They found Everard in his bedroom, sitting on the bed with his head down on his drawn-up knees and his arms hugged around himself. He looked up, startled and almost frightened, when Ferdi tapped lightly on the ajar door and said, "Evvy? May we come in, please? Frodo wants to talk to you."
"What about?" Everard asked hoarsely as he looked from one boy to the other.
"He's investigating Toby's murder," Ferdi explained, and ventured into the room. "Uncle Paladin's engaged him specially to find out who's done this."
Everard made a laughing, sobbing sound. "And you've come to accuse me, Frodo?"
"No," Frodo assured him. "I only want to know more about your friend, Toby. Ferdi's explained things to me."
"Yes, everyone knows now." He sobbed again. "It was all in fun! That's all. Boys together. I was very fond of Toby, but I meant to marry Melly. We always said we would marry, since we were children. I knew we would come to it, one day. I never concealed that from Toby. He knew it couldn't last. I broke off with him the day I received Melly's letter, told him we had to end it before I rode off to Brandy Hall to settle things with her. I've had nothing to do with him since."
"But you have been meeting with him," said Frodo.
"To talk!" Everard insisted. "I wanted to explain it to him. I hoped we might still be friends, but Toby wouldn't understand. He only got angrier." He looked up at the two standing over him. "Do you think he expected me to continue seeing him after I'd married? Or that I'd go on with him and never marry--that we'd be like Pippin and Merry, but worse? A Took and the butcher's son. Imagine the scandal!" The young hobbit's eyes grew wide as he considered the more horrific scandal he was actually in the midst of, and he let his head fall into his hands. Ferdi sat down beside him and patted his back to try and soothe him.
When Everard lifted his head and wiped the tears from his face with the back of one hand, Frodo gave him a handkerchief and asked, "Did you arrange to meet Toby last night? You went out to the grove, knowing he would be there?"
"Yes, I had a note from him. I still have it." Everard felt vaguely at the pockets of his waistcoat. "I showed it to the sherriff..." He looked up suddenly at a folded piece of paper lying on the table at his bedside.
Frodo picked it up. On the outer side of the folded square was written Everard's name; Frodo recognized it as the same note he had seen his cousin receive at lunch yesterday. He unfolded it to read the message inside: 'At sunset. Please, one last time.'
He read the words aloud, and Everard explained, "I knew just what that meant. It was our usual time and place, you see. But when I went there... I found him. My Toby, dead! I thought he'd done it himself, because of me, 'til Reg told me that they couldn't find any knife." He blotted his eyes and blew his nose. "I could see the looks on their faces--the sherriff's and Uncle Paladin's--when I told them. They despise me now. I suppose you despise me too."
"No," said Frodo, although he couldn't help thinking that Everard hadn't behaved very well toward either Toby or Melilot.
"I do love Melly, you know," Everard told him. "I'm not like Pip and Merry. I want to be married to a nice girl and have children and all the rest of it. I meant to be a proper husband to her, though she'll never believe that now. It wasn't bad enough that I deceived her--I've humiliated her. She'll never forgive me. It was best I let her go. She's much better off without me."
"Ev, honestly, I don't think Melly would mind so much if it had ended when you said it did," Ferdi said comfortingly.
"Did it?" Frodo asked.
At this, Everard began to weep again.
"That's enough of that, Frodo Baggins!" Reginard was at the door, glaring at him furiously. "Father told me that you'd come up here after Evvy, but I had no idea you were prying at him with questions this way! What do you think you're doing?"
"Uncle Paladin has engaged me to investigate this murder," Frodo answered.
"Well, my brother didn't do it!" He pulled Frodo out into the hallway and shut the door to his brother's room, leaving Ferdi to deal with Everard as best he could. "Do all the investigating you like, Frodo," Reginard hissed, "but leave Evvy out of it! Hasn't the poor lad suffered enough, finding that boy dead, and being suspected of killing him? And now I've heard that his marriage to Melly has been cancelled. The Tooks have never seen such a scandal--and all over that Toby Clover! If that miserable little common wretch had known his proper place and kept to it, we wouldn't be in this mess."
"If he got ideas above himself," Frodo said dryly, "are you sure Evvy didn't encourage him?"
"What if he did? These things will happen, and Toby should have had the decency to go away once he saw that Evvy was done with him. I don't say the boy deserved to die, but he only has himself to blame for it. He was a trouble-maker, hanging about when he wasn't wanted, making threats..."
"Threats?" echoed Frodo.
"Didn't you know? He meant to spoil the wedding, to make a scandal of his friendship with Evvy. Evvy told me so last night. He said that Toby had promised to put a stop to the marriage if he could."
"He seems to have done that," Frodo murmured. "Very well. I only have one last question, Reg, and then I'll leave."
"I told you, enough!"
"Not for Everard--for you."
"The rest of us were in the garden when we heard Everard scream," said Frodo. "We all ran at once into the meadow and found him at the same time. But you were already there with Everard, ahead of everyone else. How did you reach him so quickly?"
The flushed, angry red color drained from Reginard's face, and then he turned suddenly and paced away down the hall.
"If you don't wish to tell me," Frodo called after the retreating hobbit, "I'm sure Sherriff Thornbreak will be interested."
Reginard stopped. "You wouldn't."
"I told you: I am acting as the Thain's special investigator," Frodo said as he walked swiftly toward Reginard. "Uncle Paladin wants this done discreetly, and I mean to be discreet. If there's no reason for the shirriffs to know about it, then I won't tell them--but I must have the truth from you." He had not intended to use the authority he'd been given this way, but he was not going to let Reginard walk away without giving him an explanation. This curious point had been puzzling him since last night.
Reginard gaped at Frodo, as if he had never seen him before. Then he pulled himself together, shut his mouth, and after a moment, said, "There's no reason you shouldn't know. Tell Uncle Paladin. Tell Sherriff Thornbreak too! I was there with Everard ahead of everyone else because I followed him. While you were all making merry in the garden, I was up on the little terrace above our kitchen, watching you, watching Evvy. When I saw him leave the garden, I went after him."
"You knew where he was going?" asked Frodo.
"I knew he meant to meet Toby. I saw him get a note from Toby at lunch yesterday. You did too, didn't you? I saw you read the direction, sticking your nose into other people's business even before you had an excuse to go investigating. You didn't know what that note meant, but I did. I've seen others like it. When Evvy went off last night, I knew exactly where he was going, and I meant to stop him."
"Oh, nothing like that!" Reginard insisted. "I didn't kill that boy, if that's what you're thinking! I wanted to convince Ev to come back with me, not to see Toby again. What was he thinking of? On the night before his wedding! But Evvy was already at the grove before I caught up with him. I saw him go in among the trees. Then I heard him scream." He laughed sourly. "At first, I thought that Toby had hurt him. I ran in to help my brother... and I found them, just as you saw, with Evvy kneeling over that boy's body."
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