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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
The Adventures of Fish and Chips - Book 2

The Mysterious Tunnel

“I say we go to The Horse and the Lion for supper tonight,” Hugh Alexander Ross said. “What do you say, son?” He glanced at Fish.

“Sounds good to me. They've got excellent food there. Did Mum tell you that Chips is staying with us? Her mum and dad went to the mainland to visit Mr. Campbell's father. She's spending the next few nights here. Mum's putting her in the spare bedroom.”

“I didn't know, but that's grand. I'm sure Fiona will enjoy going out for a night on the town,” Mr. Ross said.

“Call her Chips, Dad. She doesn't like to be called Fiona,” Fish reminded him.

“I forgot. Fish and Chips, the inseparable duo. Run and get Harry, your mum and Chips and we'll be on our way,” his father said.

Chips ran behind the croft. His mum and Chips were milking the highland cow. “Mum, it's time to go. Where's Harry?”

Maureen looked up. “He's stacking the peat around the side. Chips and I will be there shortly. I've nearly finished milking Gretta.”

Fish saw the nearly full bucket. He waved at Chips, who smiled up at him and winked.

“Harry, we're going to The Horse and the Lion for supper. Dad says to wash up.” Fish stood on the other side of the stack of peat.

Harry wiped the sweat from his forehead. “This is hard work. I'm glad next week is your turn to stack the peat. It looks like we've got enough to get through the winter. I'm starving. Why aren't we going to The Heather and Thistle Inn for supper? We always go there. Why the change?”

“I've no idea. Dad picked. They serve good barley soup there. Go and wash up. Mum's almost done milking Gretta. Fish is staying here for a few nights. Did you know that, Harry?” Fish nodded.

“Oh wonderful! Just what I need. Two annoying ten year old pests. Keep her out of my room, I warn you.” Harry headed for the door. “Out of my room, Fish.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Why would she want to go into your room. It's worse than a pigsty,” Fish mumbled to himself.

An hour later they sat around a table. The dimly lit pub, kept warm and cozy by a roaring fire, burst at the seams with customers. “It's very busy here tonight, isn't it, Hugh. I wonder what the special is. It's always busy here on the night Rhiannon makes her famous barley soup.”

“Yes, Maureen, it is busy,” Hugh said, looking around.

The aroma of fried food filled the air. Fish watched as Roderick McGregor, the owner of the pub, carried mugs of ale to some of the customers. Loud laughter erupted from a table over the in corner. “I think I'll have some of that barley soup, Mum,” he said, turning his attention back to the menu. “I want some trout and chips too, with mashed peas.”

“That sounds good,” Chips said. “I don't want the trout though. I'd like some steak and kidney pie with chips, if that's all right, Mr. Ross.”

“Of course, lass. Have anything you want,” he replied.

After they'd ordered their meal, they waited patiently, chatting about school and Chip's parents. Chips noticed an old door. “Where does that door lead to? It's not the kitchen.”

“Down to the dungeon,” Harry said, chuckling.

“Behind the door? I imagine there are steps leading down to the cellar. Roderick probably keeps his ale and wines down there, along with other staples,” Hugh said.

“I've heard stories,” Harry began, “that they used to keep dead bodies down there. They say if you look carefully, you'll find bones lying around.”

“Don't fill Chip's head with such nonsense, Harry. Where on earth did you hear such rubbish,” his mother scoffed.

“It's true, Mum. Billy McPhee told me. He used to work for Mr. McGregor. One night, he sent Billy down to the cellar to bring up a keg of ale and saw a skull.”

“Harry! Stop! Fish and Chips won't sleep tonight with nightmares,” Maureen said.

“Mum, I don't have nightmares and just because Harry talks about skulls and bones doesn't mean I'm frightened.” Fish crossed his arms.

Before they could say anything else, the waitress appeared with their supper. Plates piled high with golden chips, salted and seasoned, trout, Angus beef, shepherd's pie and bridies, were placed on the table in front of them.

“Ooh. Pickled onions.” Chip poked one with her fork.

“Eat up,” Hugh said.

After they'd finished eating, the family sat back in their chairs. “I am so full. If I eat another bite, I'll explode,” Maureen said, patting her tummy.

“What about sweets, Mum?” Harry pushed his empty plate to the side. “I've been thinking about trifle and fresh cream all afternoon.”

“I'd like some rhubarb pie, Mum.” Fish wiped his mouth with a paper napkin.

“I think your mum and I are finished. Why don't we stop by and see auld Mr. Sinclair. I hear he's not doing well with his health,” Hugh said, looking at his wife.

“I'd like that. What about the children?” Maureen glanced around the table.

“We're not children, Mum. Stop saying that. It embarrasses me. I'm fourteen years old.” Harry scowled.

“You're right, Harry. Why don' t the three of you stay and have some sweets. Tell Mr. McGregor to add it to our bill. Have whatever you want. Your mum and I will be home before it's too late. It all depends on how long Mr. Sinclair wants us to stay.” Their father stood, helped his wife put on her coat and the two of them left.

“They're gone. Good. I was thinking, let's have something sweet and then I want to sneak downstairs into the cellar. Billy McPhee doesn't lie.” Harry waved to a waitress, trying to get her attention.

“What'll it be?” Agnes McKenzie smiled at them.

“I'll have the trifle, extra cream,” Harry said.

“I want the rhubarb pie, if its hot, and I want plenty of cream in a bowl, so I can pour on however much I want,” Fish said.

Agnes looked at Chips. “And you, lass?”

“I think I'll have the toffee pudding, with extra toffee, and a dish of vanilla ice cream,” she replied.

While Agnes was off getting their order, Harry said, “Billy told me there's a tunnel that leads from the cellar to the cemetery on the hill. Let' s go and find it, unless you're afraid.”

“Don't start with me, Harry. We're not afraid of anything like that. But what if we get caught? What if Mr. McGregor sees us go down there?” Fish rubbed his hands together.

“He won't. Look how busy the place is. He'll be running around for the next two hours.” Harry pointed at the overweight man.

Agnes put the dishes down on the table. “Enjoy.”

They polished off their food, down to the last sticky crumb. Not one drop of cream was left in either Harry's or Fish's bowls.

“If only I had a piece of tablet. That would top the meal off,” Harry said.

“Harry! You just ate enough food to fill ten people, not to mention your trifle with all that cream. How can you even think of putting another bite into your mouth?” Chips shook her head in disgust.

Harry laughed, tossing his light brown hair across his forehead. His brown eyes caught the flame of the fire. “McGregor's got his hands full. Come on.” Harry slid out of his seat and walked towards the old wooden door.

Fish and Chips looked at each other. Fish shrugged his shoulders and the two of them followed Harry.

The door opened with no problem. The three slid inside, shutting it behind them. “It's pitch black in here, Harry.” Chips grabbed Fish's arm.

Harry reached over and flipped the light switch on. “There you go.”

“Look how steep the steps are. They're mossy. I hope we don't slip,” Chips said.

“Stop being so negative. Come on,” Harry said.

Once they were standing at the bottom, Fish gave a sigh of relief. “This place is a mess. There's nothing but old wooden crates. I wonder what's in them?” Fish brushed the grit off one of the boxes. “This one says wine.”

“I'll bet Mr. McGregor would forbid us to come to the pub ever again if he knew we'd sold that aged wine to The Heather and Thistle Inn.” Chips brushed cobwebs from his face.

“Where do you think a tunnel would be? I say hidden behind some crates. Probably some that's been stacked there for ages and are empty,” Harry said. “Look around.”

They split up, searching a tunnel. Fish spotted it first. “It's here. I've found it.”

“Lower your voice. Can you imagine how angry McGregor would be if he found us in his cellar? Whisper,” Harry said. “Did you find any skeletons, Chips?” He taunted the girl.

“Very funny, Harry. Are you sure it's safe to go in the tunnel? It's awfully dark and musty smelling.” Chips' nose twitched as she sniffed.

“It's a tunnel that leads to a cemetery. How do you expect it to smell?” Harry snapped.

“It's dark in there. How will we see?” Fish tapped his brother on the shoulder.

“Look around. There's got to be a torch somewhere in this cellar.” Harry turned to the left. “Here's one right here. How fortunate for us.” He turned it on to make sure it worked and aimed it down the tunnel. “Looks a little cramped in there. We might have to bend over.”

They inched their way down the stony shaft, brushing dust off their faces. “Oh no. The tunnel splits. We can go to the left or to the right. If one takes us to the cemetery, I wonder where the other one will take us.” Chips swallowed.

“Which way do you two want to go?” Harry shone the torch in their faces.

“Stop it, Harry. You're blinding me. Let's just go back the way we came,” Chips said.

“She's right, Harry,” Fish added.

“If you two are afraid, go ahead and go back. I'm going on.” Harry aimed the light ahead of him. “To the right it is. Oh, by the way, if you go back, you'll be going in the dark. I'm taking the torch with me.”

Chips sighed. “Come on, Fish. We've no choice.”

After ten minutes, they could see an opening ahead of them. “I smell water,” Harry said. When they left the tunnel, they found themselves surrounded by tall stones. After weaving in and out of them, they stood on the shore of the loch. “Well, well, well. It would seem Mr. McGregor is a smuggler.”

“I don't think so, Harry,” Chips said. “Maybe there were pirates in this area. Maybe they smuggled rum an hid it in here.”

“Or maybe it was the Scots hiding from the English. Maybe King Robert the Bruce hid here and saw the spider.” Fish smiled. “That would be brilliant, wouldn't it?”

“This is very remote. I doubt if it was either. It's probably a natural cave, made by the lapping waves. Remember, this is a tidal loch.” Chips was about to say something when they heard a noise behind them.

“What was that?” Fish ran and hid behind one of the tall stones. “Someone's coming. Hide.”

Harry and Chips squatted next to him. A dark shape emerged from the tunnel. “It's Mr. McGregor,” Chips whispered. “He must have seen us go through the door and he's come to thrash us.”

Mr. McGregor held a torch in his hand. He aimed it around the stones and then walked down to the shoreline.

A small motor boat puttered across the loch. When it hit the beach, three men jumped out and pulled the boat onto the sand. One wore an eye patch.

“Yikes! Pirates.” Fish slid to the wet sand.

“Quiet,” Harry warned. “Those aren't pirates. Pirates don't speak with Scottish accents. Those men are Highlanders.”

They peaked out from behind the stone, catching glimpses of the men and hearing bits and pieces of the conversation.

One man pulled a crate out of the boat. “These were a steal. You owe me big for this one, McGregor. It's robbery,” a bearded man spoke.

The man with the eye patch added, “Gareth will have my hide when he finds out I sold this to you. He'll slit my throat.”

“Did you hear that? He said he was going to slit Mr. McGregor's throat,” Fish said.

“No he didn't. He said that he stole whatever is in the crates from someone and slit his throat.” Harry corrected his brother.

“We can't hear what they're saying. Whatever it is they're selling to Mr. McGregor, it's not being done honestly. Let's get out of here,” Chips said.

“Where do you expect us to go? The tide is coming in and there are too many rocky cliffs. The only way is back through the tunnel. We're stuck here until McGregor goes back inside.” Harry glared at the men in the boat.

A few minutes later the beach stood quiet. Mr. McGregor picked up one of the crates, carried it on his shoulder and disappeared into the tunnel.

“He's got five crates. We'll be here all night. I hope Mum and Dad stay at Mr. Sinclair's croft for awhile.” Fish stood and looked down at his foot. “A piece of drift wood.” He shoved it in his pocket. “I'll carve it someday.”

An hour later and thoroughly shivering with the cold, they made their way back through the tunnel. “Remember next time we go to go to the left to the cemetery,” Harry said.

“What if Mr. McGregor's still in the cellar? What if he's stacked full crates in front of the tunnel entrance?” Chips started to get worried.

“We'll be fine.” Harry led them down the tunnel. When they reached the cellar, all were relieved to see it was empty and no crates in front of it. “See.”

Darting up the steps, Harry opened the door a crack and peeked to make sure nobody was looking their way. “It's safe.” They crept out and ran back to their table.

“We're lucky nobody sat in our places. “ Chips sighed.

“These aren't our plates. Someone did sit at our place. We've been gone quite a long time,” Fish said.

Loud laughter roared across the pub. “You should have seen their faces when I paid them. They called me a crook!” Mr. McGregor boasted to his waitresses, who stood around the bar talking to him.

“You are a crook, Roderick. Everyone knows that.” Agnes giggled.

“Would you like to see what I got? We're going to have a good time tomorrow.” Mr. McGregor disappeared through the door. He came back a few minutes later carrying one of the crates.

“Look, Fish and Chips. He's brought one of them up. Does that mean the waitresses are in on it?” Harry gulped.

McGregor plopped the crate down on the counter.

“Do you think there's a dead person in there, all cut up in pieces?” Fish shook with fear.

Agnes helped Mr. McGregor pry the lid off the crate. “Aren't they beauties?”

Fish gulped. “He's calling someone's fingers beauties.”

“Be quiet, Fish. Nobody knows there are fingers in the crate. You're letting your imagination run wild,” Chips said.

“Here you go, ladies. Tomorrow's special is oysters.” Mr. McGregor dumped them onto the counter.

“Oysters?” Fish scrunched up his face.

“I got them for a few pounds off Jamie Ullapool from the next island. Jack McTavish hired him to bring in his oyster catch and Jamie kept a few for himself. They were quite a steal.” McGregor picked a few up and showed the girls. “Get them stored properly. There are four more crates in the cellar.”

Harry burst out laughing. “Oysters. All this time we thought he was a scoundrel, thief and murderer, and it was only oysters.”

Chips looked at her watch. “I'm sure your mum and dad are home or will be soon. Let's go.”

The three of them rushed home, tossed their coats on the bench by the door and sat down in front of the television. No sooner had they done so when the front door opened.

“We're home,” Maureen called.

The parents came into the room and saw the three of them in front of the telly. “Had a quiet night?” Hugh rubbed Fish's hair.

“Yes, Dad. We had a quiet night.” Fish winked at Harry and Chips and then they turned their attention back to the telly.

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