Later that afternoon, Frodo met with Chief Thornbreak in the common room and, over an ale, explained the difficulties with all of their current suspects.
"Maybe nobody did it," Chief Thornbreak joked. "Only, we got these two dead hobbits to account for."
Frodo asked about strangers or visitors passing through Tookbank during the days before Everard's and Tibby's deaths, and learned that Thornbreak's shirriffs had already made inquiries into the matter and found nothing; it was the one piece of work they had done before turning their full attention to Melly. He also asked about the condition of the murdered hobbits' bodies when they were first discovered, and how Thornbreak had estimated the time of death. This grisly subject could be discussed in greater detail with the Chief Shirriff than with Frodo's grieving uncles. Thornbreak had only ever seen one murder victim before this tragedy--Toby Clover--but like many hobbits, he was familiar with how bodies grew stiff after a natural death and how long they remained so, for this sometimes made the laying out of the recently deceased inconvenient.
Thornbreak admitted that he'd put the time of death as early as half-past four when he was certain that Melly had committed the murders, "since she couldn't have done it no later, Mr. Baggins." But, when all other points were considered, Everard and Tibby had more likely died as late as eight or even nine o'clock that evening. "They could've been dead twelve hours when I first had a look at 'em about eight o'clock the next morning," he told Frodo. "They'd had plenty o' time to grow cold and stiff in the night, but the stiffness didn't pass off 'til the end of the day. I was there all the morning. His Thainship and Mr. Adelard was there too, but it was a long while before they could see poor Mr. Everard laid out proper on a bier to be carried home. At least he was lying down to begin with, so it was only a matter of making him fit for the ladies to tend to."
"Ladies?" asked Frodo. "Lady Eglantine?"
"Well, Mr. Baggins, I heard her Ladyship was in an awful state once she saw the poor lad dead and couldn't give a hand to the laying out. No, 'twas Miss Pearl who took charge of him. There's the steadiest lady in all the Shire--you may be sure of it. Steadiest head and steadiest hands. I daresay there isn't much that'd turn Miss Pearl from doing what's needed."
Frodo had to agree, and asked about Tibby.
"Now, Tibby was all curled up tight when we found 'm, head upon his knees," Thornbreak answered. "I had to cover 'm with a sheet so as not to upset the gents nor the shirriffs. His sister came for him that day, but he wasn't fit to be laid out and taken back to Tookbank 'til the next morning."
After this, Frodo rode out to visit Rudmer's farmer friend and saw the lathe for himself. His afternoon's business completed, he then went to Green Hill. He had left a note at the inn for Sam to follow him; Sam didn't arrive by dinner-time, but one of the stable-lads from the Bullroarer's Head did, bringing a letter from Sam in reply. The innkeeper brought it around to the terrace on the side of the inn, where Frodo sat with his cousins, enjoying the early evening weather and watching the road. Frodo opened it immediately.
While Sam wrote that he wasn't wearied by his journey that day, his pony was "worn out." He'd met Pippin in the public room and they would try to confirm the hours at which all the suspects had been there on the evening of the murders. After that, Sam said he would be "resting up," awaiting Frodo's return. Notes on the results of his inquiries followed.
"Well, that's it," Frodo announced to Merry and Melly after glancing over the rest of Sam's letter. "None of them could possibly have done it. Edegar and Stally Windipeak-Took were at the Olddiggers' farm for more than two hours and didn't leave until nearly five o'clock. Sam says that he rode back to Tookbank as fast as he could, too see how quickly it could be done. It's about twelve miles from the farm to the Tookbank end of the tunnel, and Sam estimates that it can't be done in less than a hour, even at a hard gallop. He managed it in an hour and quarter by staying on the road."
"No wonder the poor pony's worn out!" said Merry. "But the road's the only way to go, and on through the tunnel if you mean to reach the cottage. You can't cut across the countryside in that part of the Shire. The hills are too steep and rough. It's much smoother riding on this side of the tunnel, but you'd never get a pony over that rocky crest between Tuckborough and Tookbank."
"Sam says that he would've gone on through the tunnel to the cottage, only he doesn't know where it is and if he'd stopped to ask for directions, it would've defeated the purpose of the exercise." Frodo set down the letter upon his knee. "At any rate, Edegar told me that he and Stally were at the Bullroarer's sometime after six and there until they went home at eight. If Sam and Pippin can confirm that, it all fits together neatly without any odd gaps."
"What about Mr. Thursk?" asked Melly.
"He was at the carpenter's buying his lathe, just as he said." Frodo found this part of Sam's message. "According to Mr. Durve--that's the old carpenter, whom Sam talked to on his way to the Oldigger farm--Rudmer left his shop at half-past eight, when the old hobbit usually has his dinner. Rudmer went on foot, by the way. Unless he had a pony concealed somewhere, it would also take him an hour to return to Tookbank. His farmer friend, who lives less than a mile from Tookbank, told me that Rudmer came by briefly that night shortly after nine o'clock to tell him he'd bought the lathe and asked if he could borrow a cart. And you told me yourself, Merry, that the hobbit Dodi spoke to last night was indeed Turgo Buspey, whom both Rudmer and his friend agree would be happy to get Rudmer into a bit of trouble."
"It must be Elvegar then," Merry declared. "He was there at the right time, and he's the only one we know of who was."
"But why would he admit to it if he did anything more sinister than chat with an old friend?" Frodo repeated this same point they'd discussed the night before.
"His brother forced him to tell. Edegar mightn't even know what Elve was up to."
"Will you pardon me, please?" Melly rose abruptly from her seat on the bench and called out to Aderic, who was playing on the slope below the terrace with some boys from a neighboring farm. "Addy looks like he needs a bath before dinner. I ought to wash up myself. We'll join you when we're presentable again."
"I don't suppose she's any more keen to hear this sort of conversation today than she was last night," Frodo said after Melly had taken her son inside.
"She only stayed to hear if Sam had any good news about finding the murderer," Merry answered as he lit his pipe; he puffed until it produced smoke, inhaled deeply, and sank back with a sigh. "We were certain it'd be this Rudmer Thursk, and that'd be an end to it."
"Instead, we're back to guessing games, and I've no better idea of who killed Evvy than I did when I began. I'd be ready to believe it was some stranger who'd followed them back from the north as Rudmer Thursk suggests, only no one's seen any strangers about." Though it seemed like a futile exercise, Frodo considered this idea for a moment. "If someone did follow Ev and Tibby from Overshire, they'd have to come by way of the crossroads here. There'd be no reason for them to be seen in the vicinity of Tookbank at all. They'd be more likely to have stopped at this inn than one of the taverns in town." He asked his cousin, "Mr. Greenlee hasn't seen any travelers with odd clothes or accents in this past week, has he?"
"He hasn't said so."
"Would you ask him?"
"Yes, of course. I've done little enough to help you investigate this."
Frodo smiled. "You've been helpful in other ways, by looking after Melly and keeping her spirits up. Would it be worthwhile, I wonder, to write the Chief Shirriff in that part of the Shire? I don't know who that would be, but Thornbreak and Sam are sure to have his name. There may be something in it. If there isn't, I can't think where else to turn next." He sighed and, since he hadn't brought a pipe with him, held out a hand to Merry; Merry surrendered his own pipe long enough to let Frodo have a consoling puff.
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