When he left Frodo, Sam went to find Daffy, to see if she could tell him more about the disgraced maid and the husband who had rejected her. Except for that elusive dark-haired girl, these two were the only people he'd heard of who might want Berilac dead who were not part of the Brandybuck family, and he knew that Frodo would want him to find them and talk to them if possible. He had gotten on very good terms with Daffy today; she might be able to tell him where Milliflora's family lived, or where the husband's farm was. He asked in the kitchens, and one of the cooks directed him out to the wash yard behind the kitchen garden.
It was the end of a laundry day; a number of huge copper pots and wooden washtubs in the yard, no longer filled with hot water, had been turned up to dump the last of their soapy contents onto the grass. Servant-maids carried large wicker baskets up to take down the sheets and clothing that had been left hanging to dry all day on lines strung up on poles on the slope of Buck Hill above.
Sam looked up at the maids, searching for that head of bright yellow hair... when he noticed something he was not looking for. His mouth dropped open.
After he'd left Doderic and Ilberic at their rooms, Frodo tried to puzzle matters out. He had found answers to several of his most perplexing questions, but he didn't feel as if he were any closer to solving the central problem of who had killed Berry.
As he rounded the curve of the hallway on his way to his own bedroom, he found Sam waiting for him outside the door.
"Frodo!" Sam came forward eagerly. "Where've you been? There's something you've got to see, if she's still there."
"Come on." He took Frodo by the arm, and led him a few feet farther along the hallway, until they came to a side-corridor that sloped sharply downwards. They went down this passage, until they came to its end just outside the kitchens, at a back door on the southern side of the Hall. Sam took Frodo out through this door, and into the wash yard.
"I came here looking for Daffy," Sam told him. "I didn't find her, but I noticed this other girl-" He nodded to indicate one of the maids, who stood chatting and laughing among a group of others on the hillside. "Frodo, look. Her, there."
Frodo looked, but he didn't see what was so interesting about the maid at first, until she turned her back to them. Then he saw it: holding her dark brown curls away from her face was a large crescent-shaped comb made up of silver loops like long, curving leaves, and sparkling with garnets.
"It's just like that bit you found," Sam leaned closer to whisper near his ear.
"Who is she?" Frodo whispered back. "Do you know her?"
"I've seen her in the servant's dining hall. Lily's her name. Lily Waters. She's maid to some of the ladies. D'you think she's the one?"
"It could be..." Frodo felt his hopes rising. So the mysterious dark-haired girl might exist after all! "That comb is too expensive to belong to a maidservant. If she is the one we've been looking for, Berilac must have given it to her as a gift." In spite of himself, his imagination took flight again. "Was he dallying with this girl, and they were going to one of the empty cottages for a tryst? And what happened then?"
"I thought you said that piece of jewelry belonged to one of the family?" asked Sam. "Why else would Mr. Merry not tell us about it?"
"Yes, that's what I thought," Frodo admitted. "But I must have been mistaken. There must be some other reason for Merry to keep silent. We've got to find out. Go and talk to her, Sam."
Sam balked. "What do I say?"
"Flirt with her."
"Oh, you know the sort of thing. Tell her she's pretty. She's got lovely eyes. Say something about how the garnets in that comb bring out the red in her hair, and then ask where she got it. Lead up to the question gradually." Sam was staring at him incredulously. "I've got to know," Frodo explained. "I can't ask her, Sam--it wouldn't be right for one of the family to be so familiar with a housemaid. Or, worse, she might think I'm accusing her of stealing it. She'll be much more likely to tell you the truth if you ask her in the right way."
Sam nodded, agreeing reluctantly.
"All right then." Frodo gave him a push to send him off. "Go on!"
While Sam climbed up the hillside to question the maid, Frodo retreated to a bench beneath a cluster of trees in one corner of the yard, where he could watch Sam's progress without being too conspicuous; the servants who had noticed him seemed curious at the sight of a gentlehobbit in black velvet hanging about their work area. He wished he had his pipe with him, for it would at least give him the visible excuse of sitting here for a quiet smoke.
On the slope of Buck Hill, the maid Lily had stripped one line of clothing and was dragging her laundry basket uphill toward the next. Sam caught up with her and, taking the handle at one end of the basket, offered to carry it for her. The two began to chat as he helped her take down a line of ladies' petticoats. Lily did not seem to find the attention unwelcome, but smiled, laughed, and touched her hair, until Frodo began to worry that Sam was carrying out his task a little too well. He also noticed that some of the other maids nearby looked jealous that the visitor had picked out Lily to talk to.
Frodo had to admit that once Sam overcame his natural shyness, he had a way with women. He was comfortable talking to them. It was an ability that Frodo acknowledged he did not possess himself. He felt awkward around girls he had not known from childhood. Never mind that it wasn't proper--he simply could not have flirted with a girl as he had instructed Sam to do. It was just as well that he had no more interest in them than Merry did, and was not being pressed to marry.
He wondered if Sam felt differently. If it weren't for him, would Sam be happy with a girl..?
When Lily had filled her laundry basket, Sam carried it down the hill and saw her to the back door. With one last smile at him, she went into the Hall with the other maids. Once she had gone, Sam found Frodo under the trees and went to him, rather flushed in the face.
"Well?" asked Frodo.
"It wasn't Mr. Berilac," Sam reported. "Lily told me it was one of the ladies she tends. She said, 'Miss Melly gave it me.'"
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