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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of his indictment and conviction, solely the bordereau and his alleged
confession. The examination of the secret papers results in showing that
of the three documents by which M. Cavaignac (when Minister of War)
sought to justify the condemnation of the prisoner, two are forgeries, and
the third does not apply to Dreyfus.

Finally, the Procureur-G^n^ral touched upon the alleged confessions of
Dreyfus to Captain Lebrun-Eenault, who had charge on the prisoner on
the day of his degradation. He said that it was only in November, 1897,
that the story of the alleged confession was brought up at the request of
General Billot, and he held that this was clear proof that the so-called
confession was not made by Dreyfus.

M. Manau severely criticised M. Cavaignac, who, he said, had de-
pended for the proof of Dreyfus's guilt on a sheet from a note-book de-
stroyed by Captain Lebrun-Renault. The Procureur-Gen^ral then re-
marked :

" I have the right to say that these confessions never existed, and I
should like to know whether the incomprehensible evidence of M. Bertil-
lon was not the first cause of Dreyfus's condemnation."

M. Manau alluded to the accounts of officials who had been in contact
with Dreyfus, and who all affirmed their belief in his innocence, and
quoted letters written from the Devil's Island wherein the prisoner repelled
the imputations brought against him. He had been told in 1894 that
" superior interests " were opposed to any search for the real culprits. In



HOPES GROW STRONGER 97

his letters he asked that, notwithstanding these interests, honor might be
restored to the name he bore, and that he should be restored to his family.
What was there more human? The chief officer of Devil's Island de-
clared that Dreyfus was an abominable being, loving neither his wife nor
his children. If so, how could he write such letters?

In conclusion, M. Manau said :

" I decline to believe that the court can refuse Dreyfus the supreme
relief which is being solicited for him. The country, the world, and his-
tory are awaiting the decision ; they will pass a judgment without appeal.
Before them and before the court we assume the responsibility of our con-
clusions as magistrates and as citizens with the consciousness of having
done our duty. These conclusions are :

" We affirm the existence of several new facts which are of a nature to
establish the innocence of Dreyfus. Consequently, let it please the court
to pronounce the abrogation of the judgment of December 22, 1894, and
to send Dreyfus, in the quality of an accused person, to such court-martial
as it may be pleased to designate. "

No sooner were the facts of the alleged confession first published, early
in 1895, than M. de Civry, managing editor of the Echo de VArmee,
wrote an article on the subject, directed against Dreyfus, and, incidentally,
sent the proof to the late Colonel Sandherr, then head of the Intelligence
Department of the War Office, for revision before publication. The reply
of Colonel Sandherr to M. de Civry is quite an important piece of evidence
in favor of Dreyfus. It is as follows :

Saturday, January 5, 1895.
My Deak de Civry :

No, do not publish the article which Georgin has just submitted to me.
It would open the door to needless discussions; for, I tell you frankly, it
is not correct. Dreyfus did not make confessions to the captain of the
Republican Guard, as he has told you. Hence, no capital can be made
out of the confessions, and you must not set them against the public pro-
testations of the condemned man. The latter simply recalled the words
of the minister which Major Du Paty de Clam had been deputed to convey
to him. The captain, who, without proper reason, has noised abroad the
conversation held by him with the condemned man before the degradation,
has involuntarily omitted to put in his mouth the words ' he said ' in
speaking of these remarks of the minister: ' If I have furnished documents,
7



98 DREYFUS: THE PRISONER OF DEVIL'S ISLAND

he said, it was to obtaia others. ' I do not know the full text of these
remarks, but rest assured they are the words of the minister ; not of Drey-
fus. This mistake might elicit protestations from the defence or the fam-
ily. Pass this incident over, therefore, in silence. The less you speak of
this sad affair in the Echo de I'Armee the better will it be for us. You
have better things to do. Georgin agrees with me."

Thus ended the great fight for the revision of the Dreyfus case.



DKEYFUS BROUGHT BACK TO FRANCE 99



Chapter XXIII.

DREYFUS BROUGHT BACK TO FRANCE

No sooner had the Court of Cassation pronounced in favor of the revi-
sion than the then Minister of War, M. de Freycinet, resigned, as a pro-
test against the court's action, and M. Krantz, a man of more moral cour-
age, succeeded him, and orders were sent to the Governor of French
Guiana to ship Dreyfus back to France.

Then all thoughts were turned toward Devil's Island, and more and
more sympathy for the prisoner was aroused, due in great measure to the
publication of the testimony before the Court of Cassation of M. Lebon,
the Minister of the Colonies, who admitted having ordered the sick man
to be placed in double irons and subjected to other punishments, because
it was feared he might be rescued. The French cruiser Sfax was ordered
to take the prisoner on board, and there were many heartfelt good wishes
for Dreyfus when it became known that he was homeward bound.

He was embarked at Cayenne on June 8, 1899, and was landed at
Aliquen, on the Quiberon Peninsula, during the night of July 1st, and
in very stormy weather. But it is to be presumed that the elements did
not affect the prisoner's joy at once more setting foot on French soil. He
saw ahead of him his honor vindicated, and a reimion with the faithful
wife who had labored so gallantly in his behalf for five long and weari-
some years in spite of every cruel obstacle thrown in her path.

The captain of the Sfax, referring to Dreyfus after the prisoner had
been landed, said :

"There is extraordinary energy in this man. During the twenty days
we were at sea he gave no sign of weakness."

And this was in spite of the fact that he was confined in a cabin, with
the window closed and an armed sentry at the door.

A member of the crew of the Sfax, in his diary, described the embark-
ation of Drevfus as follows:



100 DREYFUS: THE PRISONER OF DEVIL'S ISLAND

" In a steam launch we perceived a civilian attired in a suit of dark
blue cloth, and wearing a cork helmet. He hid his head in his hands.
Sometimes he rose and took a couple of steps, and then he sank down on
a bench. He seemed exhausted. We wondered who this personage could
be. All sorts of rumors were current among the crew, and, after an hour's
interval, the officers left the captain's cabin and orders were given for a
boat to go alongside this launch and fetch the man on board the Sfax.
This was done, and ten minutes later we saw former Captain Dreyfus
ascending the ladder with difficulty, and with uncertain steps, followed by
the gendarmes, who had revolvers in their belts. He staggered as he
reached the deck, but he recovered his composure. With a still trembling
hand he saluted in the military style, drawing himself up with a quick
movement, as he was very bent. He had gray hair and a dark-red beard.
His general appearance was fairly good, in spite of the seasickness from
which he was suffering."

After his arrival on board the Sfax, Dreyfus was taken to his cabin
by the second officer of that cruiser, and was furnished with a wardrobe,
table, washstand, and bed. The port-hole of the cabin was strongly
barred.

The Sfax weighed anchor June 10th, without having had time to take
on board her full supply of coal or water, and sailed for the island of St.
Vincent.

Dreyfus was watched night and day. During the day-time he was
allowed to take three turns on deck, in the morning from nine until ten,
from eleven until noon, and in the afternoon from four until five o'clock.
All the officers and sailors were expressly forbidden to hold any commu-
nication with the prisoner. His meals were sent to him in his cabin from
the officers' table.

The prisoner spent his time in reading and writing, though sometimes
he looked long out of the port-hole, apparently plunged in deep thought.
His baggage consisted of two portmanteaus, containing linen, books ; sev-
eral packages of chocolate, small biscuits, and several bottles of toilet
vinegar. He generally went to bed at seven, arose about midnight to
smoke a cigarette, and got up regularly at five o'clock in the morning.

June 13th, at 2 :30 p.m., the Sfax arrived off the island of St. Vincent,
from which place no letters or telegrams were allowed to be sent, as the



DREYFUS BROUGHT BACK TO FRANCE 101

journey of Dreyfus was to be kept a secret. The cruiser arrived at Ali-
quen July 1st.

The fishermen of that place were the first to make out the cruiser, and
they spread the news of her coming, resulting in the whole population,
about one hundred and fifty persons, rushing off to the pier, where a closed
carriage drawn by two white horses was drawn up. In the vehicle was
M. Viguier, Director of the Criminal Department. The One Hundred and
Sixteenth Regiment of the Line stood waiting in the rain for the landing
of Dreyfus. Shortly before two o'clock a launch approached the pier.
Dreyfus got out of the boat, and, between two gendarmes, with slow and
weary steps, he ascended the side of the pier, and reached the carriage of
M. Viguier. As the prisoner entered the carriage it was surrounded by
troops, and he was driven at a rapid pace, still in the pouring rain, to the
Quiberon railroad station, about a kilometer from Aliquen.

A special train was waiting at Quiberon. It consisted of four carriages,
and started in the direction of Rennes as soon as the prisoner was on
board. The train, however, was stopped at La Eablais, a level crossing a
mile or so outside the city. Carriages were in waiting there. The pris-
oner and his immediate escort entered the vehicles, and Dreyfus was
driven rapidly to the prison at Rennes. His carriage was surrounded by
gendarmes, and as it approached the prison the gates were opened and two
hundred gendarmes, who had been on duty inside, suddenly rushed out
and barred the street on either side of the entrance. Those who were able
to obtain a glimpse of Dreyfus as he was hurried into the prison noticed
that he looked startled and tired. He wore a blue suit with a gray over-
coat and a soft felt hat. His hair was gray, and his beard was trimmed
to a point. The eyes of the prisoner seemed to lack expression. He first
looked at the ground, then at his escort, and afterward at the prison, but
he seemed to see nothing, or to be in a dream. A moment later Dreyfus
was again in a prison, not to reappear again until brought before the sec-
ond court-martial which was finally to decide his fate.

Some days previous to this Madame Dreyfus had arrived at Rennes,
and a well-known resident of the place, Madame Godard, placed her house
at her disposal.

Madame Dreyfus was immediately informed of the arrival of her hus-
band at Rennes, and was accorded permission to visit him. As may be



102 DREYFUS: THE PRISONER OF DEVIL'S ISLAND

supposed, the meeting between the long-separated and long-suffering hus-
band and the wife was touching in the extreme.

The prisoner was also allowed to see the lawyers who had been pro-
vided for him, and the next few days were spent in talking over the events
of the past five years, of which the prisoner was profoundly ignorant.
But he was deeply distressed when told of the machinations of which he
had been a victim, and for a time seemed very much discouraged. The
cheering words of his wife and the advice of his friends and lawyers even-
tually gave him more nerve, and he began to prepare for the trying ordeal
to which he was to be subjected.



HOW M. LEBON TKEATED DKEYFUS 103



Chapter XXIV,

HOW M. LEBON TREATED DREYFUS

One of the features of the case which aroused the foreign press a great
deal against the persecutors of Dreyfus, was the treatment to which he
was subjected to by M. Lebon, the Minister of the Colonies, while the
prisoner was on Devil's Island, and the minister was so severely criticised
that, on July 12, 1899, although no longer a member of the ministry, he
felt compelled to issue a full statement of his position, which certainly
did not change the opinion people had formed about him. In this docu-
ment, M. Lebon said :

" M. Louis Havet having substituted definite charges for the system of
vague insults of which I have been the object for two years, and M. Guil-
lian having dispelled some of the legends which there is an attempt to
substantiate with reference to the He du Diable, I feel bound to break the
silence which I have hitherto imposed upon myself from respect for the
work of justice now going on, and to explain myself as clearly as I can as
to the measures which I adopted and my reasons for them. I shall say
nothing, moreover, which cannot be verified by the records of the Colonial
Office, and I declare once for all that I accept entire responsibility for my
acts, and that I entirely indorse the action of my old subordinates in the
execution of my orders or in the acts which they reported to me, and
which I did not blame at the time.

"I first recall certain facts outside my own administration. The pub-
lic degradation of Dreyfus having taken place early in January, 1895, M.
Gu^rin, then Minister of Justice, and M. Delcasse, then Minister for the
Colonies, asked Parliament on the 1 1th of that month to indicate the lies
du Salut as a place of transportation in a fortified enclosure, together witli
the Ducos Peninsula, in order, as the preamble of the bill said, ' to
increase the guarantee of supervision, and thus render the repression as
effective as possible.' The bill was promidgated on February 9th, and



104 DREYFUS: THE PRISONER OF DEVIL'S ISLAND

was countersigned by MM. Traireux and Chantemps. It was in the spring
of the same year, 1895, that general instructions were given for the new
transportation service, and I did not become Minister for the Colonies
until a year later, at the end of April, 1896. During the first months of
my ministry I had no occasion to pay any attention to the system estab-

A

lished at the He du Diable. The measures to be taken for the pacification
of Madagascar, with the choice of a suitable man to be sent there, occu-
pied my whole time, and I had no inclination to display ' fury or hatred
or the instinct of an executioner,' which M. Louis Ha vet deigns to admit
are totally lacking in me. I will add, in order to reassure him imme-
diately as to the reasons for my action, that I should never have dreamed
that I should one day be accused of having yielded to the ' fear of jour-
nalists.' In the mistakes I may have made during my public life it is
rather in the contrary direction that I seem to myself to have erred.

" What, then, were my motives ? And first, how did matters stand in
the summer and autumn of 1896, as regards the Dreyfus affair? In the
excitement of the past few months this question would appear to have
been totally forgotten. No one then publicly defended the innocence,
true or supposed, of the prisoner. No one disputed the authority of the
chose jugee. Everybody, except a few who had special knowledge, was
anxious that Dreyfus should not escape, and was eager to discover the ac-
complices who were almost universally thought to have helped him. It
was by no means my duty to listen to outside rumors nor to substitute
any personal opinion for the decisions of those who had been qualified to
express one. I had in his case, as in that of all transported convicts,
merely to insure the execution of the decrees of justice and of the laws.
How did I come to think that there might be some doubt of the effective-
ness of the system at Devil's Island, and how was I led, a full year
before the commencement of the revisionist agitation, and without making
the slightest mention of it to the journalists, as can easily be shown, to
adopt the measures for which I am now blamed?

" Within the space of a few weeks I learned that, one after another, two
service telegrams relative to the prisoner had been commimicated to the
press; that another sent, like the first, by one of my predecessors had
never reached its destination; that, finally, a person connected with the
penitentiary administration could not be counted upon for the faithful exe-



HOW M. LEBON TREATED DREYFUS 105

cution of his duties, but that he frequently spoke of the possibility of pro-
curing Dreyfus's escape. It was at this moment, early in September, that
the English papers disseminated broadcast a report that an American ship
had carried off Dreyfus, and then for the first time I obtained explanations
of the organization of Devil's Island, and easily discovered that such a
rescue was physically possible.

" Now, I did not wish that Dreyfus should escape, nor was I anxious
to have his sentinels obliged to apply the general orders which permit
recourse to the most extreme measures in order to prevent a prisoner
from escaping. Hence my telegram of September 4th, to the Governor of
Guiana. Here is its complete text as regards the point in question :

" ' You will keep Dreyfus until further orders in hut, double staple at
night. You will surround perimeter court round hut with solid palisad-
ing, with sentinel inside.'

"In order thoroughly to indicate the essentially temporary character
of this measure of rigor, I telegraphed that the prisoner should be carefully
informed that it was a measure of security, not of pimishment; and, be-
lieving that my orders were already on the point of being fulfilled, I tele-
graphed again on the 19th, to say that as soon as the palisading was fin-
ished the double staple should be removed. Unfortunately, the work was
done with less celerity than I had hoped, but neither then nor afterward
was I apprised of the slightest disorder in the prisoner's health.

" Was I right or wrong in being so anxious as to the possibility of
escape? All I can say is that during my two years' tenure of office hardly
a month passed in which similar projects were not brought to my attention,
either by the Prefecture of Police, by the Detective Department, or by
diplomatic or consular agents. The external defence of the island being
henceforth assured, none of these projects affected the prisoner's treatment.
On the contrary, the work hastily done in September, 1896, having modi-
fied the hygienic conditions of his hut, a new building more spacious and
healthier was prepared for him early in 1897, at the instance of one of the
very agents now being most unjustly attacked.

" What is now called the Weyler forgery had nothing whatever to do
with all this, though it was contemporaneous with it. It was, however,
the cause of other measures which I felt bound to take as regards the
prisoner's correspondence. The tenor of that document, and the way in



106 DREYFUS: THE PRISONER OF DEVIL'S ISLAND

which it reached the Colonial Office, have been sufficiently indicated in the
inquiry of the Supreme Court. I will only say that no one then, not even
a certain eminent personage in the Intelligence Bureau, affirmed or ap-
proved it to be a forgery, and that it gave ground for believing that, apart
from the prisoner's regular correspondence, then submitted, like that of all
prisoners, to the control of the Penitentiary Department, there existed be-
tween Dreyfus and his friends or family other relations which escaped all
supervision. This suspicion was confirmed by other facts, either concom-
itant or subsequent, and gave rise toward the end of 1897 to a very sug-
gestive report by the head of the local service as to the removal at the
beginning of 1898 of a suspected sentinel. If I had shown in the affair
that blind passion now attributed to me I should, perhaps, have adopted
measures other than those which I had definitely adopted. I decided that
copies of the letters exchanged between Dreyfus and his family should be
transmitted instead of the originals, so that the apparent and known text
should alone reach its destination. But as to having attempted by means
of subordinates, as is insinuated, to undermine the condemned man's con-
fidence in his family by suppressing, mutilating, or deliberately delaying
any of their letters, I affirm that such an idea prevailed neither in Paris
nor Guiana.

" Such is the strict truth free from all dissimulation or amplification. I
am surprised that in facts which have been so long known to the parties
concerned, and on which no one ever ventured to present an interpella-
tion, such tardy accusations should be revived. I might, moreover, show
by relating either a conversation held or a correspondence exchanged with
certain leaders of the sad controversy now witnessed by us, the signal bad
faith which has been employed ; but having no personal concern in this,
and being only anxious to show that a servant of the Eepublic is not the
' sinister torturer ' represented, I limit myself to this too long explanation."



DREYFUS'S FINAL APPEAL FOR JUSTICE 107



Chapter XXV»

DREYFUS'S FINAL APPEAL FOR JUSTICE

A MONTH after Dreyfus had been landed in France and a week before
the opening of the court-martial at Eennes, the Paris Figaro published
some most interesting correspondence, showing how steadily the prisoner
maintained his innocence and how clearly he met all the points of his
accusers. The letters, however, were not sent to their addresses, by order
of Premier M^line.

The first letter of the series referred to follows :

Ile du Salut, February 28, 1898.
On the very morrow of my condemnation, now more than three years
ago, when Major Du Paty de Clam came to see me on behalf of the Min-
ister of War, to ask me, after I had been condemned for an abominable
crime which I had not committed, whether I was innocent or guilty, I
declared that not only was I innocent, but that I wished for the light, the
complete light, and I asked immediately for the aid of all the customary
means of investigation, either through the military attaches or in any
other mode at the disposal of the Government. I was told that interests
superior to mine, owing to the origin of this lamentable and tragic history
and owing to the origin of the incriminating letter, prevented the custom-
ary means of investigation, but that the inquiry would be continued. I
have waited for three years in the most terrible situation conceivable,
suffering continuously and without cause, but these researches never end.
If, then, interests superior to mine are to prevent, and must always pre-
vent, the use of the only means of investigation which can finally put an
end to this horrible martyrdom of so many human beings and throw com-
plete light on this tragic business, these interests can surely not require
that a woman, children, and an innocent man should be sacrificed to them.
Otherwise we must go back to the darkest ages of our history, when the
truth and the light are stifled. A few months ago I submitted the whole
tragic and undeserved horror of this situation to the high equity of the
Government. I now do the same to the high e(iuitv of Messieurs les



\



108 DREYFUS: THE PRISONER OF DEVIL'S ISLAND

Deputes to ask them for justice for me and mine, the life of my children,
and an end to this frghtful martyrdom of so many human beings."

The prisoner wrote a similar letter to the Senators.

Dreyfus, on March 21st, wrote as follows to the Minister of War:

A few months ago, probably in consequence of a report on the accu-
sation, I was told that this was based — (1) on a charge against my family.
This document was unknown to me. It was never communicated to me,
so I could not reply. It. is, moreover, as atrocious as it is calumnious.
(2) The presumption drawn from the handwriting. I declared that I was
not the author of the incriminating letter; I showed from its contents that
I could not be. (3) The trembling of the hand. At the court-martial
Major Du Paty de Clam, in reply to a question, affirmed that it was warm
at the time. M. Cochefort, a few moments later, declared with me that it
was piercingly cold. (4) The rest of the accusation. Another document.
At the court-martial the straightforward protest of Captain Besse against
the interpretation given to his deposition, and the explanation given by
Major Mercier, forced the Government commissary to abandon this por-



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 8 of 35)