William Harding.

Dreyfus: online

. (page 5 of 35)
Online LibraryWilliam HardingDreyfus: → online text (page 5 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

tating, the most tragic plight that can possibly be conceived for a man
whose honor has never failed him, nothing can turn the mind from the
idea which dominates it.

Then when I think of you, of our dear children, my grief is imuttera-
ble; for the weight of the crime which some wretch has committed
weighs heavily upon you also. You must, therefore, for our children's
sake, pursue without truce, without rest, the work you have undertaken,
and you must make my innocence burst forth in such a way that no doubt
can be left in the mind of any human being. Whoever may be the per-
sons who are convinced of my innocence, tell yourself that they will
change nothing in our position ; we often pay ourselves in words and nour-
ish ourselves on illusions ; nothing but my rehabilitation can save us.

You see, then, what I cannot cease reiterating to you, that it is a mat-
ter of life or of death, not only for me, but for our children. For myself
I never will accept life without my honor. To say that an innocent man
ought to live, that he always can live, is a commonplace whose triteness
drives me to despair.

I used to say it and I used to believe it. Now that I have suffered
all this myself, I declare that if a man has any spirit he cannot live under
such circumstances. Life is admissible only when he can lift his head
and look the world in the face ; otherwise, there is nothing left for him
but to die. To live for the sake of living is simply low and cowardly.


I am sure that in this you think as I do ; any other opinion would be
unworthy of us.

The situation, already so tragic, becomes each day more tense. You
have not to weep, not to groan, but to face it with all your energy and
with all your soul. To make clear this situation, we must not wait for a
happy chance, but we much display all-absorbing activity. Knock at all
doors. We must employ all means to make the light burst forth. All
forms of investigation must be tried ; the object we have in view is my
life, the life of every one of us.

Here is a very clear bulletin of my state, moral and physical. I will
sum it up :

A pitiable nervous and cerebral excitability, but extreme moral energy,
outstretched toward the one object which, no matter what the price, no
matter by what means, we must attain — vindication. I will leave you to
judge from this what struggles I am each day forced to make to keep my-
self from choosing death rather than this slow agony in every fibre of my
being, rather than this torture of every instinct, in which physical suffering
is added to agony of soul. You see that I am holding to my promise that
I made you to struggle to live until the day of my rehabilitation. It remains
for you to do the rest, if you would have me reach that day.

Then away with weakness. Tell yourself that I am suffering martyr-
dom, that each day my brain is growing weaker; tell yourself that it is a
question of my honor — that is to say, of my life, of the honor of your chil-
dren. Let these thoughts inspire you, and then act accordingly.

Embrace every one, the children, for me.

A thousand kisses from your husband, who loves you,


How are the children ? Give me news of them. I cannot think of
you and of them without throbs of pain through my whole being. I
would breathe into your soul all the fire that is in my own, to march for-
ward to the assault that is to liberate the truth. I would convince you
of the absolute necessity of unmasking the one who is guilty by every
means, whatever it may be, and above all without delay.

Send me a few books.


Chapter XV.

Having given our readers some idea of the manner in which Dreyfus
wrote to his wife, we shall now submit a few extracts from other letters
of the prisoner to Madame Dreyfus, so as to convey as far as possible, a
pen picture of the workings of his mind while on Devil's Island.

In a letter date May 8, 1895, Dreyfus wrote :

A profound silence reigns around me, interrupted only by the roaring
of the sea; and my thoughts, crossing the distance which separates us,
carry me to your midst, among all those who are dear to me, whose
thoughts must of a truth be often turned toward me. Often I ask at such
an hour, " What is my dear Lucie doing ? " and I send you by my thoughts
the echo of my immense affection. Then I close my eyes, and it seems
to me that I see your face and the faces of my dear children.

For three months now I have been without news of you, of the chil-
dren, of our families.

I believe that I have already told you that I advised you to ask per-
mission to leave your letters at the Ministry eight or ten days before the
departure of the mails ; perhaps in that way I shall receive them sooner.
But, my good darling, forget all my sufferings, overcome your own, and
think of our children. Say to yourself that you have a sacred mission to
fulfil, that of having my honor given back to me, the honor of the name
borne by our dear little ones. Moreover, I recall to my mind what you
told me before my departure. I know, as you repeated to me in your
letter of February 17th, what the words of your mouth are worth. I have
an absolute confidence in you.

Then do not weep any more, my good darling; I will struggle until
the last minute for you, for our dear children.

The body may give way under such a burden of grief, but the soul
should remain firm and valiant, to protest against a lot that we have not
deserved. When my honor is given back to me, then only, my good darl-
ing, we shall have the right to withdraw from the field. We will live


for each other, far from the noise of the world ; we will take refuge in our
mutual affection, in our love, grown still stronger in these tragical events.
We will sustain each other, that we may bind up the wounds of our
hearts; we will live in our children, to whom we will consecrate the
remainder of our days. We will try to make them good, simple beings,
strong in body and mind. We will elevate their souls so that they may
always find in them a refuge from the realities of life.

May this day come soon, for we have all paid our tribute of sufferings
upon this earth ! Courage, then, my darling ; be strong and valiant ; carry
on your work without weakness, with dignity, but with the conviction of
your rights. I am going to lie down, to close my eyes and think of you.
Good night and a thousand kisses.

On May 18, 1895, Dreyfus wrote as follows to his son:

Dear Little Pieeee :

Papa sends good big kisses to you, also to little Jeanne. Papa thinks
often of both of you. You must show little Jeanne how to make beauti-
ful towers with the wooden blocks, very high, such as I made for you,
and which toppled down so well. Be very good. Give good caresses to
your mamma when she is sorrowful. Be very gentle and kind also to
grandmother and grandfather. Set good little traps for your aunts.
When papa comes back from his journey you will come to the railway
station to meet him, with little Jeanne, with mamma, with every one.

More good big kisses for you and for Jeanne. Your


Here is another touching extract from a letter of Dreyfus to his wife :

I do not know anything of what is passing around me. I live as in a
tomb. I am incapable of deciphering in my brain this appalling enigma.
All that I can do, then, and I shall not fail in this duty, is to sustain
you to my last breath — is to continue to fan in your heart the flame which
glows in mine, so that you may march straight forward to the conquest of
the truth, so that you may get me back my honor, the honor of my chil-
dren. You remember those lines of Shakespeare, in "Othello." I found
them again not long since among my English books. I send them to you
translated (you will know why ! )

" Celui qui me vole ma bourse,
Me vole une bagatelle.
C'est quelque chose, mais ce n'est rien.


1. Zola.
3. Mercier.

2. Clemenceau.
4. Carriere.


; 5^?i

' ■»'" '-SV-



1. M. Cochefert, Chief of the Secret Service.

2. Major Du Paty de Clam dictating Trial Passages of the Bordereau to Captain Dreyfus

before his arrest.


1. Dreyfus before the Court.

2. Keadins the Verdict.

3. Maurel-Pries.

4. Maitre Demange.


, >Si '.1

■:$iC ^>

/ '



EUe etait a moi, elle est a lui et

A etait I'esclave de mille autres.
Mais celui que me vole ma bonne renommee,
Me vole une chose que ni I'enrichit pas,

Et que me rend vi'aiment pauvre."

Ah, yes! he has rendered me "vraiment pauvre," the wretch who has
stolen my honor! He has made us more miserable than the meanest of
human creatures.

The quoted verses are a rendering of—

" Who steals my purse steals trash ; . , .
But he vpho filches from me my good name
Robs me of that vfhich not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed."

Under date of June 16, 1895, the unhappy prisoner wrote:

To-day a more peculiarly intimate sadness invades my soul, because
on this day, Sunday, we used to be together all day, and we used to end it
with your dear parents. But my heart, my conscience, and my reason,
too, tell me that these happy days will return to us. I cannot admit that
an innocent man can be left to expiate indefinitely, for a guilty wretch,
a crime as abominable as it is odious ; and then, to sum it up in one word,
what must give you, as it gives me, unconquerable energy, is the thought
of our children, as I have already told you before ; for ideas which emanate
from such a subject must, from their nature, repeat themselves. We must
have our honor, and we have not the right to be weak; without it, it
would be better to see our children die.

As for our sufferings, we all suffer alike. Do you think that I do not
feel what you suffer — you, who are struck doubly, in your honor and in
your love ? Do you believe that I do not feel how your parents suffer,
your brothers and your sisters, for whom honor is not an empty word?
But I hope that our anguish is to have an end, and that that end is near.
Until that day we must guard all our courage, all our energy.

Thank Mathieu for those few words he wrote to me. How the poor
boy must suffer ; he who is honor incarnate ! But tell him that I am with
him in thought — that our two hearts suffer together. There are moments
when I think that I am the plaything of a horrible nightmare; that all
this is unreal ; that it is only a bad dream ; but it is, alas ! the truth.
But for the moment we ought to put aside every weakening thought. We
ought to fix our eyes upon one single object ; our honor. When that is
returned to me, and when I know the meaning of what is now for me an


unsolvable problem, perhaps I shall understand this enigma which baffles
my reason, which leaves my brain panting.

I will wait, then, for that moment, sure that it will come. I wish for
us all that it may come soon ; I even hope it, so immovable is my faith in
justice. Mystery has no place in our century. Everything is brought to
light, and must be brought to light.

My Sunday has seemed less long to me, my dear Lucie, because in this
way I have been able to talk with you. As for our children, I have no
advice to give you. I know you ; our ideas on this subject are alike, both
in regard to their bringing up and in regard to their education. Courage
always, dear Lucie, and a thousand kisses.

Do not forget that I am answering letters dated three months ago, and
that my replies may therefore seem out of date to you.


On July 15, 1895, Dreyfus wrote:

My energy is occupied in stilling the beatings of my heart, in contain-
ing my impatience, to learn at last that my innocence is recognized every-
where and by every one. But if my energy is altogether passive, yours
ought, on the contrary, to be all active and animated by the ardent spirit
which gives strength to my own.

If it were merely a question of suffering it would be nothing. But it
is a question of the honor of a name, of the life of our children, and I do
not wish, you understand, that our children should ever have to lower
their heads. Light, full, complete, must be let in upon this tragic story.
Nothing, therefore, should rebuff or tire you. All doors open, all hearts
beat for a mother who begs only for the truth, so that her children may

It is almost from the tomb — my situation here is comparable to that,
with the added grief that my heart still beats ^ — that I write these words
to you. Thank your dear parents, our brothers and sisters, as well as
Lucie and Henri, for their good and affectionate letters. Tell them all the
pleasure which I take in reading them, and tell them that if I do not an-
swer directly it is because I could do nothing but keep on repeating what
I have already said. Kiss your dear parents for me ; tell them all my
affection. Long, tender kisses for the children. As for you, my dear and
good Lucie, your letters are my daily reading. Continue to write me long
letters ; with them I come nearer to living with you, with our dear chil-
dren, than I could by my own thought alone, which, indeed, never leaves
you for an instant.


The prisoner, on September 7, 1895, wrote:

Should it last much longer either one or the other will give way under
it. Well, my dear Lucie, that must not be ! We must before all else get
back our honor, the honor of our children. We must not allow ourselves
to be overcome by a fate so infamous when it is so unmerited. However
natural, however legitimate, may be the cries of pain of souls who suffer
far beyond all imaginable suffering, to groan, my dear Lucie, will do no
good. If, when you receive this letter, the mystery has not been made
clear, then, I think, it will be time, when the courage, the energy which
duty gives, with the invincible force which innocence gives, for you to
take personal steps, so that at last light may be thrown upon this tragic
story. You have neither mercy nor favor to ask for, but only a deter-
mined search for the truth, a search for the wretch who wrote that infa-
mous letter, and, in one word, justice for us all ! And you will find in
your own heart words more eloquent than any that could be contained in
a mere letter. We must, in a word, find at last the key to this mystery.
Whatever may be the means, your position as a wife and a mother gives
you every right, and should give you every courage.

From what I myself feel, from the state of my own heart, I know but
too well how it must be with you all, and in my long nights I see you
suffering, agonizing with me.

It must end. Men cannot, in a century like ours, leave two families
in agony without clearing up a mystery like this. The truth can be made
known, if only they are willing to have it so.

In the course of a long letter dated May 22d, Dreyfus said:

It is from the thought of you, the thought of our dear children, from
my determined resolve to sustain you, to live to see the day when our
honor shall be given back to us, that I draw all my strength. When I
sink under the united burden of all my woes, when my brain reels, when
my heart can bear no more, when I lose all hope, then to myself I mur-
mur three names — yours, those of our dear children — and I nerve myself
again against my agony, and not a sound passes my silent lips. To tell
the truth, I am physically very weak, it could not be otherwise. But
everything is effaced from my mind, hallucinations of memories, sufferings,
the atrocities of my daily life, before so exalted, so absolute a preoccupa-
tion, the thought of our honor, the patrimony of our children. So I come
again, as always, to cry to you with all my strength, with all my soul,
"Courage, and still courage, to march steadfastly onward to your goal —


the unclouded honor of our name" — and to wish for both our sakes that
this goal may soon be reached. The dear little letters written by the chil-
dren always move me deeply, cause me extreme emotion ; I often wet
them with my tears, but I draw from them also my strength. In all my
letters I read that you are raising these dear little children admirably. If
I have never spoken of this to you it has been because I knew it, because
I knew you.

To speak of my love for you, the love that unites us all, would be
useless, would it not? Still, let me tell you again that my thought never
leaves you for an instant day or night, that my heart is always near to
you, to our children, to you all, ready to sustain you, to animate you with
my unconquerable will. I embrace you with all my strength, with all
my heart, and also the dear children.

Finally Dreyfus began to give way to despair. After addressing a
heartrending appeal to the governor of French Guiana, in September,
1898, no encouragement was forthcoming, and he broke down. But there
was already sunshine in the distance, as the following letter shows :

If my voice had ceased to make itself heard, this would have been be-
cause it had forever died away. If I have lived, it has been for my honor,
which is my property and the patrimony of our children ; it has been for
my duty, which I have done everywhere and always ; and as it must ever
be accomplished when a man has right and justice on his side, without
fear of anything or of anybody. When one has behind one a past devoted
to duty, a life devoted to honor, when one has never known but one lan-
guage, that of truth, one is strong, I assure you, and atrocious though fate
may have been, one must have a soul lofty enough to dominate it until it
bows before one. Let us, therefore, await with confidence the decision of
the Supreme Court, as we await with confidence the decision of the new
judges before whom this decision will send me. At the same time as
your letter I have received a copy of the petition for revision, and of the
decree of the Court of Cassation, declaring it acceptable. I read with
wonderful emotion the terms of your petition, in which you expressed
admirably, as I have already done in mine, the feelings by which I am
animated in asking that an end shall be put to the punishment of an inno-
cent man — I may add to that of a noble woman, of her children, of two
families, of an innocent man who had always been a loyal soldier, who
has not ceased, even in the midst of the horrible sufferings of unmerited
chastisement, to declare his love for his native land.


Chapter XVL


The Procureur-G^neral of Cayenne, M. Darius, on November 15, 1898,
entered the hut occupied by Dreyfus on Devil's Island and said to him :

"Dreyfus, the Court of Cassation has decided to revise your case.
What have you to say ? "

The prisoner was almost overwhelmed by the good news, it is admit-
ted. But, according to the Pro cureur- General, the prisoner contented
himself with replying:

"I shall say nothing until I am confronted by my accusers in Paris."

But, from a letter written by Dreyfus to his wife, later, in November,
1898, he said :

My Dear Lucie:

In the middle of the month I was told that the petition for the revi-
sion of my judgment had been declared acceptable by the Court of Cassa-
tion, and was invited to produce my means of defence. I took the neces-
sary measures immediately. My requests were at once transmitted to
Paris, and you must have been informed of this some days ago. Events
must therefore be moving rapidly. In thought I am night and day, as
always, with you, with our children, with all, sharing our joy at seeing
the end of this fearful drama approaching rapidly. Words become pow-
erless to describe such deep emotions . . . According to information
which I sent you in the last mail, all will be over in the course of Decem-
ber. Therefore, when these lines reach you I shall be almost on the point
of starting for France.

We will conclude this series of extracts from the letters of Dreyfus with
the letter received by his counsel, Maitre Demange, December 31, 1894,
made public when sent to the Minister of Justice, M. Sarrien, July 11,
1898, as showing the lines the prisoner indicated for those who were en-
gaged in the work of attempting to establish his innocence :


Du Paty de Clam came to-day, Monday, December 31, 1894, at 5:30
P.M., after the rejection of my appeal, to ask me, on behalf of the minis-
ter, whether I had not, perhaps, been the victim of my imprudence,
whether I had not meant merely to lay a bait . . . and had then found
myself caught fatally in the trap. I replied that I never had relations
with any agent or attache, . . . that I had undertaken no such process as
baiting, and that I was innocent. He then said to me on his own respon-
sibility that he was himself convinced of my guilt, first from an examina-
tion of the handwriting of the document brought up against me, and from
the nature of the documents enumerated therein ; secondly, from informa-
tion according to which the disappearance of documents corresponded with
my presence on the General Staff; that, finally, a secret agent had declared
that a Dreyfus was a spy, . . . without, however, affirming that that
Dreyfus was an officer. I asked Paty de Clam to be confronted with this
agent. He replied that it was impossible. Paty de Clam acknowledged
that I had never been suspected before the reception of the incriminating

I then asked him why there had been no surveillance exercised over
the officers from the month of February, since Commandant Henry had
affirmed at the court-martial that he had been warned at that date that
there was a traitor among the officers. Paty de Clam replied that he knew
nothing about that ivasiness ; that it was not his affair, but Commandant
Henry's ; that it was difficult to watch all the officers of the General Staff.
.... Then, perceiving that he had said too much, he added :

"We are talking between four walls. If I am questioned on all that
I shall deny everything."

I preserved entire calmness, for I wished to know his whole idea.

To sum up, he said that I had been condemned because there was a
clue indicating that the culprit was an officer, and the seized letter came
to give precision to that clue. He added, also, that since my arrest the
leakage at the ministry had ceased ; that perhaps . . .'- had left the letter
about expressly to sacrifice me, in order not to satisfy my demands.

He then spoke to me of the remarkable expert testimony of M. Bertil-
lon, according to which I had traced my own handwriting and that of my

* The leaders indicate an omitted jiame.


brother in order to be able, in case I should be arrested with the letter on
me, to protest that it was a conspiracy against me. He further intimated
that my wife and family were my accomplices — in short, the whole theory
of M. Bertillon.

At this point, knowing what I wanted to discover and not wishing to
allow him to insult my family as well, I stopped him saying :

" Enough ; I have only one word to say, namely, that I am innocent,
and that your duty is to continue your inquiries."

"If you are really innocent," he exclaimed, "you are undergoing the
most monstrous martyrdom of all time."

"I am that martyr," I replied, "and I hope the future will prove it to

To sum up, it results from this conversation :

1. That there have been leakages at the ministry.

2. That . . : must have heard, and must have repeated to Command-
ant Henry, that there was an officer who was a traitor. I do not think he
would have invented it of his own accord.

3. That the incriminating letter was taken at . . . From all this I
draw the following conclusions, the first certain, the two others possible:

First, a spy really exists ... at the French ministry, for documents
have disappeared.

Secondly, perhaps that spy slipped in in an officer's uniform, imitating
his handwriting in order to divert suspicion.

Thirdly [here four lines and a half are blank].

This hypothesis does not exclude the fact No. 1, which seems certain.
But the tenor of the letter does not render this third hypothesis very prob-
able. It would be connected rather with the first fact and the second hy-

Online LibraryWilliam HardingDreyfus: → online text (page 5 of 35)