Excerpts translated and linked by Anna-Lisa and Martin Murrell
This article appeared in the 2014:1 issue.
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!’
‘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.
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.’
‘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?’
‘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.’
‘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!’
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.
‘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.’