Sharp Knives by Kathryn Ramage

The cottage where Everard and Tibby had been staying was about three miles south of Tuckborough in a secluded spot among the trees, and was reached by a lane that wound through hills and woods between fields and farms. Low shrubbery had been planted beneath the front windows on either side of the door and colorful flowerbeds flanked the flagstone path. The cottage was the property of Adelard Took; he'd spent his own honeymoon there many years ago and had given it to both of his sons in turn for a few weeks at the beginnings of their own marriages. In spite of the fact that only one of these marriages had turned out to be happy, the cottage had the look of a pleasant home--just the sort of place to start a young couple off on a life of domestic tranquility. Yet the last couple to stay here had met with an extremely tragic end.

Mr. Thornbreak, the Chief Shirriff for the neighborhood of Tookbank and Tuckborough, had come to the Thain's Hall at Paladin's summons and agreed to escort Frodo to the cottage. Thain Paladin hadn't accompanied them, and Merry stayed behind as well, preferring to be near Melly.

"I mean no disrespect to you, Mr. Baggins," Shirriff Thornbreak told him on their way to the cottage. "You helped us before when we had a murder that needed looking into. I'd've never caught on to who killed Toby Clover if it wasn't for you! But just the same, I'm sure I have the one as did this already. I know that doesn't sit right with you, as she's your cousin and the Master o' Buckland's kin. You're bound to go and work it out for yourself. I'll give you a hand since his Thainship asks me to, but you'll see I'm right in the end."

"You may be," Frodo conceded, more to avoid an argument than because he had any doubts about Melilot's innocence. "But I sincerely hope you are not."

Once they were inside the cottage, Thornbreak led Frodo along the short hallway that led from the front door straight back to the kitchen. There were two doors to the immediate left and right of the entrance, leading to the sitting rooms. Halfway along was another door that opened onto a bedroom. "Mr. Everard was here-" Thornbreak indicated the floor before the doorway. "Tibbard Clover was in that sitting room," he gestured to the room to the right, "a-lying under that front window there."

"Who found them?"

"A lad from the baker's in Tookbank. He brought 'em a basket of fresh bread and cakes every morning, per Mr. Adelard's orders."

The bodies had been removed, but bloodstains remained on the wooden floorboards. Frodo knew that Adelard had taken Everard's body home to be laid out in the parlor, per traditional hobbit funerary custom. "Who has Tibby's body now?" he asked. "Where did they take him?"

"'Twas his sister, Mrs. Thursk--Miss Clover that was. You remember her, Mr. Baggins, from that other Clover business."

"Tansy? Yes." Frodo recalled Tansy Clover as a dark-eyed and wary girl, standing with fierce protectiveness over her father until the last. "I didn't know she was still in Tookbank."

"That she is, Mr. Baggins. After Mr. Clover passed on, she went to live with some relatives of hers--the Steephills that were her grandmother's kin, not any Clovers. They've passed on since, and she's the only one o' that family left now. She married one of our local lads, Rudmer Thursk, a wood-carver, a year or two back."

Frodo looked over the bedroom first. The bedclothes were rumpled and there were distinct dents in the feather mattress and pillow, indicating that someone had been lying there recently. Everard, presumably, since he'd been found at the bedroom door. There were no signs of a struggle. "Was the front door open?"

"It was shut, Mr. Baggins, but not locked. Anybody could go in or out."

"Was there blood on the doorknob?"

"None that we saw."

"Did you discover any signs that the murderer washed up here? Was there bloody water in the wash-basin in the kitchen or bathroom? Wet or stained towels?"

"No. Somebody'd washed up some tea-things in the kitchen and they was laid out on a towel. There wasn't no blood to be seen in there."

"How very odd," Frodo mused. "And there's such a lot of blood out here. How did the murderer manage to keep clean? Surely he didn't walk away covered in it. Tell me, Sherriff, how were Ev and Tibby lying when they were found? Can you give me an idea of their positions? Was Everard facing the bedroom door--like so?--" Frodo stood in the doorway, looking into the bedroom, "or was his back to it?"

"He was facing out, Mr. Baggins, just the opposite of the way you are, and he was stabbed afore. Like he was lying a-bed and come to the door. I reckon the murderer came in the front door and chased down Tibby first, then when Mr. Everard woke at the noise and got up to see what was going on, she got 'm too."

Frodo tried to ignore the sherriff's use of the feminine pronoun. "And Tibby?"

They went into the sitting room, which was next to the bedroom where Everard had last lain. Shirriff Thornbreak pointed at the dark, dried pool of blood beneath the large, round window overlooking the cottage front. "He was a-lying curled up there, Mr. Baggins, with his hand on his chest like he was trying to stop the blood from coming out. It was all over his hands and shirt."

"Where was the knife?"

"In the bushes just outside. I'd say it was flung away as the murderer went out."

Frodo went to have a look at the shrubbery under the sitting-room window next. It hadn't rained since the night of the murder, and he found dark droplets of dried blood on the shrubbery leaves and on the grass beneath. More curious still, there were also dried drops of blood on the windowsill.

"Was this window open or closed when you first found Tibby, Shirriff?" he asked.

"Open." Thornbreak looked at the bloodstains on the sill. "You're right, Mr. Baggins. She must've tossed the knife out through the window afore she run off."

"But you see, don't you, Sherriff, that that makes no sense?" Frodo pointed out. "None of what we've seen matches your idea of what happened if Mrs. Took is the murderer. I understand that it's your belief that Melilot Took came here to the cottage to see her husband, bringing a knife with her, and at some point they quarreled and she stabbed him and Tibby. It couldn't have happened that way. Everard was probably in bed--you've said so yourself. Was he in his nightshirt when you found him?"

Thornbreak nodded. "He was wearing a nightshirt, Mr. Baggins."

"Do you think he was conversing with his estranged wife while he was in bed?"

"He might've been, Mr. Baggins," Thornbreak answered. "Poor Mr. Everard mightn't've been feeling well, and wasn't up to getting up and dressed to talk to her."

This scenario contradicted what Melly had told him--and must also have told the shirriffs--about conversing with Everard in the sitting room, but Frodo didn't press this point. Shirriff Thornbreak didn't believe Melly's story anyway. Instead, he said, "You told me that Everard must've heard Tibby being attacked, rose from his bed to see what was going on, and was stabbed himself. Do you believe that Mrs. Took, after talking with her husband, went into the other room to murder Tibby first, then came back to kill Everard?"

"She might've," replied Thornbreak. "She mightn't've meant to kill her husband at all, only Tibby, 'til Mr. Everard came out. He saw her with the knife and Tibby's blood on her hands, so she had to get rid o' him too."

"If that were true, then surely Everard would've guessed she was responsible for Tibby's death as soon as he discovered his friend's body, even if he hadn't seen her kill him," Frodo countered. "Murdering Everard as well as Tibby wouldn't save her from being implicated in the first crime. Besides, Chief Thornbreak, if she had committed both murders in that way, why would she go back into the sitting-room to dispose of the knife through the window rather than head straight out the front door with it?"

This conundrum stumped Thornbreak for more than a minute, then his furrowed face cleared and his expression brightened. "Maybe Tibby wasn't dead yet and she had to go back in to finish 'm off, Mr. Baggins! Then, the window being wide open, she threw it out that way, wanting to be rid of it as quick as possible."

Frodo didn't attempt to refute this new theory. While he couldn't imagine his cousin frantically dashing from room to room, bloody knife at hand as she made sure that she finished off both her victims, he recognized that he needed more than his own faith in Melly to convince the Chief Sherriff that he was wrong. He needed facts. Though these rooms had given him some promising ideas of his own, there was little more to be gathered here; he must talk to more people concerned in the matter, especially those who were closest to Tibby and Everard and those who might have wanted one or the other dead.

Instead of answering Thornbreak, he said, "I'd like to speak to Mrs. Thursk, please. Do you know where she lives, Sherriff? Can you take me to her?"
You must login (register) to review.