Sharp Knives by Kathryn Ramage

After he left the Lowbottom-Took home, Frodo returned to the Thain's stables for a chat with the elder Mr. Toptree. Tadler's father confirmed Tadler's story; they'd had supper together on the night of the murder. Tad came for supper three or four nights in the week, and he and his father often rode over to Tookbank to have an ale or two at the Bullroarer's Head afterwards. They hadn't gone to the inn on that particular night, but Tadler had stayed over at his father's bungalow and ridden back to his place of work the next morning. Old Mr. Toptree was prepared to swear that his son hadn't left the bungalow that evening. But what else would he have said? Frodo expected nothing less.

"I didn't see Mr. Everard again after that night he come home," the old groom said in answer to a question from Frodo. "He sent word to his dad, Mr. Adelard, most every day by one o' them lads as comes and goes from the bakers and the greengrocers. I'd hear from them how it was at that cottage. No, sir--I didn't see what Mr. Everard was sending to his dad about. Writ down, they was, and I was never a one for reading and such-like. If there was need for me to know, Mr. Adelard'd come and tell me what I was to be ready for. That's how I come to know Missus Melilot was bringing the little lad here days before they come. And just this morning, Mr. Adelard's told me to send a cart there to carry back Mr. Everard's things once the shirriffs are done with 'em."

"A cart? I didn't realize that Everard brought so many belongings home with him," said Frodo.

"He didn't have so much when he first come home, Mr. Baggins, only a pack strapped to his pony's saddle. But as Mr. Adelard thought him 'n' that Clover lad was going to be staying on awhiles, he sent some o' Mr. Everard's things that were left behind off to him there, so it'd seem more home-like. Poor Mr. Adelard's like as not to shut the place up for good now. It won't be home to nobody again, since murder's been done in it."

Frodo employed the services of one of the stable-lads himself and sent a message to Sam. Sam had remained in Tookbank that morning to find and question Turgo Buspey, but Frodo had another task for him.

When he left the stables, Frodo went into the smial next to the Thain's Hall to ask Ferdi about Everard's friendship with Tadler. It no longer mattered to him if the Tooks heard about this line of inquiry. Again, he received confirmation of what Tadler had told him, and from a more impartial source than Tadler's father; Ferdi had no reason to lie for Tadler's sake.

"You mayn't believe it's so, considering how things turned out, but Ev never chased after boys. Certainly not the common lads," Ferdi told Frodo. "Before we met the Clovers, he would've said that that sort of thing was beneath a gentlehobbit. He wouldn't have gone for one of our own stable-boys any more than he would've accosted a housemaid. Until that business with Toby began, there was only me--well, that was only natural, since we were best friends--and Merry. And who hasn't had a bit of fun with Merry?"

Even before he returned to Tookbank for luncheon and heard Sam's report about the local gossip, Frodo had already come to the conclusion that Tansy's story was nothing but lies from beginning to end. By the time he'd heard what Sam had to say about Turgo Buspey, he was certain of something more as well.

"When I saw him," said Sam, "this Buspey feller admitted he only wanted a bit of revenge on Rudmer for getting in ahead o' him buying that lathe. He never saw Mr. Doderic before, but when he and Mr. Fatty came in here with Mr. Ferdi, this Buspey knew they was helping you and he thought it'd be a laugh to have Rudmer get questioned over his whereabouts when Tibby was murdered. He didn't mean any more by it. He swears it wasn't to get him hanged. He was very sorry to hear it might've."

"So, it was all a cruel sort of prank."

Sam nodded. "Now, wait 'til you hear who this Buspey heard about the lathe from." He gave Frodo a name. "He says she came by his shop that afternoon and let it slip accidental-like--only I don't think it was any accident."

Frodo had to agree. He saw the whole matter very clearly now.

"D'you want me to come with you?" Sam offered as they left the dining room at the inn.

"Not immediately," said Frodo. "Why don't you pop in on Rudmer at his shop first? I have one more question for him. You can bring his answer to me, and bring him along as well."

They walked up the high street. Sam went into Rudmer Thursk's wood-carving shop, and Frodo continued on up the lanes on the steep hillside, up to the little smials at the very top. He knocked at the door of the Thursk home.

Tansy answered the door. Wariness appeared in her large, dark eyes once she saw who her visitor was, but she didn't refuse Frodo's request to be let in. She showed him into the small sitting-room; the little girl was playing on the rag rug, but Tansy immediately scooped her up and carried her off into one of the back bedrooms while Frodo took a seat on the suttee.

When Tansy returned, she regarded Frodo with eyes that were still wary and asked, "What'd Tad Toptree tell you?"

"He's denied everything you told me, Mrs. Thursk. Did you expect he'd do anything else?" Frodo rose from his seat. "I've always tried to be kind to you, because I've felt sorry for you. You've suffered some terrible tragedies since you came to Tookbank as a girl. I can't blame you for the resentment you feel over the loss of your father and brothers. But I wonder now if my sympathy hasn't been misplaced. You've told me a pack of vicious lies against two innocent people for no fathomable reason. You can't deny that you deliberately lied."

Tansy didn't deny it. She said nothing at all.

"I've not only spoken to Tadler Toptree, but to other people who confirm his story," Frodo went on. "My friend Mr. Gamgee has asked around and found that no one's whispered a word against Tadler. There's been no gossip about his friendship with Everard, nor about his conspiring with Melly. I can't even find any tale of him quarreling with Tibby. You made it all up, from first to last."

Tansy still didn't respond, but sat down on the settee.

"What on earth did you mean by it?" Frodo demanded. "I thought that Turgo Buspey's tattle-taling against your husband was appalling, but at least Buspey only meant to make Rudmer uncomfortable. It was petty and spiteful, but he was horrified to learn that Rudmer might've been hanged because of it. I can't believe that was your intention when you told Buspey that your husband had bought the lathe. Were you trying to see Tadler hanged when you came to me? What about my cousin Melly?" His voice had been rising; at this last question, it snapped like the crack of a whip. He hadn't meant to lose his temper, but this woman's poisonous behavior infuriated him. Who knew what damage she might've done if she'd repeated her lies around Tookbank, or gone to Thornbreak with them? As long as the murderer remained unidentified, they might readily believe they'd been right in the first place and that Melly was responsible after all. Tansy flinched, and Frodo made an effort to speak in less angry tones. "When I first came here to talk to you, you said that you believed she was innocent of your brother's murder. Did you mean that?"

"Yes," Tansy replied in a subdued whisper. His outburst had shaken her. Head down and arms loosely across her lap, she looked as incapable of moving of her own volition as her daughter's jointed wooden doll, which lay abandoned on the carpet near her feet.

Frodo felt like a cad, bullying a pregnant woman, but he was determined to have the truth from her. "Do you have some grudge against Tadler Toptree? He says he barely knows you."

She shook her head and mumbled, "I didn't want 'm to talk to you."

"But that's very silly," Frodo pointed out. When he sat down beside Tansy, she didn't try to draw away. "It would never have occurred to me to question him if you hadn't given me his name last night. What did he have to tell me that made you so afraid?"

"I couldn't think what else to do," she said without looking up at him. "I didn't want you believing him."

This made even less sense to Frodo. Did she mean that she'd made up her lies about Tadler to discredit him, so that he wouldn't be believed if he did come forward with important information? But what information did Tadler have? By his own account, Tadler had never been near the cottage; he knew nothing of Everard's or Tibby's comings-and-goings in the days before their deaths beyond the fragments of news he'd received from his father.

The front door opened, and Rudmer came in with Sam. The two stood by the sitting-room door; the young husband looked from his wife to Frodo with concern, but he didn't interrupt.

"When I realized you were lying, I first thought that you'd made up this story to protect your husband," Frodo told Tansy quietly, "but I later learned that this wasn't the case." He wouldn't say more about what she'd done to cast suspicion on her husband--not while Rudmer was there to hear. "No matter what I might've heard about your husband's whereabouts on that night, he could provide an adequate explanation of where he'd truly been. He was in no danger from me. You must've known that by the time you came to me with your story about Tadler Toptree. Surely Rudmer told you he'd spoken to me?" He glanced up at Rudmer, who nodded. "You've been afraid of me from the first time I called here, Mrs. Thursk. All these lies you've told were meant to protect someone else. Who? Not yourself?"

Tansy suddenly glared up at him with a flash of her usual spirit. "You think I killed Tibby?" she demanded. Rudmer stepped forward as if he meant to defend her, but Frodo raised a hand to quell their indignation.

"No," he answered. "I can believe you'd happily murder any one of the Tooks, especially Evvy for his part in Toby's death, but you wouldn't kill your only surviving brother. It's unthinkable. You'd take a knife to your own heart before you'd harm him."

Tansy nodded at this. "It'd be the same as stabbing myself."

"Tibby is the only person you care enough about to make up such terrible lies for," said Frodo. "It's him you've been fighting to protect, even though he's been dead a week. You've known the truth all along, though you never wanted me to find it out. I can guess at it now, but I must hear it from you. Tansy, will you tell me what secret you've been keeping?"

In answer, Tansy rose and went into the bedroom. The three hobbits in the sitting room could hear the sound of a drawer being opened, then slammed shut. Tansy returned with what appeared to be a blood-stained square of paper pinched gingerly between her fingertips.

"'Twas in his waistcoat pocket," she told Frodo.

"Tibby left a note?"

Tansy shook her head, and held the paper out to him. Frodo could see that it was folded into a neat square and addressed on the outer surface to Adelard Took in Everard's handwriting. There had once been a wax seal on it, but this had been broken off.

"And the sherriffs didn't find it?" asked Sam.

"They didn't have the chance to." Frodo recalled what Shirriff Thornbreak had told him. "Tibby was curled into a ball when they found him. He lay frozen that way throughout the day."

"That's right," said Tansy, grim at this description of her brother's body. "It was hours after they brought him here that I could start to lay him out proper. I found it when I was taking his clothes off to wash him up."

Frodo took the letter. The dried blood that had soaked half of it made it difficult to open, but Tansy had already done so once. He read the first words, "Father, I know you will be pleased... " the rest of the sentence was obscured, but he understood it all.

"Here," said Rudmer, "Tansy's not in any trouble, is she?" Tansy had returned to her seat on the suttee; Rudmer stood over her, holding her hand.

"She should've brought that straight to Chief Thornbreak when she found it," said Sam.

Frodo agreed. "It would've save many people a great deal of grief and misery."

"Tooks," Tansy said dismissively.

"Not only the Tooks," Frodo reminded her. "Your own husband, and others who have been unfairly suspected. My cousin Melly."

Tansy had no answer for this.

"You understand that I will have to show this to the Chief Shirriff and Thain Paladin?" asked Frodo. "I can't allow innocent people to remain under a shadow when I have proof of what really happened."

"He's right about that," Rudmer said to his wife. "It's no fun, knowing folk're looking at you and thinking you're a murderer."

Tansy didn't look as she wanted anyone to know what had really happened, but she had no choice in the matter. The truth must to be told.
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