re such a goody-goody!  You had to go and agree with Pa; you make me sick!”

Scott scrambled up pretty quickly; he can move pretty fast with them long legs of his.

He took me down in a head-lock and the two of us were rollin’ around on the barn floor, tradin’ punches until we both got jerked to our feet.

It was Cip, our Segundo, and he looked mad! 

He shook us both and scolded, “¡Para eso! Hermanos no deberían estar luchando. Sigue así y le diré a tu padre!”“(Stop that! Brothers should not be fighting. Keep it up and I will tell your father!”)

Well, that took the wind out of our sails. 

We settled down and finished our chores, but we kept tradin’ glares and didn’t speak to each other until Pa came home with Miss Nancy.


That afternoon, Pa and Miss Nancy pulled up to the house and Pa asked Scott to take her carpetbag up to the Guest Room. 

“Hello, Scott.  Don’t I get a hug first?” asked Miss Nancy.

Scott looked pretty pleased at that request, and leaned in and gave her a big hug. 

Trouble was, he wouldn’t let her go.

He musta took too long ’cause Pa grabbed him by the back of the collar and pulled him off Miss Nancy, givin’ him a sharp look.

Big brother blushed to the roots of his hair and ran upstairs with her bag.

I hadn’t said anything yet and Pa noticed. 

“Johnny, don’t you have something to say to Miss Nancy?”

I dug the toe of my boot into the dirt, looked down and didn’t say anything for a second or two. 

Pretty soon, I heard Pa clear his throat and that was my clue that he was getting fed up with me. 

I shaped up right away.

“ ‘Lo, Miss Nancy…Pa, can I take Storm out for a ride?”

I sure didn’t want no hug from her like my love-struck brother!

“No, Johnny.  We have a guest and it would be impolite to rush off.  I want both you and Scott to come into the Great Room and we’ll all have a chat before dinner.”

I mumbled something impolite under my breath. 

Pa, who can hear a pin drop at twenty paces, grumbled, “Did you say something, John?”

“No Pa, I didn’t say nuthin’ “

“You didn’t say anything!”

“That’s what I said!”

Pa shook his head, rolled his eyes and sighed. 

Funny how he gets mad at Scott for doing that same thing, but he does it too. 

Adults aren’t fair!

Miss Nancy seemed to think it was funny. 

One thing I can say about her, she thinks Scott and I are funny a lot of the times. 

Unfortunately, Pa ain’t always that tickled with us.

“Never mind and that’s what I thought you said!”

Pa held out his arm and escorted Miss Nancy into the hacienda. 

I followed along behind them, doing some eye-rollin’ of my own.


After Scott delivered Miss Nancy’s bag up to her room, he came down and joined us all in the Great Room.

Pa poured a glass of brandy for him and Miss Nancy.

Scott held up his glass, looking all hopeful, but Pa ignored him and poured us both a glass of lemonade.

I could tell by the way the corner of Scott’s mouth turned down, he wasn’t happy with this turn of events. 

He wants to look grown up in front of Miss Nancy.

After Pa poured me some lemonade and turned away, I smirked at Scott and stuck my tongue out of him.

He clenched his fists, narrowed his eyes, and gave me the ‘death stare,’ but there wasn’t nuthin’ he could do with Pa there.

Then we all sat around and talked about borin’ stuff.

Scott was yakkin’ up a storm, showin’ off, until Pa told him to let someone else get a word in edgewise. 

Scott blushed again and looked mighty unhappy. 

Miss Nancy gave him a smile to take the edge off. 

My dumb brother ate it up!

Me, I said very little and moped around, as much as I could get away with, anyways.

I was gettin’ antsy, it was a nice day and I wanted to be outside. 

Pa kept tellin’ me to stop fidgetin’ and Scott frowned at me.

Finally, Miss Nancy told Pa that it would be all right to excuse Scott and me. 

Pa seemed to see the wisdom in that; I think he was tired of Scott runnin’ off at the mouth and me close-mouthed and mopey.

I was happy to make my escape. 

Scott didn’t seem to want to leave, but Pa told him to go outside with me and let the adults talk.

I could tell Scott wasn’t too happy about that comment about ‘the adults’, and he opened his mouth to say something.

He must have thought better of it, though, ’cause he snapped his jaws shut and followed me out the door.


Pa says I don’t always think of the consequences when I do things. 

He has a point.

Scott sometimes don’t either, but not half as much as me.

So, not thinking of the consequences, I thought I’d leave Miss Nancy a little gift in her bureau drawer. 

I dodged Scott and ducked up the backstairs to the guest room.

I wasn’t thinkin’ ’bout the consequences when I dropped the garter snake in her top drawer.

I don’t know what I was thinkin,’ I guess I wasn’t…thinkin,’ that is.

I was kinda hopin’ Miss Nancy would want to go back home right away.

I sneaked back down the backstairs and tried not to look too guilty.


Six o’clock rolled around and Scott and I were on time for dinner. 

Pa’s a real stickler about bein’ on time for meals.

Pa and Scott stood up when Miss Nancy entered the dining room.

Pa frowned at me and cleared his throat.

I knew this was a warning signal, so I reluctantly dragged myself out of my chair and stood up, too.

Once everybody was seated, I kept sneakin’ a peek over at Miss Nancy.

I hadn’t heard a scream from her room and I wondered if she’d found the garter snake.

Of course, then I thought about the consequences, too late. 

If she told Pa what I’d done, I was in for it, so I was feelin’ a bit edgy.

Then Miss Nancy spoke up.

“What a wonderful gift someone left for me upstairs in my room.”

She looked around the table and noticed Pa and Scott were both lookin’ puzzled.

Then she looked at me, and she musta seen guilt written all over my face. 

“Johnny, do I have you to thank?”

My mouth dropped open, my face felt warm, and I felt my stomach fall to my feet.

This was it; she was goin’ to tell and I was goin’ to get it but good!

Pa asked her what she’d found while Scott looked on, curiously.

I gulped and looked down at my plate.

“Why it’s our little secret, isn’t it, Johnny?”

I stared at her and she was smilin’ at me.

“Uh, yes Ma’am,” I stammered.

What did she have up her sleeve?

Was she savin’ it up to blackmail me with it later?


Mia had made a yummy meal, but I just wasn’t that hungry.

Scott started yammerin’ again, and I was all mopey and quiet.

When I did say something, it came out kinda snippy-like.

Pa had finally had enough.

“John Lancer, if you can’t be pleasant at the dinner table, you may march upstairs to your room and get ready for bed!”

I pouted; it was too early for bed, but one look at Pa’s red face and I knew I’d better make myself scarce.

Scott looked at me and shook his head.

Miss Nancy gave me a sympathetic smile, but I didn’t want her feelin’ sorry for me.

I stomped upstairs as loudly as I could without Pa comin’ after me, got my nightshirt on, and threw myself down on my bed.

I kicked my feet and threw a little tantrum, but it didn’t make me feel much better.


Scott sneaked into my room later to see if I was awake. 

I was ’cause I couldn’t fall asleep, thinkin’ about what had happened with Miss Nancy.

“Johnny!  You were kind of rude at dinner!”

I huffed in exasperation. 

“Miss Nancy is goin’ to hog all of Pa’s time while she’s here!”

“Well, what if she does?  Pa likes her…he likes her a lot and he’s so busy with the ranch and us, he doesn’t get to see her as much as he’d like.”

“Well, la-di-dah, Mr. High and Mighty!  When did you get so smart?”

Well, that did it. 

Scott scowled and took a step towards me.

“Uh uh uh!  You better not hit me, Scott!  Pa wouldn’t like it with Miss Nancy bein’ here and he might give you ‘what for!’ “

Scott dropped his fists but kept them balled up at his side. 

He was breathin’ kinda heavy and if looks could kill, I’d be dead by now. 

My brother knew I was right and he didn’t want to take a chance at gettin’ dragged to the barn, but I knew he wanted to haul off and hit me.

He turned on his heel and went out the door, but not before snipin,’ “You can be such a baby, Johnny!”

I threw my pillow at him, but I wasn’t quick enough and it hit the door, fallin’ to the floor.


Next morning, I tried to fake bein’ sick so I wouldn’t have to go to church, but Pa felt my forehead and told me I didn’t have a fever.

Scott and I can never fool him when we play sick to get outta somethin.’

So, we had Sunday breakfast and Miss Nancy was goin’ to church with us.

Afterward, we were goin’ to go on a picnic so Mia packed a picnic basket, full of good things to eat.

We took the buggy and I tried to sit up front with Pa, but he reminded me that the guest’s place was in the front seat.

I climbed in the back with Scott, folded my arms across my chest, and moped some more.

Scott frowned at me and shook his head. 

He hissed under his breath, “You keep it up and Pa is gonna kill you!”

I frowned back and kept my mouth shut on the way to church. 

I didn’t need to talk, anyway, Scott was doin’ enough talkin’ for the both of us.

The only thing that made me happy was when Pa told Scott to give everyone’s ears a rest.

I always get a kick outta my big brother takin’ it in the neck, ‘stead of me.

Now, it was Scott’s turn to mope ’cause he didn’t want to look like a dumb kid in front of Miss Nancy…even though he was.

My good mood didn’t last long when Pa glared at me over his shoulder.

“John!  Stop kicking the back of the seat!”


We walked into the church, Miss Nancy on Pa’s arm, and Pa looking all pleased with himself.

Scott and I walked behind them and I kept makin’ faces behind Miss Nancy’s back when no one was looking.

We filed into our family pew:  Scott, then me, then Pa, and finally, Miss Nancy.

Reverend Needham began the service.

“Today’s sermon will continue on with the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins.”

I just knew this was going to be borin’, as usual, and I hoped I could stay awake.

“Today’s sermon will be based on Proverbs 27:4, Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? 

I sat up straight and looked at the minister.

“So, today I will be preaching to you about the Deadly Sin of Envy…”

Scott cut his eyes at me and jabbed me in the ribs.

“He must be talking about you, Johnny,” he murmured under his breath.

I drew back my fist to hit him in the arm, when Pa grabbed my arm and moved me over to sit between him and Miss Nancy so as to separate Scott and me.

I frowned, crossed my arms, and stuck out my lower lip.

Dang Scott! 

Pa hadn’t caught his jab to my ribs!

I think Pa knows the both of us too well by now, though.

I think he figgered out that Scott wasn’t innocent in all this, although he was tryin’ to look like he was.

He looked at me, then he looked at Scott, then he held up one finger.

That’s Pa’s secret code for Scott and me.

One finger:  Watch yourself!

Two fingers:  I don’t want to tell you again!

Three fingers:  Well, you really never want Pa to hold up three fingers!

I sat up as straight as I could.

I didn’t want to touch Pa or Miss Nancy.

‘Course sittin’ like that all through the sermon gave me a crick in the back.

Finally, the sermon was over. 

It had been too close for comfort.


Pa helped Miss Nancy into the front seat of the buggy while Scott and I piled into the back.

We were goin’ to have a picnic by the stream in the north pasture.

All the way there, Scott kept mutterin’ under his breath, “Johnny’s jealous, Johnny’s jealous,” until I kicked him in the shin and finally shut him up.

We arrived at the meadow and Miss Nancy spread the red-and-white checked tablecloth on the ground under the shade of the big oak tree alongside the stream.

Mia had packed fried chicken, potato salad, biscuits, pickles and cherry pie, along with a big jar of lemonade.

I ate as fast as I could so I didn’t have to hang around with the adults…and Scott.

Even though I hate fishin’ (too boring,) I took a fishin’ pole down the stream a piece to see if I could catch any fish. 

Of course, I couldn’t…stupid, borin’ fish.

I sat there for a while until Scott joined me, draggin’ his feet.

Lookin’ up at his gloomy face, I smarted off.

“What’s the matter, Scott.  The grownups run you off?”

He frowned at me, went to slug me, looked over at Pa, then thought better of it.

He turned around so Pa couldn’t see his face, stuck out his tongue, and sang under his breath, “Johnny’s jealous…Johnny’s jealous!”

“Shut up before I push you into the creek!”

“You’re such a grouch; I’m leaving!” he barked.

“Fine by me!”

So Scott went upstream a piece, and wouldn’t you know it? 

By the time, Pa called us over to leave, Scott had caught a whole mess of fish.

I had somethin’ else to be jealous about!


When we got home, Scott and I changed out of our good clothes and went outside.

We never had to do chores on Sunday ’cause it’s the day of rest.

Pa and Miss Nancy stayed in the hacienda, doin’ who knows what?

Scott decided he was gonna play Big Brother.

“Johnny, you’re just being a brat.  Miss Nancy’s nice and you’re being horrible to her.  If you don’t watch it…”

Well, I’d had enough of his big mouth so just as we came up to a big mud puddle, I shoved him into it.

He fell in with a mighty ‘sploosh’ and immediately tried to grab my foot, but I fooled him.

I pulled my foot away and he was left lyin’ in the mud puddle, holdin’ onto my left boot.

He got up, covered in mud and loaded for bear.

“Damn you, Johnny Lancer, I’m gonna kill you,” he shouted, headin’ straight for me.

Lucky for me, there was a tree nearby and I’m a champion tree climber. 

Pa says I must be part squirrel.

“Gotta catch me first,” I told him.

I scrambled up the tree, well away from Scott’s reach and stood there, tauntin’ him.

“Get down here, Johnny!”

“Are you crazy, Scott?  If I come down there, you’re gonna pound me!”

“Darn right, I am!”

“I ain’t stupid, Scott!  If you want me, come and get me!”

I looked down at Scott and he was gettin’ red in the face, leastwise where it wasn’t covered by mud.

Just then I caught a glimpse of somethin’ white out of the corner of my eye.

The oak tree stands just outside of our guest room and the window was partly open.

I looked and nearly fell out of the tree!

Miss Nancy was changin’ her clothes and I saw her in her underwear!

It was all white and lacy with pink ribbons.

I knew I shouldn’t be lookin’, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away!

I don’t know how long I stood there starin’, but the next thing I knew Scott was standin’ right beside me on the tree limb.

He could see I was starin’ at something so he peeked over my shoulder to see what I was so all-fired interested in.

He saw Miss Nancy in her undies and gasped!

“Johnny!  Stop staring and get down out of the tree!”

He tried to pull me away, but I couldn’t be budged.

Then Miss Nancy saw the two of us standin’ outside her window and she was so surprised she let out a squeal!

Between Scott and me yellin,’ and  Miss Nancy screechin’ in shock, Pa heard and came runnin’!

Standin’ under the tree, lookin’ up at us, Pa bellowed, “You two!  Get down out of that tree NOW!”

We wasted no time scramblin’ back down the tree. 

Pa was mad and we didn’t want to make him any madder.

As soon as our feet touched the ground, Pa grabbed Scott and me by the back of our necks and started draggin’ us both towards the barn.

Scott was makin’ that cat-bagpipe sound again, so I pulled away from Pa’s grasp.

“Pa, it ain’t Scott’s fault.  He climbed up the tree to bring me back down and I wouldn’t.  Please don’t punish Scott!”

Pa stopped and looked at me, then looked at Scott.

“Is that the truth, Scott?”

Scott bit his lip; I could tell he didn’t want to rat me out, but he wasn’t gonna lie to Pa.

“Er, yessir.”

“I see…John, come with me!”

Pa dragged me off toward the barn and I looked back to see Scott watchin’ me and lookin’ upset.

Pa then dealt with me usin’ Newton’s Law of relatively speakin’…a hand fallin’ onto a bottom…my bottom, repeatedly!


When Pa was through with me, he sent me up to my room.

I threw myself down on my bed and sobbed.

Not only did my butt hurt, but Pa was unhappy with me.

That fact hurt me more than my butt did.

At dinnertime, Mia brought a tray up to my room.

Pa didn’t want to see my face, but he doesn’t like to see me and Scott go without meals.

Probably ’cause we’re both kinda skinny and Mia won’t let us starve.

Right after dinner, I saw Pa and Miss Nancy drive off in the buggy. 

He musta been takin’ her back home.

Scott sneaked into my room.

“Johnny, I happened to be walking by Pa’s study and the door wasn’t shut all the way.  I heard him and Miss Nancy talking.”

“About what?  Miss Nancy hatin’ me?”

“No, she told Pa that you were naturally curious and that most boys would be.  She said she was surprised when she saw you in the tree and  that’s why she yelled.  She said she wasn’t mad at you.  Then she asked Pa if he’d ever told the two of us the facts of life.  Pa said we saw plenty on the ranch.”

I looked over at him and he continued.

“Well, Miss Nancy laughed and said we might be confused by watching the farm animals and that Pa would be well advised to talk to the two of us.”

“Scott, you’re lucky Pa didn’t catch you eavesdroppin’!  You mighta been takin’ your own trip to the barn!”

“I was careful…by the way Pa took Miss Nancy home.”

“I know, I saw them drive off a while ago.  Anyway, Scott, you oughta be happy; now we’re even in the tannin’ department.”

Scott looked concerned.

“Johnny, we may fight and argue but I don’t like it when Pa tans you.”

“Yeah, and I don’t like it when Pa tans you.”

We looked at each other and smiled. 

Scott might bug me sometimes, but I was glad he was my brother.

When push came to shove, we had each others’ back.

We talked awhile and Scott shouldn’t have stayed in my room as long as he did.  

We heard the downstairs door slam and heavy footsteps coming up the stairs.

Scott looked around in a panic.

He knew Pa would want me to be left alone to think about what I’d done. 

Scott didn’t have time to leave my room, so he dived under my bed just in time ’cause Pa knocked on my door once, then came in.

I couldn’t look at him ’cause I was feelin’ bad about what I’d done and how I’d behaved while Miss Nancy was staying’with us.

Pa drew up a chair and told me to look at him, but I was too ashamed.

He cupped my chin and raised it up so I had to look into his eyes.

I thought he’d be mad, but he looked kinda sad-like.

“Johnny, I apologized to Miss Nancy on your behalf and the next time you see her, I expect you to apologize.”

I nodded and agreed.

I knew I owed her that.

“Yes, Sir,” I whispered.

Pa let out a long, weary sigh.

“Johnny, please explain your behavior to me. You were rude and cold to Miss Nancy and I could tell she was hurt by your actions.  I know you like Miss Nancy, so why did you act the way you did?”

I couldn’t find my voice, when all of a sudden Pa got a funny look on his face.

“Scott Lancer!  Come out from under that bed…now!”

I had no idea how Pa knew Scott was under the bed, but Scott swears Pa has eyes in the back of his head. 

I think Scott’s right!

There was absolute silence for a long second or two, then a mighty sneeze rang out.

Scott snake-crawled out from under the bed and I notice he was careful not to back out so he could protect his butt from Pa.

If the situation wasn’t so serious, I could have laughed.

Scott had dust bunnies in his hair. 

It is kinda messy under my bed.

My brother stood in front of Pa with his head hangin’ down and his hands clasped behind his back.

He finally looked up at Pa through his eyelashes and Pa held up two fingers.

Scott’s eyes grew wide and he went a little pale.

Lucky Pa didn’t know Scott had been eavesdroppin’ downstairs or Scott would be makin’ his own trip to the barn. 

Of course, I wasn’t gonna tell on him.”

“Scott, I want you to sit down beside Johnny so the three of us can have a talk.  Johnny please sit up.”

I looked at Pa like he was crazy and he said, “Oh, sorry.  Sit on your pillow.”

Scott sat down beside me and we both stared up at Pa.

“Now, Johnny.  I’m still waiting for an answer.”

I couldn’t find my tongue, so Scott spoke up.

“Johnny was feeling bad because ever since you’ve been seeing Miss Nancy, he feels you haven’t had much time for both of us.”

Pa looked shocked.

“Johnny, is that true?”

Keepin’ my head down, I nodded.

“Scott, do you feel the same way?”

Scott shook his head ‘no,’ but then he shrugged.  

What do you know?

Scott was a little jealous, too.

Pa looked at the both of us for the longest time before he spoke.

“Boys, I waited a long time to get you both back.  You need to know, there is nobody or nothing that means as much to me as the two of you do.  If you feel I haven’t had enough time for you both, then I apologize.  I never meant for you to feel that way.”

Scott and I gaped up at him.

“I love you more than anything in this world and I don’t want you to ever doubt that.  That being said, though, I like Miss Nancy a lot and I know she likes you the both of you very much.  A man needs a woman’s companionship sometimes…”

He looked at my face, then laughed.

“I know you don’t believe it right now, Johnny, but someday you will.”

He looked over at Scott and said, “I think your brother is starting to  view girls a little differently….heaven help me!”

Scott blushed a little at that.

“All right, boys, I have an idea.  I know there’s no school next Friday because the teacher has to go out of town on family business.  How about we go to the line shack up in the north pasture and do some fishing and hunting?  We could just spend a long weekend together, the three of us men.”

“Really, Pa!  Just the three of us?” I asked hopefully.

“Yep, just the three of us.”

Scott and I looked at each other and grinned.

Pa asked, “Are we good?” 

Scott and I nodded.

Pa stood up and stretched.

“Boys, what say we go down to the kitchen and see if Mia left us anything good to eat.”

We stood up on either side of him, and he draped an arm over our shoulders.

As we were leaving my room, Pa said, “Maybe while we’re out at the line shack, I should have a little talk with the two of you.  Miss Nancy thought it might be a good idea.”

Well, since my brother had been eavesdroppin’, we knew what Pa wanted to talk about!

Scott looked at me behind Pa’s back; I looked back at him and we both groaned.

Pa just had to go and spoil our perfect moment.


~ end ~


Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Vicki directly.



I had Scott receive his French postcards in the mail, but according to the following, that was prohibited.  I took a little poetic license.

A French postcard is a small, postcard-sized piece of cardstock featuring a photograph of a nude or semi-nude woman.  Such erotic cards were produced in great volume, primarily in France, in the late 19th and early 20th century.  The term was adopted in the USA, where such cards were not legally made.  The cards were sold as postcards, but the would have been banned from delivery.  French street vendors, tobacco shops and a variety of other vendors bought the photographs for resale to tourists.

stereopticon is a slide projector or “magic lantern,” which has two lenses, usually one above the other.  These devices date back to the mid 19th century, and were a popular form of entertainment and education before the advent of moving pictures.  Americans William and Frederick Langenheim introduced stereopticon slide technology-slide shows of projected photographs on glass in 1850.  For a fee of ten cents, people could view realistic photographs with nature, history, and science themes.  At first, the shows used random images, but over time, lanternists began to place the slides in logical order, creating a narrative.  This “visual storytelling” directly preceded the development of the first moving pictures.  The term stereopticon has been widely misused to name a stereoscope.  A stereopticon will not project of display stereoscopic/three-dimensional images.  The two lenses are used to dissolve between images when projected.  All stereopticons can be classified as magic lanterns, but not all magic lanterns are stereopticons.

The Sacramento Union was a daily newspaper founded in 1851 in Sacramento, California.  It was the oldest daily newspaper west of the Mississippi River before it closed its doors after 143 years in January 1994, no longer able to compete with The Sacramento Bee , which was founded in 1857, just six years after the Union .

5 thoughts on “Out On A Limb by Vicki L. Nelson

  1. Thank you, Sheila. I’ve loved writing my Small Matters stories, but it’s been a while since I brought the boys out to play. I need to whistle for them!


  2. I had read this one before but enjoyed giving it another look
    As you know I love the boys as youngsters and enjoy your tales of the sort of thing they would have probably got up to, had they had the chance to grow up together at the ranch.
    I think it was very understandable that both the boys would have been rather worried if their father had started courting. They were just getting used to each other and didn’t need another addition to the family. Good that they were able to explain this to Murdoch and he was able to reassure them
    Lancer lives on!


  3. Thanks, Lynne. I did like Murdoch’s new love interest and may bring her back again sometime. You’re right, tho, the boys’ relationship with their father was too knew to let someone new in just yet. Thanks for reading!


  4. Great series, Vicki! Enjoyed it so much. “A Mother’s Love” made me want to cry with the boys. “We Gather Together” made me laugh. Loved Scott and the PeeWee Pistolero coming home, seeing them as boys, and seeing their relationship develop and their relationship with Murdoch. Loved seeing them come to trust each other and become a family. Fun seeing Sam and Joe Butler; always liked them on High Chaparral. Good job!


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