"Can I come in?" Pippin peeked his head in through the door, as if unsure of his welcome.
"It's good of you to join us, Pip," Frodo said.
"I left the house right after you did," Pippin told them. "I think I must've started for Tookbank ahead of you. I've been here for awhile, sitting in the public room. I wanted to say how sorry I am." He looked far more contrite than any Took who had actually insulted the Brandybucks. "I see why they have to suspect Melly--you always go on about that, Frodo, suspecting people even when they're part of our own families--but they don't have to be so nasty about it. And Mother had no right to say the things she did. I couldn't sit in that room with them for another minute after you left."
"So you've made your choice," said Merry. "You're with us." He was watching Pippin carefully.
Pippin nodded. "I didn't want to pick sides--but if I have to pick, then I pick you." He returned the smile Merry gave him, then turned to Frodo to announce, "I want to help with this investigation. I'll do whatever you say. I'll be a spy among the Tooks for you. If there's something you want to know about and Father and Uncle Addy won't tell you, Frodo, I can find it out."
"I don't think your father or Uncle Addy are hiding anything, Pip," said Frodo.
"I doubt either of them would kill Ev," Merry added. "I can't see Uncle Addy harming anybody, least of all one of his children."
Pippin shook his head in agreement. "That's not what I meant. Only that I'd find out things for you if you asked me to. Besides, if it's anybody--one of us, I mean--then it must be Reg."
Both Frodo and Merry were surprised to hear Pippin express this remarkable idea. "But why would Reg want to kill his own brother?" asked Frodo.
"I didn't say that he did," Pippin replied, "but remember how he felt about that old business with Toby? He was even worse after Ev ran off with Toby's brother. He thought that Ev had disgraced the Tooks, but he blamed Melly for it. Well, what if Reg thought that this was a good way to get back at all of them? At the Clovers and Ev, and at Melly too."
"You mean, he would deliberately plan to lay the blame on Melly?" said Merry.
"It's possible, isn't it? I can't think of anybody else in the family it could be. I don't like to think of it being anybody, but Reg is the one I can't help thinking it might be. If it was him, maybe he didn't mean to kill Ev. What if he went to the cottage to kill Tibby and didn't know Ev was there? It was only when Ev came out of the bedroom and tried to stop Reg or said he'd tell that Reg had to kill him too." He regarded Frodo expectantly, waiting to see what he thought of this.
While Pippin's theory didn't quite fit what Frodo had seen at the cottage, he acknowledged that there might be something in it. "But if that were so, then the plan to implicate Melly must've occurred to him later. If Reg meant to leave Ev alive, then surely Ev would be suspected when his lover was murdered while he was in the next room. Would Reg want that to happen?"
"There'd be an awful scandal in any case, on top of the scandal of Ev and Tibby coming home to begin with," said Merry. "Maybe he'd want to see Ev punished by being suspected, or even arrested, to serve him out for bringing all this trouble on the Tooks in first place. But would Reg go so far as to stand by and see his brother hanged?"
"If Pip's right, he went even further toward seeing Everard dead, and he has no qualms about standing by to see Melly punished for two murders when she is innocent of any crime." He could see that Pippin was growing uncomfortable with this discussion, even though he had introduced the idea. Reginard was, after all, married to Pippin's eldest sister. "That's a task for you if you want it, Pip. Reg would certainly refuse to talk to me if I asked him questions about Evvy, but he might talk to you. Don't pry and make him suspicious, but encourage him to talk about Everard and see if he says anything noteworthy. And can you find out where he was just before tea-time? If he was home well before Melly, then he couldn't have been at the cottage after she'd gone. But he might've come in later. Some time must have passed, you see, between the time Melly left the cottage and the time of the murder."
"How do you know that?" asked Merry.
"Unless he was feeling unwell, Ev surely didn't go to bed immediately after she'd gone, but he was in his nightclothes and the bed was rumpled. Also, according to Melly, Tibby practically shoved her out the door so he and Ev could have their tea. And they did have their tea--Chief Shirriff Thornbreak said the tea things had been washed up in the kitchen. The murderer wouldn't have done that, not without washing up himself first! Even a half an hour might be enough time, though that's cutting it rather fine. You might see if Reg came home as late as that."
Pippin nodded, accepting this assignment.
"Another task you might take up to help me doesn't involve the Tooks at all. You remember that I said I believe Tibby is at the bottom of this?"
"And had quarrels with other people here at the Bullroarer's besides me?"
"That's right. Mr. Brundle wouldn't tell me more, but he might tell you. Or one of the Bullroarer's regular patrons might feel at ease speaking of Tibby to you when they'd be more guarded if Merry or I asked them questions. I know you won't mind spending time in the public room in a good cause."
"Not at all!" Pippin had perked up at the prospect of this easier job. "I've done some of my best investigating over a half pint. I can start tonight if you want me to."
"That would be splendid." Frodo glanced at Merry, and noted that his Brandybuck cousin's spirits had also improved since Pippin's arrival. "Will we need two rooms after all?"
"I won't be stopping overnight," said Pippin. "I'll have another ale and a bite to eat before I have to go home for dinner. There'll be a fuss if I don't."
"But you could leave us to ourselves for awhile, Frodo," Merry suggested. Pippin had been standing just inside the door during this conversation; Merry now stepped closer to take his arm and draw him into the center of the room.
"I meant to go back to Tuckborough anyway," Frodo reminded him. "I have to talk to Melly."
"You're certain that you don't want me to have the ponies ready and waiting?"
"No," Frodo said firmly to quash any further plans for escape that would do Melly more harm than good. "But if you're going to order dinner while I'm out, you might leave some for me."
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