Sharp Knives by Kathryn Ramage

A short time later, Frodo returned to Thain Paladin's study accompanied Sam and Chief Thornbreak; he asked the Thain to send next door for Adelard Took before he brought out the letter to show them. "After all, Uncle Addy, this is addressed to you. If it's anyone's rightful property, it is yours. I thought you'd like to hear what Everard wrote you on his last night."

"Yes, of course," said Adelard, though his eyes were on the bloodstains on the outer part of the letter as he took a seat. "But wherever did you find it, Frodo?"

Frodo explained how Tansy had come by it. Chief Thornbreak had already heard the story before he had left Tookbank and shook his head ruefully over her concealment of this vital clue; he declared that somebody ought to give her a good talking-to about it, but the Thain insisted that nothing be done.

"Ev must've written it that evening after Melly and Elvegar had visited and gone," said Frodo. "He hadn't made up his mind until then, otherwise I think he would've said something to them about his plans. Half the letter is unreadable, but more than enough is left to for us to guess what he intended."

Holding the letter up to the bright sunlight shining in through the room's one window, he read the pertinent phrases aloud: "'Father, I know you will be pleased... after I've given you so much trouble... missed you all so terribly and cannot bear... doubt that Melly will take me back ... my son, whom I haven't seen...' I think it's obvious what he what he was going to do."

"Evvy wanted to come home," Adelard said in a choked voice.

"He hoped to be restored to his family--to you, at least, Uncle Addy. He didn't want to be in exile and disgraced any longer. Even if he and Melly couldn't reconcile, he wanted to be near his son. He must've meant to send this to you the next morning by way of one of the delivery boys. Perhaps he left it lying on a table near the door, and that's where Tibby found it. However it came about, Tibby opened the letter and read it. He saw that Ev meant to leave him. There's a sentence here, asking that Tibby 'be provided sufficient money to go' where 'he was happier'. Back to the place where they'd lived in the north? Poor Ev meant it kindly. He felt some responsibility for Tibby and didn't want him to suffer by being cast off callously. But whatever Tibby truly felt for Ev, his chief reason for running away with him was to injure the entire Took family. He couldn't allow Evvy to return to his family and his old life. To him, that would mean the Tooks had triumphed over him. Then to be sent away by the very people he wanted most to hurt--it was more than he could stand. I'm afraid that by writing this letter, Evvy's fate was sealed.

"I'm not quite certain what happened next. Since Ev was in his nightshirt, we can guess that he'd gone to bed. Tibby was still fully dressed, presumably up and about. Perhaps Ev awoke and discovered Tibby reading this letter not meant for him. Perhaps Tibby woke Ev in a rage over what he saw as an attempt to abandon him. There was almost certainly a conversation, if not a quarrel, as they stood at the bedroom doorway. If Tibby had used the knife to break the wax seal on the letter, he would've had it at hand. Whether by accident or by cold deliberation, Ev was stabbed. But instead of fleeing afterwards, Tibby chose another way to escape the hangman, a way that cast suspicion away from himself and upon the people he hated most."

"Us," said Thain Paladin. "On Everard's wife most of all, but on all our family."

"The knife should've told us the truth of it right away," Frodo concluded. "No other murderer would have reason to fling it out of the cottage window. Only Tibby, since it was the very last thing he did after stabbing himself with it. He didn't wish to be found with it in his hand, but he wasn't capable of moving about to conceal it somewhere else."

"Why didn't he destroy the letter?" Paladin wondered.

"It was a warm night, and there was no fire," said Frodo. "He might've lit one to burn it, true, but I suspect that he had another plan. He tucked it into his waistcoat pocket in hopes that his sister would find it and share in his secret. She was the one person who would appreciate his final act of revenge."

"Hateful creature," said Chief Thornbreak. "But anybody could've seen that he'd come to a bad end. He was more'n enough trouble before this."

"And that sister of his is no better," Sam agreed. "Telling lies to get folk in trouble."

"The letter explains that too. 'I'll send a message to Toptree...'" Frodo read aloud. "There's the phrase that set Tansy upon Tadler. Everard of course meant the father, presumably to make arrangements to have his things brought back to the house, but to Tansy 'Toptree' meant the son. She'd heard, probably from Tibby, that Everard had once been on friendly terms with Tadler, though she guessed too much about the nature of their friendship. Given Ev's friendships with her brothers, that was a natural mistake, but it made her afraid that Evvy had confided in Tadler. She thought that he might tell me something that would give her brother away, so she came to me to discredit him.

"Both Tibby and Tansy were horribly affected by their brother's death." Now that Melly was safe, Frodo could afford to be generous and try to understand the Clovers. "Their father had brought them up to despise the Tooks, and the manner of Toby's death was very hard for them to accept. I'm afraid it turned their minds and made them poisonous and spiteful. There mayn't have been any hope for Tibby--he seemed determined to follow a path that led to his destruction as long as he brought the Tooks down with him, but perhaps Tansy's husband will help her to turn for the better."

"He's a good lad," said Sam, pleased that his liking for Rudmer had been vindicated.

"Yes, and there are the children too. They're her family. I hope she can learn to care for them as much as the family she lost before she destroys herself as well." Frodo folded the note and was going to put it into his pocket when Adelard held out a hand for it.

"Can I have that, Frodo?"

"You want it, Uncle?" Frodo was surprised.

"Please. You did say that it's my rightful property, and it's the last thing my poor son wrote me. The- ah- part that can't be read can be cut off. It's not needed by you or the shirriffs any longer, is it?"

Frodo said, "No, Uncle Addy," and the Thain and Chief Thornbreak agreed that there was no reason, now that the case had been solved, for anyone else to keep hold of it.

While Adelard sat reading Everard's letter, tears began to well in his eyes. Paladin tactfully led the others out of the study so that his cousin could grieve in private.

"Thank you, Frodo," the Thain said softly as he shut the study door. "I'm going to tell the rest of the family the news. Will you come with me? After all this unpleasantness, it may do them some good to hear the truth of the matter from you."

Frodo politely refused. "I'll come back later, Uncle, if you don't mind. I'd like to bring the news to Melly and Merry as soon as I can."

"Yes, of course. I don't suppose they'll want to come back with you and join us for dinner, but pray extend my invitation to them. They are welcome here whenever they'd like to return."

"There, now that's ended better'n any of us had a right to expect," said Chief Thornbreak as he left the Thain's Hall with Frodo and Sam. "You had the right idea about all of it, Mr. Baggins. We ought've seen that there was sommat odd about the way that knife was tossed out the window--though you say yourself you didn't see how it was at the time. And you was right about that Tadler lad too. I hope Master Merry and Mrs. Took won't be holding a grudge against his Thainship nor me for suspecting her now everything's come out right. When you see her, tell her I'm sorry about it and I'm happy it's turned out to be that Tibby rather'n her or anybody else that's alive hereabouts."

Frodo promised that he would, and Thornbreak offered to buy him an ale that evening when he returned to the Bullroarer's Head. Could he buy Sam one now with an early luncheon, "seeing as we didn't have our half-pint yesterday, Mr. Gamgee."

"You wouldn't mind if I don't go off to Green Hill with you?" Sam pulled Frodo aside for a quick, murmured conference before he accepted this offer.

"No, not at all. I'll see you here again at dinner-time, or else at the inn tonight?" Frodo smiled. "We've hardly made use of our room, and I'd like to do so before we go home." He didn't give Sam a kiss, since Thornbreak was standing only a few feet away. They parted at the stables.
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