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This pastiche appeared in the New York Evening World in 1904. As far as I am aware it has not been republished since then.The Fatal Chord was published in twelve daily chapters, the excerpt below is chapter one.


The Fatal Chord,

or the Baffling Mystery of the Carnegie Hall Murder.

By Albert Payson Terhune.

To Be Completed in Twelve Dally Instalments.


The Story of a Crime.

Two men lounged in the big black leather chairs in a corner of the Hoffman House lobby.
It was Sunday morning. Groups of frock-coated silk-hatted guests loafed about the lobby, reading the voluminous Sunday papers, chatting in knots or strolling to and fro in the broad corridors. A uniformed porter was pushing an irregular line of sawdust before him across the marble pavement with a long brush.

Through the broad front doors and windows poured a flood of morning sunshine.
Silhouetted against the leafy background of Madison Square, lines of churchgoers and promenaders filed along Fifth avenue past the hotel entrance. The calls of the flower-vendors and perfume from the huge trays of purple violets they carried faintly permeated the cool gloom of the lobby. Distant church bells mingled with the noise of trolley gongs and the asthmetic puff of passing autos.

The two men in the corner regarded their surroundings with diametrically opposite emotions.

One of them, a big thickset fellow, who despite his correct Sunday costume looked as though he would have felt more at home in a blue coat and helmet of a policeman, was impervious to the scene about him. It was an everyday matter to him. The panorama seen through the glass of front doors and front windows meant nothing to Detective Sergeant John Gresham.

With his companion it was otherwise. This second man gazed eagerly, with an almost childish delight, at everything. His appearance differed from his companion’s almost as utterly as did the feelings with which he looked out on the typical Sunday morning scene on Fifth avenue.

He was Charlie Beckwith, known (at first contemptuously and later admiringly) as “The Millionaire Detective.” Born to the purple, he had wearied of the vapid life of the average New York society man and had turned his attention to the detection of crime. His natural aptitude along this line had been so strong that he had at last won the reluctant admiration and respect of that conservative body the “Central Office.” As he was rich, well-born and clever, his odd trade did not, strangely enough, imperil his position in society.

“If you only knew what a treat it is to get back to God’s country, after six whole months on the other side!” he was saying to his companion. “There isn’t a lamppost or street corner in little old New York that I don’t want to say ‘Hello!’ to."

“What time did you get in?” asked Gresham, vastly bored by this rhapsody.

“Didn’t get past the customs till nearly 12. That’s why I’m up so late this morning. It’s awfully good of you to drop in to welcome me.”

“Oh, I thought you might like to hear what’s been goin’ on since you left. Get the papers I sent you?”

“Yes. Thanks very much. I didn’t miss a great deal of fun by being away. The Barrel Murder was about the biggest thing that happened while I was gone. I’d have liked to see what I could have made out of that. Anything new since I sailed from London? I haven’t seen a morning paper.”

“Anything new?” echoed Gresham, amazed. What’s the matter with the Ballard case?”

“Ballard case?”

“You haven’t heard? Oh, I forgot. You were probably too tired last night to get an evening paper, and you say you haven’t looked at a paper this morning. That’s where you make an error, Charlie. Staying so long on the other side has dulled you. A man in our business can no more afford to miss his morning and evening papers than a Wall street man can afford to neglect his ticker.”

“Well,” laughed Beckwith, good humoredly, “now that you’ve said your piece, maybe you’ll relent and tell a poor foreigner something about this wonderful Ballard case. Who is Ballard? A Monk Eastman impresario or a bank cashier with a more than neighborly interest in the safe contents?”

“Neither. He is - or he was - Cyril Ballard” –

“Not little Cyril Ballard. of Westchester? You don’t mean to say that that little cad has had brains enough to win criminal laurels?”

“ ‘That little cad,’ as you call him, has the bad luck to he dead.”

“Dead! When? How?”

“When? Friday night. How? No one knows. If he was poisoned the autopsy failed to prove it. He fell dead. That’s all.”

“Heart failure, probably. There’s no mystery about that, as far as I can see.”

“That’s like you amateurs. Always jumping at conclusions before you’ve heard half the story. There’s only one thing worse than jumping at conclusions too quickly, and that is jumping at them too slowly.

“I’ll be good,” said  Beckwith with mock humility. “Now go ahead and tell me the story.”

“There was a musicale in Paul Craddock’s bachelor’s rooms at Carnegie Hall. Craddock had invited a lot of people to hear this new piano genius everyone’s raving about” –

“Siurd von Rickerl? I’ve read about his success. He’s a good fellow. I know him well.”

“That’s the man. It seems Von Rickerl had just composed a concerto or a sonata, or a song without words, or an oratorio, or a fugue, or a barcarolle, or whatever name musical folks give to these measly pieces that have no tune, and he was to play it in public for the first time at the Boston Symphony concert yesterday at Carnegie Music Hall. Craddock and he are old friends and Craddock induced him to give the piece its initial performance at Craddock’s rooms. A lot of musical guys and some society people were invited there to hear it. Well, while the crowd was standing around before the playing began Cyril Ballard fell dead.”

“How did it happen?”

“The piano stood in a sort of alcove, separated from the drawing room by portieres. When the music should begin these curtains were to be swept back. Von Rickerl had never tried Craddock’s piano and he was just starting into this alcove to test the instrument’s tone before playing, when this little Ballard chap, who seems to have been doing fresh things all evening, butts in ahead of him and sits down to the piano and begins to strum on it. Von Rickerl was riled, I suppose, for he stepped back. But he says that just as he did so he noticed that some other man besides Ballard was in the alcove. He didn’t notice who this other man was. Ballard, as soon as he found out that Von Rickerl was not following him, must have left the piano and started back through the portiere into the drawing room. He struck one heavy chord on the piano. Every light in the place went out, then flared up again. There was a sort of smothered yell, and Cyril Ballard rolled through the curtains onto the drawing room floor stone dead.”

“Well?” queried Beckwith impatiently as Gresham paused. “Where’s the mystery in all this? If we lived thirty centuries ago his death would be explained on the grounds that the outraged God of Music had slain the outsider who outraged melody. As we’re in the twentieth century I fall back on the suggestion of heart failure. And now that I remember, Ballard was a victim of chronic indigestion. He was always boring us at the club by talking of his ailments and hauling out a bottle of pepsin tablets and offering some to us.. He used to munch pepsin as girls munch candied violets. I suppose his indigestion tackled his heart at last and then he died.”

“I’m not through yet. Say, Beckwith, I’m not making a report to Inspector McCluskey or giving an interview to the newspapers. I’m telling a friend a story and I’m going to tell it in my own way. If you don’t like it you can chase over to the news-stand there and get a Sunday World and read a terse account of the tragedy. But if you’re going to listen to me, you’ve got to stop springing theories on me before you know what I’m driving at. It’s a pleasure to be able to be able to ramble on once in  a while without having to collect all my facts in a bunch and throw them at my listener. So give me elbow room.”

“Fire away, old man; I won’t stop you again,” adjured Beckwith, and Gresham resumed:

“Now here’s where the queer part comes in. There was the usual panic and excitement and all that sort of thing, and a doctor was sent for, and two or three men leaned over Ballard and tried to revive him. Then, all of a sudden, the room turned pitch dark for a fraction of a second. And through the darkness every one heard the piano give out one deep, crashing chord. The very same chord that Ballard had struck just before he died. Then the lights all flared up, and it was seen that not a soul in the room was within ten feet of the piano. Now what do you make of that?”

Gresham paused triumphantly. Beckwith stared at him open-mouthed.

“A trick!” he hazarded.

“Then how was it played?” asked Gresham. “Who could have plunged that big room into total darkness, duplicated that one big chord on the piano, then turned up all the lights; and how could he have accomplished the whole trick in the merest fraction of a second and without going near the piano? Just tell me that.”

“No chance, I suppose, of a trick of the imagination? When people are excited” –  

“At least fifty people agree on the story. If one hysterical woman or one scared man had fancied the lights went out and the piano struck that chord, I wouldn’t believe it. But a whole roomful couldn’t be deceived that way.”

“Go on,” said Beckwith briefly.

“Well, after the second panic had been checked, and the people induced to get out quietly, and the doctor pronounced Ballard dead, it was up to the Coroner.”
Gresham bit off the end of a long black cigar, struck a match, puffed gravely for a moment; then went on:

“The coroner, McCree - one of the new ones, you know - had an acute attack of conscientiousness. He ordered an autopsy. He also made a discovery.”

“From the autopsy?”

“No. Before it. On the floor, where it must have rolled from Ballard’s vest pocket as he fell, was a little bottle, half full of brownish tablets.”

“Those were the pepsin tablets I told you about. He was always taking out that bottle and chewing away at the pepsin.”

“You win. It was the pepsin bottle, all right. But McCree insisted on having some of the tablets analyzed. The first tablet tested was pepsin; the second, though, contained only a fraction of pepsin. The other ingredient was some sort of silicate, whose nature and effects none of the local chemist can yet determine. There were twelve tablets left in the bottle. Four of them bore the trade mark of the firm that put them up. The other eight were shaped like them, but had no trade mark. Those eight held the mysterious ingredient. That was enough for McCree. He ordered the autopsy.”

“What did they find?”

“First of all, that the man had not died of heart failure. Then were no lesions about the heart, no rupture of the coronary arteries. The whole organ, auricles, ventricles and all, was in perfect condition. Moreover, no traces of poison could be found from any of the ordinary tests they applied to the stomach’s contents. That would seem to confute McCree’s poison theory. A more elaborate test is being made, but with no results thus far.”

“But” –

“Do you know what the Coroner’s physician thinks Ballard died from? From fright! Sheer fright. He says the state of heart and nerves go to indicate it. He declares Ballard died from the effects of a terrible and sudden fright.”

“But what on earth could have scared the chap? He had good nerves. What could he have seen or heard there in that crowded drawing-room to scare him to death?”
“No one knows. That’s the mystery. That and the sudden moment of darkness and the crash of sound from the piano. But I’ll swear I never before saw such a look of abject fear and horror as was stamped on his dead face. A very pretty mystery as it stands. If we were back in Puritan days, we’d whisper ‘Witchcraft!’ And it surely does seem supernatural.

“Pardon me, Sergeant Gresham,” observed a man who, unobserved by the two, had been reading and smoking in a big lounging chair just to the left of the detective, “but if you are not careful you will set fire to your cuff, just as you did a month ago. And, as your laundry did not come home yesterday evening when you expected it, you would have to go without cuffs until to-morrow. It is a pity that your parents disapproved of your smoking.”

Gresham had indeed, in the absorption of the talk, been holding his cigar bent downward (a habit of his) in such a way that the ash was rubbing against the edge of his cuff. A moment more and the linen must have been burned.
 He looked the newcomer over, with the cold insolence which is the true New Yorker’s birthright and which the average Gothamite resorts to when unwarrantably addressed by a stranger.

“Thanks for calling my attention to it,” he said curtly. Then, nettled at the other’s comment, he added:

“I’d have been more grateful if you hadn’t rung in that business about my accident last month. I’m sick of being guyed about it. Who told you?”

“No one,” was the somewhat bored reply. “I merely saw that you were about to set fire to your cuff. I noted a narrow semicircular scar from a burn running part of the way about your wrist, evidently caused by just such an accident. My knowledge of surgery told me that the scar is barely four weeks old. It was quite simple. As simple as my knowing that your laundry did not come last night.”

“How do you make that out?” grumbled Gresham suspiciously; while Beckwith seemed on the point of going into a paroxysm of silent laughter over some joke whose point he alone saw.

“Easily enough,” replied the stranger. “I saw that your cuffs were reversed. Now, a man so careful in dress as you evidently are would not resort to reversing his cuffs as long as he had a clean pair to put on. If he were out of clean cuffs he would buy some, unless he expected his laundry to come home that same day. Finding (last night when all the haberdasher shops were closed) that your laundry was delayed, you decided to reverse your cleanest cuffs today, that is all. As for your parents having disapproved of your smoking, that is still simpler. A boy who is afraid his parents will catch him smoking always holds his cigarette downward, sheltered by his palm. It is a habit that usually lasts through life.”

“Say!” cried Gresham, admiringly, “you ought to be a detective!”

“From time to time I’ve done a little in that line,” admitted the stranger modestly.

“Gresham!” cried Beckwith, unable to keep the secret longer, “let me present to you a man whom you’ve always held up as your ideal detective.”

“What!” exclaimed Gresham, leaping to his feet. “Do you mean to tell me this is SHERLOCK HOLMES?”

(To Be Continued.)

The Evening World, 4 April 1904



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