Ernest Alfred Vizetelly.

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occupied certainly, for the window blinds are pulled up every morning and
lowered every evening, but I can never detect who does this; and I have
never seen anybody leave the houses or enter them.'

At last one afternoon he told me that one of these villas had woke up,
for on the previous day he had espied a lady in the garden watering some
flowers.

Rather lower down the road there was a livelier house, one which had a
balconied window, which was almost invariably open, and here servants and
children were often to be seen. 'That,' said M. Zola, 'is the one little
corner of life and gaiety, amidst all the other silence and lack of life.
Whenever I feel dull or worried I look over there.'

As a rule the Queen's Hotel itself is, as I have already mentioned, a
very quiet place; but now and again a wedding breakfast was given there.
Broughams and landaus would then roll over the gravel sweep, and M. Zola
and I would at times lean out of the windows and exchange opinions with
respect to the bridal pair and the guests. What surprised and amused him,
on one occasion when a wedding party came to the hotel, was to notice
that all the coachmen of the carriages wore yellow flowers and favours;
for in France yellow is not only associated with jealousy, but also with
conjugal faithlessness.

'If those flowers ware to be taken as an omen,' said M. Zola to me, 'that
happy pair will soon be in the Divorce Court.'

During the latter part of his stay at Norwood, when the door between his
bedroom and sitting-room remained open, one could see on a chest of
drawers in the former apartment a pair of life-size porcelain cats,
coloured a purplish maroon, with sparkling yellow glass eyes, and an
abundance of fantastic yellow spots. These cats had been bought by him as
a souvenir of England and English art, for he was much struck by their
oddity. He had been offered others - for instance, white ones with little
coloured landscapes printed all over their backs and sides - surely as
idiotic an embellishment as any insane potter could devise - but although
these had sorely tempted him he had finally decided in favour of the
maroon and yellow abominations.

A little girl of mine, who found herself face to face with these cats one
day in his room, was quite startled by them, and has since expressed the
opinion that Sir John Tenniel ought to have seen them before he drew the
Cheshire cat for 'Alice in Wonderland.' For my own part I can imagine the
laughter and the jeers of M. Zola's artistic friends when those choice
specimens of British art are shown to them in Paris.

At intervals during his long sojourn at the Queen's Hotel M. Zola
received a few brief visits from French friends, chiefly literary men and
politicians, whose names need not be mentioned, but who have identified
themselves with the cause of Revision. At times these gentlemen found
themselves in London on other matters, and profited by the opportunity to
run down to Norwood. On other occasions they made the journey from France
for the especial purpose of quieting M. Zola's impatience, and telling
him that he must not yet think of returning home. Again, M. Fasquelle,
the French publisher, came over four or five times, now on business and
now in a friendly way.

I think that during the seven or eight months that M. Zola stayed at the
Queen's Hotel, he received altogether some ten visits from compatriots,
which visits were often of only an hour or two's duration. Thus, Mme.
Zola having returned to France, he was frequently very much alone.

During the last months of his exile my wife fell seriously ill, and I
could not then go so often to Norwood. Afterwards ague caught me in its
grip, and my visits ceased for two or three successive weeks. All I could
do in an emergency was to place my eldest daughter or my son at M. Zola's
disposal.

The foreign visitors he received - by foreign I mean non-French - were
(apart from the Warehams, myself and family) very few in number. I think
that an eminent Russian _publiciste_ who happened to be a personal friend
(M. Zola has long been popular in Russia, where even the Emperor has read
many of his books) saw him on one occasion. Then, when M. Yves Guyot
called, he brought with him an English friend who was pledged to secrecy.

A well-known English novelist and art critic, M. Zola's oldest English
friend, and his earliest champion in this country, likewise saw him.
Further, in a friendly capacity he received an English journalist for
whom he has much regard, and who came to see him quite apart from any
journalistic matters. To this list I will add the names of Mr. Andrew
Chatto and Mr. Percy Spalding of Messrs. Chatto and Windus, and Mr.
George P. Brett, of the Macmillan Company of New York.

Such, then, were M. Zola's visitors and guests - say, apart from the
Warehams, myself and family, less than a score of persons, the total
duration of whose visits added together amounted perhaps to a hundred and
twenty hours spread over many long and trying months.

At times when we chatted together, M. Zola and myself, and mention was
made of his friends - of persons occasionally whom we both knew - he
referred to the many estrangements caused by the divergence of views on
the Dreyfus affair. Friends of twenty and thirty years' standing, men who
had laboured sided by side often in pursuit of the same ideal, had not
only quarrelled and parted but had assailed each other with the greatest
virulence in the Press and at public meetings.

Many whom he himself had regarded as close and sincere friends had
trodden upon all the past and attacked him abominably, as though he were
the veriest scum of the earth. Some in the earlier stages of the affair
had hypocritically feigned sympathy, in order to provoke his confidence,
and had then turned round to hold him up to execration and ridicule. One
or two had behaved so badly that he had refused ever to receive them at
his house again.

He spoke to me of an eminent French _litterateur_ who at the outset of
the agitation on behalf of Dreyfus had immediately promised his help, and
had even prepared articles and appeals on behalf of the prisoner of
Devil's Island. But this _litterateur_ had of recent years been lapsing
into mysticism, and at the behests of the reverend father his confessor,
he had abruptly destroyed what he had written, and gone over to the other
side to wage desperate warfare upon the cause he had promised to help.

The writer in question (one who will probably leave a name in French
literature) was tortured by the everlasting fear that he might go to hell
when he died, and he was the more timorous, the more easily influenced by
certain persons, as he suffered from a horrible, incurable complaint, and
feared that his medical man - a bigoted Romanist - might abandon him to all
the pangs of sudden death if he did not comply with the injunctions of
the Church.

Then there was a friend of many years' standing, a Minister in successive
Cabinets, who feigned that by remaining in office he would be able to
favour the cause, and who, instead of that, did his utmost against it. A
playwright wrote: 'I am heartily with you, but for God's sake don't say
it, for my plays might be hissed.'* Another prominent man started on a
long journey to avoid having to express any opinion. Nearly all the baser
passions of humanity were made manifest in some degree - treachery,
rancour, jealousy, and moral and physical cowardice.

* Apropos of the stage, it is a curious circumstance that
nine-tenths of 'the profession' in France are ardent Dreyfusards.
Nearly every actor and actress and vocalist of note has been
on the same side as M. Zola from the outset.

But, of course, there was another and a brighter side to the picture.
There were men of high intellect and courage who had not hesitated to
state their views and plead for truth and justice, men who, when in
office, had been arbitrarily suspended and removed. There were many who
had risked their futures, many too who, after years of labour, were well
entitled to rest and retirement, yet had come forward with all the ardour
of youth to do battle for great principles and save their country from
the shame of a cruel crime.

Adversity makes one acquainted with strange bedfellows, and M. Zola was
more than once struck by the heterogeneous nature of the Revisionist
army. He found men of such varied political and social views banded
together for the cause. It all helped to remove sundry old-time
prejudices of his.

For instance, he said to me one day: 'I never cared much for the French
Protestants; I regarded them as people of narrow minds, fanatics of a
kind, far less tolerant and human than the great mass of the Catholics.
But they have behaved splendidly in this battle of ours, and shown
themselves to be real men.'

All through the spring M. Zola eagerly followed the inquiry which the
Cour de Cassation was conducting, and when M. Ballot-Beaupre was
appointed reporter to the Court, there came a fresh spell of anxiety. M.
Ballot-Beaupre is a man of natural piety, and the anti-Revisionist
newspapers, basing themselves on his religious views, at first made
certain that he would show no mercy to the Jew Dreyfus, but would report
strongly in favour of the prisoner's guilt. Certain Dreyfusite journals,
on the other hand, bitterly attacked the learned judge for his supposed
clerical leanings; and indeed so much was insinuated that M. Zola for a
short time half believed it possible that M. Ballot-Beaupre might show
himself hostile to revision.

When I saw M. Zola he repeatedly expressed to me his feelings of
disquietude. Then everything suddenly changed. Certain newspapers
discovered that M. Ballot-Beaupre, if pious, was by no means a fanatic,
and, further, that he was a very sound lawyer, much respected by his
colleagues. This cleared the atmosphere, for it seemed impossible that
any man of rectitude and judgment could pass over the damning revelations
which the Cour de Cassation's inquiry, as published in 'Le Figaro,' had
produced.

Time went on, and at last the issue, so frequently postponed, so
longingly awaited, came in sight. The week before the public proceedings
of the Cour de Cassation opened M. Zola said to me: 'I shall have
finished the last chapter of "Fecondite" by Saturday or Sunday, so I
shall have my hands quite free and be able to give all my attention to
what takes place at the Courts. I am hopeful, yes, very hopeful, and yet
at moments some horrid doubt will spring up to torture me. But no! you'll
see, our cause will gain the day, revision will be granted, and justice
will be done.'

And at last came the fateful week which was to prove the accuracy of his
surmises.



XV

LAST DAYS - DEPARTURE

I spent the afternoon of Saturday, May 27, with M. Zola, and we then
spoke of the proceedings impending before the Cour de Cassation. All our
information pointed to the conclusion that the Court would give judgment
on the Saturday following, and it was decided that M. Zola should return
to France a few days afterwards. The date ultimately agreed upon was
Tuesday, June 6, and the train selected was that leaving Charing Cross
for Folkestone at 2.45 in the afternoon.

Though according to every probability the Court's judgment would be in
favour of revision, M. Zola was resolved to return home whatever might be
the issue, and such were his feelings on the matter that nothing any
friend might have urged would have prevented him from doing so. As a
matter of fact one friend did regard the return as somewhat unwise, and
intimated it both by telegram and letter. This compelled me to see M.
Zola again on the following Tuesday (May 30), but the objections were
overruled by him, and the arrangements which had been planned were
adhered to.

M. Zola had now drafted the declaration which he proposed issuing on the
morrow of his return home, and this he gave me to read. It was the
article 'Justice,' published in 'L'Aurore,' to which I have occasionally
referred in the course of the present narrative.

I left M. Zola rather late that Tuesday night in the expectation that
everything which had been arranged would follow in due course. As the
writing of 'Fecondite' was now finished he had time on his hands, and a
part of this he proposed to devote to taking a few final snapshots of
Norwood, the Crystal Palace, and surrounding scenery. He needed something
to do, for he could not sit hour by hour in his room at the Queen's Hotel
anxiously waiting for news of the proceedings at the Paris Palais de
Justice.

For my part I had begun to prepare the present narrative, and as he would
not listen to my repeated offers to take him to the Derby, it was
arranged that I should not see him again until the end of the week. On
Friday, however, reports were already in circulation to the effect that
M. Fasquelle (M. Zola's French publisher) had come to London for the
purpose of escorting him home.

This was true, and I foresaw that the rumours might lead to some
modifications of our programme; for M. Zola did not wish his return to
have any public character. He had forbidden all the demonstrations which
his friends in Paris were anxious to arrange in his honour, declaring
that he desired to go back quietly and privately, and then at once place
himself at the disposal of the public prosecutor.

On Friday I sent my daughter Violette to Norwood with a parcel of M.
Zola's photographs, received by Messrs. Chatto and Windus from Miss Loie
Fuller, who being greatly interested in the Clarence Ward of St. Mary's
Hospital, particularly wished M. Zola to sign these portraits in order
that they might be sold at a bazaar which was to be held for the benefit
of the hospital referred to. I told my daughter that I should myself go
down to the Queen's Hotel on the morrow, and she brought me back a
message to the effect that I really must go, as complications had arisen,
and M. Zola particularly desired to see me.

On the following day, Saturday, I therefore betook myself to Norwood with
a parcel of M. Zola's books, which I had received from Messrs. Macmillan
& Co. on behalf of the Countess of Bective, who (prompted by the same
spirit as Miss Loie Fuller) wished to sell these volumes at the
'Bookland' stall on the occasion of the Charing Cross Hospital Bazaar.
And when I arrived I found indeed that it was most desirable that the
programme of M. Zola's departure should be modified.

He had already seen M. and Mme. Fasquelle, the former of whom was much
annoyed at the reports of his presence in London, and thought it most
advisable to precipitate the departure. Delay might, indeed, be harmful
if it was desired to avoid demonstrations. Besides, why should he wait
until the ensuing Tuesday? Why not return the very next night - that of
Sunday, June 4 - by the Dover and Calais route? Mme. Fasquelle had
declared that she in no way objected to travelling at night time; and so
far as the departure from London was concerned, there would be few people
about on a Sunday evening, which was another point to be considered. I
cordially assented, for now that the imminence of M. Zola's return to
Paris had been reported in the newspapers it was certain that delay meant
a possibility of demonstrations both for and against him. In spite of his
prohibition, many of his friends still wished to greet him like a
conquering hero on his arrival at the Northern Railway Station in Paris.
And the other side would unfailingly send out its recruiting agents to
assemble a contingent of loafers at two francs per demonstration, who
would be duly instructed to yell 'Conspuez,' and 'A bas les juifs.' Then
a brawl would inevitably follow.

Now M. Zola (as I have already mentioned) did not wish for a homecoming
of that kind. There was no question of refusing to 'face the music,' of
shunning a hostile crowd, and so forth. It was purely and simply a matter
of dignity and of doing nothing that might lead to a disturbance of the
public peace. The triumph of justice was undoubtedly imminent, and it
must not be followed by disorder.

When I had expressed my concurrence in the views held by M. Zola and M.
Fasquelle, M. Zola and I attended to business. First came the question of
Lady Bective's books, in each of which a suitable inscription was
inserted. Afterwards, in a friend's birthday book M. Zola inscribed his
famous, epoch-making phrase, 'Truth is on the march, and nothing will be
able to stop it.' Finally, a few brief notes were written and posted, and
work was over.

For a little while we chatted together. Some notable incidents connected
with the interminable Affair had occurred during the last few days.
Colonel du Paty de Clam, for whose arrest the Revisionist journals had
clamoured so long and so pertinaciously, had at last been cast into
prison. In M. Zola's estimation, the Colonel's arrest had been merely a
question of time ever since the day when one had learnt that he had
disguised himself with a false beard and blue glasses when he went to
meet the notorious Esterhazy.

'A man may be guilty of any misdeed and may yet find forgiveness and even
favour,' M. Zola had then said to me, 'but he must not make himself, his
profession, and his cause ridiculous. In France, as you know, "ridicule
kills." The false beard and the blue spectacles, following the veiled
lady, are decisive. One need scarcely trouble any further about M. du
Paty de Clam. His fate is as good as sealed.'

And now that the Colonel had at last been arrested, the master remarked,
'The military party is throwing him over to us as a kind of sop; it would
be delighted to make him the general scapegoat, and thereby save all the
other culprits. But it won't do. There are men higher placed than Du Paty
who must bear their share of censure and, if need be, punishment.'

Then we spoke of Esterhazy, 'that fine type for a melodrama or a novel of
the romantic school,' as M. Zola often remarked. The Commandant had just
acknowledged to the 'Times' and the 'Daily Chronicle' that the famous
_bordereau_ had been penned by him, and we laughed at the remembrance of
his squabbles on this subject with the proprietress of another newspaper.
How indignantly he had then denied having ever acknowledged the
authorship of the _bordereau_, and how complacently he now admitted it!
As for the circumstances under which he asserted the document to have
been written, M. Zola could make nothing of them. 'So far, the
explanations explain nothing,' said he; 'take them whichever way you
will, there is no sense, no plausibility even, in them. Hitherto I always
thought Esterhazy a very shrewd and clever man, but after reading his
statements in the "Times" and the "Chronicle" I no longer know what to
think. Still, one point is gained; he admits having written the
_bordereau_, and others hereafter will tell us the exact circumstances
under which he did so. Colonel Sandherr, at whose bidding he says he
wrote it, is dead; but others who know a great deal about him are still
alive.'

While M. Zola thus expressed himself, we sat face to face, he in his
favourite arm chair on one side of the fireplace, and I on the other, in
the familiar room, with its three windows overlooking the lively road,
while all around curvetted the scrolls and arabesques of the light
fawn-tinted wall paper. And after chatting about Du Paty and Esterhazy we
gradually lapsed into silence. It was a fateful hour. There were
ninety-nine probabilities out of a hundred that the decision of the Cour
de Cassation would be given that same afternoon; and whatever that
decision might be we felt certain that before it was made public by any
newspaper in London we should be apprised of it. We knew that five
minutes after judgment should have been pronounced a telegram would be
speeding through the wires to the Queen's Hotel, Norwood.

M. Zola did not tell me his thoughts, yet I could guess them. We can
generally guess the thoughts of those we love. But the hours went by and
nothing came. How long they were, those judges! Whatever could be the
cause of their delay? Surely - trained, practised men that they were, men
who had spent their lives in seeking and proclaiming the truth - surely no
element of doubt could have penetrated their minds at the final, the
supreme moment.

Ah! the waiter entered, and there on his salver lay a buff envelope,
within which must surely be the ardently awaited message that would tell
us of victory or defeat. M. Zola could scarcely tear that envelope open;
his hands trembled violently. And then came an anti-climax. The wire was
from M. Fasquelle, who announced that he and his wife were inviting
themselves to dinner at Norwood that evening.

It was welcome news, but not the news so impatiently expected. And, at
last, suspense become intolerable, I resolved to go out and try to
purchase some afternoon newspapers.

There had been rumours to the effect that as each individual judge might
preface his decision by a declaration of the reasons which prompted it,
the final judgment might after all be postponed until Monday. Both M.
Zola and I had thought this improbable; still, there was a possibility of
such delay, and perhaps it was on account of a postponement of the kind
that the telegram we awaited had not arrived.

I scoured Upper Norwood for afternoon papers. There was, however, nothing
to the point at that hour (about five P.M.) in 'The Evening News,' the
'Globe,' the 'Echo,' the 'Star,' the 'Sun,' the three 'Gazettes.' They,
like we, were 'waiting for the verdict.' I went as far as the lower level
station in the hope of finding some newspaper that might give an inkling
of the position, and I found nothing at all. It was extremely warm, and I
was somewhat excited. Thus I was perspiring terribly by the time I
returned to the hotel, to learn that no telegram had come as yet, that
things were still _in statu quo_.

Then all at once the waiter came up again with another buff envelope
lying on his plated salver. And this time our anticipations were
realised; here at last was the expected news. M. Zola read the telegram,
then showed it to me.

It was brief, but sufficient. 'Cheque postponed,' it said; and Zola knew
what those words meant. 'Cheque paid' would have signified that not only
had revision been granted, but that all the proceedings against Dreyfus
were quashed, and that he would not even have to be re-tried by another
court-martial. And in a like way 'cheque unpaid' would have meant that
revision had been refused by the Court. 'Cheque postponed' implied the
granting of revision and a new court-martial.

The phraseology of this telegram, as of previous ones, had long since
been arranged. For months many seemingly innocent 'wires' had been full
of meaning. There had been no more enigmatical telegrams, as at the time
of Henry's arrest and death, but telegrams drafted in accordance with M.
Zola's instructions and each word of which was perfectly intelligible to
him.

It often happened that the newspaper correspondents 'were not in it.'
Things were known to M. Zola and at times to myself hours - and even
days - before there was any mention of them in print. The blundering
anti-Dreyfusites have often if not invariably overlooked the fact that
their adversaries number men of acumen, skill, and energy. Far from it
being true that money has played any role in the affair, everything has
virtually been achieved by brains and courage. In fact, from first to
last, the Revisionist agitation, whilst proving that the Truth must
always ultimately conquer, has likewise shown the supremacy of true
intellect over every other force in the world, whether wealth, or
influence, or fanaticism.

But I must return to M. Zola. He now knew all he wished to know. As there
had been no postponement of the Court's decision there need be none of
his return. A telegram to Paris announcing his departure from London was
hastily drafted and I hurried with it to the post-office, meeting on my
way M. and Mme. Fasquelle, who were walking towards the Queen's Hotel.

We had a right merry little dinner that evening. We were all in the best
of humours. M. Zola's face was radiant. A great victory had been won; and
then, too, he was going home!

He recalled the more amusing incidents of his exile; it seemed to him,
said he, as if for months and months he had been living in a dream.

And M. Fasquelle broke in with a reminder that M. Zola must be very
careful when he reached his house, and must in no wise damage the
historic table for which he, Fasquelle, had given such a pile of money at


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Online LibraryErnest Alfred VizetellyWith Zola in England → online text (page 10 of 11)