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The Widow Lerouge

Chapter 1
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.
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