The cottage where Merry and Pippin were living was at the very end of the lane, set farther back than the others and hidden behind a tall hedge. It had been built after the style of a hobbit-hole--low, round-roofed, and sod-covered, so it resembled a natural hill amid a grove of trees. Only the facade around the front door showed a brick face. There was a neglected garden before the house, and Sam looked at the overgrown grass and untended flowers in dismay as he followed Frodo up the stone walk.
Before Frodo could knock, the door flew open and Pippin sprang out to throw his arms around him.
"I knew you'd be coming!" Pippin announced gleefully. "When I saw Dodi, Fatty, and Ilbie at the Buckle's Notch last night, they told me you were at the Hall. I've had an eye out the window all morning, watching for you. Have you had any breakfast yet?"
"Yes, just before we came out," said Sam.
"Well come in and have some more! I was just sitting down for a bite."
The inside of the cottage was as unkempt as the garden, for the two young hobbits who occupied it were indifferent housekeepers at the best of times, and Pippin more careless than usual since Merry had gone. Dishes were piled in the kitchen sink and the floor looked as if it hadn't been swept in a week, but a fresh pot of tea and a plate of currant buns had been set on the table. Pippin wiped out a couple of mugs with a dishcloth and poured tea for his guests.
"I'd hoped to see you last night," Frodo told him, "but Uncle Saradoc took me off after dinner for a serious talk... about Merry."
Pippin sobered at this. "You've heard about their quarrel then?"
"Merry told us everything."
"They let you see him? I'm not allowed to--the sherriffs are under 'special orders' to keep me out."
"We saw him yesterday. Merry asked me to come by and tell you that he's fine. He was afraid you'd been left alone here." Frodo was relieved to know that that wasn't so; if Doderic, Ilberic, and Fatty were meeting Pippin in the pub at Bucklebury, then he had not been entirely shut out by the family.
He said so, and Pippin answered, "Oh, yes, all the lads have rallied 'round. Dodi was here the morning after the quarrel to say he was on our side, and Fatty came straight away when he got to Buckland. And our neighbors have been very kind. Old Uncle Dino says he'll stand by Merry... although I don't think he really understands what Merry and I have done to be in trouble. Celie's as sweet as that stodgy husband of hers will let her be, and Mentha had a word or two for us when we went by."
"Doderic was here..." Frodo's brow creased in a small, thoughtful frown.
"Even Aunt Esme came by yesterday morning," Pippin continued as he offered the currant buns; Sam took one. "She was bringing a few things over to Merry at the guardshouse, and wanted to be sure I was all right. She said I could come stay at the Hall if I wanted to, but I think I'm better off keeping out of the way 'til the trouble's past." He picked up one of the buns, took a bite, and continued through the mouthful. "Not Berry's murder, I mean. You can see why I'm not exactly eager to get in Uncle Saradoc's sight right now. If he remembers that I'm here, I'll be thrown off the premises and no doubt sent packing home to Tuckburough in disgrace. And I refuse to go. I won't leave Merry, not while he needs me. I'm going to rescue him." He sat down and, leaning over the table, told them confidentially, "That's the reason why I'm meeting the lads at the pub: We're making a plan to raid the Newbury guardshouse and set Merry free. Want to join us?"
"I've already promised Merry I'd do something of the kind if worst came to worst," said Frodo, "but I think we ought to keep that as a last resort, don't you? I mean, there are other, more peaceable means of freeing Merry we might try before it comes to that, and we all have to flee the Shire and live as outcasts."
"I guess so..." Pippin answered, reluctant to abandon his plans to rescue Merry himself.
"It seems to me that the best way to help Merry is by finding out who's really responsible for Berilac's murder." Frodo sat down opposite his cousin. "I intend to look for whatever facts the sherriffs might have missed to prove Merry's innocence. Will you give me a day or two to do that before you and the others do anything rash?"
"Yes, all right."
"And can I rely on your help?"
"What can I do?" Pippin folded his hands on the table and looked attentive and earnest.
"Tell me everything that happened that morning. Was there anything odd?"
"It was an odd day even before we knew about Berry. Merry was very upset, you see, by his fight with his father. He'd been tossing all night, and he was up early. He barely touched his breakfast, and then he said he was going out. I offered to go with him, but he wanted to be by himself and think."
"You stayed here through the morning?"
Pippin nodded. "I wanted to be here when Merry came back."
"Did you see anyone? Berry didn't come by, did he?"
"No, certainly not!"
"What about Dodi? When exactly did he visit?"
"Dodi dropped by around elevenses, but he was gone by the time Merry came back and we had our lunch. After lunch, Merry said he was sorry he'd been so awful before, and offered to go out for another walk with me. We went down the lane 'til we got to the river."
"Did you speak to any of your neighbors? Celie? Uncle Dinodas?" asked Frodo.
"I think Uncle Dino was in his front yard when we went by, but we didn't stop to talk to him. Mentha was in her garden. We didn't see Celie or Merimas."
"And why did you go that particular way?"
"Well... the Notch doesn't open for afternoon business 'til 4:00, and we thought we'd take the long way 'round and stop on our way back through Bucklebury for an ale or two. But when we found the boat, we went around to the Hall boathouse instead to ask them about it. It looked odd to us. The oars were missing."
"You didn't see anyone along the river? Not Berry, nor anyone else? Any girls?"
"Girls?" Pippin shook his head.
Frodo brought out the swirls of silver from his pocket. "Did you notice this, or the rest of it, when you discovered Berilac's boat?"
"What is it?" his cousin asked as he took the piece. "It looks like a broken bit of jewelry."
"I found it in the river, near the place where the boat was pulled up onto the bank. It's why I think some girl might've been there. You've never seen it before? You don't know who it belongs to?"
"No," came the regretful answer as Pippin gave it back. "It doesn't look like I've got much useful information for you, does it?"
"Nonsense. You've cleared up several points, and given me one or two ideas to look into. One last question, Pippin: You've been living here in Buckland for months. You know the people at Brandy Hall and around it, seen things first-hand. Do you have any suspicions who might have wanted to kill Berry?"
Pippin picked up another bun and munched thoughtfully. "I've been wondering about that since the sherriffs took Merry away, since I don't have much else to do. But I haven't the least idea. No one liked Berry--that is, no one who really knew him--but to bash his head in... well, that takes a special kind of hatred, doesn't it? You'd have to want him dead in the worst way to do that. I can't see any of the Brandybucks getting worked up enough to kill one of their own family and be so vicious about it, not even Merry."
Frodo looked shocked, and Pippin explained: "Well, you know it's not true that Merry wouldn't ever kill anybody. He has. We've all had to fight-" he looked to Sam, who nodded in understanding. They had all seen battle, had drawn their swords to defend themselves or others, and all of them except Frodo had come away with blood on their blades. "But this isn't some orc. It's a cousin! Even if Merry hated him enough to want to get rid of him, he wouldn't do it in that nasty way. I couldn't tell the sherriffs that, though. They wouldn't understand. They'd only see that if there's one Brandybuck who's actually killed someone, it's our Merry. They'd say that if he did it before, he'd do it again." He asked Frodo, "Are you going to see him again today?"
"I promised him I'd come back," Frodo answered. "Besides, Uncle Saradoc asked me to see him, to talk him out of going on with you."
Pippin grinned impishly. "In that case, will you give him a kiss for me? And tell him I'm still here, waiting for him to come home."
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