W. (William) Harding.

Dreyfus: the prisoner of Devil's Island, a full story of the most remarkable military trial and scandal of the age online

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Hitherto M. Labori had been very punctual. But he must be merely
delayed at his house, it was thought. He might have slept late, or he
was collecting his notes. However, conjectures were cut short by the
entrance of the judges, and Colonel Jouaust, after introducing Dreyfus,
asked attention for a few words on the unseemly demonstrations of which
the court- room on August 12th was the scene. He would not tolerate,
he declared, manifestations of any sort; if need be, he would expel the
disturbers of the peace, or even clear the hall.

"If," he continued, "we have given a large space to the journalists,
it is in order that as large a number as possible of readers may follow the
discussions here, which, however, arouse perhaps too much interest in the
public. I hope I shall not be obliged to take action against the press."

It was noted then that for the first time the hall contained a number
of gendarmes distributed along the benches. The measure seemed natural
enough. The intervention of the president had been anticipated, and was
generally approved.


Yet still M. Labori did not come.

Suddenly there was a hubbub at the entrance door. The tall form of
M. Taunay, of the judicial police, was seen clambering upon a bench, and
then this announcement rang through the court:

"Quick; a doctor! M. Labori is woimded."

It was like a pistol-shot in the court itself.

The faces of half the audience became white with consternation.

Several persons rushed out, among them doctors and surgeons who
were present. One of them was M. Paul Eeclus.

Every one looked at his neighbor in dismay. Cries of " Ah ! les mis-
erables ! " and other expressions of the general emotion arose all about the

And then, in the midst of the general distress, M. Demange rose in
his place and said :

" Monsieur le President, painful news has just been spread abroad.
It is said that my colleague M. Labori has been wounded." Colonel
Jouaust replied, "It is deeply regrettable," while M. Demange went on to
ask that the sitting should be suspended pending further information.

It was just on the stroke of seven o'clock. The excitement at this
moment was extreme. It was a difficult thing to scrutinize the heart, but,
if any of the ordinary outward signs of human feeling are true indications
of the inner workings of the soul, there were not two-score persons in that
hall who were not profoundly shocked by the news which had just rung
through the house.

M. Labori, who had the day before received two letters threatening to
kill him, but who had paid as little heed to them as to the scores of oth-
ers which he had received during the last two years, left his house during
the morning of August 14th, at six o'clock, alone, his wife, who attends
all the sittings of the court, intending to follow him a few moments later.
On the way he met Colonel Picquart and M. Gast, the Colonel's cou-
sin. The three had passed the bridge of La Barbotiere, and, leaving the
tow-path, had arrived on the Quai Richemont near the bridge across the
Vilaine, when a pistol shot was heard behind them, and M. Labori, ut-
tering the familiar French ejaculation, "Oh, la la! " tottered and fell.

He had received a bullet in the back.

The details which follow were obtained from Colonel Picquart and M .


Gast. Their first thought was for their companion. A few moments were
therefore lost in assisting Maitre Labori. Moreover, neither Colonel Pic-
quart nor his friend was armed. With a scrupulous correctness intelligi-
ble enough at a moment when the slightest violation of the laws of the
land might entail the most serious inconveniences, but with a loyalty which
the present event has proved to be Quixotic, and which they profoundly
regret at this hour, they were without revolvers, in spite of the threaten-
ing letters which the colonel has never ceased to receive for many months.
Had they been armed they might have easily killed the assailant.

The would-be murderer, darting off at full speed, had, however, already
put one hundred yards between himself and his victim. Yet as soon as
Maitre Labori had been laid out on the pavement both his companions
started in pursuit. There were workingmen, early risers, near by, who
heard the shot and could help to identify him, but not one of them made
the slightest effort to capture him. M. Gast is a solid, somewhat heavily
built man, who soon found pursuit futile, and even Colonel Picquart, al-
though he is more active, and although, in ]\I. Gast's words, he "ran like
a deer," had to abandon the chase.

The assailant had dashed along the river unarrested by the slightest
obstacle, human or other, until he met on the banks of the Vilaine a com-
pany of workingmen unloading a barge. Seeing a man running toward
them, and hearing the cries of " Assassin ! " which had followed him from
afar, they sought to capture him. But aiming his revolver he cried :

"Leave me alone! I have just killed Dreyfus."

It was an "open sesame," and the man rushed on and gained the open
fields, making in the direction of Chateaugiron. The forest of Eennes lay
there across country rich in lurking-places, a far finer refuge for a hunted
criminal than the clear spaces of the little wood where, in Zola's novel,
"Paris," the Anarchist Sal vat is surrounded and tracked by the police.

The would-be assassin, who, according to the impression of Colonel
Picquart, was not yet thirty, was described as red-haired ; he wore a short
black coat and a sort of round, white skull-cap, capable, however, Colonel
Picquart said, of being rolled down like a turban upon the brow and ears.
He sped on into the country, finally followed by no one, left fairly to him-
self to choose his lair.

Colonel Picquart, who had given up the pursuit and returned to his


friend, found Maitre Labori still lying on the pavement; but his wife had
arrived, and she was holding his head and shoulders on lier knees, while
with a little Japanese fan, hastily snatched up as she had left the house,
she fanned the handsome, pallid face of her husband.

A half-hour passed before a shutter was brought, and it was almost as
long before a doctor arrived. Four soldiers had been ordered to the spot
with the shutter to transport Maitre Labori to his house. He had not
lost consciousness, and he spoke to his wife of the trial, urging her imme-
diately to inform the court and to have the proceedings interrupted.

When, at the suspension of the sitting, Maitre Demange drove to the
house, he found his friend still partially stunned, but not in pain.

" Mon vietix," said Maitre Labori to his colleague "je vais peut-etre en
crever, mais Dreyfus est sauve. " (" Old man, I shall perhaps die from it,
but Dreyfus is saved ! ")

The woimd was at first thought to be fatal. It was feared that the
bullet had perforated a lung and in its passage perhaps affected the spinal
cord. Later, more accurate details were known. The bullet entered the
back a little to the right of the backbone, on a level with the fifth or
sixth rib. The state of the wound for the moment prevented surgical
search for the bullet.

Maitre Labori had only just recovered from typhoid fever, during
which he was for a time in a critical state. His ardent, nervous, hicrh-
strung organism, wrought up as it was to a pitch of terrible tension by his
anxieties over work in the Dreyfus affair, was in an extremely unsatisfac-
tory condition for combating this fresh shock.

The worst news would have surprised nobody at Rennes. M. Wal-
deck-Rousseau, and the Minister of Justice, and the whole world had to
wait forty-eight hours at least for any certainty as to his real condition,
and then, to the intense relief of all right-minded men, the doctors an-
nounced that the wound was not mortal.

There was a terribly suggestive timeliness in that crime, and the course
taken by the day's proceedings threw this fact into the light with over-
whelming force.

Were the fates combining against Dreyfus they could not have armed
among mortals a more efficient agent of their designs than the still im-
known man who shot Maitre Labori in the early hours of the morning, as


he was making for the court-room himself to endeavor to riddle with
shot and shatter with his invective and irony and scorn the last argu-
ments of the public accuser Mercier.

It was a master-stroke. The one man indispensable was suddenly
thrown hors de coinbat just at the moment when most was expected of

With Maitre Labori absent the bottom seemed to have dropped out of
the defence.

The examination of General Mercier which took place the same day
was one of the weakest exhibitions of forensic ingenuity and presence of
mind which it was possible to conceive. The witnesses, General Mercier,
M. Cavaignac, General Billot, and the rest, had held the floor as did the
officers their predecessors in the trial of 1894. M. Cavaignac delivered
himself of an impassioned diatribe quite as if he were at the tribune of the
chamber. The prisoner was left almost without defence.

Maitre Demange was, no doubt, a great lawyer, and it may well be
believed that he was under the impression of the terrible event of that
morning. But his whole conception of his role seemed to be to reply to
Dreyfus's adversaries en hloc in a final address to the court. But he did
not possess the qualities of Maitre Labori вАФ his astonishing readiness in
repartee, his quick-wittedness in general, his admirable enthusiasm, his
courage, his range of eloquence, his unrivalled knowledge of the case, and,
above all, his simply incomparable powers of cross-examination.

The formal, old-style methods of Maitre Demange stood him in sad
stead. It was the great day, the critical moment. It was the day dreaded
by all the adversaries of Dreyfus ; the day to which General Mercier and
M. Cavaignac had looked forward with consternation. They had found
in this terrible tragedy, by the initiation and intervention of no one knows
what influence, that deus ex machina which in the old drama solves prob-
lems with a timeliness that has become proverbial. And then, to cap all,
the general called on Maitre Labori to proffer his sympathy.

The Nationalist Deputy for Rennes, M. le H^riss^, signed the same
day the following proclamation as Mayor of Eennes :

"Dear feUow- citizens : An abominabb outrage, the author of which
cannot claim to represent any party, has just dishonored our dear city of
Eennes. You will not allow yourselves to be affected by an act of mad-


ness which can only serve the interests of the enemies of the work of jus-
tice and truth which, with their patriotism and their robust good sense,
the members of the court-martial are called upon to accomplish. Eesist
provocations from whatever quarter, preserve that dignified calm which
you have all along maintained. You will thus have deserved well of
France and of the Eepublic, and served the good name of our old Breton

General Zurlinden, Colonel Jouaust, and M. Casimir-Perier called on
Maitre Labori to know how he was getting on.

Several journalists said to have associations with the persons arrested
in Paris, among them a member of the staff of M. Cassagnac's paper,
L'Autorite, were arrested at Rennes.

Maitre Labori is young, fair, handsome, and full of lusty life and high
spirits. His talents as a speaker are not of the highest order; but no
other member of the Paris bar knows better how to use law to defeat its
object. He can drive a motor car through the Code. Until he pleaded
for Zola his luck was uninterrupted. He then had an attack of typhoid
fever, which greatly weakened him and forced him to neglect business.
The Zola affair was a great advertisement, but it brought him no direct
profit and created for him endless enemies. He refused the handsome fee
the novelist offered ; nor does he accept pecuniary reward from Dreyfus.

Labori is proud of his wife's beauty. She is equally proud of his good
looks and forensic talents, and loses no opportunity to hear him plead.
She is an Australian, and received her education as a pianiste in London.
She became a player at concerts and made the acquaintance of the de-
formed but highly gifted Russian pianist, Pachmann, married him, had two
children, and then fell in love with Labori. The passion was mutual.
She and Pachmann were divorced, and then she married Labori. The chil-
dren live with her and find a devoted stepfather in him.

Madame Labori had attended all the public sittings of the Rennes
court-martial. Her beauty is beyond dispute. She is a striking blonde,
and, though her path has not been always strewn with roses, she expresses
the joy of life in splendid health and a satisfied heart.


Chapter XXX.


The shooting of Maitre Labori took all the life out of the session of the
court-martial, August 14th.

On the opening of the court, Maitre Demange in a few words officially
informed Colonel Jouaust of the attack on Maitre Labori, and requested a
suspension of the sitting, to which Colonel Jouaust unhesitatingly agreed,
adjoining the court until 7:15 o'clock.

Dreyfus must undoubtedly have been profoundly moved by the attack
on his champion, who for all he knew might be dead or dying, yet the
prisoner maintained the same immovability as hitherto, and did not give
the slightest indication of his emotions.

Li the course of the short suspension of the proceedings M. Jaures,
the Socialist leader, who was in court, remarked that the arrests made in
Paris for rioting the previous day had for their sole object to forestall a
St. Bartholomew's massacre of the Dreyfusards, and that the attempted
murder of M. Labori was one of the acts of the -projected massacre.

Others in the audience engaged in violent altercations over the at-
tempted murder. M. Mercier, editor of the Gaulois, expressed the opin-
ion that all the newspapers ought to regard themselves as responsible for
the outrage, whereupon Mme. Severine loudly protested, saying :

" No ; it is you who ought to be held responsible for what has hap-

The clamor finally became so violent that gendarmes were forced to
separate the combatants and take away the tickets of all those present.

On the resumption of the sitting. Colonel Jouaust referred to the out-
rage, and declared he was personally deeply moved.

Maitre Demange announced that, though his colleague's wound was
not so serious as at first supposed, it would be impossible for Maitre La-
bori to participate in the proceedings.


General Mercier was then confronted with M. Casimir-Perier, the
former President of France. The latter declared that Mercier's story, told
on the witness-stand on August 12th, of the imminence of war between
Germany and France in 1894, was grossly exaggerated, and complained of
Mercier's action in moving 60,000 troops to the frontier without consult-
ing him.

When General Mercier was recalled in reply to the president of the
court, he reiterated his belief that Major Count Esterhazy, in spite of
the latter's own declaration, was not the author of the bordereau, which
the witness claimed was written on tracing paper, and was found in an

M. Casimir-Perier was then called to the witness stand, but the
thoughts of every one in court were directed to the outrage on Maitre
Labori, and the evidence was followed listlessly. Moreover, Maitre La-
bori was not there to kindle the hidden fires in both men, and they,
in addition, were weighed down by the tragedy which had just oc-

As it had been M. Labori's intention to take General Mercier in hand,
M. Demange, associate counsel, was quite unprepared for the task; the
few questions the latter put were practically of little effect, and General
Mercier escaped cheaply. M. Demange also was deeply affected by the
attempt to assassinate his colleague, and was quite unable to do himself

The president of the court asked M. Casimir-Perier to explain the cir-
cumstances of the confession Dreyfus is alleged to have made to Captain
Lebrun-Renault. M. Casimir-Perier persisted in his statement of August
12th, that he had never received any confidences of this character from
Captain Lebrun-Renault. He added that M. Dupuy, the then Premier,
was present when Captain Lebrun-Renault called at the Elys^e, Paris.
"Moreover," said M. Casimir-Perier, "here is a letter from M. Dupuy,
which I ask may be read."

The letter asserted that Captain Lebrun-Renault, when questioned by
M. Dupuy, replied that General Mercier had sent him to the President to
receive a dressing-down for his indiscreet disclosures to the Figaro.

General Mercier here interposed, saying :

" Captain Lebrun-Renault spoke to me in regard to the confessions in


the presence of General Gonse, who will testify thereto. It was then that
I ordered him to go to the President of the Eepublic."

Regarding General Mercier's declaration on August 12th, on the wit-
ness stand, M. Casimir-Perier said :

" General Mercier had no right whatever to intervene in a diplomatic
conversation. I would have prevented such interference. It was I alone
who conferred with the minister, and I declare that the impression I
derived from that conversation was one of complete calm, otherwise the
incident would not have been closed by the framing of a note. We had
no telegram from Berlin that evening. If there had been any news in re-
gard to the matter on the evening of the 6th, we should not have waited
until the 8th to publish the note. There was not a despatch addressed to
a friendly power relative to the incident. The incident has been magni-
fied. Besides, in the event of diplomatic complications, the president
would have communicated with the Minister of Foreign Affairs."

General Mercier replied that he went to the Elys^e Palace as Minister
of War. He said General de Boisdeffre could testify in regard to the or-
ders received.

M. Demange seized upon this declaration and insisted that General
Mercier repeat the statement that he had given orders to General de Bois-
deffre on the 6th, relative to mobilization.

General de Boisdeffre was actually out of Paris on January 6, 1895,
for on that day General Gonse wrote him to inform him of Lebrun-
Renault's tale about Dreyfus's alleged confession.

M. Casimir-Perier, resuming his testimony, said he did not desire to
reply to certain of General Mercier's insinuations.

"I do not wish to answer them," said the witness; "the circumstances
are too sad and too tragic for me to desire to envenom the discussion. I
am master of myself and of my conscience. I would only state that Gen-
eral Mercier has made every effort to mix me as deeply as possible in this
affair. But I have remained aloof."

The former President then complained of the incorrect behavior of his
subordinate toward the chief of the state. "As an instance," he said,
" General Mercier undertook to shorten the term of service of 60,000 men
without consulting me, thus lacking in the respect he owed to the chief of
the state."


M. Casimir-Perier next protested against the assertions made by Gen-
eral Mercier in regard to the role adopted by the chief of the state in this
affair, whereupon the general interjected the statement that he had spoken
of the attitude assumed by M. Casimir-Perier, because he had sworn to
tell the whole truth.

M. Demange asked General Mercier if he had explained to the Cabinet
how he reconciled the relations of cause and eff'ect, and the patriotic emo-
tion aroused by the treason with the communication of the secret docu-
ments to the court-martial.

The general, in reply, repeated his statement of August 12th, as his
hypothesis of the situation.

Counsel asked General Mercier why the explanations of the secret
dossier were not included in the dossier relating to the revision.

The general replied that he considered these explanations were given
for his personal use, and that was why he destroyed the document.

At this M. Demange expressed a sense of astonishment, and asked
General Mercier if he did not have reasons for suppressing the docu-

The witness repudiated the suggestion.

Dreyfus at this point rose from his seat and asked leave to explain in
regard to the assertion that he had traced on a card the itinerary of a cer-
tain journey of the General Staff. Both the itinerary and journey, he
asserted, were purely fictitious.

General Billot, former Minister of War, was the next witness. He
was in uniform, sat with crossed legs, and gave his evidence in a conver-
sational manner. Like everybody else, he added, he had some knowledge
of the Dreyfus affair before taking the war portfolio. While feeling deeply
on the subject, he remained aloof from the matter until he returned to the
Cabinet. In the early days of his ministry, the witness continued, M.
Scheurer-Kestner (a former vice-president of the Senate) asked him whether
he ought not to investigate the Dreyfus aff'air. M. Scheurer-Kestner, the
general pointed out, had made similar representations to M. de Freycinet,
and received the same reply from both, that neither of them was very
conversant with the affair.

General Billot dwelt at length upon the action taken by M. Scheurer-
Kestner, to whom he said he recommended prudence. ^I. Scheurer-Kest-


ner finally communicated to General Billot his conviction of the innocence
of Dreyfus, but the general found the evidence insufficient, and asked him
to investigate the matter further.

General Billot then dealt with the role of Colonel Picquart, whom, he
said, he holds in the highest esteem. "He is intelligent," said the wit-
ness, "and gave me valuable information about the organization of a
neighboring army and its artillery. This information showed the neces-
sity of continuing the reforms in our artillery commenced by that great
initiator. General Mercier."

"I, who am neither an engineer nor an expert in handwriting," added
General Billot, "saw the grand work he accomplished in that direction."

After this General Billot referred to Colonel Picquart's proposition to
entrap Esterhazy, whom he suspected, but General Billot forbade this.
He added that Colonel Picquart always acted without authorization.

The former Minister of War next referred to the eminent service
which Colonel Picquart rendered to the army, leading to his being entrusted
with a " confidential mission to the East and afterward to Tunis." He
energetically protested against the allegation that he had desired to send
Colonel Picquart to a place from which he would never return.

M. Demange then invited General Billot to explain the statements of
MM. Barthou and Poincare, former Cabinet ministers, that the general
was once so doubtful of the guilt of Dreyfus that he did not sleep for sev-
eral nights.

General Billot acknowledged that the statements were true.

There was great sensation when M. Demange mentioned the opinion
expressed by M. Barthou that General Billot had been forewarned in re-
gard to the forgery of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry. The general acknowl-
edged that the Henry forgery was among the factors arousing his doubts,

M. Cavaignac, former Minister of War, then testified. He said he
was the first Cabinet minister to assume responsibility for the Dreyfus
affair. He had closely followed the inquiry of the Court of Cassation,
and, he continued, still desired to associate himself with the responsibility
of those who, in 1894, protected the coimtry and the army against treason.

Continuing, the witness said that among the principal points upon
which he based his conviction was the confession to Captain Lebrun-


Renault, iu support of which contention he quoted a passage from an
alleged letter of Dreyfus, which was in reality part of General Gonse's
report to the Minister of War on Colonel Du Paty de Clam's report of
the alleged confession.

The witness also said he found additional proofs of the prisoner's guilt
in the technical character of the bordereau, and thought the bordereau
alone established the fact that treason had emanated from the bureau of
the General Staff, and from an officer who was able to secure all the in-

Online LibraryW. (William) HardingDreyfus: the prisoner of Devil's Island, a full story of the most remarkable military trial and scandal of the age → online text (page 11 of 35)