Too Many Tooks by Kathryn Ramage

After breakfast, the four hobbits gathered to tell Sam all that they had learned since the beginning of the investigation.

"Seems like you've done all you can with the Tooks," Sam said when they'd finished. "But I couldn't've helped much with them. What about the Clovers? Have you spoken with any o' the dead lad's family, or asked the other folk hereabouts that knew him?"

"Not yet," said Frodo. "Since I was engaged by Uncle Paladin to look into this murder for the sake of the family, we've been concentrating our efforts here and let the sherriffs do their own work in Tookbank."

"Maybe I can do something for you there," Sam offered. "I can get these Clovers to talk to me."

"Do you know the Clovers, Sam?" asked Pippin, surprised. Sam had never been to Tookbank, but he seemed to be acquainted with half the country-folk for fifty miles around Hobbiton.

"Never met 'em," said Sam, "but there must be things them and the folk in Tookbank wouldn't tell the sherriffs nor, you'll pardon me saying, one o' the Tooks now their boy's been killed and Mr. Everard suspected. But I'm nothing to the Tooks, so far as they know."

"You can't just go 'round to the butcher's shop and start asking questions," said Merry.

"I didn't meant to." Sam furrowed his brow as he pondered the problem of how to approach the dead boy's family. "There're pubs in Tookbank, aren't there?" he asked after some thought. "Would this Mr. Clover go to one?"

"Not the father, perhaps, but other son, yes!" Frodo exclaimed, his expression brightening. "Ferdi told me that he and Everard first met Toby and his brother in a pub."

"Which one, d'you know?"

"No, but I can ask Ferdi. He'll remember."

"It's probably Old Bullroarer's Head," said Pippin. "That's the one we always used to go to."

Once Frodo confirmed this with Ferdi, Sam set out by himself in the direction of Tookbank.

Some hours later, a message came back from Tookbank via a small boy, who knocked timidly on the front door of the Thain's Hall and asked to see "Mr. Baggins, who's staying here." When Frodo came to the door, the boy delivered the note he'd been sent with, and scampered off.

"It must be from Sam," Frodo said to Pippin, who had come with him, as he unfolded the small square of paper. He read aloud: "'Come to the B's Head tavern, soon as you can. The Clovers are here.' You know where that is?"

"Of course."

After making a brief search for Merry, they decided not to delay and went to Tookbank without him.

Merry, who had been talking with his mother in her room, didn't know that the other two had gone until he came out and wondered where they were. He went to the group of young hobbits who had gathered in the garden to take down the wilting garlands they'd put up two days earlier. Melilot was the most keen to tear them down.

"Pip and Frodo were looking for you," Peri informed him. "That friend of Frodo's sent a note for him to come to Tookbank, and off they went--to the Bullroarer's pub, they said."

Disappointed as he was that they'd gone off and left him behind, Merry decided not to run after them. They'd be back by dinner-time, and he could learn then what Sam had found. In the meantime, he'd take this opportunity to finish another task Frodo had set him, and perhaps also find out what had upset Pippin so terribly yesterday. "It must be something to do with the investigation."

"For Frodo, perhaps, but Pip?" Ilbie laughed. "If there's a pub involved, you know he only went along for the ale!"

"You can't blame him for missing our local ales," said Ferdi. He had climbed up into one of the trees to pull down a fragment of garland that had been caught in its branches. "It must be hard on the lad, being away so long from his home brews."

"We ought to go out for a sample ourselves, Ilb, one night while we're here," said Dodi. "Ferdi can show us the best spots."

"The Old Bullroarer's Head's the best by far," Ferdi answered as he swung down from the tree, "but I don't suggest we go. Tibby Clover's likely to be there. It can only be awkward if we happen to meet him."

"Is that why Frodo went?" Melly asked Merry. "He wanted to speak to Toby's brother?"

Merry didn't know, but given Sam's errand this morning, he assumed that it was the reason.

"I hope they find out that it's someone else," said Isalda, who was a more thoughtful girl than her elder sisters. "Someone in Tookbank who had a quarrel with Toby, or a stranger, not..." She looked around at the others with solemn dark-brown eyes; the words 'one of us' remained unsaid, but they were understood by all. "It's hateful to have to keep wondering about it."

"Reg is certain he's suspected," said Flora. "We don't know why, but you should hear how he goes on about Frodo's nosing in where he isn't wanted."

"Actually, you might be of help in removing suspicion from some of the Took family," Merry told them. "You can help Reg, by telling us where he was when Toby was killed."

"But we were all here in the garden that afternoon!" cried Ada. "Except for Melly. We didn't see anything."

"Some of you might have," Merry explained. "We lads were working on those garlands, sitting... here." He paced to a spot at the edge of the lawn, stopped, and whirled to face the group; he had everyone's complete attention. "We sat with our backs to the hill, and none of us thought to turn around and look up to see if there was anyone on the hillside behind us."

"Why would we?" asked Dodi. "We had no idea that a murder was about to happen."

"No, we didn't look," Merry continued, "but the girls and Ferdi were up and about all over the place--in the pavilion, up in the trees, running back and forth on the grass. Now, did any of you notice Reg sitting up on the terrace?" He pointed to it.

Several of the girls nodded eagerly. "So did I," said Ferdi.

"And was Pearl with him?"

"She was," Ferdi confirmed, amid some further yips and nods of feminine agreement. "Remember, I made a joke to Evvy about them being old folk? That's just what they looked like--she with the baby, he with his pipe, sitting up there, looking down at us, and never coming to join in the fun."

"This is too thrilling!" cried Pim.

"But does it help Reg?" Isalda asked hopefully.

"It might," Merry answered. "Can anyone tell me when Pearl went in, or if Reg got up before or after Evvy left us?"

There was more uncertainty on these points. It had been growing late and the little group had been busy trying to finish their work before dark; while some of the girls had noticed that Pearl had left from the terrace, they couldn't agree on whether she had gone before sunset or afterwards. But Peri was sure that Reginard had still been sitting when Evvy had gone.

Reassured that they had done something to help their family, the Took girls went away cheerfully, bearing the bundles of wilted flowers to the mulch-heap at the bottom of the garden. Dodi and Ilbie went with them, leaving Melilot, Ferdi, and Merry behind.

Melilot sighed. "It is exciting for them, as long as the Tooks are safe from suspicion. And when it's over and done, they can go on with their lives just as before. I can't. This murder has changed everything I hoped to have, until yesterday." There were a few stray, dead daisies scattered in the grass, and she stooped to pick them up. "Even once this matter is cleared up and Toby's murderer is found, I still won't be married to Evvy."

"Ev does love you, Melly," Ferdi told her. "He said so often enough while I was sitting with him yesterday."

"He may say so to you, but not to me! He won't talk to me. I haven't seen him since..." She looked out at the green patch of lawn where she and Everard had been standing when he'd told her about Toby. "He hasn't set foot out of his house since then."

"He's afraid to," Ferdi explained. "He's so deeply ashamed of what he's done. He can't face people, especially not you. He thinks you must hate him, because of Toby."

"I don't! My goodness, if I hated every boy who played with other boys, I'd never speak to some of my nearest relations!" She gave Merry a sidelong glance and made him laugh. "It's not the boy I mind, Ferdi- Well, yes, it is, but not as Evvy thinks I do. It's not because it was a boy. If he was seeing some other girl before he was betrothed to me and went on seeing her afterwards, even on the night before our wedding, and then told me that he loved her, I would feel just the same about it.

"Oh, maybe I am lucky to have had this escape!" She turned to Merry with an odd look in her eyes. "I almost received an extremely kind and generous proposal from a dear friend last night. I would have said 'no' if he'd asked me then, but I've been thinking it over since."

"Have you?" Merry asked with keen interest. He'd wondered if Frodo had said anything to Melly before Sam's arrival. "What did you decide to do?"

Melilot smiled at him. "I haven't made up my mind yet."

Ferdi's eyes went from one from the other during this cryptic exchange, baffled but intensely curious.
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