from <cite>The Adventure of Thomas Melon</cite>. A story from: <cite>Mr Corpwieth: Gentleman Detective</cite>

In this charming collection of six stories of mystery and detection, the principal character is a university library assistant named Corpwieth, who also happens to be a highly successful amateur sleuth. The stories are set in 1913, in Helsingfors, where Corpwieth has built up a reputation as a local Sherlock Holmes, to whom he is likened, and is even referred to as a colleague of Holmes’ – tongue in cheek, of course, as the crimes are largely small-time in comparison with those that take place in London.

The fourth story,‘The Adventure of Thomas Melon’, begins with Corpwieth setting off from his home in one of the better-class districts of the city for his office in the library.

It was a beautiful autumn day, and Corpwieth was taking his usual route to the library. Having set off from Brunnsparken, where the sycamore trees were sparkling gold and rusty-red, he was now looking out over the sunlit harbour and bay. It was hard to shut oneself up in the library on such a day as this to spend one’s time rummaging through books, catalogues and card boxes. His eyes followed a slender little motorboat cutting through the water with the speed of an arrow. Its sharp bow created two high foaming waves while behind its broad stern gushed a bubbling furrow of white. Corpwieth sighed. He was envious of the people in the boat, his eyes fixed on the brass fittings glinting in the sunshine. He stopped and stared as it sped past. He longed to be out among the islands and thought it an unjust world that allowed these people to go racing out in such an elegant mahogany vessel towards the islets and skerries while others had to spend the whole of a long morning inhaling the dust of books. But the boat didn’t go far. In an elegant curve it came alongside the last remaining yacht that lay in solitary majesty in the Nyland Yacht Club harbour. Corpwieth knew the yacht. He had read the enthusiastic descriptions that Fresh Breeze had published about it in a large number of issues. It was one of the country’s finest vessels, and Corpwieth had been especially taken by the photographs of the exquisitely well-appointed cabin where everything spoke of opulence and impeccable taste. The name of the yacht was Gitanjali and it was owned by a wealthy company director, Limburg by name, a somewhat eccentric elderly gentleman of independent means about whose life as a youth at sea such wild and remarkable stories were told.

Corpwieth sighed and continued on his way. He would have given much to exchange his library tasks for a little sailing trip on a day such as this. But no, the world was now what it was, and Corpwieth walked rapidly on to reach his office by the specified hour. There everything was as it always was, the work was the same as every other day, and his colleagues had no unusual news to relate.

Corpwieth sat down at his desk and began to arrange cards into alphabetical order. Today he had hoped to complete the letter F, but it looked hopeless. The pile of F cards was well-nigh a mountain, and for the third time in an hour Corpwieth heaved a deep sigh. This was unusual for him, and so he quickly pulled himself together and set to work on the cards energetically and methodically.

Half an hour passed and then librarian Sjefman’s loud voice rang out in the New Building.

‘Is Melon here?’ he shouted. ‘Melon, Melon, where is Melon? Does anyone know where Melon is? Has he appeared today at all?’ Sjefman vanished through a door without waiting for any answers. 

‘That’s right,’ thought Corpwieth. ‘Melon has definitely not put in an appearance today. Perhaps he’s ill.’ A scarcely perceptible smile spread over Corpwieth’s resolute lips.

At the same moment the telephone rang. Corpwieth picked up the receiver.

‘May I speak to Mr Thomas Melon?’ asked a voice. ‘He hasn’t come in yet,’ replied Corpwieth. A moment later another library assistant, Guttelin, came striding in and eyed Corpwieth earnestly over his elegant pince-nez. 

‘What’s all this about Melon?’ he asked. ‘Hasn’t he turned up today?’

‘You can see for yourself,’ answered Corpwieth. ‘But there’s a boy in the hall from The Evening Puff asking after him. He says Melon promised a full-length article for today’s issue and so he must be here.’

‘I’ve no idea where Melon is. But you can institute some enquiries, can’t you? After all, you love fussing over trifles.’

‘Now, now, Corpwieth old boy, you shouldn’t be so sarcastic. After all, you like investigating mysteries more than anyone. You’re the detective!’

Well, Thomas Melon, whose sideline is writing for the local paper, Kvällens Pust (Pust punning on Post), has failed to turn up to work, and so, as his colleague Guttelin implies, the scene is set for an adventure of mystery and detection. Corpwieth’s boss tells him to take off as much time as he needs to solve the mystery – the Case of the Missing Melon. The newspaper has already made enquiries and contacted the police, all the hospitals and the places Melon is known to frequent, and Corpwieth would be well remunerated for any report that his investigations might result in. 

The owner of a baker’s shop tells Corpwieth that she saw Melon, who takes the tram from outside her shop every morning, get into a fine car.

‘What did the car look like?’

‘It was strange-looking.’

‘In what way?’

‘That’s not so easy to say. But it looked strange.’

‘What colour was it?’

‘Grey, yes, definitely grey, or brown. Not that there was anything strange about the colour.’

‘But what made it strange, then, for goodness’ sake?’ 

‘Yes, well, to tell the truth, it looked like Goldie.’

‘Who – what – is Goldie?’

‘My dog, don’t you know! Dear Goldie! Come here so the gentleman can see you!’

The dog sprang on to the counter and sniffed at some pieces of shortbread. Goldie was a dachshund.

‘Is that what the car looked like?’

‘Yes, it sort of had a really long body. It was all round at the front and the wheels were quite wide apart, just like Goldie’s legs.’

Corpwieth offered Goldie one of the ginger snaps he had bought, but Goldie looked away, showing no interest in the biscuit.

‘Oh, yes, Goldie is a proud lad. He won’t take anything that anyone else offers him, only what his mistress gives him. Goldie, see what I have for you!’

Goldie swallowed the ginger snap in two bites.

After further questions Corpwieth realises the strange-looking vehicle the woman has seen is a racing car, of which there are very few in Finland at the time. That gives him his first real lead. And his colleague Guttelin has seen such a car being driven by none other than Limburg, the well-known company director, but what is the connection between Limburg and Melon? The next day he calls on Limburg’s daughter Elsa.

Miss Limburg met him in the hall. She was pale and her features revealed the intense strain she was under. She offered her hand to Corpwieth and said with a sad smile:

‘I hope you’re not bringing bad news. How strange that you should look me up just as I had decided to come and see you!’ 

‘So you know something?’

‘No, on the contrary. Everything is so vague and mysterious and I was hoping you’d be able to help me.’

‘I’m sorry, Miss Limburg, but I don’t think I understand you. What was it you wished me to help you with?’

‘With looking for my father.’

‘Your father? Has he disappeared?

‘Didn’t you know he had?’

‘No, I didn’t. But I might have guessed it.’

‘But why did you want to talk to me?’

‘I wanted to ask you where your father was.’

‘And that’s what I wanted to ask you to find out for me. So you knew, then, that he had disappeared?’

‘I only knew what I heard here this morning – that Mr Limburg was away.’

‘Yes, but where’s he gone? Where is he? I’m so scared, so very scared!’

‘Tell me everything you know, Miss Limburg. We may be able to solve the mystery by pooling our resources.’

‘I hope to God we can,’ muttered Miss Limburg. ‘I’ll tell you everything I know just as I had intended to had I called on you. I would have relied on you completely – you are said to be a wonderful detective.’

‘Dear young lady, tell me everything as quickly as you can. I’m afraid there isn’t a moment to lose.’

‘Just a minute. Let me think. Yes, in April my father suffered a severe blow. Since then he hasn’t been himself. He was prone to moods before, but lately it’s been terrible! This summer he was completely out of his mind. He sailed off in the yacht and was away for days on end. I got myself a fast little motor boat so I could search for him properly. Sometimes I found him out at sea in a strange frame of mind. Or he might be sitting in the boat doing nothing, steering mechanically and not knowing how long he’d been sailing or where he was. And if there was a stiff breeze he would stand in the boat and declaim the works of great poets in a loud voice that rang out over the sea. I was the only one who could handle him. He has been calmer recently. The only curious thing was that he wouldn’t allow the boat to be laid up for the winter. But otherwise the autumn has been peaceful. I begged and implored him to go and see the doctor, but he emphatically refused.

‘Then a week ago came the breakdown. Suddenly one day at dinner he flew into a terrible fit of rage. He threw all the plates at the wall, drowned out my voice with the most awful words and kept on shouting: “I shall have my revenge! I shall have my revenge”’

‘Can you say who it was he wanted to have his revenge on?’

‘No, I don’t have a clue. I hardly believe he had any definite person in mind at all. But he was completely beside himself. He locked himself in the whole afternoon, but the next day he was in a radiantly happy mood. I heard that he’d summoned the coachman, the one we had when my mother was alive. He’s now the chauffeur.’ 

After hearing about other events and of how she searched for her father, Corpwieth asks for more details about Limburg’s outburst in the spring.

‘At whom did he direct his anger?’ ‘At me. And I don’t understand why. He shouted at me, saying I was a devil who only wanted to torment him, to humiliate him in the most hellish way imaginable, and so on.’

‘And that happened at the dinner table while he was eating?’

‘Yes, he was sitting completely still, staring straight ahead of him, when the maid came in with another dish. He looked at her and then it happened... It was terrible.’

‘Was it anything to do with the maid? Did she make a face at him? Or laugh at him?’

‘No, no, he didn’t look at her exactly but at the dish she was carrying.’

‘What was in it?’


‘Fruit! Fruit!’ Corpwieth was almost shouting and grasped Miss Limburg’s arm. ‘What sort of fruit?’

‘Grapes, I believe, and bananas and...’

‘I don’t suppose there was also a... a...’

‘... a melon, yes, there was indeed, but what can that mean?’

Corpwieth now explains to Elsa that Melon is the name of a library assistant and literary critic and wonders why her father hates him so much. She now understands: all her father has ever wanted to do in life is write poetry; in fact, he calls himself ‘Goethe II’. She guesses, correctly, that Melon has published an excellent but crushing review of her father’s book of poetry that came out in the spring. Her father realised it was accurate, and he felt devastated by it. She continues:

‘But he didn’t have the strength to escape from the delusion that had haunted him for so long. He wanted to believe that he was a budding poet but realised deep down that the critic was right – that he was just a wretched botcher. And so the critic was the cause of terrible mental struggles resulting in a hatred of Melon – I realise that now.’

‘We must set out immediately to find them – before it’s too late.’

‘Where do you think they are?’

‘I don’t know,’ sighed Corpwieth. But then he burst out: ‘But I do know! Of course I know! I’ve been the most frightful idiot: I saw the motorboat with my own eyes. Listen: at half past eleven Melon got into your father’s car – we don’t know why. They drove to Djurgårdsstranden and boarded the motorboat. At ten to twelve the boat passed through Skatudden canal. The timing is exactly right. And at five to twelve I saw the motorboat myself, putting alongside the Gitanjali. Your father has taken Melon prisoner – perhaps he’ll keep him hidden for a while – we can’t tell what your father will do – he’s unpredictable. We must go to the Yacht Club harbour immediately.’

‘But there’s a gale blowing now,’ said Elsa, ‘and that’s just the kind of weather that my father likes to sail in.’

Corpwieth phones the security guard at the Yacht Club, who tells him that the Gitanjali set sail an hour before and where it could be now. Elsa suggests they take the motorboat and set off in pursuit immediately. They run through the autumn gloom, the rain lashing at their faces, the gale howling round corners, wet leaves sticking to their clothes. They race along the harbour path, the waves hissing and roaring, until, near the boat hoist, they spot the guard, from whom they learn that there was someone with Limburg and he sailed off to the east. They set off in Elsa’s speedboat and after a hair-raising ride they see the yacht with Limburg standing at the helm. Elsa brings the boat expertly in past the stern and Corpwieth, ‘with the agility of a cat’, grabs the boom, swings himself up on to the deck and ends up standing face to face with Melon’s kidnapper.

‘Let me take the tiller!’ shouted Corpwieth.

‘Who are you? Perhaps the Devil himself, flying here through the air.’

‘Give me the tiller!’


‘But where are you headed for?’


‘What do you mean?’

‘That man in there shall die!’


‘The fellow in the cabin. He and I shall die together.’

‘No, no, we’re all going to live. Give me the tiller!’

After a brief struggle Corpwieth grabs the tiller and says he’s a friend of Melon’s. Limburg announces that he has sworn that Melon shall die, grips Corpwieth’s neck with his strong hands and starts to squeeze. Just then the unpiloted yacht swings windward, and the boom strikes Limburg over the ear with a powerful blow. Limburg slumps to the deck. Corpwieth stands up, takes hold of the tiller and regains control of the yacht. He steers it shorewards to the nearest landing stage, the motorboat following in its wake and docking alongside. Then Elsa takes her unconscious father home in the motorboat.

Only then did Corpwieth’s thoughts turn to Melon. He pulled on the cabin door. It was unlocked. He shone the beam of a torch into the interior. He saw no one. He climbed down and called out. There was no reply. He looked behind a curtain and saw a bunk there. On the bunk lay Melon, motionless.

Corpwieth shuddered with horror. Had Limburg murdered Melon?

He touched his friend’s arm and then Melon’s body gave a jerk. Corpwieth gave a yelp of joy. Melon suddenly sat up.

He had been asleep!

Corpwieth was filled with relief and he roared with laughter. Melon was wide awake.

Melon wants to know where they are and what has been happening. He’s spent the best part of two whole days in the cabin and cannot stand it any longer. They go on deck and the two men swap stories. Melon accepted the offer of a ride in Limburg’s fine car, but at the quayside the latter stopped, produced a revolver and ordered Melon to get into the motorboat. En route to the yacht Limburg explained that he was the greatest poet in the world and that he was going to recite his poems to Melon in a place where he would be obliged to listen. Then Melon was going to write an article about him and describe his greatness for all the world to read. All night and all that morning Limburg declaimed, begged and threatened. It was a ghastly experience, says Melon. The two men are ravenous and tuck into food stored in the cabin before they set sail again. Melon returns to the bunk to get a bit more sleep and Elsa comes to meet the yacht in her motorboat.

‘My father died a few hours after we got home,’ she said quietly. ‘He died peacefully and that was the best thing that could happen to him.’

Corpwieth silently took her hand. ‘Like you, I think that was best for him. But what are you going to do now that you are all alone in the world?’

‘I’ll manage all right if I may make so bold as to ask you for one thing. I’ve never known such a brave man as you. Would you be my adviser and mentor from now on? I’ve begun to rely on you more than on anyone else I know. Tell me, will you hold a protective hand over me?’ 

‘My dear Miss Limburg, I promise always to help you to the best of my abilities. I am very grateful for the confidence you place in me.’

‘Thank you, Mr Corpwieth. I’m so happy to have got to know you – even under circumstances such as these. There should be far more men like you in the world.’

Elsa has one more request to make. She would like Corpwieth to keep the yacht. She never wants to see it again. He wakes Melon and, once back at the quay, the two men shake hands and go their separate ways.