Sharp Knives by Kathryn Ramage

Since the Thursk smial was near the top of the hill that divided Tuckborough from Tookbank, Frodo chose to walk over the hilltop instead of riding his pony back along the road; it was the quicker route.

As he came down from the crest of the hill on the Tookbank side, he could look down over the steep lane below and the crooked row of round doors to the smials along it. Each smial had a tiny patch of garden in front, bounded by a low stone wall. In one of these little gardens, Rudmer Thursk sat on the grass with his daughter and a collection of carved wooden toys. It was so pleasant a scene that Frodo wondered if this hobbit could in fact have committed so bloody and brutal a pair of murders. But then, he'd seen a hobbit who'd committed at least one murder and was planning another play as sweetly with another little girl not very long ago. Affection for a daughter didn't necessarily mean that one was incapable of killing someone else. Desire to protect a loved one might even spur a hobbit to commit acts he would otherwise never dream of doing.

Rudmer looked up as Frodo came down the lane to stand on the other side of the wall. He didn't rise, but nodded his head respectfully. "Good morning, Mr. Baggins. Tansy said you'd be coming back. Is it Tansy you want to see? She's lying down." He inclined his head toward the windows of the smial behind him. "She had a bad night and I told her to rest as best she could before the funeral. Tibby's funeral's today."

"Everard's too," said Frodo.

"I expect there'll be more folk there," said Rudmer. "There's so many Tooks hereabouts, and hardly anybody'll turn out to see Tibby buried. He had no close kin here in Tookbank beyond Tansy. There was some cousins, old maiden-aunts of Mr. Clover's who looked after Tansy after he passed on, but they washed Tibby off their hands long ago. Tansy managed his laying out and all the rest of it by herself. I said I'd give a hand, though it's work more fit for womenfolk, but she wanted to do it 'n' see him sent off proper."

"Her brother's death must have upset her very much," Frodo said sympathetically.

"That it did," Rudmer agreed. "Tibby was all she had left of her own family, Mr. Baggins. I expect you know more about that 'n I do, since you was in the middle of that business with Toby being killed. Losing Toby that way, it made Tibby all the world to her, 'specially after her dad passed on too. How was she to look after herself? That brother of hers wouldn't do it. After he went off, she pined over him so it'd break your heart to see her. But I'd be surprised if he gave her a thought all the time he was away. It would've been better if he'd stayed away for her good as well as his own."

"Did you like your brother-in-law, Mr. Thursk?" asked Frodo.

Rudmer considered for a moment before he answered, "It wouldn't be decent to say, now he's dead."

"Which means you didn't like him."

"It wouldn't be decent to say," Rudmer repeated firmly, "nor wise, seeing as I'm talking to you, Mr. Baggins."

"I've heard about your quarrel with Tibby on the day he returned to Tookbank," Frodo told him.

Rudmer gaped up at him, then turned his attention to his daughter and gathered up the toys she had flung aside. "You shouldn't listen to gossip in the town. They talk lots of nonsense." He spoke in a calm voice, but Frodo could see that his hands were shaking as he placed the little wooden figures in a row before the child.

"A lot of people at the Bullroarer's Head heard the two of you quarreling in the high street," Frodo persisted. "Are they lying? Why would they tell such a story if it wasn't true?"

When Rudmer lifted his head to look up at Frodo again, he said, "All over Tookbank, everybody's saying that Mrs. Took killed Tibby and her husband, but they also say you don't think it's so. That's why you're here, asking questions. If it wasn't Mrs. Took, then you've got to look 'til you find somebody else."

"Yes, that's so," Frodo acknowledged. "But you must see that it does no good to try and keep secrets. It only makes matters look worse. I've come to you, Mr. Thursk, because I'd like you to tell me the truth of what happened rather than rely on pub gossip. If you've done nothing wrong, then you've nothing to fear from me. "

Rudmer was still wary in spite of this reassurance, but he answered, "That's kind of you, Mr. Baggins. Tansy's afraid of you, but she says you're a fair gent."

"Will you tell me what the fight was about?" Frodo prompted when Rudmer said no more after this intriguing remark about his wife's fears.

"Tansy," Rudmer said simply. "Did she tell you how he came here to see her? Well, I didn't want him to bother her again after that, and I told him so. She's expecting another baby at the end of the summer and I didn't want her getting worked up over him. That brother of hers was always more to her 'n she was to him--I'm sure of that. He didn't care for her, but I do. I've done my best for her. I didn't like to see her upset herself over him, and he'd only be coming back to upset her some more. Awhile after he left here, I went out to look for him. I thought he'd be at the Bullroarer's, where he always used to go. I found him trying to get in, only they wouldn't let him past the door. I heard later that Mr. Brundle kicked him out earlier in the day. When he walked off down the street, I went after him and told him he wasn't to trouble Tansy. He said he was bound to see his sister as much as he liked and I couldn't stop him! I said my house was my house and his sister was my wife and the mother of my little uns and I cared for them even if he didn't. Then I gave him a shove, and he shoved me back. We didn't come to blows, not as such, but I pushed him once hard enough to knock him down. After that, he ran off and that was the last I saw of him."

"You never went to see him at the cottage?"


Rudmer's voice had been rising steadily during this account of his fight with Tibby. At this last emphatic exclamation, Tansy's voice called out sleepily from inside the smial. "Rud? Who's that you're talking so loud to?"

"Nobody!" her husband responded. "It's just me and the baby playing. I didn't mean to wake you." He gave Frodo a glance, urging him silently to go away before Tansy came to the window and saw him.

"Doesn't she know about the fight?" Frodo asked in a whisper.

Rudmer shook his head fiercely. "D'you think I'd tell her? She'd never forgive me for it."
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