Sharp Knives by Kathryn Ramage

Frodo left his pony at the Thain's stable and went along a path that led to the eastern, outward slope of the U-shaped hill where most of the Took families had made their smials. Edegar and Elvegar lived with their parents in the last smial at the end of this hill, before its slope diminished at the creek that divided the garden from the meadow beyond.

When Frodo knocked at the front door and asked if the two sons of the house were in, a maid showed him through to the garden side, where Edegar and Elvegar were enjoying a morning's pipe after their second breakfast. It was going to be a fine sunny day, and other branches of the Took family were also out in the parts of the garden nearest their own homes.

"Oh, it's you!" Elvegar exclaimed once the maid had announced the visitor and he turned to find Frodo standing there. "I oughtn't be surprised that you've come back. I knew once I spoke up that that wouldn't be the end of it. First Uncle Paladin, then the High Shirriff. I had to sit with them all the rest of yesterday afternoon answering their questions about when I last saw Evvy. They may be done with me, but not you, Frodo. You'll be poking at me forever after. Yes, I knew how it would be. Now that you've got Melly free, you have to find somebody else to hand over to Shirriff Thornbreak in her place."

"So I do," Frodo acknowledged. "But it isn't you I've come to 'poke at,' Elve. It's Edegar."

"Me!" cried Edegar, more astonished than his brother.

"Yes. I have a few questions for you. In all the excitement after you brought Elve to me yesterday, I didn't have the opportunity to ask you then. I hope you don't mind. Will you tell me how you learned that your brother visited Everard that evening?"

"He told me so," Edegar responded promptly. "It was over luncheon, just before we dressed for the funeral, as a matter of fact."

"Did you ask him for the truth, or did he come out with it without being prompted?"

"Here now, Frodo!" Elvegar protested. "What are you getting at?"

"I asked him," Edegar answered the question, disregarding his brother's interruption.

"But how did you know to ask? What made you suspect he had something to tell?"

"I didn't 'suspect' him of anything, Frodo. 'Suspect'--now there's a word! No, I only wondered. I told you, Elve came in late for dinner that night. I didn't think much of it at the time, only I knew he hadn't been at the Bullroarer's Head with friends, where he'd usually be of an evening if he came home late."

"How did you know he hadn't been there?" asked Frodo.

"I was there myself, with Stally. We stopped for a half-pint on our way home. I was nearly late for dinner myself! We didn't hear about poor Evvy being killed 'til the next morning. It was then I began to wonder. I saw the look on Elve's face whenever someone said that Melly had murdered Ev. He didn't look guilty or anything of the sort, Frodo, if that's what you're after, but it was a queer look. Like he'd eaten something that'd gone bad and wasn't going to keep it down."

"So you guessed that he wasn't telling all he knew about Everard and Melly?"

Edegar nodded. "But that was all I suspected him of doing. Not murder. Elve doesn't usually keep secrets from me."

"Here, what is this, Frodo?" Elvegar demanded again. "What are you getting at with these questions?"

"I've only a few more," said Frodo. "Edegar, you say you stopped at the Bullroarer's Head with Stalibras on your way home from somewhere?"

"Yes, that's right," Edegar confirmed, though he also seemed puzzled at Frodo's line of questioning. "We'd ridden over to Olddigger's farm to look at a pony Stally's thinking of buying."

"What time did you arrive at the Bullroarer's?"

"It must've been after six o'clock. We had a couple of half-pints each and talked over the pony we'd looked at. Stally did buy it, if you're interested."

"And what time was dinner that evening?"

"We always dine at eight."

If Elvegar was telling the truth, then Everard and Tibby had still been alive around eight o'clock that evening when he'd left the cottage; therefore, Edegar couldn't have been involved in the murder. But Frodo now began to wonder: What if all of this was an elaborate ruse the two brothers had created between them? Elvegar wouldn't have come forward with his story of visiting the cottage if it meant implicating himself, but he might if Edegar had murdered Everard and Tibby hours earlier and he wanted to protect his brother.

There was no way Frodo could verify Elvegar's story, but Edegar's could be examined more closely. The Olddigger farm was nearly ten miles away, along the Waymoot road that curved north beyond the far side of Tookbank. It would take a hobbit hours to ride there and back again. The cottage where Everard and Tibby had been murdered was in the opposite direction, beyond the southern end of Tuckborough. If Edegar and Stalibras Windipeak-Took had truly been at the farm during the afternoon, and had been at the Bullroarer's Head soon after six, then it was impossible for Edegar to commit the murders before that time. He could ask Stalibras. Would Stalibras lie to say that Edegar had been with him? Stally was not only Edegar's friend; he'd once been a friend of Everard's and had resented Tibby. What about Farmer Olddigger?

The shrill shrieks of a small child at the other end of the garden distracted Frodo from these thoughts. He left the two brothers and quickly crossed the open lawn at the garden's heart, headed toward the back of the Thain's Hall and its immediate neighbors to see what was going on.

The shrieks were coming from Periwinkle Took, Ferdi's and Peri's daughter. The little girl, a miniature version of her mother, was clutching the front part of her skirt against her round tummy, her strawberry ringlets in a tangle, as she ran as fast as she could in a delighted terror from her uncle Pippin. Since she wasn't yet three years old, she couldn't run very fast. Pippin was doing his best not to overtake her, though his exaggerated movements and warnings that he was "Right behind you, Winkie! I'm going to catch you!" were meant to show the child he was in earnest.

Periwinkle was looking back over her shoulder at her pursuer and not at what lay ahead of her. She was headed in Frodo's direction. Frodo crouched down to take her in his arms and picked her up before she ran into him. The little girl let out one more ear-piercing scream as she was lifted, but once she realized who was holding her, she wrapped her arms around Frodo's neck and gave him a kiss.

"Hullo, my poppet. Where have you been hiding?" Frodo asked her. "I haven't seen you at all since I arrived."

"Peri's kept her in the nursery," said Pippin as he reached Frodo. "She and Pearl agreed it was best to keep the little ones out of the way during all the trouble. They didn't want them to overhear anything they shouldn't and start asking questions nobody wanted to answer."

"But they're out-of-doors now." Pearl and Peri were seated on a bench not far from the Thain's Hall garden door, Pearl with her youngest son, still a baby, in her lap. Frodo could also see the older boys scrambling around under the shrubbery and trying to keep out of sight behind the tall flowers. "What were you doing to this poor little thing, Pip? I thought she'd fallen down and broken an arm or leg."

"We were only playing hide-and-go-seek! Only Winkie didn't want to be found."

"Couldna catch me!" Periwinkle crowed gleefully. "Unca Pippin couldna catch me!"

"Of course not, darling--you're much swifter than your silly old uncle. By the way, Pip, I've been calling on Edegar and Elvegar this morning," Frodo added to Pippin. "I have another task for you once you've tired yourself out chasing the children. Can you chat with Stally Windipeak-Took and ask him how he liked that pony he was looking at over at the Olddigger farm? If he wonders why you want to know, you can say you're thinking of getting a new pony yourself or something of the sort, but what you really want to find out is if Edegar was there with him, how long they stayed and how late they rode back."

Pippin nodded as if he understood.

"If you can, also find out how long they stopped at the Bullroarer's Head on their way home. I may ask you to visit the Bullroarer's tonight to verify that Edegar and Stally were there for as long as they say they were. I know you won't mind doing that."

"No, not at all!" said Pippin. "It's my favorite kind of detective work."

"If there's any sign that Stally's story isn't trustworthy, I might send Sam to the Olddigger farm later on to see if the two were actually there on the day of the murders. But that ought to do for the present. Did you talk to Dodi and Fatty before they left?" asked Frodo.

"They'd gone before I could get up and dressed," Pippin said apologetically. "I meant to go next door to have breakfast with them and say good-bye, but Pearl says they were eager to go home. Not just Dodi--Izzy and Flora too. Ada says they didn't want to be in the middle of any family quarrels, but she and Filo are staying on for a few days."

"What about Reg?"

Pippin shook his head. "I haven't seen him this morning."

The little boys hiding in the bushes began to shout for Uncle Pippin to come and find them. After Pippin obeyed this summons from his nephews, Periwinkle squirmed to be set down so that she could rejoin the game as well. Frodo set her on her feet on the grass and let her go to toddle after Pippin. He then went over to the bench where Pearl and Peri were sitting; he knew it would be useless for him to try and interview Reg directly, but he and Pearl were on better terms and she might be more amenable to answering questions.

"Pip's wonderful with little children," Pearl said once Frodo was near enough to converse with. "And they adore him. He really ought to have some of his own."

"Perhaps if he marries Diantha, it'll turn out right in the end," Peri said. "Oh, I know he speaks as if they don't intend to have babies like ordinary husbands and wives, but they may feel differently after they've been wed awhile."

"And if Merry Brandybuck allows him to have a proper marriage," Pearl added. "I believe it has as much to do with what he wants as it does Pippin and Diantha." She looked up at Frodo, who was standing before her. "But you haven't come to discuss my brother, have you, Frodo?"

"No," Frodo admitted.

"You're still conducting your investigation, even at this moment."

Frodo admitted to this as well.

"How then can we assist you?" asked Pearl. "We're as anxious to find poor Evvy's murderer as you are, and of course we want to help you if we can."

"I'm glad to hear you say so, Pearl. You've always been a sensible woman--the most sensible of Tooks." Pearl couldn't object to this, for she was generally recognized as the most clever and responsible of the Thain's four children. But Frodo intended more than flattery. Of the Thain's children, Pearl was also the one who took most after her mother and Frodo wanted to let her know that he expected her not to behave hysterically, as Lady Eglantine had done. "You won't take offense if I ask you a question purely to clear members of your family from all suspicion?"

"Goodness!" cried Peri. "Who do you suspect now?"

But Pearl had taken Frodo's hint and replied calmly, "No, I don't mind, Frodo. I understand that it's part of your business to ask strange questions. You must do it to clear the innocent of suspicion as well as to name the guilty. Ask me what you will."

"Thank you. I only wish to know one thing--was Reg at home all that evening or did he go out again at any time?"

"Reg? Oh, Frodo, surely not!" Peri exclaimed again. "Not Evvy's own brother."

A spark of indignation flashed in Pearl's eyes as well, but she answered, "Certainly, he was here, Frodo. He and Father Addy were out of the house that afternoon, but they were home in time for tea."

"Reg was a little late for tea."

"So he was, but not by more than ten or fifteen minutes, and he was never out of my sight throughout the rest of the evening." Color had come into Pearl's cheeks. "But I suppose you believe it's usual for a wife to say such things for her husband's sake, even when they aren't true?"

"Pippin says that you've never told a lie in your life," said Frodo. "I hope that you wouldn't disappoint him, not even for Reg's sake."

This was enough to check Pearl's rising indignation. She almost smiled, obviously touched that her little brother held so high an opinion of her character. "I would hate to disappoint Pip," she agreed. "Well, if you have any doubts about my word, Father Addy was with us as well, Frodo, and so was Melly. We were in each other's company from the time Melly returned from the cottage."

"Who do you mean by 'we,' precisely?"

"Until dinner, it was just the four of us--Father Addy, Reg, Melly, and I. After dinner, we were with Mother and Father, Pippin, Ferdi and Peri, and Uncle Ferdinand and Aunt Floribunda in the drawing room of the Thain's Hall. I'm sure any one of them will tell you the same, including Melly. If she's cleared from suspicion, then we all are."

"That's true," Pippin spoke up; Frodo turned to find that his cousin had left the children's games and was standing close behind him, wanting to hear what Frodo was saying to his sisters. Pippin's expression brightened as he realized that his mother was likewise safe from further suspicion; he seized Frodo's elbow with both hands. "Frodo, I wasn't with Mother before dinner-time, but Peri was--weren't you?"

"She had tea with Mother Florrie and me next door," Peri answered. She was slow to perceive that her mother's whereabouts at the time of the murders were also important, but Pearl was already frowning at Frodo. Suspecting her mother was a greater offense than suspecting her husband.

"And Father and I were with her the rest of the night after that 'til we went to bed," Pippin concluded cheerfully. "So you see, Frodo, it's perfectly all right. It couldn't've been anyone in our family."

It was possible that the Thain's entire family, including Pippin and his sisters' parents-in-law, would lie for each other, but Melly wouldn't. Frodo would ask her about the members of the party that evening the next time he saw her; if she'd noticed anyone missing for the period of time required to reach the cottage, she was certain to say so. But Frodo doubted that there would be any such noteworthy absence. The Tooks had all been at home. "You're quite right," he acknowledged. "You've nothing to worry about."

"I'm pleased to hear it," said Pearl.

"So I am." Reg had come out of his father's smial during the last part of this conversation. "I hope this means you'll stop prying into our comings and goings?"

"I will," said Frodo, "if you'll you tell me why you were late for tea that day."

"Why on earth would you be interested in that now?"

"Only because you've been at pains to conceal the reason for it." Frodo stepped around the bench where Pippin's sisters were sitting and took Reg by the arm to lead him some distance away so that they could speak with some degree of privacy; Pearl observed their movements with a look of concern, but didn't protest on her husband's behalf. "You came in after the others had settled down to their cakes and sandwiches," he said quietly. "You said as much yourself."

"I was having a pipe up on the terrace." Reg gestured to the half-moon shaped area on the hillside above them. "I said that too."

"Yes, but that's the part I don't believe. As far as I can tell, you weren't on the terrace that afternoon. Pippin's asked around, and no one saw you in the hour or so before tea-time." This wasn't true--Frodo hadn't set Pippin to any such task--but it had the desired effect on Reg. His arrogance visibly deflated and left him looking uncertain and foolish. Frodo pressed on. "You walked over the top of the hill to come in on garden-side of the smial, as if you'd come in from the garden, but you were somewhere else. Where did you go? Come now. Elve's established that Ev and Tibby were alive hours later, and your wife and entire family can say that you didn't go out again that evening, so you've no reason to keep secrets about what you were up to now. Did you go to the cottage?" It was the only possible explanation that made sense.

After he had glanced at Pearl, and she nodded her head in response to an unasked question, Reg muttered, "Yes."

"You spoke to Ev after Melly had gone, and you said nothing?"

"No! I didn't talk to Ev. I never saw him." The rest of Reg's confession followed grudgingly. "I wanted to hear what he and Melly had to say to each other--whether they'd be sensible and behave themselves like respectable hobbits, or carry on as disgracefully as they have been. When Melly rode out to the cottage, I followed through the woods and listened outside the sitting-room window."

Frodo's eyebrows rose. "You eavesdropped on them?"

"Oh, I know it wasn't a gentlemanly thing to do, but I had to know. Ev wouldn't listen to my advice. I'd tried that. And Melly certainly wouldn't listen to what I had to say about their marriage. If I told her the best thing to do was come back to Tuckburough and be a proper wife to Ev and make him be a proper husband, she'd refuse to do it just out of contrariness. But I hoped that if they met and spoke civilly to each other, they might agree between themselves without anybody pushing. They were speaking civilly, Frodo. You should've heard the way poor Ev talked about seeing little Addy. It would've broken your heart. I truly had some hope that they'd try to reconcile, until that Tibby came in and spoiled things. When I heard the next morning that he and Ev were dead, I thought she must've killed them right then!"

"Even though you didn't hear any commotion or screams?"

"Well, I didn't quite see Melly leave the cottage," Reg answered. "When Tibby started talking about seeing Melly off, I didn't want to risk being seen, so I retreated into the woods. I'd left my pony in a clearing about five hundred yards away. You can't see the cottage from there, because of the trees. I waited until I saw Melly ride past and had gone on so that she was far enough ahead of me, then I rode home myself."

"When did you did tell Pearl about it?"

"The next day, after we heard about the murders. We discussed whether or not I should go to Uncle Paladin. I didn't actually see anything that would've gone for or against, Melly, you know. What could I tell the shirriffs that they didn't already know about her comings and goings that afternoon? If I had heard screams or seen Melly rush out of the cottage with a bloody knife, you may be sure I would've come forward."

"And if you had seen something that might've helped her?" asked Frodo.

Reg scowled as he replied, "I would've come forward then too. Even if I hadn't wanted to speak up, Pearl would never have stood for that." He turned to his wife, then left Frodo to join her.

"Frodo!" This shout came from Ferdi, who had just emerged from the smial on the other side of the Thain's Hall, where he and Peri lived with his parents. He was heading toward Frodo eagerly. "Hullo! I'm glad you're here. I don't suppose you were here early enough to catch Dodi before he and Izzy left. He was hoping to tell you about it himself, but they're well on their way home by now. At least, they'll have stopped at Green Hill and he's sure to tell Merry and Melly all about it."

"All about what?" asked Frodo.

"Rudmer Thursk! That's who you wanted us to find out about, isn't it?"

"You didn't find someone who'd seen him near the cottage, did you?"

"No, it's not quite as good as that," Ferdi admitted, "but it's still something you'll be happy to hear! Dodi was chatting with a local chap he didn't know. This fellow said that he was at the Bullroarer's that night, as he is most nights, and Thursk didn't come in 'til late in the evening. His friends wait for him and they all have their half or two at the end of the day, but Thursk didn't show up 'til it was almost dark. And he wasn't at home or at his shop. This chap lives near enough to the Thursks to know when Rudmer shuts up his shop and that he didn't go home for tea."

"I'd like to have a word with this 'chap' myself," said Frodo. "Do you know who he is?"

"I didn't see who Dodi was talking to, but it was after we'd told everybody that Melly had been proved innocent of the murder. Apparently, this fellow told Dodi that if he was a friend of the famous detective, then the detective ought to know about Rudmer Thursk. He also mentioned that fight Rudmer had with Tibby, though we know all about that already."

Frodo intended to find this hobbit and hear what he had to say for himself. He would go to the Green Hill Inn for dinner again tonight and ask Melly about the Tooks. He would also verify Edegar's whereabouts. But this was all a matter of course. It looked to be almost certain that Rudmer Thursk was the murderer.
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