Frodo understood Merry's frustration over being unable to protect Melly; he felt protective of her himself and in some ways just as helpless to aid her. It wasn't that he was afraid he would fail to find the murderer of Everard and Tibby; he was certain that he would accomplish that in the end. But he was afraid of what this ordeal was doing to her. Melly's demeanor this afternoon had alarmed him. It was as if she'd accepted defeat already and awaited her fate. He dreaded to think how the news that she wasn't welcome in Tookbank would affect her.
When he arrived at Adelard's smial, Reginard answered the door and grudgingly admitted him.
"Pearl tells me her brother's disappeared," Reg informed Frodo on their way to Melilot's room. "Mother Eg is besides herself, but she knows where he's gone as well as the rest of us do. Pippin's joined you and Merry, hasn't he? He's gone over to your side."
Frodo acknowledged that Pippin was indeed at the inn with Merry.
Reg made a sound of disgust. "I suppose that was only to be expected. Will he be staying on there?"
"No, I don't think so. He said he intended to be home in time for dinner tonight. Aunt Eglantine needn't worry." Frodo decided to test Pippin's theory about his brother-in-law. "Tell me, Reg, do you think Melly killed Everard?"
"I know what she did," Reg replied tersely; Frodo wasn't certain what precisely he meant by this, until he added, "Her behavior drove him to despair, and straight into the arms of that Cotton boy. I loved my brother dearly, but I could see that he was of a weak character. The right wife would've helped him to stand against his own weakness. Melly might've managed it if she'd cared to. You remember how she bullied him into marrying her after the other Cotton boy was killed? If she'd been as firm with him while they were married, none of this ever would've happened."
While this was no answer to Frodo's question, it gave him a good indication of how Reg felt about Melly. Pippin was right; he hated her enough to want to see her punished for her husband's murder. But would Reg kill his own brother just to see Melly hanged? That seemed far-fetched. He tried another question, in hopes of settling the problem of Reg as a suspect one way or another. "You heard Pearl tell me earlier that Melly arrived in time for tea. Can you confirm the time she returned from the cottage? Times are rather important in a case like this."
"I'm afraid I couldn't say. I was out in the garden, having a pipe, and didn't come until Pearl called to me that my tea would get cold. She and Melly and Father were already gathered 'round the sandwiches when I came in."
Reg left him in the hallway outside Melly's door. Melly was pleased to see Frodo again, but when he told her what Mr. Brundle had said about lodging her at the Bullroarer's Head, she received this information with that same attitude of resignation that had alarmed Frodo earlier.
"Then I've no choice but to stay here." She went to the round window on the far side of the room, as if she were in accord with Merry's plan for her escape. But instead of opening the window to climb out, she sank down onto the cushioned seat in the lowest curve of the windowsill. Her face contorted briefly as she tried not to cry. In spite of her efforts, however, tears soon began to glisten in her eyes.
"Oh, Melly, please don't!" Frodo sat down beside her and produced a clean handkerchief from his waistcoat pocket. "It won't be for long," he tried to reassure her. "We're doing all we can to help you."
Melly accepted the handkerchief. "I know you'll do your best for me, Frodo," she repeated. Her voice was slightly muffled behind the little square of linen held over her eyes and nose, but she sounded no more hopeful about Frodo's 'best' efforts than she had earlier in the day.
"I will," Frodo insisted. "I wish I could do more to spare you this awful waiting and worry." The upper part of Melly's face was hidden and he didn't know if she was still crying; she wasn't sobbing, but she drew in one deep, sighing breath after another. Tentatively, he put an arm around her and felt a little awkward as he did it. He wasn't used to embracing women. When she let her brow rest upon his shoulder and gripped the front of his jacket with her free hand, he didn't try to pull away, but gently patted her back. Surely this was the sort of comfort he could offer any friend in distress, male or female?
He could imagine how Melly must feel. She would've been stunned by her husband's murder. Even though they'd been separated for years, she had once loved him. Whatever her feelings for him now, the brutal way in which Everard had died must disturb her as profoundly as it distressed his family. And yet, suspected of his murder as she was, she couldn't grieve for him as the Tooks could. Her tears would seem false to them. She was well aware that they'd resented her even before Everard's death and could readily believe that they thought worse of her now. She must feel trapped, alone in a house filled with people, frightened, and bewildered. No wonder she'd fallen into a defeated state of mind with little hope for the future! She'd withstood so much, but was losing the strength of will to fight against what seemed to her to be such oppressive circumstances.
What could he do to raise her spirits? "Melly, I-"
Someone knocked on the bedroom door; Frodo jumped back a little and looked up, startled.
Pearl came in, bearing a tray with a covered plate of food. "I've brought you your dinner," she told Melly. "What about you, Frodo?" As she set down the tray on a little table near the door, she looked from him to Melly with a perplexed and curious expression. "Reg told me you'd come back. You're welcome to join us, or I can have another tray sent up here for you if you'd rather dine together."
"Thank you, no," Frodo said. Letting go of Melly, he rose from the window seat. "I told Merry I'd be back in time to have dinner at the inn. I ought to be going." He turned to Melly, who was carefully blotting her damp cheeks; she had been weeping after all. "I promise I'll come to see you again in the morning."
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