Frodo could do nothing to console Adelard and so, at the older hobbit's insistence, he left him alone and went back outside.
As he stood blinking in the bright sunlight, he looked around at the other hobbits in the garden: Ferdi and the three girls in a laughing little group, Merry by himself near the pavilion, Melilot wandering through the shrubbery, Sam sitting shyly on a bench by himself and gazing with wonder at the flowers and trees all around him. Everyone seemed so normal, even happy. They thought that the worst had passed... but Frodo knew now that it hadn't begun yet.
The problem of the knife puzzled him. Questions filled his head: If Reginard was telling the truth, who could have taken it from the Adelard's study? One of the household? Could it be one of the girls? A servant? What about Ferdi? He seemed to spend more time here than at his own home. Frodo had seen that the garden door to the study was usually left open; anybody from the neighboring smials could slip in and out in less than a minute. If Adelard was not in, it would be easy enough to find the packet in his desk and take a knife from it. Days might pass before he noticed that one of the set was missing. Then, had the thief given it to someone else? Who had carried the knife to the grove? Had this same person killed Toby with it? It was entirely possible that two or three people might be involved. How could he trace its path through so many hands?
Merry was heading toward him with a frown of concern. "What is it, Frodo?" he asked. "You look as if you've been struck by lightning."
"I feel as if I have." Frodo waved to summon Sam over as well, and the trio walked to a little knoll on the hillside where they could talk without being overheard. "It looks like our investigation isn't over after all."
"Something's happened, said Sam, and Merry asked, "What have you found out?" at the same time.
"It's the knife that killed Toby. It's one of Uncle Adelard's." Frodo told them all he had just discovered.
"Do you think Reg is telling the truth?" Merry asked once Frodo had finished.
"I don't know. I'd like to believe him, but it looks bad. Uncle Adelard seems to believe Reg is responsible. I left him weeping over it."
"How d'you know Mr. Adelard doesn't know more about this knife than he's telling?" Sam wondered. "Maybe he's the one who gave it out? It sounds more like he's shocked at seeing it come back to him than at it being missing."
"He was shocked at finding it returned," Frodo agreed, "but I'm convinced that he was genuinely confused and grieved to learn that Reg was the person who returned it. I'm sure he didn't give it to his son." He looked around quickly. "Where's Pippin?"
"He went off after breakfast for a talk with his father," said Merry. "They've made up."
"I don't think we should tell him about this 'til we learn more," Frodo decided. "You know how upset he was the last time we talked about suspecting his Uncle Adelard."
Merry nodded in agreement. He didn't want Pippin upset.
There was a stir of excitement in the garden below as Everard came out. He looked around tentatively, past the smiles and encouraging remarks of his sisters and Ferdi. "Where's Melly?" he asked them. "I saw her from my window. Is she still here?"
"Right here, Ev." Melilot emerged from a path between the rows of tall rose-bushes. "Did you wish to speak to me?"
Faced with the girl he had wronged so publicly, Everard became shy and skittish. "I heard that you're leaving tomorrow."
"My family is going," Melilot confirmed coolly. "They've asked me to return to Buckland with them. Do you think I should?"
"I-" he hesitated. "It's for the best."
"Is it what you want, Evvy? Or don't you care if I stay or go?"
"Melly, I-" Everard took a step backwards, towards the door he had just emerged from. "I'm so sorry, Melly. I never meant to hurt you. You're much better off..."
He turned to retreat, when Melilot ordered, "Stop there, Everard Took!" Everard stopped. When he looked back, Melilot stood with her hands on her hips, fixing him with a firm glare. "We'll have this out before I leave Tuckborough. When you brought me here, did you mean to marry me?"
"Melly, yes! Of course!"
"Then why are you being such a fool about it now?"
"How can you possibly forgive me? You can't want to marry me, after-" The young hobbit ducked his head in shame. "After all I've done?" he finished weakly.
"It should be enough for you that I can," Melly answered. "If it isn't, then you're right: it's better I go. But I won't sit forever at Brandy Hall and spend my life sighing after you, Everard. I'll marry someone else..." She looked up and located Frodo returning down the slope of the hill with Merry and Sam to join the group. "Frodo?"
Sam's mouth dropped open when Frodo nodded.
"Frodo?" Everard echoed in an amazed squeak, then whirled to Ferdi. "You told me it was Merry she was considering!"
"I thought it was!" Ferdi protested.
"What does it matter to you, Evvy?" Melilot demanded. "Frodo's been wonderfully sweet to me all during this horrible time. He's looked after me when you wouldn't even see me. He'd marry me if I asked him to. Why shouldn't I? You don't want me."
"But I do!" Everard answered.
"So you love me, do you?" Melilot asked with a note of skepticism.
"I- Yes, I do. You know I do."
"I did think so, before all this trouble began. You certainly haven't behaved like it since!"
"I've been so ashamed of myself," the boy admitted. "I've been horrid to you, not just since Toby was killed, but all these weeks since you came to Tuckborough. I lied to you about him. I went on seeing him. I wanted to end it--please, believe me, I did--but I couldn't stop myself..."
"Never mind that, Evvy," Melilot said in a more gentle tone. "It's all in the past. I will forgive and forget it, if you will. Only, answer one question for me: Do you want to marry me--Yes or no?"
"Oh, Melly-" Everard's voice trembled and his eyes filled with tears.
"Do you?" she asked again.
Unable to speak, he could only nod in reply. Melly smiled and went to throw her arms around him. Everard did not draw away this time, nor resist the kiss the followed.
As the young couple walked away hand in hand for a more private conversation, there were exclamations of astonishment and delight from Everard's sisters before they flew off in different directions to spread the news.
Merry was grinning. "Aunt Eggie wouldn't have approved of that! I hope Melly's made the right choice in staying with Evvy."
"I think they'll be all right," said Frodo. "Melly knows how to manage him now."
"Evvy won't dare put a foot wrong for the rest of his life!" Ferdi agreed with a laugh.
Frodo turned to find Sam standing behind him, regarding him with folded arms and a quizzical scowl on his flushed face. "Would you, Frodo?" he asked. "Would you really marry Miss Melilot if she asked you to?"
"I did consider it," Frodo admitted; it was safe now to tell Sam the whole truth. "As a matter of fact, I almost asked her just before you arrived."
"Did you?" Sam sputtered. "Why?"
"Well, she's a very dear friend, and she was in trouble. I wanted to help her," said Frodo. "It seemed like the gentlemanly thing to do."
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