"We've done it, Sam!" Frodo announced triumphantly when he returned to his room. "I have my answer!"
Sam was still sitting at the foot of the bed, where he'd been when Frodo had left. "You know who killed Mr. Berilac?"
"No, not precisely..." Frodo admitted.
"Then what did this Miss Melly tell you?"
"She told me what happened to her by the river that day, and that was enough." As he prepared for bed, Frodo discreetly related the facts of Melilot's story.
"Berry was sitting by the water's edge when she ran away," he concluded as Sam helped him pull his nightshirt on over his head and buttoned up the front. "I don't know if Berry fell in after that, or jumped, or was pushed by someone else. The important thing is that we know now how he got the wounds on his hands and head. If Melly will only speak up, Uncle Saradoc will have no other choice but to let Merry go free."
"You think she's telling the truth?" Sam asked.
"Sam!" Frodo cried, almost laughing with surprise and perhaps a little guilt, since he had doubted Melilot himself only a short time ago. "What a question! Of course I believe her." A small frown creased his brow. "Why do you think Melly's lying?"
"I'm not saying she is, nor that she isn't." Sam had been turning a few things over in his own mind while Frodo had been so long in his cousin's bedroom, and he thought he had to speak. "If you don't mind me saying, it seems to me that you're too ready to take these Brandybucks at their word. What about Mr. Doderic? Did you find out what that business of his going out and his brother coming back with the same boat was about?"
"That's turned out to be some silly romantic adventure of Ilbie's to court Estella Bolger." Frodo told Sam of his conversation with his cousins. "Dodi and Ilbie are silly young asses. It's just the sort of ridiculous stunt they'd put on. I should have guessed it was something of the kind once I heard that Estella was missing at the same time."
"Did you believe them too?"
"Once I heard their story, yes." The small frown deepened. "But, do you know, before we discovered that that comb belonged to Melly, I was almost certain Doderic was involved in Berry's death? When I asked him to explain himself, I practically accused him of murder-" Frodo scowled, "because of what you told me!"
"I was only doing as you asked!" Sam retorted, stung at this unfairness. "You said we were going to be methodical. Well, if that's what you mean to do, then it's no good to go on saying, 'No, Dodi couldn't do this' or 'Melly wouldn't ever do that,' whenever you find something against them. Now, I know they're your family. You don't like to think they've done wrong, any more'n I'd like to think it of my own brothers or sisters, but you've got to see that if one of 'em did it, they'd lie to you about it."
Sam expected Frodo to explode indignantly at this, but instead, Frodo considered his words seriously.
"You mean that I'm too close to see them properly?" he asked, and sank down on the bed with a sigh. "You may be right, Sam. I remember my cousins as they were as children, but I haven't been at the Hall in so long. I can't say what they're like now that they're grown, any more than they know me. I know too well what nice people, even respectable, decent Shire-folk, are capable of. That one of them may have committed murder-? I can grasp the idea of it here," he touched the side of his head, "but in my heart, it isn't so simple. I want so much to believe what they say. It feels disloyal to suspect them. These are my nearest relations, almost as dear to me as Merry is. How can I suspect them?" He lifted his eyes to Sam's. "What do you think happened?"
"I couldn't say," Sam admitted. "Maybe Miss Melilot hit Mr. Berry just as she says, or maybe she hit a bit harder and left him dead. Or, maybe, somebody else came along after she ran off. Maybe it was her brother, or old Mr. Dinodas saw more'n he said and went after Mr. Berry with that golf club of his. Or what about Mr. Doderic? He might've gone 'round the other way to Crickhollow and come across Mr. Berry by the river. Whatever happened, the one who did it wouldn't tell you--and if any of the others knew about it, they wouldn't say either. Seeing how close these Brandybucks are, they'd stick together. They'd protect each other."
"And aren't I one of them?"
Sam shook his head. "Not in this. You'll pardon me putting it so, but you've been poking your nose into something they don't want you to know about."
Frodo did laugh at this. "Surely you're not suggesting that they're all in it together? That seems a little far-fetched."
"No, but they aren't telling you everything. They've kept things back, even Mr. Merry."
"Merry-?" Frodo echoed, frown returning.
"You know he wouldn't tell you that that broken bit of comb was Miss Melilot's. Frodo, have you thought that Mr. Merry-" Here, Sam hesitated, afraid he was going too far.
But Frodo wanted to hear it. "What about 'Mr. Merry,' Sam?" he prompted. A hint of coldness had crept into his voice.
Knowing that he was on dangerous ground, Sam took a deep breath and said, "Have you thought that this story of Miss Melilot's gives him a better reason for getting rid of his cousin than what the sherriffs already have against him?"
Frodo gaped at him in amazement. "Sam, that's horrible! How can you even think it?"
"You told me yourself how he feels toward this Miss Melilot," Sam explained in a rush. "What if he knew what'd happened between her and Mr. Berilac? I'd gladly knock anybody over the head if they went grabbing at my sister."
"Are you saying you think that Merry is guilty?"
"No! I'm not saying it's so. Only-"
"Only that I should consider the possibility?" Frodo shook his head. "Well, I can't! I won't! This really is too much! I refuse to listen to another word of it." He flung himself onto the mattress. "Sam, will you leave me alone, please?"
Sam didn't argue, but went into the dressing room and shut the door between them.
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