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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 twelve.


The Fatal Chord,

or the Baffling Mystery of the Carnegie Hall Murder.

By Albert Payson Terhune.


Cyril Ballard, a young New Yorker, is killed during a musicale at Paul Craddock’s apartments in Carnegie Hall. Several apparently supernatural events attend his death. Poison tablets, also, are found in his pocket, but the autopsy reveals no trace of poison in his system. As Gresham and Beckwith, two detectives, are discussing the affair, they are joined by a tall, thin Englishman, whom Beckwith introduces to Gresham as the “ideal detective.” To which Gresham replies: “Do you mean to tell me this is SHERLOCK HOLMES?”

This other makes an evasive reply and tells Gresham that the latter may refer to him merely as “The Englishman.” The Englishman undertakes to solve the Ballard mystery.

He fixes the crime on Craddock. The latter, drawing a revolver, declares he will not be taken alive and threatens to kill The Englishman.


Victor or Vanquished?

“I accept your terms,” said The Englishman at length. “I am not wholly sorry to do so, for it would have cost me some sorrow to cause the arrest and subsequent death of a man who has so often been my host, and who has shown me so much kindness. Let me take advantage of your promise to answer my questions. I will begin by repeating my first query: ‘Why did you kill Cyril Ballard?’”

Craddock had pocketed the pistol at The Englishman’s first words of reassurance, and was now moving about the rooms collecting various necessary articles with the alert skill of a practiced packer and tossing the into a suitcase.

“I did not mean to kill him at all,” he answered at last, “I intended to kill Siurd Von Rickerl.”

The Englishman raised his eyebrows in slight surprise. He now recalled having heard that Craddock was once reported to be deeply in love with Iris Durand. She had preferred Von Rickerl. The Englishman could readily understand how a man of Craddock’s sort might not scruple to remove from his path the one obstacle to his happiness.

“And now,” resumed Craddock, “may I ask a favor in return for the information I have given you? I still have a few minutes before I need to start for my train. I have often heard of the way famous detectives track down criminals. Will you kindly outline for me the method you used in my case? It will be something for me to remember - to have you explain to me in person your mode of work.”

A slight smile, quickly suppressed, attested The Englishman’s appreciation of the compliment. In a few sentences he recounted his pursuit of Royce Ballard from start to finish. Then he continued:

“Failing in fixing the murder on him, I reverted to my first theory, namely that Cyril died of electric shock. I have already explained to you my reasons for that theory: the burnt spot on the finger, the expression of face, &c. I went to Sing Sing, where I examined the body of a man who had just been electrocuted. I learned from that examination that Cyril Ballard had been electrocuted. But how? That necessitated a search of your rooms. My first move, after letting myself in here, was to examine the alcove where the piano stands. I merely moved the piano a few inches from the wall in the course of my search, and there the whole secret was revealed. It saved me the trouble of any further deduction. The rest was mere child’s play.”

“Go on,” suggested Craddock, as The Englishman paused. “It will be interesting to know how near the truth you come.”

“I found at the back of the piano a group of electric wires, issuing apparently from the body of the instrument and passing through the wall behind. I went around to the room on the opposite side of the wall. It is a mere closet with an electric switchboard whereby the lighting of the various rooms of your apartment is regulated. A very few moments’ study showed me that the wires had been arranged so as to throw all the electric current into the piano. Later those connecting wires had been cut close to the wall. Let me give you my idea of the killing. You I some way arranged that, by a turn of the switch, a strong electric current could be thrown into the piano. On the night of Cyril Ballard’s death you got Siurd Von Rickerl headed safely for the piano, then slipped in here and turned on the switch. You could not foresee that Cyril Ballard would push in ahead and seat himself at the piano stool. Later, when you discovered your error, you came back in here, tried to turn off the switch, found it jammed and so cut the wires. The brass work on the board is scratched, showing how hard you tugged in your effort to turn back the switch. Am I right?”

“Entirely,” affirmed Craddock, deeply interested. “Go on.”

“Then I examined the piano and I saw how the whole thing had been done. You connected one electric pole with the loud pedal. Then, boring through the ivory key of ‘G natural’ below high C you ran a metal wire through it connected with the opposite electric pole. You filed down the wire to a level with the key. By the dim lamplight it would be practically invisible. But, when the current was on, any one pressing down on the loud pedal and striking that note with great force would form what is known as a ‘short circuit.’ The whole electric current would rush through his body, causing instant death. It was a clever idea. I congratulate you on its conception, fatal though it was. It is the cleverest scheme that has ever come under my somewhat wide range of experience.”

Craddock bowed.

“Is that the extent of your discovery?” he asked.

“Not quite. When Cyril Ballard struck that death chord it drew off for the moment all the electric power in the apartment. As a result, every light in the place went out. You had not counted on that, eh? Then when you slipped into the next room and cut the wires, the circuit was, of course, momentarily shut off again. The room was plunged in darkness. The metal strings of the piano, strongly impregnated by the tremendous electric force that had been turned into them, had contracted as the striking of that chord had sent the current into the piano. As the wires were cut the current ceased. The strings suddenly relaxing, of course, caused that identical chord to be struck once more, although no one was near the instrument. It is a simple and old electric piano trick. But it accounts for the moment of darkness and the repetition of that one crashing death chord. There is the whole story, Mr. Craddock. Good day.”

Craddock stretched forth his hand.

“It is a privilege to have met you, sir,” he said, almost cordially. “I shall be honored by shaking your hand.”

The Englishman eyed the proffered hand without making any move to grasp it.

“You will pardon me, I am sure,” he answered, apologetically, half sadly, “but even a detective must draw the line between his admiration for a murderer’s skill and his personal loathing of that murderer’s crime. You will understand my feeling, I am sure, when I decline to” –

“Don’t mention it,” returned Craddock coldly, though a faint flush rose to his dark face as his rejected hand dropped by his side, “Good-by.”

“Now, I wonder,” mused The Englishman, as he strolled down Fifty-seventh street on leaving Carnegie Hall, “I wonder if this Ballard affair, taken all in all, should rank as one of my triumphs or as one of my rare defeats?”

Half a block farther on he met Gresham.

“The case is wound up, Gresham,” said The Englishman. “To-Morrow I sail for London. There is no longer any reason why I should conceal my identity. Do you still want to know my real name? Yes? Well, let’s drop into this café and have a high-ball. Over the drinks I’ll tell you who I really am.”


The Evening World, 16 April 1904



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