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

. (page 3 of 35)
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 3 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


issued from high quarters to have the trial conducted in secret.

The president of the court insisted that the lawyer must not make any
reference in his plea to the actual charge against the prisoner, which al-
most disarmed the latter's counsel at the outset.

A long controversy followed between the lawyer, the president, and
the prosecutor.

"There are other interests at stake," cried the prosecutor, "than those
of the defence and of the prosecution."

That some inkling of the Government's case had reached the counsel
for the defence was evidenced by the fact that Maitre Demange, at one
stage of his argument, referred to the "solitary document" brought for-
ward against the prisoner, whereupon he was instantly silenced by the
president, and as the lawyer insisted, in spite of this rebufif, upon refer-
ring to the "solitary document," though loyally refraining from entering
into details, the court rose, and when the members of the court-martial
returned to the trial hall the president, after severely reprimanding Maitre
Demange for having " persistently insisted " upon " raising the discussion
of the essentials of the case," announced that the trial of Dreyfus would
take place behind closed doors.

In spite of the veil of secrecy thrown over the proceedings, enough
has since transpired to show that the following was the procedure :

The indictment of the prisoner, which had been prepared by Major
d'Ormescheville, was read, and then the court took the testimony of three
experts in handwriting, MM. Pelletier, Charavay, and Teysonniere, who
had been called upon to examine the handwriting of the bordereau and
Dreyf us's handwriting, particularly the test dictation prepared by Du Paty
de Clam.



38 DREYFUS: THE PRISONER OF DEVIL'S ISLAND

The first of the experts, Pelletier, testified that the handwriting of
Dreyfus was identical with that of the bordereau.

The second expert, M. Charavay, testified that the two documents
were written by the same person, adding, however, that he would never
have any one condemned to imprisonment for life on such testimony as he
was then able to give.

The third expert, M. Teysonniere, also thought the bordereau might
have been vnritten by Dreyfus.

Du Paty de Clam testified elaborately to the many experiments, some
of them of the most ridiculous nature, which he had made in connection
with Dreyfus, particularly referring to the prisoner's " nervous movements
of the foot when interrogated, " and to the "trembling of his hand," when
asked to write from dictation.

Colonel Henry, chief of the Intelligence Department, told the court he
was persuaded the prisoner was guilty. He added that he had other rea-
sons than those which appeared in the indictment to show Dreyfus was
the traitor. But when he was urged to speak out and explain what he
meant, Henry drew back and exclaimed :

" I am a soldier, and my k^pi must ignore what is in my head. "

The verdict was rendered the same evening. The prisoner was pro-
nounced "Guilty," and was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment in a for-
tified place, and to military degradation.

Night had fallen when this act in the drama was ended. The news
soon spread with the public outside of the Cherche-Midi prison, and there
were hideous cries of " Down with the Jews ! " " Down with the traitors ! "
" Vive la France ! " " Vive 1' Arm^e ! " which must have reached the un-
happy prisoner.

The sentence was read to Dreyfus by gaslight, in the dully illuminated
hall of the prison, with the military guard presenting arms and every ac-
companiment of military horror which it was possible to imagine. The
prisoner listened, speechless, to the words which sent him to a living tomb.
He appeared utterly unnerved, helpless, friendless — plimged into the deep-
est despair. His face was almost as white as it was possible to be, and
drops of cold perspiration gathered on his brow. His lips were parched
and of a dull, blue color. His eyes were bloodshot and glared with the
expression seen in those of hunted animals. Apparently the prisoner was



FOUND GUILTY AND CONDEMNED 39

stupefied, for he did not seem to realize that the scene transpiring in that
dark prison was not a horrible nightmare. A few words of comfort from
his lawyer, a whispered message from his wife, and the crushed, wincing
man was led back to the room which he was not to leave again imtil taken
to the scene of his degradation.

" I am innocent ! " he cried hoarsely, the words choking him. " I am
innocent ! " " My God ! You have condemned an innocent man ! "

But, the military inquisitors had already turned their backs on the
hapless captain, and with fierce mutterings against the traitor they hurried
away to their different haunts, while France was supposed to have breathed
sighs of relief, as evidenced by the hoarse cries in the streets : " Down
with the Jews ! " " Down with the traitor ! " " Vive la France ! " " Vive
r Arm^e !" " Vive la E(5publique ! "

Such were the cries which broke the stillness of the night.

Throughout the evening Paris was in a state of the greatest agitation.
The evening papers, briefly announcing the verdict, sold like the prover-
bial " hot cakes " on the boulevards. The caf^s were crowded with people
eagerly discussing the case. The military and other clubs were packed
with excited people, and it may be said hardly a voice, hardly a murmur
was raised in behalf of Dreyfus, the convicted traitor.

But in a darkened room in a pretty apartment on the Avenue du Tro-
cad^ro knelt a weeping woman. By her side were two men of stem bear-
ing and a stout, honest-looking personage, a lawyer. The woman wept
and prayed, but the men soothed her as much as possible, and assured her
of their unalterable sympathy.

Two children, in their nursery, had been put to bed, lulled into slumber
by the legend that their father, a captain of artillery, had been sent away
on foreign service, and would not return for a long time, perhaps for years.
By this pleasant tale the mother's grief and agitation was accounted for, and
the next day the children were taken away to a distant spot, far from the
cruel echoes of the noisy world, where they have since grown up, praying
nightly for the return of the absent father, so long away " on foreign service. "

Dreyfus, in his prison room, passed the night with his head upon his
table, now and then writing short, feverish-worded notes ; but his thoughts
were fixed upon those rooms in the Avenue du Trocad^ro where his wife
and children waited and prayed.



40 DREYFUS: THE PRISONER OF DEVIL'S ISLAND



Chapter VHI.

THE DEGRADATION

The degradation of Captain Dreyfus took place on the Square of the
Military School, at Paris, at nine o'clock on the morning of January 5,
1895, in the presence of 5,000 troops, a number of newspaper representa-
tives and others. It was described by cable as follows, at the time :

Some time before daylight detachments from all the regiments in the
district of Paris were on the march to the parade ground. These detach-
ments comprised raw recruits, veterans, and men of all grades of the ser-
vice, and as they arrived at the Ecole Militaire they took the positions
assigned to them.

The weather was clear and bright, but cold.

Workingmen, who were hurrying down the Rue Cherche-Midi about
seven o'clock on the morning of the degradation of Dreyfus, stopped for a
moment to stare at the prison van, surrounded by mounted soldiers, which
was standing outside the Military Prison waiting to convey Captain Drey-
fus to the l&cole Militaire. Many of the men shook their fists in the
direction of the condemned man's quarters and uttered deep curses upon
the head of the traitor.

About 7:40 A.M., a veteran soldier, employed as janitor in the
prison, threw back the iron gates, and Captain Dreyfus, flanked by
two soldiers carrying guns with fixed bayonets, walked out and hur-
riedly mounted the steps of the van between lines of Eepublican Guards,
The van, which was driven by a trooper, took its course across the Rue
Dupin and down the Rues de Babylone and d'Estr^es, crossing the Avenue
de Breteuil, to the ifccole Militaire, where it arrived at five minutes of eight.

Dreyfus mounted the van with perfect unconcern. He stood erect,
and his cheeks were not whitened by the customary pallor of prisoners.
His appearance was more like that of a man going on parade than that of
a prisoner condemned to life imprisonment and official degradation. At



THE DEGRADATION 41

8:30 A.M., General Darras, commandiug the troops, arrived. He was
assisted by Colonel Fayette and a major of the Paris garrison. The
troops formed a square, facing the main entrance to the parade ground,
where a band composed of drums and bugles was stationed.

The Thirty-ninth Eegiment, having Captain Dreyfus in charge, was
one of the first bodies of troops to arrive at the parade ground.

At precisely nine o'clock the prisoner was led out from the left wing
of the square. He was accompanied by a squad of artillery soldiers. He
was pale, but with a firm step marched, with his sword in his right hand,
to the centre of the square, where he was awaited by General Darras.
Dreyfus halted before the general and stood at "attention."

The adjutant of the Kepublican Guard then read the verdict of the
court-martial which had condemned Captain Dreyfus. While the verdict
was being read Dreyfus flushed somewhat, but otherwise he showed no
sign of losing his composure.

After the reading of the verdict General Darras addressed the prisoner,
saying :

"Dreyfus, you are unworthy to carry arms. In the name of the peo-
ple of France we degrade you."

The adjutant then walked up to Dreyfus, and took from him his sword,
which, with a quick, sharp movement, he broke across his knee, casting
the pieces upon the ground. He then cut the buttons and insignia of
rank from the uniform of the condemned captain, and threw them also
upon the ground.

At this point in the proceedings, Dreyfus was for a moment moved by
a sense of his humiliation, but he quickly suppressed his emotion and
shouted in a loud voice : " Vive la France ! "

Continuing, he said : " You have degraded an innocent man ! T swear
that I am innocent ! "

He seemed about to speak further, but his voice was drowned by the
rolling of the drums, which was not loud enough, however, to drown a
ringing shout from the crowd, in the rear of the soldiers, of " A mort le
traitre ! " (" Death to the traitor ! " )

The ceremony up to this time had lasted just four minutes. The
drums then beat, and the degraded man began his march along the fom
sides of the square, in what is known as "la parade de V execution."



42 DREYFUS: THE PRISONER OF DEVIL'S ISLAND

The scene was very impressive, and many of the younger soldiers
turned their heads away.

Dreyfus marched in a firm and soldierly way, with a quick, short step,
and when he reached the delegation of officers from the Eeserves, he raised
his hand and said :

" Tell the whole of France that I am innocent ! "

Turning to the left from the position of the Reserve officers, he came
before the members of the press, to whom he said in a firm voice :

" I declare that I am innocent ! "

The end of the march was reached at twenty minutes past nine, after
which the condemned man was taken to the barrack gate and turned over
to the civil authorities.

A large crowd of people had gathered at the entrance of the parade
ground, and from among them came not one word of sympathy, but the
cry of " A mort le traitre ! " (" Death to the traitor ! " ) was taken up by
them and repeated until the miserable man was out of the hearing of his
tormentors .

Dreyfus was received from his escort at the barrack gate by four gen-
darmes, who placed him in an ordinary prison van, and at half-past nine
the troops marched out of the parade ground, back to their respective
quarters.

As a measure of preparation for stripping the prisoner of his insignia
of rank, etc., the prison tailor on the day before removed all the buttons
and stripes from Dreyfus 's tunic, the red stripes from his trousers, and the
regimental number and braid from his collar and cap. These were all re-
placed with a single stitch, so that they could be torn away readily.

The condemned man's sword was also filed almost in twain, in order
that it might be easily broken. The adjutant's quick movement and ap-
parent effort in breaking the sword was consequently mere pretence, as
only a mere touch was necessary.

As the prison van sped through the streets the people stood on the
sidewalks and with uplifted hands menaced and cursed the unfortunate
officer.

It is stated that when Dreyfus spoke to the officers of the Reserve,
]»rotesting his innocence, the latter retorted: " Down with the Judas ! "
" Silence, traitor ! " etc.



THE DEGRADATION 43

Dreyfus became greatly excited at this, and turned again appealingly
to the officers, but the soldiers escorting him quickly seized him and
forced him to continue his humiliating march.

Another report said that when the officers of the Eeserve cried out,
" Down with the Judas ! " " Silence, traitor ! " etc. , Dreyfus was stunned
for a moment, but, quickly recovering himself, he looked upon them
through his eye-glasses, which he wore throughout the ceremony, and
with a smile of contempt said in a clear, firm voice :

" You are cowards ! "

Before the ceremony of degradation began the vast space in the Place
de Fonteuoy, facing the courtyard of the £cole Militaire, was crowded
with men and women. Many persons climbed the base of the hexagonal
granite monument erected to the memory of the Parisians who were killed
in 1870, and others hired places upon step-ladders at the rate of five francs
each and maintained their positions throughout in the biting wind.

Toward the end of the ceremony the sky became overcast with snow
clouds, which the sun occasionally pierced, but the air was extremely cold.

Although the ceremony of degrading the condemned officer presented
a theatrical aspect to civilians, it had so profound an impression upon the
military spectators that during the short time it lasted a newspaper repre-
sentative who was present counted within a few feet of him six officers,
whose trembling limbs were scarcely able to hold them up, while hundreds
of others, officers and privates, stood with blanched cheeks and straining
eyes, utterly unable to control their feelings.

The crowds outside, who kept up a continual shout of " Death to the
traitor ! " became almost delirious, and had the ceremony taken place in an
open space like the Esplanade des Invalides it is absolutely certain that
twenty at least of the most violent of these fanatics would have broken
through the square and tried to lynch Dreyfus.

Generally ninety-nine out of every hundred men who are thus degraded
weep like children during the ceremony, but Dreyfus was firm through-
out. During the entire ceremony he appeared to be less affected than
almost any person present. Except that he was stung for an instant by
the taunts of his fellow-officers, he was perfectly cool.

Dreyfus, upon reaching the prison depot, said to the governor of the
institution :



44 DREYPUS: THE PRISONER OF DEVIL'S ISLAND

" My innocence will be recognized some day. I have confidence that
Providence in its own time will reveal the real culprit."

After Dreyfus's height and other dimensions were taken, he was trans-
ferred to the Prison de la Santd, where he remained until deported for
confinement in a fortress, in accordance with his sentence.



ANOTHER ACCOUNT OF THE DEGRADATION 45



Chapter IX.

ANOTHER ACCOUNT OF THE DEGRADATION

The following account of the degradation of Dreyfus, written hj
"Jacques St. Cere," the famous correspondent of the New York Herald, is
interesting as it gives the impressions formed at the time by the writer:

"The degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus from his military rank
and honors took place this morning (January 5, 1895), on the parade
ground of the fecole Militaire.

" By order of General Saussier, Military Governor of Paris, no card of
admission was issued to the correspondent of any foreign paper. Never-
theless the representative of the Herald was present throughout the whole
ceremony.

" The scene was one that can never be forgotten. When the adjutant
tore away the insignia of his rank from his cap, Dreyfus shouted : ' Vive
la France ! ' and this cry he repeated when his sword was broken. This
caused a profound emotion. Then he was led, bareheaded, his uniform
stripped of all its gold lace and buttons, along the front of the troops.

" When he arrived in front of the group of two hundred journalists and
civil officials who were permitted to witness the ceremony, Dreyfus cried
out:

" ' Tell the whole of France that I am an innocent man ! '

" The way in which this cry was given, and the appearance of the pris-
oner, who held himself very erect in his mutilated uniform, his red face,
his bloodshot but dry eyes, produced a profound impression even on those
who were the most thoroughly convinced of his guilt. Dreyfus had in
every respect the appearance of a man protesting against a great injustice.

" There certainly is a great deal of mystery about this case. On the
one hand the officials of the ministry of war affirm that Captain Dreyfus
is guilty, while on the other hand Maitre Demange, whose position as a
leading member of the French bar is above question, solemnly asserts that



46 DREYFUS: THE PRISONER OF DEVIL'S ISLAND

his client is innocent, something which, now that the case is at an end,
there is no reason for his doing unless he is convinced that such is the fact.

"At the end of the ceremony of degradation the prisoner, with hand-
cuffs on his wrists, was placed in a prison van, and removed to the police
d^p6t. His name was struck from the army rolls, and he was henceforth
treated like any ordinary criminal.

" The degradation of Dreyfus caused a profound excitement among the
Parisian public. Not less than twenty thousand persons, who were kept
at a distance from the scene, surrounded the square and hooted at the
prisoner throughout the ceremony, shouting:

" ' Death to the traitor ! ' ' Death to the Jews ! '

" Such days are bad for the people and bad for the Government, which
is now being driven into making a cleaning away of persons prominent in
journalistic and political circles, who are suspected simply because of the
race to which they are supposed to belong.

"' Casimir wants to clean up,' is a favorite expression just now among
those who belong to the 'entourage ' of the President of the French Repub-
lic.

"Public opinion is passionately worked up over the Dreyfus case.
Here is some information in regard to it which comes to me from a very
good source. There is no doubt as to the prisoner's guilt. His arrest
was decided on the unanimous vote of the eleven ministers, who at the
same time pledged themselves not to reveal anything contained in the
report demanding the prosecution of Dreyfus, which was signed by Gen-
eral Mercier, Minister of War ; General de Boisdeffre, Chief of the General
Staff, and General Gonse, the Assistant Chief of the General Staff.

"The secrets betrayed by Dreyfus are of such importance that the
Government will ask the chamber to pass a law providing for the impris-
onment of Dreyfus, not at Noumea, from which an escape is possible, but
on an island of French Guiana, where he will be strictly watched.

" It is believed that Dreyfus was the centre of the German espionage
system in France, and it is asserted that no less than twenty -seven attempts
were made by German diplomacy, both at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and at the Ministry of the Interior, to get the affair hushed up.

" These facts, which I have upon the best authority, force me, in spite
of the way in which Dreyfus faced the ordeal, to believe in his guilt."



THE "SYNDICATE OF SILENCE" 47



Chapter X.
THE "SYNDICATE OF SILENCE ''

In order that the situation in France at the time of the first Dreyfus
court-martial may be more clearly imderstood, it is necessary to refer to
the corruption existing in the French press, and particularly to the famous
" Syndicate of Silence. "

No sooner was the news of the arrest of Dreyfus made public than
Madame Dreyfus, a wealthy woman in her own right, was besieged by
representatives of certain of the Paris newspapers with offers to "give
publicity to anything she might wish to publish regarding the arrest of
her husband," etc., etc., not on the honest basis of the American press,
which would print free anything a woman so unfortunate might be willing
to say, but — for a consideration. Distracted with grief, Madame Dreyfus
is said to have disbursed a large amount of money, in sums varying from
one hundred to one thousand francs, to the first dozen or so of these jour-
nalistic vultures. But her eyes were opened to the true state of affairs
by her friends.

At about this time, M. Henri Kochefort, editor of the IntransigSant,
referred to France, his native land, as the "Pays de Chantage," otherwise
the "Land of Blackmail." M. Eochefort claimed that blackmail was not
only a prominent characteristic of the modern press of France, but that it
was the strongest weapon of the Government of that day (1894-95) He
added :

" Since the time when the lists of Arton and Reinach (the Panama
lobbyists) were made public, the reactionary government of the country
has obtained all its concessions from the Chamber of Deputies merely by
the terror of divulgation."

That there may have been truth in this assertion would seem likely
from the exposure in December, 1894, of the "Syndicate of Silence." It
appears that Allez Brothers, a well-known hardware firm of Paris, con-
tracted early in December of that year to supply the minister of war with



•VS



48 DEEYFUS: THE PRISONER OF DEVIL'S ISLAND

a number of water-cans for the use of the army. Later, the firm sublet
the contract to another house, and when the cans were delivered the inspec-
tor of the War Department refused to accept them, as being too light and
made of inferior metal. The cans were offered again by Allez Brothers,
whereupon the inspector discovered that false bottoms had been put in the
cans in order to bring them up to the required weight, and he again
refused them. Allez Brothers were informed by the Minister of War,
General Mercier, that they would be prosecuted, and the story got into
the public press. But, in some manner not clearly explained, seven Paris
newspaper men formed a " Syndicate of Silence." The object of the organ-
ization was to prevent the newspapers of Paris from publishing references
to the alleged fraud due to the action of Allez Brothers. The head of
that firm is said to have been visited by the head of the " Syndicate of
Silence," who is reported to have said to him:

"If you will hand over to me 100,000 francs ($20,000) I will
guarantee the silence of the Paris press upon this little matter of the
water-can contract. I will undertake to organize a press campaign in
favor of the house of Allez Brothers. Further, a certain number of
deputies shall be influenced in such a way as to force the Minister of War
to accept the false-bottomed cans already tendered, and if General Mercier
should show himself at all obstinate he will be politely requested to resign
his portfolio."

Still, according to the story, Allez Brothers jumped at the offer and
paid this large sum demanded without much protest, and the head of the
syndicate, it is asserted, handed S2,500 to each of his associates and kept
$5,000 for himself.

But, the next day, Allez Brothers discovered that many of the Paris
newspapers continued to demand the prosecution of the firm. In fact, it
became apparent that only seven out of the forty or fifty newspapers had
been "silenced," whereupon the firm complained to the Minister of War
and insisted upon the prosecution of the blackmailers.

General Mercier, it seems, decided to proceed against the seven mem-
bers of the "Syndicate of Silence," and even began to take steps in that
direction, when, it was pointed out at the time, a Higher Power in the
State intervened, explaining to the general that it would be "unwise, at
this moment, to raise another Panama scandal."



THE "SYNDICATE OF SILENCE" 49

"Call upon the seven to refund the one hundred thousand francs," the
Higher Power is alleged to have said, "and let the matter drop, so far as
the Government is concerned."

This, it is added, was done, and six of the members of the " Syndicate
of Silence " took their S2,500 share to their chief, but they were dum-



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 3 of 35)