Too Many Tooks by Kathryn Ramage

The next morning, Frodo rode out on the westward road to Tookbank with Sam accompanying him. They met Shirriff Thornbreak in the high street of the village; the shirriff had heard about a mysterious fair-haired stranger going around asking questions yesterday, and he was relieved when Frodo introduced Sam as "my associate, Mr. Gamgee." Frodo also thought that the Shirriff's estimation of him as a professional investigator went up a little when he saw that the Thain's young cousin had associates.

The butcher's shop, also in the high street, had been closed for business the day before, but its door was open today and wares in the form of ropes of linked sausages, skinned rabbits, and plucked fowl had been set out. When they went inside, Tansy, who was at the shop counter, informed them that she could only sell what was at-hand and take larger orders. "Anybody that wants a cut o' beef or chops'll have to wait 'til Dad feels up to his work or I can get Tibby in from the Bullroarer's Head to do it."

"How is your Dad?" Sam inquired respectfully.

Tansy shook her head. "Since the sherriffs brought us news of Toby, he sits in the back-parlor," she indicated a curtained doorway at the back of the shop. "Since we've had to lay Toby out there 'til he's buried, Dad's done naught but weep over him. It's hit him terrible hard." Tears filled her soft brown eyes; she didn't look angry now, only very young and worried for her father. "And it's not only our Toby, but Fenny's being missing too. He keeps asking if they found him yet."

"Is he that fond of the lad?" asked Sam.

"He's looked after Fenny since we first came here," said Tansy. "Fenny was 'prenticed to our grand-dad and when Dad took the shop, he kept him on. He took pity on him. Fenny's a big, thick-headed lad, you see, good at chopping meats and carrying heavy sides about, but he could never run a shop on his own."

"Was he here the night Toby was killed?" Frodo wondered.

The girl nodded. "He shut up shop, same as always--I heard Dad say g'night to him, and that's the last we saw of poor Fenny. He lives with his mum up on the hill, and he never came home that night. He's all she's got in the world." She considered Frodo. "Did you come to talk to Dad, Mr. Baggins? I'll ask if he'll see you, but he mayn't be fit for company."

"I'd be grateful if you would," Frodo replied. "But I'd like to ask you a few questions too, Miss Clover. That tale you told me--did you or your brother tell it to Sherriff Thornbreak as well?"

"Tibby wanted to, only Dad stopped him. He said it wouldn't be believed, and anyway the High Sherriff was in Thain Paladin's pocket."

"But you told me, even though I'm working for the Thain."

"You said you was going to see justice done, even if it was against the Tooks," Tansy explained. "We thought we'd test and see if it was so." Sam looked indignant that she had doubted Frodo's word; Frodo lay a hand on his arm to keep him silent. "Did you repeat it to his Thainship?" the girl asked. "What did he say about it?"

"He told me it was true," Frodo answered, "and he told me more. Tansy, did you know who the boy in your story was when you told it to me? Did you know it was your father?"

Tansy focused her attention on wiping down the butcher's work-block, even though it was perfectly clean. "Dad never said so, but we guessed," she admitted after a minute. "Before we came here from Oatbarton, he told us about the Tooks. We saw how he hated 'em. When Toby began to be friends with Mr. Evvy, Dad had a talk with him. I couldn't hear all they said, but I could see he wasn't pleased about it. He showed Toby a knife he said belonged to the Tooks."

"A knife?" Sam eyed the set of long, sharp blades and shining cleavers behind the butcher's block.

Tansy followed his gaze. "Oh, not such as that! 'Twas just a little thing. Dad said it was a gift, a pledge of a friendship that'd gone wrong."

From the room behind the curtained doorway, a hoarse and thick-sounding voice called out, "Tansy, who's that you're talking to? It's not a customer?"

"No, Dad!" Tansy shouted back. "They've come about Toby."

Mr. Clover came out. Though slumped with grief, he was much a brawnier and thick-set hobbit than his sons. Frodo was surprised to see that Togold Clover did not have what he had come to think of as the 'Clover' eyes; in this respect, all three children must take after their late mother.

Mr. Clover was studying him in return. "Who're you, lad? I don't know you." He looked at Sam. "Are you from the shirriffs?"

"It's Mr. Baggins, Dad," Tansy explained. "You remember, we told you? The Thain's investigator."

"Thain's investigator?" Togold Clover echoed incredulously, and looked Frodo over again. "You're a child! You can't be much older'n than my own boys."

"Not much older," Frodo agreed, "but we have some experience in these matters. I'm very sorry about your son, Mr. Clover. I mean to do all I can for him."

A shudder rippled through the older hobbit and he seemed to crumple up; his daughter rushed to his side to take his arm. To Frodo's astonishment, Togold laughed. "Thank you, lad, but my Toby's beyond all help."

Frodo thought that Mr. Clover would return to the back-parlor, but after a moment, Togold pulled himself together and considered him again. "So, you're working for Paladin Took? I knew him well as a boy, though I haven't seen much of him since. Has he grown into the sort of Thain his father was?"

"No, sir." Frodo had barely known Adalgrim, but he'd formed no good opinion of the last Thain from everything he'd learned about him lately. And, after spending so much time with Paladin, Frodo had also developed a new respect for Pippin's father; Paladin might be concerned with how things looked, but he would also do what was right. "You're mistaken if you imagine he's like the old Thain. He's a fair-minded and honest hobbit." With Mr. Clover, Frodo thought he could be blunt. "He's very much ashamed of the crime that was committed against you by the Tooks."

Togold looked bewildered, and turned to stare at his daughter.

"We told 'm, Dad," Tansy confessed.

"It's why we're here, Mr. Clover," Frodo explained. "I thought you might be able to tell me who it was who beat you."

The older hobbit turned back to him. "Why d'you want to know about that?" he asked. "It was over and done so long ago. What's it got to do with Toby?"

"Thain Paladin thinks it might be the same people as before."

Togold laughed again, with a frightening, wild note. "I don't know! I never did. There was two of 'em, laborers, probably from one o' the Tooks' farms. It was nobody I knew. I didn't recognize their voices. I never saw their faces--it was dark. I was walking home after seeing... my friend. I can't tell you more." And he went back through the curtain into his private room. With a last despairing glance at the two visitors, Tansy went after him.

As they left the shop, Frodo apologized, "I'm sorry, Sam. We'll have to find old Uncle Archambalt after all."
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