“Fishies!” Elizabeth slapped the surface of the water with an excited squeal.
“Be calm a piuthar, we dinna want to let them know we are here.” Henry lifted his finger to his mouth and shushed.
Elizabeth raised her own chubby finger and mimicked his actions with a giggle.
“Look, Lizzie, see how a real man catches his prey.” Willie dipped his hand into the water, wiggling his fingers as he had seen his father do from afar.
When he tried to grasp onto one that sped in front of his eyes, it slipped away. It startled the group by jumping out of the water and smacking right into Willie’s face. He stumbled back and cradled his cheek. Elizabeth giggled at her older brother and Henry joined in with a slight shake of his shoulders, not wanting his brother to see his reaction to the comedic sight.
“Va te faire foutre!”
“I’m telling mam ye said that!” Henry sulked, tying a squirming worm to a string.
“And what? Let her know Fergus has taught us the words?” Henry tightened his lips into a frown; he didn’t want to bring his parents ire down on his older brother. “That’s what I thought, Henri .”
Willie continued placing his hands under the steady stream, despite his earlier blunder. Only a minute had passed, but he was getting impatient. He smacked a palm through the water and plopped down onto a rock near the shore.
“Willie, just use the line like mam does.”
“No, I’m a big lad, I don’t need it.”
Henry felt a tug and pulled up the string quickly. The fish gasped for breath until he dropped a rock on its head in mercy. His mother had taught them to be merciful to all creatures, especially if they were to be their next meal. Right now, she was having another ‘one of those days’, as their da called it, where she’d fumble around dazedly and spooked at the slightest sound, so they were tasked with entertaining their little sister.
“Mam will be so proud! Look Willie!” Henry beamed. “Ha’ ye caught any fish wi’ yer hands yet, a bràithair ?” He quirked his brow at the fuming carbon copy of him on the dirt.
“And ye ken what that means Willie.” Henry taunted his brother by swinging the string up above his head. “I caught it ye clean it.”
“No!” Willie gagged at the sight above his head and frantically crawled away. “I dinna want tae touch that slimy thing.”
Henry continued his advance, and Willie backed at each of his steps. Suddenly, Henry stopped and dropped the fish near Willie’s feet.
“I dinna ken, she was bothering the fishies when a butterfly flew past her and she chased it.”
“Ye lost her!”
“No, she was right over…” Willie scanned his surroundings and panic seized his heart. “Well ye lost her too, ye were too busy dragging yer prize around tae notice!”
About a hundred yards down, they saw a flash of red and both ram into a sprint, the fish forgotten.
Henry was much faster than his brother, and reached where the stream converged into the small mill pond on their property. Diving straight in, Henry ignored the freezing water that was a consequence of the crisp November day. His eyes zeroed in on the flash of red that bobbed back into the water and he rushed further into the stinging pond. He tugged roughly against the fabric of his sister’s collar once his fingers finally snatched the material.
The pair laid instantly on the grass once they breached the surface and left the cold, exhausted from the energy spent on both sides. Lizzie began sputtering and crying in her brother’s arms and refused to let him out of her embrace, clawing into his lanky arms. Willie plopped down next to them and patted his sister’s back, trying to aid any water left in her lungs in its escape. Henry smoothed back the red hair that clung to her forehead, like he had seen their mother do countless times to calm her. Her sobs turned into little hiccups and Henry felt her arms slacken in their tight hold.
“I’m sae sorry a piuthar.”
“Is otay.” Her cheek lifted from his shoulder. “Can we do it again Hen Hen? I saw sae many fishies!”
The spark of glee returned to her eyes in an instant and she excitedly patted her brother’s cheeks that were flush from the exertion and panic of the events that took place no more than a minute ago. She jumped out of Henry’s lap and squealed as she barreled into Willie’s chest. They both shook their heads at each other with a look as if to express their exasperation at their sister's eagerness and indifference to what had just happened. Willie turned her body around to his back and the siblings began to stroll back home, one struggling under the weight of a three-year-old.
When they returned to the front doors of Lallybroch, two of the party sopping wet with tails between their legs like a chastised dog, their father was none too pleased.