After dinner, Melly picked up her sleepy son to put him to bed. "I know that you're going to talk about murder now," she said, "and Addy oughtn't hear about such things yet."
"Will you come back after you've tucked him in?" asked Merry.
Melly shook her head. "I'm afraid I'm not up for joining this investigation. I've played too much of a part in it already. Only tell me when you know who killed Evvy."
Sam gave her a look of sympathy. He'd said the same thing after Rosie's death. It was impossible to take an interest in abstract discussions about who might've murdered someone when you were so close to the murder yourself.
Once Melly had gone and the table had been cleared except for a tray containing a decanter of the innkeeper's best wine, the four hobbits settled down to look over Frodo's investigation so far. Sam was told about all that had been seen and discovered since that afternoon; he then took out a memoranda book and the slate pencil he'd brought with him. "Now, who d'you think did it?" he asked, and prepared to write out a list of suspects.
"If you ask me, Rudmer Thursk seems the most likely," said Pippin.
Frodo had to agree. "He cares very deeply for his wife--more than she does for him. Her brother came first in her heart, though he didn't deserve that sort of devotion. If Rudmer was afraid of what Tibby's return would do to his marriage and his wife's peace of mind, he might've gone to any lengths to see that Tibby was sent away again as soon as possible. We know that he fought with Tibby to try and keep Tibby away from his home. He claims that that was his only encounter with Tibby, but what if it wasn't? What if he did go to the cottage in hopes of driving Tibby away? He mightn't have meant murder. He may have only brought the knife with him to try and frighten Tibby. But Tibby wasn't the sort to be easily threatened. He'd stand up to Rudmer and declare that he'd see his sister whenever he pleased. They fought again and Tibby was killed. Ev awoke and came out to see what was going on, so he had to be killed too. All this is possible, but we have no proof that Rudmer was ever at the cottage at all."
"I'll see about that," Pippin promised. "Dodi and Fatty are helping too."
"Are they?" Frodo recalled that Dodi had offered to help, but he hadn't been aware that any specific arrangements had been made, nor that Fatty was involved.
Pippin nodded. "Ferdi said he'd take them to the Bullroarer's after dinner. If anybody saw Rudmer out and about that night, we'll find it out."
"What about Reg?" asked Merry. "Last night, you said you thought he was the one member of your family you could imagine committing these murders, Pip. Do you still believe it? Has anything turned up again him since then?"
"He's said some things today that make me wonder," said Frodo. He still wasn't sure what to make of that conversation he had overheard after the funeral. Were Pearl and Reg merely discussing what to do if Reg was questioned, or had something more sinister been planned between them to account for Reg's whereabouts at the time of the murder? He decided not to mention it, since Pearl was involved. While Pippin was ready to suspect his brother-in-law, he hated to hear anything that impugned the character of his eldest sister. "He had good reason to want to be rid of Tibby and he hates Melly. He'd be happy to let her take the blame for his brother's murder even if he had no part in Everard's death and knew that she didn't either. That much, I'm certain of. On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that he's capable of killing Ev. He did love his brother and, whatever hatred he felt for Tibby or Melly, it was because of what he thought they'd done to Ev. I can easily imagine him stabbing Tibby to try and restore Ev's honor, or being glad to see Melly hanged when a word from him could save her--but I can't see him killing Ev just because Ev happened to catch him red-handed. I think that Reg, for all his faults, would let himself be caught rather than have his brother's blood on his hands."
"Maybe Ev fought with Reg himself," Merry suggested. "Ev wouldn't just stand there once he saw what had happened. He might've tried to go for help, or to rescue Tibby."
"There was no sign of a struggle," Frodo pointed out. "According to all I saw at the cottage, and all that Chief Thornbreak found, Ev was stabbed as he stood at the bedroom doorway in his nightshirt."
"Could he've been moved?" Sam asked.
Frodo shook his head. "Not after he was stabbed. The blood--I saw it. There was a pool where Evvy was found, and another in the sitting room where Tibby died. They couldn't have been moved without leaving a trail along the hallway. The only other blood we found was in the bushes, where the knife was flung out through the window. No, if Reg did it, that's not how it happened. He had to be capable of stabbing his brother at once, or else he didn't do it at all."
"Maybe somebody else went with him, and that person stabbed Ev?" Merry persisted.
"Could it be Elvegar?" asked Pippin. "We know he was at the cottage just when Chief Thornbreak says they were killed. He admits it."
"Yes, but why would he tell Frodo he was there if he did it?" Merry answered. "When I asked Frodo the same thing earlier, that's what he said and I couldn't think of any explanation. Frodo's right. It'd be much more sensible for Elve to keep his mouth shut. He didn't speak up to help Melly. He wouldn't have said a word if his brother hadn't made him."
"You know him better than we do, Pip," said Frodo. "Why do you think he might've gone with Reg to the cottage?"
"Well, he was Ev's friend and had the same reason to want Tibby gone as all the Tooks did. Maybe they only went to bully Tibby and send him on his way--or maybe that's what Elve went expecting to do. But Tibby would fight, and then Reg stabbed him and Elve had to do something when Ev came out to try and stop it. He would've kept quiet as long as he thought no one knew he was there, but once Edegar found out, he had no choice. He doesn't hate Melly as much as Reg does, but he doesn't like her so he wouldn't mind her being in trouble."
Frodo acknowledged that this was as plausible as any other theory they'd made up so far. Another idea had also occurred to him since the afternoon. "It mayn't have been Elve who was there for the murder, with or without Reg. However Elve felt about Tibby, they didn't openly quarrel. At least, we haven't heard about it. But Edegar did. He's on that list of hobbit-lads who had fights with Tibby at the Bullroarer's Head that Pippin gave me this morning."
"But if Edegar was behind it all, why would he bring Elvegar to you to say that he'd been there?" asked Merry.
"I don't know," Frodo admitted. "Perhaps they thought I'd find out and decided it was better to turn my attention toward Elve instead of Edegar. If Elve was only there to visit his friend, then he has nothing to fear. He mayn't even know that Edegar had any part in it. Well, that fight was ages ago and may mean nothing. All the same, I think it's worth my while to ask him about it, and ask both brothers a few other questions."
"Who else is there?" Sam asked as he diligently wrote these names down.
"Only one other person occurs to me," Frodo said reluctantly. "Another Took." Merry understood who he was referring to, but Pippin didn't.
"Who is it?" Pippin asked. Frodo didn't answer. "Well, who?"
It was Merry who told him, "Aunt Eg has been behaving peculiarly since these murders, Pip."
"No!" Pippin shouted.
"You've said so yourself," Frodo said quietly. "This isn't like her at all. She's extremely distraught."
"She cares a great deal for family honor. She hates scandal, and Ev certainly brought scandal to the Tooks. Her own nephew."
"No!" Pippin insisted.
"She could bear it while he was far away, but then he came home again and was living openly with his lover just beyond Tuckborough. Maybe that was more than she could stand."
"Pippin, it does have to be considered," Frodo began, but at this point Pippin put his hands over his ears and refused to listen to another word. There was nothing to do but stop talking.
"Consider whoever you like, Frodo, but she's my mother," Pippin said once he saw that Frodo didn't intend to go on. He looked from Frodo to Merry in disbelief. "You can't really mean you suspect my mother of murder?"
"Frodo's suspected his own mother of murder, Pip," Merry said lightly. "You missed the fun last summer--you were away when Frodo and Sam were visiting the Hall and he found an old letter she wrote on the day she died. I'll tell you all about it later. It'll be my mother next."
Frodo couldn't say that it would take a great deal to make him suspect Esmeralda. It would only mark the fact that she was much more dear to him than Pippin's mother. He didn't want to upset Pippin; whether or not he liked Aunt Eglantine, or suspected her, Pippin did love her and didn't want to believe that she would ever commit a criminal act. He resolved not to mention his suspicions of Eglantine again, unless he could prove beyond all doubt that she was guilty. To press the question beforehand would only make matters worse and he had no wish to divide himself from those Tooks who were still his friends.
Sam said, "So what'll we do next?" He hadn't written down Lady Eglantine's name.
Frodo looked at him gratefully and said, "One way or another, we must find proof. We can guess all we like about who was there and what happened, but until we find a witness or a clue that puts one person undeniably at the cottage at the right time to commit the murders of Ev and Tibby, guesses are all we have. Pippin, you've already said that you'll try to find out if Rudmer Thursk was there."
"I'd rather do that than anything else," said Pippin. "And I'll even talk to Reg if you want me to. But I won't ask my mother questions, Frodo--that's that."
"I won't ask you to," Frodo assured him. "I'll question Edegar and Elve myself tomorrow, and if Ferdi and the lads are still at the Bullroarer's when I return tonight, they can tell me if they've learned anything of interest. If I miss them, will you please drop by Uncle Addy's for breakfast and find out?"
Pippin agreed that he would. Merry, who was planning to stay on at the Green Hill Inn to keep Melly company, promised that he would talk to Dodi and Fatty when they came by with their wives tomorrow, if Pippin overslept.
"We'll have to see what we find tomorrow," Frodo concluded, "and then decide how to go on from there."
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