Too Many Tooks by Kathryn Ramage

When Pippin left the dining room, he went out of the back of the Hall and spotted Adelard, Pearl, and Reginard seated around the table on their terrace halfway up the hillside. Deciding to start on his assigned task, he went up the slope of the hill toward them.

"Hello!" he called out as he approached. "Still having your lunch?"

"Just finishing. The girls have gone, but there's still plenty left. Why don't you join us?" offered Pearl.

Even though he'd already had a good lunch, he sat down to help himself. Pearl was nursing the baby; Pippin, who was young enough to be embarrassed by this maternal activity, averted his gaze as he selected a cream bun from the platter and asked, "How is Evvy?"

"Worse since he spoke to Melly," Reginard reported, "and since Frodo Baggins came here poking his nose into things that are none of his business. That boy's got above himself, Pip."

"He's only doing as Father asked," said Pippin.

"Perhaps, but he doesn't have to investigate us!"

"Ferdi's with Everard now," said Adelard. "We thought someone ought to stay with him, keep an eye on him. I'm afraid the poor lad might do himself a harm."

"He's only made a bad lot worse for himself," said Pearl, and shook her head. "I know he's distraught over the death of his friend, but he needn't have made a spectacle of himself and poor Melly the way he did."

Pippin was normally a firm believer in the effectiveness of direct questions, but he realized that this time he would have to be more clever and circuitous if he wanted to find anything out. "It's a shame about the wedding," he began. "Everyone's been expecting Ev and Melly to marry since they were children, and now it's all come to nothing." He took a second bun. "And Melly worked so hard on that dress of hers."

"It is a shame," Pearl agreed. "It's a lovely dress."

"Ferdi was telling us about it yesterday, how she had so many ribbons to sew on. You must've helped her a bit, Pearl."

"No, Melly wouldn't have anyone's help. She wanted to do the whole piece of work herself. She shut herself in her room and hardly came out except for meals. We barely saw her for two days." She sighed. "I hope that once this awful matter is settled, she might have the opportunity to wear it after all. We might have a wedding yet."

"After the way Evvy behaved to her?"

"Oh, I know he's been a great fool, casting Melly off, but she's a sweet, understanding girl. She'd forgive him. I'd daresay she would even forgive his seeing that Toby... especially now that the boy is dead."

"It's only a matter of time before the murderer is caught," said Reg. "If the Thain's 'special investigator' doesn't find him, the sherriffs will eventually."

"Who do you think did it?" Pippin asked.

Reg peered at him suspiciously. "You're not spying for Frodo, are you?"

"I was only wondering," Pippin answered with an air of innocence. "Isn't that just what everyone's wondering about? Somebody stabbed Toby."

"Yes, but it's nothing to do with us," Pearl insisted. "He was Evvy's friend and was found on Took property, but I'm sure whoever killed him must have been a traveling ruffian, or some farm-lad he had a quarrel with, or something of the sort."

"You don't think it's one of the family?"

"Pippin!" his sister exclaimed. "How can you think such a thing?"

"I do," Adelard said quietly. "It wouldn't surprise me at all to find that Archambalt's behind this."

The younger hobbits turned to stare at him. "Great-Uncle Archambalt?" Reginard repeated. "Why him? He didn't even know Toby Clover, did he?"

"No," Adelard admitted. "But he's never liked that sort of boy. He had only to hear the gossip about our Everard and Toby to start him off. You don't know what that old wretch is capable of."

"Really, Father Addy!" Pearl murmured reprovingly, and sounded so remarkably like their mother that Pippin had to grin.

"My apologies, dear," Adelard bowed his head, rebuked. "You're quite right--I've said more than I should. If you'll pardon me, I'll go and see how poor Evvy is doing. We mustn't leave young Ferdi to bear all our family responsibilities." And he rose and went into the house.

"I never heard Uncle Addy speak so harshly of anyone," Pippin said in astonishment. "What could make him think Old Uncle Archambalt's had a part in this?"

"I couldn't say," Reg replied. "Oh, I know Uncle Archambalt talks rather fierce sometimes, but he's harmless. He must be nearly a hundred! But you know Father's never liked him. He doesn't even like to be near the old gent if he can help it."

Pippin nodded. He remembered that his father and Uncle Adelard had quarreled with the elderly hobbit not long after the Old Thain had died; he'd only been a small boy at the time. Archambalt had gone away to live in a cottage on the far side of Tookbank after that, but he seemed to have been restored to the family since. "Is Great-Uncle Archambalt living here now? Not at the Thain's Hall, I mean. In Tuckborough."

"No," said Pearl. "He only came for the wedding."

"He came for our wedding too," Reginard added. "He's always taken an interest in us, Evvy and the girls and me, though I admit I don't understand why. I remember once, when I was very small, he came to visit and asked to see me. Mother brought me out from the nursery--I was only a little lad, not more than three or four years old. Ada was just a baby, and the others hadn't even been born yet. Old Uncle Archambalt looked me over, and seemed pleased. He told Mother what a fine, strong boy I was. And then he told me, 'You have me to thank, my lad. You wouldn't have been born at all if it weren't for me.'"

"What could he mean by that?" Pippin asked. "It sounds very odd." He wondered if he should he tell Frodo about it.

"I've no idea. Uncle Archambalt's a peculiar old hobbit, even for a Took!" said Reginard. "But I don't think what Father's said about him can be true..." He and Pearl exchanged a worried glance. "No," they agreed.

"It's this terrible situation, preying on Father Addy's mind," said Pearl. "All this worrying about Evvy has given him some strange ideas."

Reginard went indoors after his father. Pearl finished nursing; Pippin took the baby while his sister fastened her blouse. He bounced the baby on his knee, until Pearl warned him, "Careful, Pip! Don't shake him so much. He'll make a mess of your shirt if you do."

Pippin brought little Peveril to his shoulder and cradled him gently.

"That's right," Pearl told him. "Give his back a pat or two."

He did so, cautiously, terrified that the baby would spit up all over him.

"There," his sister said approvingly. "You really are very good with babies, Pip. Reg looks scared to death every time he takes Pevvy in his arms, he's so afraid he'll drop him on his head. I expect you'll be a wonderful father one day."

Reluctantly, Pippin had to admit that the idea had some appeal. He wasn't at all ready for it yet, but someday, it might be nice to have a little boy like this of his own. His little Faramir...

Pearl watched his face, and said, "I've heard that you won't meet Auntie Di's niece. Mother's very upset about it."

"Oh, I don't mind meeting the girl," Pippin replied. "When she's here, I'll come home to see her, and I'll be as nice as you please, but I won't marry her. I don't even know her!"

"Mother and Father were an arranged match, and they've done very well together. Uncle Addy and Aunt Evaline were matched too." She paused, then asked, "Is it because of Merry that you won't think of it?"

"Isn't that reason enough?" Pippin asked back, and braced himself for an argument. He was never as good at these battles as Merry was, and it was especially difficult for him to face up to his family's disapproval. Pearl was ten years his senior, and could be almost as intimidating as his mother and father. "I love him, Pearl. Nobody thinks of that. You don't understand."

But Pearl answered with surprising sympathy, "I know you love him, Pip. Mother doesn't see--she thinks it's all silly boys' games--but I've watched you two lads together since you were small. Perhaps it's because you never had an older brother of your own, but you've always looked up to Merry. You'd do whatever he asked. He had only had to say so."

"You think he's led me astray?"

"No, but I think you're old enough now to decide for yourself. You can't tag after Merry Brandybuck all your life."

"But I have decided for myself," Pippin insisted, "only nobody likes what I've decided! You ought to be pleased I won't marry, Pearl. Then little Pev can be my heir." He patted the baby, who slept against his shoulder with tiny, furry toes curled contentedly, and a milky bubble on the rosy-pink pursed lips. "He'll make a good Thain, if he takes after you. You're the sensible one. You're most like Mother--a Banks through and through, not like the rest of us flighty Tooks." Of the Thain's four children, Pearl was the only one who had never been scolded for naughtiness. The grown-ups used to say that she could always be counted on to do the respectable and responsible thing. "Reg is a bit Bankish too, but he has his flighty moments."

Pearl laughed, and Pippin hoped he'd distracted her. Perhaps they wouldn't have to go on with this serious conversation about his private life after all.

"You'd be a better Thain than me," he said. "It should go to you."

If Pearl thought so too--and Pippin knew she did--she had the grace not to say so. "A daughter can't be Thain," she answered. "It has to be a son. As much as I'd like my son to be Thain after you, Pip, you have a duty to the family to produce your own heir. No one's suggesting that you have to marry tomorrow, or even next year--only, will you think about it, for Mother's and Father's sake?"

The conversation ended merciful at this point, when Ferdi came out onto the terrace. At Pearl's invitation, he had a sandwich or two, but did not sit down with them. "I'd better go home," he explained. "I've missed lunch, and Mother and Father must be wondering what's happened to me. How's Frodo's investigation coming along, Pip? Find anything yet?"

"I wouldn't know," Pippin responded. He felt his sister's eyes upon him.

"When you see him, tell him I wish him the best of luck. The sooner this murder is solved, the better for all of us!" Ferdi went away, following a footpath on the hillside to his own home, a smial on the other side of the Thain's Hall.

After he had gone, Pearl turned to Pippin. "You are helping Frodo, aren't you?"

Pippin didn't answer immediately--he could never get a lie past his eldest sister--but his embarrassed silence was enough for Pearl to divine the truth.

"I wondered at some of the questions you were asking," she said. "You wanted to find out what we knew. Did he send you here to ask us?"

Caught, Pippin nodded abashedly. "Frodo didn't think you'd talk to him," he confessed. "Well, not you, but Reg. You heard how he was speaking of Frodo's visit this morning."

"Yes. I don't know what Frodo said to him--Reg won't tell me--but I think he's afraid that Frodo suspects him. Will you tell me why? Is it because Reg didn't approve of Evvy's friendship with that boy? But that's nonsense! None of us did."

"Didn't you?"

"I did my best not to take notice of it," Pearl replied virtuously. "Mother says there are some things a lady doesn't acknowledge. But I heard Reg and Father and Uncle Addy speak of it. They were quite upset, but that's hardly a reason to kill the boy!" She regarded her brother anxiously. "Does Frodo suspect Reg? For goodness sake, why?"

"Reg was there with Evvy when we found Toby," Pippin explained. "He told Frodo that he sat up here and watched for Evvy to leave the garden, and then followed him. We- ah- wondered if he could have gone out to the meadow earlier."

"Is that all?" Pearl looked relieved. "As a matter of fact, Reg did sit here on the terrace while you were all down in the garden. I sat here with him, until I took the baby off to bed."

"When did you go?" Pippin asked her eagerly. "Was it long before sunset?"

"No, it was just at dusk." She smiled. "Reg couldn't have gone out earlier. He can't be suspected. Mind you tell Frodo that."

He left Pearl not long afterwards and returned down the slope of the hill; near the bottom, he passed the ajar door to Adelard's study, which opened onto the garden. The door swung open a little wider.

"Ah, Pip lad." Adelard was standing just inside, waiting for him. "Can you come in for a moment, please?"

Pippin went in. His uncle's study was smaller and less impressive than his father's, and Pippin had always found it more pleasant. He'd spent many happy hours of his boyhood here with Adelard when he was hiding from his own parents. No one had called him into this room for a scolding! There was the old writing-desk by the window, and the illustrated books he remembered on the shelves. The mantelpiece was crowded with wooden carvings, some familiar, some new. Like many hobbits, Adelard was a skilled craftsman. Pippin and his sisters had received many presents over the years of cleverly designed toys and elaborate little puzzle boxes that came apart to reveal hidden compartments; Pippin still had several of them in his bedroom. Adelard's latest, unfinished piece of handiwork and a small bone-handled knife sat on a table by the fire, next to his favorite chair; wood shavings were scattered on the hearth.

"What is it, Uncle Addy?" Pippin asked.

"You are investigating this murder with Frodo, aren't you?"

Pippin was dismayed. He had deceived no one with his attempts at subterfuge. "Well, yes..." he gave up and admitted.

Adelard sighed. "You must do what you have to, but I've been thinking that it might be best to leave this matter alone. Bury poor Toby, and let him rest. Looking into his death is only going to bring up other things that are better forgotten, and it'll be worse for us all in the end. It's turning ugly already, with Evvy's and Melilot's happiness ruined, and the family starting to wonder if that boy wasn't murdered by one of us. Oh, they'll say they wouldn't dream of thinking it, but think of it they will."

"You said you thought it was Great-Uncle Archambalt," said Pippin. Since subtlety hadn't worked, he might as well be direct. "Why?"

His uncle seemed startled, and somewhat flustered, by the abrupt question. "I said too much earlier, Pip, things I shouldn't have. It was inexcusable of me to make an accusation like that, without any proof. It was only a silly idea of mine. I'd better have kept my mouth shut."

Pippin didn't understand. Even if there was no proof, Uncle Adelard must have some reason for suspecting Archambalt. Why not say what it was? It wasn't to try to shield the old hobbit, not when Adelard disliked him so much.

"I hope you won't take too much account of it," said Adelard, "and don't go carrying tales. You won't, will you?

Even if he didn't understand, Pippin was fond enough of his uncle to say, "I won't. Unless it turns out to be important, I won't."

"It's not important. Thank you. You're a good lad." Adelard gave him an approving pat on the shoulder. "I always said so."

"Even when Father didn't," Pippin agreed.

Adelard laughed. "I know he and your mother have been giving you a difficult time since you've come home, Pip, but I have to tell you that I'm proud of the way you've stood up for yourself against their wishes. Don't give in, not if it isn't what you want. Your father will be more understanding than you think he'll be."

This unexpected encouragement was more surprising than anything else Pippin had heard from his uncle that day, and more baffling.
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