THE LEROUGE CASE
By Emile Gaboriau
On Thursday, the 6th of March, 1862, two days after Shrove Tuesday, five women belonging to the village of La Jonchere presented themselves at the police station at Bougival.
They stated that for two days past no one had seen the Widow Lerouge, one of their neighbours, who lived by herself in an isolated cottage. They had several times knocked at the door, but all in vain. The window-shutters as well as the door were closed; and it was impossible to obtain even a glimpse of the interior.
This silence, this sudden disappearance alarmed them. Apprehensive of a crime, or at least of an accident, they requested the interference of the police to satisfy their doubts by forcing the door and entering the house.
Bougival is a pleasant riverside village, peopled on Sundays by crowds of boating parties. Trifling offences are frequently heard of in its neighbourhood, but crimes are rare.
The commissary of police at first refused to listen to the women, but their importunities so fatigued him that he at length acceded to their request. He sent for the corporal of gendarmes, with two of his men, called into requisition the services of a locksmith, and, thus accompanied, followed the neighbours of the Widow Lerouge.
La Jonchere owes some celebrity to the inventor of the sliding railway, who for some years past has, with more enterprise than profit, made public trials of his system in the immediate neighbourhood. It is a hamlet of no importance, resting upon the slope of the hill which overlooks the Seine between La Malmaison and Bougival. It is about twenty minutes' walk from the main road, which, passing by Rueil and Port-Marly, goes from Paris to St. Germain, and is reached by a steep and rugged lane, quite unknown to the government engineers.
The party, led by the gendarmes, followed the main road which here bordered the river until it reached this lane, into which it turned, and stumbled over the rugged inequalities of the ground for about a hundred yards, when it arrived in front of a cottage of extremely modest yet respectable appearance. This cottage had probably been built by some little Parisian shopkeeper in love with the beauties of nature; for all the trees had been carefully cut down. It consisted merely of two apartments on the ground floor with a loft above. Around it extended a much-neglected garden, badly protected against midnight prowlers, by a very dilapidated stone wall about three feet high, and broken and crumbling in many places. A light wooden gate, clumsily held in its place by pieces of wire, gave access to the garden.
"It is here," said the women.
The commissary stopped. During his short walk, the number of his followers had been rapidly increasing, and now included all the inquisitive and idle persons of the neighbourhood. He found himself surrounded by about forty individuals burning with curiosity.
"No one must enter the garden," said he; and, to ensure obedience, he placed the two gendarmes on sentry before the entrance, and advanced towards the house, accompanied by the corporal and the locksmith.
He knocked several times loudly with his leaded cane, first at the door, and then successively at all the window shutters. After each blow, he placed his ear against the wood and listened. Hearing nothing, he turned to the locksmith.
"Open!" said he.
The workman unstrapped his satchel, and produced his implements. He had already introduced a skeleton key into the lock, when a loud exclamation was heard from the crowd outside the gate.
"The key!" they cried. "Here is the key!"
A boy about twelve years old playing with one of his companions, had seen an enormous key in a ditch by the roadside; he had picked it up and carried it to the cottage in triumph.
"Give it to me youngster," said the corporal. "We shall see."
The key was tried, and it proved to be the key of the house.
The commissary and the locksmith exchanged glances full of sinister misgivings. "This looks bad," muttered the corporal. They entered the house, while the crowd, restrained with difficulty by