Because of local feeling toward her, Melilot didn't attend her husband's funeral that afternoon. Merry pointedly remained at Adelard's house with her. Together, they looked after Addy and the other children while the rest of the family assembled at the far end of the meadow beyond the garden, where the extensive Took vaults were. Dodi and Fatty stood beside their respective spouses near Everard's bier before the vault door. Frodo also attended, but stayed at the edge of the crowd throughout the ceremony. Like Merry, he felt as if he were in the midst of an enemy camp. The Tooks were his relatives as much as the Brandybucks, and some were as dear to him, but he'd placed himself firmly on the Brandybuck side by supporting Melly. By this time, his proposal to her had become common knowledge among the many smaller households around the Thain's Hall. Members of these cadet branches of the Took family who spoke to him before the funeral were coolly reserved or looked as perplexed as his friends had by the news. They must think him besotted and no longer an impartial investigator. A number of prominent Tookbank residents and local farmers had also come to pay their respects; they kept deferentially at the back of the crowd, away from the gentry, but they had also heard the news. Frodo heard the whispers that went among them and noticed the furtive glances in his direction. Who knew what they thought of it? Frodo felt certain he would hear something of their opinions tonight when he returned to the Bullroarer's Head. Mr. Brundle would tell him. He had no desire to draw more attention to himself than he already had, but he had to be here to watch and learn.
The meadow was a long one, extending northward from the shallow end of the valley created by the curving hill where the principal Took smials were burrowed; a stream separated it from the garden. From where Frodo was standing, he could see not only over the heads of the crowd to the entrance to the vault, but another sad reminder of how this tragedy had begun--the copse where Everard used to meet Toby Clover, and where Toby had been found murdered the evening before Everard's and Melly's wedding.
Frodo made note of the people who spoke words of farewell over Everard's covered body on its bier, per hobbit tradition. Adelard and Thain Paladin spoke first, each in turn declaring his affection for the dead hobbit and his grief at the loss. They carefully avoided any allusion to how Everard had spent the last few years of his life and the way he had died. They were here to express their own sorrow for a beloved son and nephew, not stir up anger. As head of the family, the Thain was particularly determined to suppress any vengeful emotions among the mourners.
Eglantine didn't speak, but Pearl did and Everard's three sisters followed tearfully with childhood reminiscences. Reginard, unsurprisingly, was the first to declare a wish for revenge upon his brother's murderer; he didn't name Melly, but Frodo felt sure that this reticence was due to Pearl's and Adelard's influence. The Tooks knew who he meant, however, and excited murmurs began to rise from the crowd. It was only when Ferdi stepped up next and offered some happy memories of his best friend that these murmurs subsided and the general mood improved.
Other friends of Everard's followed Ferdi--Edegar Took and his younger brother Elvegar, Florian Took, Stalibras Windipeak-Took, Hildebord Plurose-Took, all distant cousins who lived in and around Tuckborough. Frodo knew them all fairly well, but none well enough to call them his own friends. Like Pippin, Ferdi, and Ev himself, they'd grown up together as rowdy young hobbits and enjoyed spending their time pulling pranks, drinking at the local pubs, and putting wagers on pony races; some, like Ferdi, had married and grown more respectable, while others still keenly enjoyed their youthful pursuits.
None of them spoke of Everard's death with anger or bitterness. Their sentiments were in keeping with Ferdi's. They'd known Everard from childhood and had always thought him a good lad. They'd missed him sorely these last few years and were sorrier still that he'd come to such a tragic end so young. Edegar spoke of his hope that the murderer would be discovered soon; Frodo paid close attention, for it was the first truly interesting thing to occur at the funeral. Not only did Edegar seem to believe that Everard's killer wasn't Melly, but some person unknown, but his statement also upset his brother, Elvegar. Some urgent, whispered conversation was exchanged between the two after both had expressed their farewells. Frodo was too far away to hear what was said, but Pearl spoke a rebuke to them and they remained silent among the group near the bier until the last farewell had been made and Elvegar joined the other bier-bearers to carry Everard into the vault.
After the ceremony had concluded, Adelard extended a general invitation for refreshments to be served in the part of the garden nearest his home. As the crowd dispersed, Frodo tried to keep an eye Edegar, hoping to talk to him and learn what the quarrel had been about. There were too many people moving between them, however, and he soon lost sight of the younger hobbit. But Edegar would surely join the rest of the family at Adelard's; Frodo was certain he would catch him there. He followed the crowd in the direction of the bridge that led into the northern end of the garden.
Reg and Pearl were walking a short distance ahead of him, arm in arm with their heads together. Frodo heard only a fragment of their conversation, but it was enough to draw his attention away from Edegar and Elvegar and make him strain to hear more without obviously eavesdropping.
"...asked me about tea-time, when Melly came back from the cottage and so on, but I think what he wanted to know was when I came in," Reg was saying to his wife in a quick and low voice. "The funny thing is, Pip asked me the same question just before the funeral, only he wasn't as roundabout about it. Is he spying for Frodo?"
"Of course," Pearl responded, and gripped her husband's arm as he started back angrily. "There's no reason to be alarmed. It was only to be expected." She glanced back at Frodo, who deliberately kept his eyes on the grass before his toes. "Let them pry and poke to their hearts' content. They can't discover anything. Only mind that you keep your tongue and don't give them cause to watch you."
Frodo couldn't hear Reg's muttered reply, except that Melly's name came into it.
Pearl answered, "Well, you must abandon that idea, my dear. It doesn't seem likely now."
"Here, Frodo!" another voice called out behind him.
Frodo turned to look over his shoulder just before he crossed the bridge. Edegar was among the last of the hobbits leaving the funeral and was headed toward him, bringing along his unwilling brother by the arm. He stopped to let Reg and Pearl go on with their interesting conversation, and waited for the two brothers to catch up with him.
"I don't like her any better than you do, Elve," he said as he thrust Elvegar toward Frodo, "but I won't see an injustice done. Tell him."
"Injustice?" Frodo echoed. "You mean, against Melly?"
Elvegar remained silent and recalcitrant. "Tell him," Edegar insisted, but Elvegar didn't speak until the last of the funeral attendees had gone past and they were alone in the meadow.
"She couldn't've done it, Frodo," he muttered sullenly.
This was more than Frodo could have hoped for. "How do you know so certainly?" he asked, and tried not to sound too eager for the answer.
"Because I was there at the cottage myself after she left." Now that he'd begun to talk, Elvegar produced the rest of his story rapidly. "I didn't see her go, but Ev told me that his wife had just been to call upon him. Naturally, he was low in spirits, so I offered to go with him into Tookbank for an ale at the Bullroarers to cheer him. Ev refused, since Tibby wasn't welcome there. So I stayed there with him and had tea and commiserated 'til it began to get dark. I was with Ev for more than an hour."
"Melly was back at Uncle Adelard's well before dusk," recalled Frodo. "She was there in time for tea." At this time of year, dusk fell around eight o'clock; it would be dark by half past. Adelard's family had taken tea that afternoon around five o'clock. "She wasn't out of sight again that evening until they all went to bed."
Edegar nodded. "And this fool's known it was so and kept it to himself. I knew he'd been out that night, but didn't know where he'd gone to. Well, he told me just before the funeral and I said he ought to go and tell you before you learned of it from someone else and started to make more of it than you should."
"Like imagine that I killed Evvy!" Elvegar exclaimed.
"Did you?" asked Frodo.
"There, you see! I knew you'd take that line!" Elvegar looked to his brother to witness that he'd been right. "You're on her side. Everyone's aware of that."
"I don't want someone I care for to be punished for a crime she didn't commit," Frodo answered this accusation. "I don't want that to happen to anyone, even people I don't like. As your brother says, it would be an injustice, and I care very much about justice."
"I didn't kill Ev, as a matter of fact, and I don't know who did," Elvegar retorted. "He and his friend were alive when I left them. Tibby Clover was angry--as usual--and Ev was low, as I've told you. He said he meant to go to bed right after he'd had his dinner. But they were fine!"
"Thank you, Elve," Frodo said sincerely. "Are you willing to come and tell this same story to Uncle Paladin? I think he'd prefer to hear it directly from you."
After an encouraging look from his brother, Elvegar agreed.
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