"You didn't say what I could do," Sam pointed out later that evening as they rode back to Tookbank. Pippin had gone with them as far as his home in Tuckborough and they were now approaching the tunnel through the rocky crest that separated the two towns.
"It's enough that you're here, dear Sam--though I suppose I ought to find some task for you. Since you're neither a Took nor a Brandybuck, you might be able to go where members of either family can't. You're known to Tansy Thursk, but not to Rudmer."
"You think he's the most likely one to've killed Mr. Everard and Tibby Clover," Sam recalled.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. The Thursks are wary of me, and perhaps they have good reason to be, but that one fight between Tibby and his brother-in-law simply isn't proof enough for anything. Tibby was always having fights and quarrels and they didn't end up in murder." Frodo rode silently for awhile, thinking over the best way for Sam to approach Rudmer without putting their suspect on guard against him. At last, he said, "Rudmer Thursk is a carpenter or woodcrafter of some sort. He keeps a little shop not far up the high street from the tavern. While I'm off on other errands tomorrow, you can pop in there as any traveler stopping at Tookbank might, look over his wares, buy one or two things, and have a chat with him."
"You want me to buy tables and chairs?"
Frodo laughed. "No, nothing so unwieldy to cart home as that! He carves little trinkets and toys as well. I saw some of his handiwork this morning in his own daughter's hands. If he has more of the same to sell, you'll have gifts to bring back for the children."
By this time, they had passed through the tunnel and the lanterns of Tookbank shone ahead of them. The last patrons were leaving the Bullroarer's Head as they went inside, but Mr. Brundle's barmaids were still busy sweeping up and clearing the tables. Frodo fancied that the tavern's patrons looked more welcoming this evening; a couple even offered him their congratulations as they went out the door--whether on his success in proving Melly innocent or on his pending marriage to her, Frodo wasn't sure.
Sam, who'd been riding all day and was weary, went straight down the long tunnel behind the public room to find the bedroom Frodo and Merry had previously been sharing. Frodo sought out the innkeeper. He found Mr. Brundle having his own late supper in the kitchen, which was otherwise closed for the night, scrubbed clean, and its fires banked.
"Won't Master Merry be wanting his things tonight?" Mr. Brundle wondered after Frodo had explained Sam's arrival and Merry's departure, and made arrangements for one of the stable-lads to convey Merry's belongings to the Green Hill inn in the morning.
"He'll probably be asleep long before a lad could ride over there if one goes now," said Frodo. "Merry can sleep in his clothes well enough. He's done it plenty of times before in less comfortable surroundings." Mr. Brundle nodded uncertainly, not knowing what to make of this remark about the sleeping habits of one of the highest-born gentlehobbits in the Shire. "But he'll want a change of clothing tomorrow and I doubt he'll want to come back to Tookbank to fetch his things. Now that our cousin Melly's left Tuckborough, he'd rather be near her."
"I was glad to hear how Mrs. Took's been exonerated." Mr. Brundle pronounced this last word carefully; it was new to him. "And I'm more sorry 'n I can say that I couldn't let her lodge here last night. There were hard feelings in the town--you know that. But I hope there won't be any hard feelings over it now it's past, Mr. Baggins, not from the folk hereabouts, nor from you nor Master Merry."
"I bear no grudge, Mr. Brundle. I understand that you had to think of your own living and the goodwill of your neighbors," Frodo said magnanimously. "Then you've heard the news?"
"Mr. Ferdibrand was in earlier with Mr. Bolger and Mr. Doderic Brandybuck, as are married to Mr. Adelard's daughters," Mr. Brundle answered. "They were quick to tell anybody who'd listen about how you proved she couldn't've done it and how the Thain set her free. Mr. Doderic promised to knock anybody in the head if they said a word against her, and Mr. Ferdi said he'd give 'em a good kick in the seat o' their trousers for good measure. So that kept the worst tongues from wagging. If his Thainship and the rest o' the Tooks are standing up for her, and Chief Thornbreak agrees, then who're we to say different?" Having finished his dinner, Mr. Brundle emptied the mug of ale beside his plate and refilled it from a jug on the table. He then held the jug over an empty mug as if he meant to fill it as well. "Will you have a drop yourself, Mr. Baggins, before you're off to bed?"
Frodo refused this offer. "But will you tell me one thing before we part for the night?" he requested. "Why didn't you want me to find out about Rudmer Thursk's fight with Tibby Clover?"
Brundle didn't answer this immediately, but had a sip of his ale before he said, "I was hoping you wouldn't get to hear about that."
"But you must surely have known that the story would come to my ears sooner or later. Half of Tookbank was here to hear them in the street outside."
"Half o' Tookbank quarreled with that Tibby. Didn't I say so?"
"That's true," Frodo agreed, "but you didn't hope to keep me from finding out about those others. Why this one fight in particular? What reason do you have to try and protect Rudmer Thursk? He's not a relation of yours, is he? A nephew, perhaps?"
"Of a sort," the innkeeper admitted. "His mother's my wife's cousin's child."
"Yes, I see." For hobbits, this was considered a close relationship. Rudmer probably called the innkeeper 'Uncle.'
"Now, Rudmer had naught to do with Mr. Everard's murder--I'm sure of that!" Mr. Brundle insisted. "He's a good lad and never did harm to anybody. He wouldn't've harmed Mr. Everard, whatever his quarrel with that Tibby. Anyways, he was here all that night."
"Was he?" Frodo was alert at this information. "Why didn't you say so before?"
"I didn't know you'd want to know it 'til now, Mr. Baggins. Why bring it out before you heard tell about Rudmer and Tibby and started asking questions?"
Frodo acknowledged that this was reasonable. "Can you tell me when he came in that night, and when he left? Did you make note of the time?"
"I'm not likely to forget it--not that night!" Mr. Brundle responded promptly. "He was the first one to come in that evening, straight from his shop up the way. He didn't go home 'til it was after dark and I asked if his wife wouldn't be waiting dinner for him."
"What did he say to that?"
"That she wasn't feeling well with the new baby and he didn't want to trouble her with cooking. Mrs. Brundle saw he had a bite to eat here in the kitchen, and he went on his way home. It must've been going on for ten o'clock when we saw him out the door."
It might well be true, but Frodo doubted this convenient story. There was, however, no way he could disprove it tonight. He bid Mr. Brundle good-night and went to his room, where Sam was waiting for him.
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