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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more declared that I was innocent, and that I had never even committed an
imprudence. I am condemned. I have no favor to ask. But in the
name of my honor, which I hope will one day be restored to me, it is my
duty to beg you to continue your investigations. When I am gone let
the search be kept up; it is the only favor that I solicit."


Chapter XVIL


We must now leave Dreyfus on Devil's Island and turn back to the
events which followed his degradation, January 5, 1895.

For about two years little or nothing was heard of the case of the
unhappy prisoner. But loyally, steadily, and fearlessly, his devoted wife,
his brother Mathieu and others persisted in their efforts to get at the

As for the War Office officials, they were quite pleased with the result
of their efforts, so much so that some of those concerned, particularly Du
Paty de Clam, were promoted.

M. Mt^line was then Premier, M. Hanotaux was Minister of Foreign
Affairs, M. Lebon was Minister of the Colonies, and the Minister of War
was General Billot. Colonel Picquart was head of the Intelligence De-

During the month of March, 1896, there came into the possession of
Colonel Picquart, a fearless, intelligent, and apparently honest officer, a
French post-card, or petit bleu, torn into fragments (as was the case with
the bordereau which brought about the conviction of Dreyfus), which,
strange to say, had also been found by a spy who had investigated the
contents of the waste-paper basket of the German Embassy at Paris.

When pieced together, the petit hleic read :

"I await before everything a more detailed explanation than that
which you gave me the other day upon the question at issue. I beg you,
therefore, to give it to me in writing, so that I can judge if I may continue
my relations with the firm of E • or not. "

This post-card, (or petit bleu) was addressed to Major Esterhazy, 27
Rue de la Bienfaisance, Paris, an infantry officer whose reputation was
somewhat shady, to put it as mildly as possible.

The full title of Esterhazy was " Major Count Ferdinand von Walsin


Esterhazy." He claimed to be a direct descendant of the noble Esterhazy
family of Austria, but the head of that house protested against this claim
and even threatened to prosecute Major Esterhazy for bearing the name
of the family.

However, to continue our story, the interest of Colonel Picquart was
aroused by the wording of the petit bleu, and he started an investigation of
the matter. He obtained specimens of Esterhazy's handwriting, and, to
the astonishment of the head of the Intelligence Department, he found
on comparing the major's writing with that of the bordereau that Ester-
hazy was seemingly the author of the document which had sent Dreyfus
to Devil's Island. A sample of Esterhazy's handwriting was submitted
to M. Bertillon, the head of the Anthropometric Department of the Paris
Prefecture of Police, who had previously, in 1894, identified the hand-
writing of Dreyfus as being that of the author of the bordereau, and at this
time he pronounced Esterhazy's writing to be that of the author of the

Further investigation convinced Colonel Picquart that Esterhazy and
not Dreyfus was the writer of the bordereau, and Picquart appealed to
General Gonse, Deputy Chief of the Headquarters Staff, and to General
de Boisdeffre, Chief of the Headquarters Staff, urging immediate action.
The generals consulted, and, instead of promptly taking steps to establish,
if possible, the innocence of Dreyfus, they seem to have arrived at the con-
clusion that the best thing to do was to hush the matter up, in order to
" protect the honor of the army," and save certain high personages from
apparently well-merited condemnation. Therefore General Billot, the
Minister of War, took no steps toward possibly clearing Dreyfus. But,
on the contrary, he seems to have hampered the work of those who were
moved to pity the prisoner and who urged the detection of the real traitor.

In the case of two men in the War Office, Du Paty de Clam and Lieu-
tenant-Colonel Henry, there was a feeling of consternation at the discovery
of the resemblance of the handwriting of Esterhazy to that of the bordereau.

For a while this important discovery was kept secret, but the news
eventually leaked out, and further inquiry into the Dreyfus affair was im-
minent. Picquart became the champion of the prisoner of Devil's Island,
and Du Paty de Clam and Henry, as persecutors of Dreyfus, were placed
on the defensive, with the result that the whole Headquarters Staff, and


those of the Intelligence Department involved in the condemnation of
Dreyfus, banded together to defend themselves by any means against the
disgrace which threatened them. In this effort, it has since been shown,
forgery and even murder were resorted to in order to heap up evidence
against Dreyfus.

Lieutenant-Colonel Henry was the leader of this gang of conspirators.
At all hazards Picquart must be discredited, for the Minister of War was
slowly being interested in the new developments.

A press campaign, ostensibly against Picquart but really directed
against Dreyfus, was opened in some of the newspapers of Paris.

The Eclair, in September, 1896, printed an article setting forth that
Dreyfus had really been convicted on documents which had been secretly
communicated to the court-martial of 1894, and one of these documents
was referred to as having actually mentioned Dreyfus by name — which has
since been proved incorrect. This was the document known as " Cette

canaille de D " document, no name being given, but Dreyfus being

inferred, though it has since been shown to have probably referred to a
spy named Dubois. The first version printed was that the document con-
tained the words :

" Decidement cet animal de Dreyfus devient trop exigeant." ("Deci-
dedly that animal Dreyfus is becoming too exacting.")

The second version was that the document read :

" Cette canaille de D "etc., etc. ("That rascal D " etc., etc.)

Then facts about the secret dossier, or secret batch of papers used at
the court-martial of 1894, began to appear in the papers and, in due course
of time, M. Bernard Lazare was bold enough to publish a pamphlet in
favor of Dreyfus.

This was followed, November 10, 1896, by the publication in the
Matin of a facsimile of the bordereau, or incriminating document, which
the paper mentioned obtained from M. Teyssonieres, one of the three ex-
perts in handwriting who testified at the Dreyfus court-martial. This
inflamed public curiosity, and sides were formed for and against Dreyfus.
Up to about that time, only the faithful few were believers in the inno-
cence of the prisoner. From that time on people began to compare the
handwriting for themselves, and the number of Dreyfus's friends increased.

As the interest of the public in the case increased, Generals de Bois-


deffre and Gonse continued to block the efforts made by Colonel Picquart
in behalf of Dreyfus, representing to General Billot, the Minister of War,
that Picquart had been in the habit of consulting a lawyer, named Leblois,
about the secret papers in the case. This was a serious accusation, as it
rendered Picquart open to the charge of communicating to a civilian secret
documents belonging to the War Office.

At the same time hints crept into the papers of a corruption fund of
35,000,000 francs having been raised abroad for the war chest of those
working in behalf of the prisoner, and it was intimated that a suspicious -
looking American vessel had been sighted off Devil's Island. This caused
the authorities to redouble their precautions ; the life of Dreyfus on his
prison island was made more burdensome than ever; his exercise was re-
stricted. A guard, pistol in hand, with orders to shoot the prisoner on
the slightest evidence of an attempt to escape, was stationed in his room,
and decoy letters were sent to the unhappy man in the hope of getting
him to answer them, and thus, possibly, giving the authorities an excuse to
shoot him.

Finally, M. Castelin, a member of the Chamber of Deputies, repre-
senting the district of Aisne, gave notice that he would interpellate the
Government, on November 18, 1896, regarding the various Dreyfus rumors
afloat and the action the Government was taking or contemplated taking in
the case.


Chapter XVm.


The announcement of an interpellation in the Chamber made the mil-
itary authorities more and more anxious. Something had to be done.
Lieutenant-Colonel Henry came to the rescue of his chiefs. As he after-
ward admitted before committing suicide, Henry forged a note, in bad
French, purporting to be from Major Panizzardi, the Italian military at-
tach^, to Colonel Schwartzkoppen, the military attach^ of Grermany. It

My Dear Fkiend:

I read that a deputy is going to interpellate upon Dreyfus. If . . .
I shall say that I never had relations with that Jew. That is agreed. If
you are asked, say likewise, for no one must ever know what has passed
with him.

This forgery was shown to Generals de Boisdeffre and Gonse, who, in
turn, showed it to Greneral Billot, but it was not shown to Colonel Pic-
quart. The Minister of War, however, referred to the so-called Panizzar-
di note in a conversation with Picquart, who immediately expressed doubts
as to its authenticity. This did not have any weight with General Billot.
He appeared in the Chamber of Deputies and, replying to the interpella-
tion, said the Dreyfus court-martial was regularly composed, that the ap-
peal was rejected unanimously, that the affair was a thing already passed
upon by the court, otherwise a chose jugee, and that the state reasons
which, in 1894, made it necessary to hear the case in secret still prevailed.
This mysterious statement had weight with the deputies, who received the
announcement with approval; and once more the military authorities
breathed freely.

The governments of Germany and Italy were not so easily satisfied.
They entered protests against the authenticity of the documents, but their


protests were not allowed to become public at that period, and General
Billot congratulated himself upon having saved "the honor of the army."

It now remained to get rid of Colonel Picquart, who was entirely too
honest-minded for the position he held. Therefore it was arranged to
send him away from Paris on various pretexts, termed "missions." First
he was sent to Nancy, then to Besancon, next to Algiers, and finally to
the frontier of Tunis, where he was given command of the Fourth Regi-
ment of Algerian sharpshooters. Besides this, it was proposed to send him
on a " mission " into a district from which it is more than likely he would
never have returned. But Colonel Picquart slipped out of the trap set for
him, appealed to his immediate superior, placed the case plainly before
him, met with some sympathy, did not go on the " mission, " and thereby,
in all probability, saved his life ; for Picquart had no doubt it was intended
to get rid of him by foul means or fair.

Lieutenant-Colonel Henry, having thus disposed of his rival Picquart,
was promoted to his place as Chief of the Intelligence Department. The
friends of Picquart could obtain no news of him ; his most private letters
were opened at the War Office, and every effort was made to suppress him

Picquart, in May, 1897, protested to Lieutenant-Colonel Henry against
the mystery which was made to surround his whereabouts, and Henry
replied in a threatening manner, saying the mystery was the result of Pic-
quart's own action in opening letters and in attempting to prevail upon
officers to give testimony as to a certain document being in the handwrit-
ing of a person other than Dreyfus. There were other statements in the
letter which so alarmed Colonel Picquart that he succeeded in obtaining
leave of absence from his friendly general in Tunis, and went to Paris,
where he placed the case before M. Leblois, his friend and lawyer. Pic-
quart also placed in the lawyer's hands the threatening letter sent him by
Henry, and letters which he had received from General Gonse, after which
he returned to his post in Tunis.

With Picquart out of the way, the enemies of Dreyfus thought the
proposed further inquiry into the case would be dropped.

But they reckoned without faithful Madame Dreyfus, who was working
incessantly for the prisoner of Devil's Island. The facts in the case, espe-
cially the new developments, were placed before M. Scheurer-Kestner, an


Alsatian countryman of Dreyfus and one of the vice-presidents of the
Senate. He became so impressed with the statements made to him that
he soon developed into a champion of Dreyfus, and with Mathieu Drey-
fus, a brother of the prisoner, he denounced Esterhazy as being the author
of the bordereau.

Affairs were now beginning to look much brighter for the prisoner,
and the hope of his friends mounted still higher when M. Emile Zola, the
famous novelist and author of "Nana," joined the ranks of the Dreyf usards,
or friends of the prisoner.

M. Mathieu Dreyfus, in November, 1897, wrote to the Minister of
War and squarely denounced Esterhazy as the author of the bordereau.
He also firmly insisted that justice be done to his brother. In this matter,
M. Mathieu Dreyfus acted on the advice of M. Scheurer-Kestner.

There are various stories told as to how this vice-president of the
Senate was converted from a believer in the guilt of Dreyfus into a staunch
champion of the prisoner. One version is that, while at dinner one day,
he expressed wonder at the fact that an officer holding such a high position
as Dreyfus and being so well provided with the world's goods could have
become a traitor, whereupon an officer who was present said the reason
could be found in the fact that Dreyfus had purchased a house in Paris,
for which he had agreed to pay 228,000 francs, and that he was in need
of money. This officer also said he had this "fact " from one of the offi-
cers who composed the Dreyfus court-martial. M. Scheurer-Kestner, it
is further asserted, investigated this matter and found it to be absolutely
false. He afterward met M. Leblois, Picquart's lawyer, who placed before
the vice-president- of the Senate all the letters which he had in his posses-
sion in connection with the affair. Some time afterward M. Scheurer-
Kestner called upon the Minister of War and urged him to make inquiries
in the matter, telling him of his own investigations, and saying he was
convinced Dreyfus was innocent. This was in July, 1897.

The next step was taken by the Figaro, probably the most influential
paper in France, which came out boldly for a revision of the Dreyfus trial.
M. Scheurer-Kestner then headed the campaign which was destined to
end in a victory for the Dreyf usards, so far as obtaining a revision of the
trial was concerned.

In the mean while. Major Forzinetti, governor of the Cherche-Midi


prison, where Dreyfus was confined after his arrest, was removed from
active service and sent into the army reserve for declaring to M. Henri
Eochefort, editor of the Intransigeant, his belief tliat Dreyfus was inno-

The private apartments of Picquart were searched, and he was recalled
from Tunis, in order to be examined by General Pellieux, who had been
detailed by the Government to inquire into the charges so openly brought
in the press and elsewhere against Esterhazy. The latter, driven to des-
peration, was finally compelled to demand a trial by court-martial, which
was accorded him. It took place in January, 1898, but, subsequent de-
velopments show, he had previously been assured of protection from high
quarters, as was the case when he fought a duel with Picquart, which, as
is the case of most French duels, was not a very desperate affair.

Before the court-martial Esterhazy was charged with having written
the bordereau, and with having been in treasonable correspondence with
Colonel von Schwartzkoppen. Esterhazy admitted that the handwriting
of the bordereau was his own, but he claimed it was in the result of a
tracing made by Dreyfus upon his (Esterhazy 's) writing, which the pris-
oner of Devil's Island afterward put together. The ;petit hleu, it was as-
serted before the court, was a forgery perpetrated by Picquart.

The statements made by Esterhazy were accepted by the court as
accurate in every respect, and he was promptly acquitted, and left the
court with his mistress, Mademoiselle Pays, on his arm. They received
an ovation in the street, the crowds shouting : " Vive I'arm^e ! " " Vive la
France ! " " Down with the Jews ! " " Down with traitors ! " etc., etc., which
must have made Esterhazy feel uncomfortable.

The acquittal of Esterhazy was followed by the arrest and imprison-
ment of Colonel Picquart, who was brought before a Military Court of
Inquiry, where he was accused of showing and divulging documents con-
nected with the national defence and other matters, to his lawyer, M.
Leblois, and with showing the latter his correspondence with General
Gonse. Only the latter charge was proved, and Picquart was dismissed
from the army.

This was a sad blow, apparently, to the friends of Dreyfus, and his
enemies were correspondingly elated.


Chapter XIX.

It was at this stage of the campaign that Emile Zola came to the
front. In January, 1898, the novelist caused to be published in the Aurore,
a newspaper owned by a friend of his, a series of formal accusations, ad-
dressed to the President of the Eepublic, each beginning with " J'accuse, "
("I accuse,") against the courts-martial which had tried Esterhazy and
Dreyfus. The object of Zola in making these accusations was to bring
about his prosecution and thus cause light to be thrown upon the Dreyfus

The Minister of War was compelled to prosecute M. Zola for these
denunciations ; but, in order to prevent the reopening of the Dreyfus case,
which was the object the novelist had in view, the minister confined his
attention to the following paragraph :

" I accuse the first court-martial of having violated the law in con-
demning an accused person on a document kept secret. And I accuse
the second court-martial of having by order screened this illegality, com-
mitting in its turn that which in a judge is a crime — knowingly acquit-
ting a guilty person."

M. Zola was accordingly tried in February, 1898, before the Assize
Court, whose president, M. Delegorgue, did everything possible to prevent
the witnesses of the defence from giving testimony bearing on the Drey-
fus case. He had plenty of weapons at his command, including the ever-
present gag of " state secrets " and the equally effective chose jugee and
" professional secrecy. "

Maitre Labori, an able and fearless lawyer, was coimsel for M. Zola.

Although heavily handicapped by the rulings of the president of the court,

he succeeded in bringing out valuable points in favor of Dreyfus, notably

the illegal manner in which the prisoner was condemned, the apparent

error in attributing the bordereau to Dreyfus, and the seeming identity of

its real author, Esterhazy.


President Delegorgue again and again announced that he could not
admit rebutting testimony on certain vital points raised by the prosecu-
tion, or on the charges made by M. Zola in his famous " I accuse " letter.
This so exasperated the novelist that, during the second day of the trial,
he heatedly announced that he wished to be treated at least as fairly as
thieves or murderers were treated. He claimed that while such criminals
had the right to defend themselves, he, M. Zola, was deprived of such
rights. But the court ruled against the defence, and there was nothing to
do but submit.

One of the witnesses at the trial of M. Zola was M. Casimir-Perier,
who had resigned the presidency of the Republic, and had been succeeded
by M. Felix Faure, who died suddenly on the 16th of February, 1899,
and was in turn succeeded in the presidency by M. Emile Loubet.

On being sworn, M. Casimir-Perier said :

"Excuse me, but I cannot tell the truth. That is just what I may
not tell. It is my duty not to tell the truth."

The resignation of M. Casimir-Perier, it became known later, was in
some manner connected with the Dreyfus case, his friends holding that he
resigned in order not to become further mixed up in the matter.

General de Boisdeffre, the Chief of Staff, caused a sensation at the Zola
trial, by saying that, according to his view of the case, the guilt of Drey-
fus was certain, adding that there were facts both anterior and subsequent
to the trial which made this certainty unshakable.

General Mercier, the former Minister of War, advanced the opinion
that Dreyfus had been legally and justly condemned.

Major Esterhazy practically confined himself to refusing to reply to
the questions put to him, on the ground of professional secrecy, and Gen-
eral Pellieux made an excited speech, during which he dropped dark hints
of danger threatening the fatherland, etc., etc., in the usual refrain of the

The examination of Colonel Picquart was obstructed throughout by
the judges, but Maitre Labori succeeded in making a fierce and effective
attack on the enemies of Dreyfus, which caused the Headquarters Staff to
make a rally and wave the old fiction of mystery above their heads.
Generals de Boisdeffre and Pellieux proved themselves equal to the occa-
sion. General Pellieux, turning to the jury, said :


" If the chiefs of the army are to be discredited in the eyes of the sol-
diers, your sons, gentlemen, will be led to the slaughter."

General de Boisdeffre went a step farther. He actually threatened
that the chiefs of the army would resign unless, practically, they were
allowed to have their own way.

As a last shot, the new "secret document," — the forged Panizzardi de-
spatch — was presented to the court, and Generals de Boisdeffre and Gonse
confirmed the fact that it had been " intercepted by the vigilance of the

Maitre Labori, however, was not permitted to see this document.
But Colonel Picquart declared it to be a forgery. It was produced in
court at the very moment the prosecution was endeavoring to show that
Esterhazy was not the author of the bordereau.

Maitre Labori, in his summing up for the defence, said :

" Zola's letter was a cry for justice and truth. It has rallied all save
some disturbers aroimd what France counts the greatest and purest. Do
not be alarmed or allow yourselves to be intimidated. The honor of the
army is not involved. They tell you of dangers near. Do not believe in
these dangers. These brave officers, who have made a mistake, will yet
fight with the highest courage and lead us to victory. Do not strike
Emile Zola. Gentlemen, you know well that he stands for the honor of
France. It is by the heart, by moral energy, that great battles are won,
and I also cry ' Vive I'arm^e ! ' when I ask you to acquit Zola. I cry at
the same time ' Long live the Republic ! ' ' Long live the right ! ' ' Long
live eternal justice and truth ! ' "

M. Clemenceau, for the defence, reviewed the testimony which con-
firmed his conviction that Dreyfus had been illegally condemned, and pro-
tested against the idea that this constituted an insult to the army. The
only person who had insulted the army, he declared, was Esterhazy, and
it was high time to distinguish between the cry of " Vive I'armee ! " and
that of " Vive Esterhazy ! "

"Many Frenchmen are saying," he continued, "that it is possible that
Dreyfus was condemned irregularly, but that he was justly condemned,
and that suffices. That is the sophistry of reasons of state. We dance
every 14th of July upon the ruins of the Bastile. These reasons of state,
if they prevail, will constitute another and lower Bastile. It was a reason


of state which, by the guillotine, stopped the magnificent movement of
1789. There is no justice outside of the law. It is sad, no doubt, to
come into conflict with the militaiy, brave men, who believed that they
were doing right. This happens to civilians without uniforms, it happens

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 6 of 35)