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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" The voice was at once lowered, and sadly he said : ' It was first of all
intense anguish, then stupefaction, then very comforting when I learned
that two officers had had the courage to declare me entirely innocent. I
swear that those two brave officers were right.'

" In speaking Dreyfus uses two gestures. When he reasons his thumb
and first finger touch, forming a circle. When he is impassioned or car-
ried away his hand opens out with the fingers apart, as in the case of all
sincere and frank persons.

"His brother now questions him.

" ' What is exactly the climate over there ? '

"Forty to fifty degrees [Centigrade = 104° to 122° Fahrenheit] by
day, and never below twenty-five [77° F.] at night. That is the most
terrible and most exhausting thing about it, for at a stretch one can bear heat
provided one breathes a little fresh air from time to time; there — never.'

" ' And you never knew anything of what was being done in France for
you? ' I asked.

"' Never a word; not a single word. From time to time the rigors
were redoubled. I know now that that coincided with the declarations of
the Ministers of War. Every time one of them ascended the rostrum and
declared that I had been justly and legally condemned, I felt the effects
through the medium of my jailers. They cut ofif my food, or my reading,
or my work, or my walk, or the sight of the sea, and, finally, moving about
with the aid of the double ' boucle.'

" ' M. Mathieu Dreyfus regarded his brother with emotion.

" ' Is it not awful ? ' he said. ' Happily, we knew nothing about it
here, for our efforts would have been hampered thereby. If we had known
that every step toward the truth brought him suffering, perhaps our ardor
would have been diminished. But what pretext did your jailers give you ? '

" ' None, and I did not ask for any. I did not wish to be beholden to
those people in any way. Besides, T did not wish to discuss my sentence
or its execution in any way, for to discuss it would have implied to recog-
nize it.'

"These words were said with extraordinary firmuess, almost with

Yet one day,' he went on, ' the day when they put irons on my
feet, I asked the reason of the barbarous treatment. They replied, "Pre-


cautionary measure. " It was the day following that when a denial had
been given of the bogus attempt to escape.

" ' Ah, I well remember that night. It was not nine o'clock. I was
in bed, when I heard musketry fire and a great commotion all around me ;
I sat up in bed and cried, "What is it? Who is there? " No one replied;
my guard was silent. I did not stir, thanks to I know not what instinct.
It was a good thing I did not, for I should have been instantly shot.'

" ' And so you imagined that General de Boisdeffre was looking after
your interests ? '

" ' Yes. I see now that I was mistaken.'

* ' Would you re-enter the army if legally you had the right? '

"'No; I will resign the very evening of my rehabilitation.'
^4^" ' In short, do you think it has been an error or a conspiracy? '

" ' I think that at the beginning, up to the time of the court-martial
of 1894 — that is to say, toward the end of this investigation — they be-
lieved — at least, the majority of the persons connected with it — that I was
guilty, but at the court-martial it was different. I am certain that from
that moment, as they felt they had made a mistake, they were afraid of
being accused of carelessness, and they accumulated against me all kinds
of machinations. The proof of this has been given by Captain FreystaetterP)

" ' They have provided behind my back documents that they knew
were false, in order to secure my condemnation. When Captain Frey-
staetter said this at Rennes, and uttered the words " Panizzardi despatch "
in his calm tones, I shuddered in all my being. How could they do such
a thing as that ? '

" In telling me this Captain Dreyfus's eyes opened wide with a fright-
ened kind of stare, and he moved toward me as if the better to impress on
me the horror that he felt.

" I questioned him again :

"' You speak in certain letters of your fear of madness. How, indeed,
inactive as you were, ill in body and mind, without books and not knowing
what your fate would be — how did you succeed in warding off insanity ? '

"' In 1896 and 1897, as I had resolved to live, I removed from my
table the photographs of my wife and children, the sight of whom made
me suffer and weakened me. I no longer wished to see them, and I ended
by only regarding them as symbols without the human figure, the thought


of which unnerved me too much. I did not want to weaken. When one
has a duty it must be accomplished to the end, and I wanted to live for
my wife and children. It was the same during the trial at Rennes.
When I was in so much need of strength — well, I would not re-read my
diary of Devil's Island, so as not to unnerve myself and to preserve my
energy, for (and he repeated this several times) when one has resolved to
do one's duty one must go on to the end.'

" His fist strikes the seat, giving emphasis to his words.

"' Do you know,' he continued, ' what is most fatiguing in struggles
like mine ? It is a passive resistance. To have struggled like my brother
for five years is indeed exhausting, but at least the effort leads to result.
You move, go here and there, cry, but you act; while a passive resistance
which mine had to be is more exhausting, and still more depressing be-
cause it exacts the effort of every minute in your life without resting a
single minute. It is that, together with the lack of fresh air, which has
exhausted me most.'

" ' But you must have had terrible nightmares ? '

"'Oh, yes. I wrote them down in my diary afterward, but I could
not recall them at present. When the guard heard me talking aloud in
the night he would come to the foot of my bed to listen to my words, in
order to report them next day in his report to the governor.'

" We were nearing Bordeaux. The captain once more looked out on
the country.

" ' Oh, the beautiful vineyards ! ' he exclaimed, and continuing he said:
' It is so sweet, so quieting. When evening falls just see what charm
there is about those light mists encircling the trees.'

"'What are you going to do now, captain? ' I asked.

" 'To live alone with my wife and children henceforth. My children
are my greatest joy on earth. The elder, it seems, remembers me. The
girl was only a few months old in 1894, so I do not know her. I did
not wish to see them at Eennes in order not to leave the sad impression
of the prison on their young minds. One should not darken a child's
imagination; but I am going to see" them with great joy in two days'
time, I want to bring them up myself, and in common with their mother
to supervise their instruction and education, because I am opposed to
boarding schools.


" ' When my children were small it was a holiday for me to talk with
them, to form them from their earliest age. Unfortunately, events did not
permit it, but I hope to catch up.'

" Bordeaux — Is the journey going to last thus to the end ? Not quite.
Alas ! the Gironde had received from Eennes a despatch announcing that
Captain Dreyfus had left for Nantes, and local men inferred therefrom
that he was going to alight at Bordeaux.

" Here they are indeed trying to recognize the captain, but we pass
quickly through the crowd, and Mathieu Dreyfus alone is recognized.
We at once enter the Hotel Terminus, which adjoins the station, and go
upstairs for a wash. We are spotted. All the hotel knows about it
straightway, as we can tell by the faces of the servants scrutinizing us.
Still, we must dine and continue our route. We have the meal served in
a salon, and dine with some gayety under the curious eye of the head-
waiter, who is flustered. The captain is in good spirits. He asks me
point-blank :

" ' Do you wish to know my opinion on the " affaire " ? ' and as we all
laugh over this outburst, he says to me, half serious, half gay :

"' Well, the fact is, I do not yet understand how they could accuse me
of such a crime.'

" The agents of the detective department send us word that they are in
waiting. Our tickets are taken for Cette.

" The station master is informed that we are going there to embark for
Spain, and we hope he will spread the news, in order to lead the curious
off the track. But all is in vain. A hundred people are stationed on the
quay in front of the Hotel Terminus.

" The detectives decide to have us go into the street and go on to the
platform by a public entrance, which is now deserted. This is what we
do, and the surprised crowd has barely time to see us shut ourselves in
our compartments without being able to distinguish the object of its curi-
osity. Five minutes more we stay there. The crowd does not utter a
single cry. What a sign of calmer days !

" Then at thirty-eight minutes after seven o'clock the train starts with-
out the shade of a murmur. Fifty yards away a railway employee cries,
' Bravo ! ' while on the other side of the platform a voice cries, ' Down with
Dreyfus ! '


" Captain Dreyfus, who hears both cries, makes a reflection worthy of
a mathematician that equals things up.

" From now on it was known that the train had Captain Dreyfus on
board, and calmly stretched out by the side of his brother Mathieu, in a
sleeper, the blinds of which were drawn, the captain was trying to sleep
for the first time as a free man.

"The night passed off well, and when in the morning at five o'clock we
saw the captain again, he seemed rested, content and happy, as on the
night before, even happier at the approach of the final goal. I have not
yet said that this goal was Carpentras, where the Valabregue family owns
a beautiful place, well situated and surrounded by other friendly families,
and where Mathieu Dreyfus and Mme. Lucie Dreyfus had decided to shel-
ter the captain directly he was liberated.

" The day breaks. The sun rises amid purple clouds on the horizon.
I go forward to say farewell to the captain, who is watching the marvel-
lous spectacle through the carriage window. I had a few words from him
as to the present state of his mind. He says to me:

" ' I have been the victim of ideas. I feel no bitterness. I nourish no
hatred for those who have wronged me so deeply. I feel only pity for
them. What we must know is that never again can such misfortune be-
fall any man.'

" I ask him : ' Are you aware of the intensity of feeling that your mis-
fortune has aroused ? You know that people hate you, but you know that
there are many others whose hearts have bled for your sufferings.'

" ' I cannot take it myself. I represent in the eyes of sensitive people
part of the human suffering, but part only, and I understand perfectly that
it is the kindness of my fellow-beings which moved them at this symbol
that I personify.'

" ' Do you intend to live at Carpentras ? '

" ' Yes, until my health is restored and I have completely rested. I
would not go abroad as I was asked to do. The reception I might have
had would have had the air of reprisals against the country, and I could
not make up my mind.'

" We had not spoken of the pardon. It was time to do so.

" ' I did not ask for the pardon,' he said, ' but I accept it as an ac-
knowledgment of my suffering and that of my wife, for we both need a


little respite, but this pardon in no way affects my resolution to seek my
rehabilitation. I will not know either insult or menace, but I will know
no weakness — I mean mental weakness. Must not the soul dominate
over the body ? '

" Avignon. The train stops. We all get off. In twenty paces we go
out of the station. Two landaus are in waiting. A servant takes the
luggage. The captain, M. Mathieu Dreyfus, and M. Paul Valabregue get
into one carriage, the detective and inspector into the other.

" We exchange a last shake of the hand through the window, and the
historic procession quickly disappears around the great trees.

" Carpentras is twenty kilometres from Avignon. This morning the
prefect of Vaucluse telephoned to the mayor of Carpentras to inform him
that Captain Dreyfus was within his walls, and to beg him to order police
measures to be taken for his security and for keeping order.

" The mayor replied that he was sure of the sentiments of the majority
of the population in regard to the Valabregue family, and that he would
be answerable for quiet and order."


Chapter LVH.


The Aurore, the Petite Republique, and the Siecle, of Paris, published
on September 21st the following declaration from Captain Dreyfus:

The Government of the Republic restores me my liberty. It is noth-
ing to me without honor. From this day forth I shall continue to seek
the reparation of the judicial error of which I am still the victim. I wish
that France as a whole should know by a final judgment that I am inno-
cent. My heart will not be at rfst until there is no longer a Frenchman
who imputes to me the abominable crime which another has committed.

Alfred Dreyfus.

The report of the Minister of "War, General the Marquis de Gallifet, to
the President of the Eepublic proposing the pardon of Dreyfus was as fol-

Monsieur le President: — On September 9th the court-martial of
Eennes condemned Dreyfus, by five votes against two, to ten years' deten-
tion, and by a majority it granted extenuating circumstances. After ap-
pealing to the Council of Revision Dreyfus withdrew his application. The
verdict has become definitive, and henceforth it partakes of the authority of
the law, before which every one ought to bow. The highest function of
the Government is to enforce respect for the decisions of justice without
distinction and without reservation. Resolved to fulfil this duty, it ought
also to take into account what clemency and the public interest counsel.
The verdict of the court-martial itself, which admitted extenuating cir-
cumstances, and the desire immediately expressed that the sentence might
be mitigated are so many indications that ought to solicit attention. As
the result of the judgment pronounced in 1894 Dreyfus has undergone five
years' transportation. This judgment was annulled on June 3, 1899, and
a penalty less severe both in its nature and its duration has been applied.
If one deducts from the ten years' detention the five years served on the



He du Diable — and it cannot be otherwise — Dreyfus will have undergone
five years' of transportation, and ought to undergo five years' of detention.
It has been suggested whether it was not possible to assimilate transporta-
tion to solitary confinement in a prison, and in that case he would have
almost completely purged his sentence. Legislation does not seem to per-
mit this. It follows, therefore, that Dreyfus ought to undergo a highei
penalty than that to which he has been actually condemned.

It results from information obtained that the health of the condemned
man has been seriously compromised, and that he could not, without the
greatest peril, bear a prolonged detention. Apart from considerations of
a nature to arouse anxiety, others of a more general order tend to the
same conclusions. A higher political interest — the necessity of calling up
all their powers always exacted from governments after difficult crises and
in regard to certain orders of facts — suggests measures of clemency or of
oblivion. The Government would ill respond to the desire of a country
desirous of pacification if, by the acts which it behooves it to accomplish,
whether on its own initiative or by a proposal to Parliament, it did not
take steps to efface all traces of a painful conflict. It is for you. Monsieur
le President, by an act of supreme humanity, to give the first pledge of the
work of pacification which public opinion demands, and which the welfare
of the Republic dictates.

For these reasons I have the honor to propose for your signature the
following decree.

General de Gallifet, Minister of War.

The decree in question was thus worded :

"Article 1. — There is accorded to Alfred Dreyfus remission of the
rest of the penalty of ten years' of detention pronounced against him by
decree of the court-martial of Eennes dated September 9, 1899, and also
of military degradation.

"Article 2. — The Minister of War is charged with the execution of
the present decree."

General de Gallifet also sent to the military governors of Paris and
Lyons, as well as to army corps commanders, the following general order:

To the Army: — The incident is closed. The military judges, the
object of universal respect, have delivered their verdict in complete inde-
pendence. We have, without any sort of reservation, bowed down before
their decree. We shall likewise bow down before the act which a senti-


ment of profound pity has dictated to the President of the Republic. It
is impossible that any question of reprisals of any sort whatever should
henceforth arise. So I repeat, the incident is closed. I ask you, and if
need be I should order you, to forget the past in order to think only of the
future. With you, who are all my comrades, I cry heartily "Vive
I'armee ! " the army which belongs to no party but only to France.


Germany, on the whole, was pleased at the news of the compromise
arrived at in the Dreyfus case. It was recognized with deep regret at
Berlin that the unfortunate officer, by withdrawing his notice of appeal,
abandoned, for the time being, his hope of securing a legal and formal vin-
dication of his innocence, but the opinion was held that the trial at Rennes
convinced all who were open to conviction, and that the main things to be
considered after the trial were the tranquillity of France and the health of
the prisoner.

The clerical Kolnische Volks-Zeitung, which had regarded the Dreyfus
case with almost complete indifference, considered that it was an act of
patriotism on the part of Dreyfus to accept the pardon. There were not
wanting voices, however, which denounced the compromise as cowardly
and even unwise.

The Cologne Gazette regarded the pardon as "an official recognition
of the cowardly and disgraceful judgment at Rennes as the scornful an-
swer of a common court-martial to the plain order of the court of highest
instance in the country," and as "a victory of the military party over the
civil institutions."

The Vossische Zeitung thought that the only excuse for the action of
the French Government was that it was anxious to place the person of
Dreyfus in safety as soon as possible, for fear of the consequences if an
anti-Dreyfus ministry should come into power.


Chapter LVIII.


When the Prench Minister of War, General the Marquis de Gallifet,
announced that the Dreyfus " incident " was closed, he probably believed
he was stating the truth. But he differs in this respect from the famous
Paris correspondent of the London Times, M. de Blowitz, who, under
date of September 24th, telegraphed to his paper as follows:

"For the honor of humanity and of France we must not fancy that,
as General de Gallifet has said in a phrase which would seem to have
been written on a drumhead, ' L' incident est clos.' No; the heat of the
battle, perhaps, is over, but the incident is not ended, for the simple reason
that it is not an incident but a colossal chapter the episodes in which are
stages in the history of civilization, and which is bound to continue if hu-
manity does not intend to abdicate its right to progress. For the foreigner
as well as for France the sacred interests of justice, which are our com-
mon patrimony, are at stake. Whoever deals an arbitrary blow at justice
is nothing more nor less than a malefactor. He is like a man who fells
an immense tree across a railway line to stop the progress of the train at
the risk of killing all the passengers. No ; neither for the foreigner nor
for France is the incident ended. The foreigner, it is true, has not him-
self to aim at reprisals, but in his shoulder-to-shoulder advance with the
rest of humanity he has certain rights and certain laws to defend. It
would be to our common shame if after these five years of anxiety and
doubt, if after these two years of anguish and of battle, we were to say
calmly to one another, seated in the shadow of the beech-trees, ' Now that
the prisoner is at liberty let us wash our hands of the whole matter and
take breath.' No, let us not lie down in idleness, content with the work
already done.

" In the first place, Alfred Dreyfus, although no longer in prison, still
remains condemned in the eyes of the law, mortally wounded in his honor.


and, whatever the disdain manifested by public opinion throughout the
world for the verdict of these Eennes judges, who had not the slightest
idea that their mission was to rehabilitate before civilization and history
the honor of military justice, Dreyfus has, nevertheless, come forth from
Eennes gravely touched in his honor, ' sans lequel,' as he said, ' la liberty
ne m'est rien.' The foreign Press, to be sure, has not to intervene in the
efforts of Dreyfus to obtain the annulling of this verdict. Such a result,
although not admitted by his peers, would efface the judicial stain which
Btill remains upon his honor, and, as for his military judges, it is perfectly
clear that their mental attitude is so utterly different from that of other
reflecting beings that it is futile to appeal to them in the hope of obtaining
a verdict in conformity with the ordinary principles of human justice.
It is, nevertheless, necessary for the greater good of civilization that human
society as a whole should draw from this event, which General de Galli-
fet calls an incident, such conclusions as will hasten our common progress
and remove from the path all the obstacles in the way. It is, further-
more, imperative that history should treasure up the names of those who
have with such effrontery conspired against truth, and have succeeded in
transforming Justice into a strumpet obedient to their every best, instead
of allowing her to remain the virgin, haughty and serene, ' who renders
verdicts and not services.'

" I venture to hope that my readers will not blame me for not taking
my ease in the tranquillity of a work well done, and that they will allow
me to point out to them that in France, as elsewhere, the men ready to
defend insulted justice and outraged truth are still numerous and alert.
This morning's Figaro contained a letter from M. Jonnart to M.Corn^ly,
and I extract from it certain passages which may serve as the eloquent
conclusion of what I have been saying, for M. Jonnart, a liberal-minded
man, enamoured of justice, belongs to the group of a chosen few, to the
band of young public men who are the hope of the Republic, those in
whom the encroachments of ambition have not yet had time to stifle the
voice of the heart, which makes itself heard simultaneously with that of
reason. Although still young, M. Jonnart has already climbed well to
the top in political life. It is he who, as one of the members of the com-
mittee of the Progressist section of the Centre, wrote to M. Mdline a few

days ago a very plain-spoken letter in reply to the ex-prime minister's


effort to add one more embarrassment to those in which France is now in-
volved. M. M^line desired the immediate convocation of the Chamber,
hoping to pile up a few ruins, on the summit of which he would take his
place as master of the situation with his portfolio under his arm.
" Let me give now certain extracts from M. Jonnart's letter :
"' The incomprehensible verdict of the Eennes court-martial, against
which good sense, logic, and the law itself protest, becomes the most strik-
ing justification of your articles, and condemns those whom it pretends to
save. For three years I have been unable through ill-health to ascend the
tribune of the Chamber, and I am quite unable to express how much I
have suffered at not being able to tell in public all my anxieties, my pro-
found pain and distress, and at not being able to put my political friends
on their guard against the indifference or the want of foresight of their

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 31 of 35)