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The Best Mystery and Detective Stories

PEDRO DE ALARÇON
The Nail
I
The thing which is most ardently desired by a man who steps into a stagecoach, bent
upon a long journey, is that his companions may be agreeable, that they may have the
same tastes, possibly the same vices, be well educated and know enough not to be too
familiar.
When I opened the door of the coach I felt fearful of encountering an old woman
suffering with the asthma, an ugly one who could not bear the smell of tobacco smoke,
one who gets seasick every time she rides in a carriage, and little angels who are
continually yelling and screaming for God knows what.
Sometimes you may have hoped to have a beautiful woman for a traveling companion;
for instance, a widow of twenty or thirty years of age (let us say, thirty-six), whose
delightful conversation will help you pass away the time. But if you ever had this idea, as
a reasonable man you would quickly dismiss it, for you know that such good fortune does
not fall to the lot of the ordinary mortal. These thoughts were in my mind when I opened
the door of the stagecoach at exactly eleven o'clock on a stormy night of the Autumn of
1844. I had ticket No. 2, and I was wondering who No. 1 might be. The ticket agent had
assured me that No. 3 had not been sold.
It was pitch dark within. When I entered I said, "Good evening," but no answer came.
"The devil!" I said to myself. "Is my traveling companion deaf, dumb, or asleep?" Then I
said in a louder tone: "Good evening," but no answer came.
All this time the stagecoach was whirling along, drawn by ten horses.
I was puzzled. Who was my companion? Was it a man? Was it a woman? Who was the
silent No. 1, and, whoever it might be, why did he or she not reply to my courteous
salutation? It would have been well to have lit a match, but I was not smoking then and
had none with me. What should I do? I concluded to rely upon my sense of feeling, and
stretched out my hand to the place where No. 1 should have been, wondering whether I
would touch a silk dress or an overcoat, but there was nothing there. At that moment a
flash of lightning, herald of a quickly approaching storm, lit up the night, and I perceived
that there was no one in the coach excepting myself. I burst out into a roar of laughter,
and yet a moment later I could not help wondering what had become of No. 1.
A half hour later we arrived at the first stop, and I was just about to ask the guard who
flashed his lantern into the compartment why there was no No. 1, when she entered. In
 
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