HotFreeBooks.com
With Zola in England
by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly
Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The people staying at the hotel were certainly all of a good class. There were several well-known names in the register; and knowing how much has been written on the happy decrease of drinking habits 'in the upper middle-class of England,' I was myself slightly surprised at what was pointed out to me. When M. Zola discovered, too, that sundry gentlemen—leaving wine to their wives and daughters—were addicted to drinking whisky with their meals, he was yet more astonished, for he claims that in France nowadays, greatly as the consumption of alcohol has increased among the masses, it has declined almost to vanishing point among people with any claim to culture. On this matter, however, I reminded him that wine was often expensive in England, that beer disagreed with many people, and that some who felt the need of a stimulant were thus driven to whisky and water.

When the master and Desmoulin wandered down to the Thames towing-path, they found fresh food for observation and comment among the boating fraternity. With some gay parties were damsels whose disregard for decorum was strongly reminiscent of Asnieres and Joinville-le-Pont; and it was slightly embarrassing to stroll near the river in the evening, when at every few yards one found young couples exchanging kisses in the shadows of the trees. After all it was surprise rather than embarrassment which the exiles experienced, for they had scarcely imagined that English training was conducive to such public endearments.

At a later stage a bicycle was procured for the master, and he was then able to extend his sphere of observation; but in the earlier days at Oatlands his rambles were confined to the vicinity of Walton and Weybridge. At the latter village he laid in a fresh stock of linen, and was soon complaining of the exiguous proportions of English shirts. The Frenchman, it should be remembered, is a man of many gestures, and desires all possible freedom of action for his arms. His shirt is cut accordingly, and a superabundance rather than a deficiency of material in length as well as breadth is the result. But the English shirt-maker proceeds upon different lines; he always seems afraid of wasting a few inches of longcloth, and thus if the ordinary ready-made shirt on sale at shops of the average class is dressy-looking enough, it is also often supremely uncomfortable to those who like their ease. Such, at least, was the master's experience; and in certain respects, said he, the English shirt was not only uncomfortable, but indecorous as well. This astonished him with a nation which claimed to show so much regard for the proprieties.

The desire to clothe himself according to his wont became so keen that M. Desmoulin decided to make an expedition to Paris. All this time Mme. Zola had remained alone at the house in the Rue de Bruxelles, outside which, as at Medan (where the Zolas have their country residence), detectives were permanently stationed. Mme. Zola was shadowed wherever she went, the idea, of course, being that she would promptly follow her husband abroad. She had, however, ample duties to discharge in Paris. At the same time she much wished to send her husband a trunkful of clothes as well as the materials for a new book he had planned, in order that he might have some occupation in his sorrow and loneliness.

Most people are by this time aware that M. Zola's gospel is work. In diligent study and composition he finds some measure of solace for every trouble. At times it is hard for him to take up the pen, but he forces himself to do so, and an hour later he has largely banished sorrow and anxiety, and at times has even dulled physical pain. He himself, heavy hearted as he was when the first novelty of his strolls around Oatlands had worn off, felt that he must have something to do, and was therefore well pleased at the prospect of receiving the materials for his new book, 'Fecondite.'

At that date he certainly did not imagine that the whole of this work would be written in England, that his exile would drag on month after month till winter would come and spring return, followed once more by summer. In those days we used to say: 'It will all be over in a fortnight, or three weeks, or a month at the latest;' and again and again did our hopes alternately collapse and revive. Thus the few chapters of 'Fecondite,' which he thought he might be able to pen in England, multiplied and multiplied till they at last became thirty—the entire work.

It was M. Desmoulin who brought the necessary materials—memoranda, cuttings, and a score of scientific works—from Paris. And at the same time he had a trunk with him full of clothes which had been smuggled in small parcels out of M. Zola's house, carried to the residence of a friend, and there properly packed. Desmoulin also brought a hand camera, which likewise proved very acceptable to the master, and enabled him to take many little photographs—almost a complete pictorial record of his English experiences.

During Desmoulin's absence the master remained virtually alone at Oatlands, and as he still cared nothing for newspapers I sent him a few books from my shelves, and, among others, Stendhal's 'La Chartreuse de Parme.' He wrote me afterwards; 'I am very grateful to you for the books you sent. Now that I am utterly alone they enabled me to spend a pleasant day yesterday. I am reading "La Chartreuse." I am without news from France. If you hear of anything really serious pray let me know about it.'

By this time proper arrangements had been made with regard to M. Zola's correspondence. His exact whereabouts were kept absolutely secret even from his most intimate friends. Everybody, his wife and Maitre Labori also, addressed their letters to Wareham's office in Bishopsgate Street. Here the correspondence was enclosed in a large envelope and redirected to Oatlands. With regard to visitors Wareham and I had decided to give the master's address to none. Wareham intended to take their cards, ascertain their London address, and then refer the matter through me to M. Zola. Later on, a regular supply of French newspapers was arranged, and those journals were re-transmitted to the master by Wareham or myself.

On the other hand, I usually addressed M. Zola's letters for him to the house of a trusty friend in Paris. This precaution was a necessary one, as M. Zola's handwriting is so extremely characteristic and so well known in France. And thus we were convinced that any letter arriving in Paris addressed by him would immediately be sent to the 'Cabinet Noir,' where all suspicious correspondence is opened by certain officials, who immediately report the contents to the Government.

It has been pretended that of recent years this secret service has been abolished; but such is by no means the case. It flourishes to-day in the same way as it flourished under the Second Empire, when Napoleon III. made a point of acquainting himself with the private correspondence of his own relatives, his ministers, and his generals. After the revolution of September 1870, hundreds of copies of more or less compromising letters, covert attacks on or criticisms of the Imperial Government, billets-doux also between Imperial princes and their mistresses, and so forth, were found at the Palace of the Tuilleries; and some of them were even published by a commission nominated by the Republican Government.

Much of the same kind of thing goes on to-day, and M. Zola, when in Paris during the earlier stages of the Dreyfus case, had made it a point to trust no letter of the slightest importance to the Postal Service. On one occasion, a short time after his arrival in England, we had reason to fear that a letter addressed by me to Paris had gone astray, and all correspondence on M. Zola's side was thereupon suspended for several days. However, the missing letter turned up at last, and from that time till the conclusion of the master's exile the arrangements devised between him, Wareham, and myself worked without a hitch.



VII

EXCURSIONS AND ALARUMS

Already at the time of M. Zola's arrival in London I had received a summons to serve upon the jury at the July Sessions of the Central Criminal court. I had been excused from service on a previous occasion, but this time I had no valid excuse to offer, and it followed that I must either serve or else pay such a fine as the Common Serjeant might direct. There is always a certain element of doubt in these matters; and while I might perhaps luckily escape service after a day or two, on the other hand, I might be kept at the Old Bailey for more than a week. At any other time I should have accepted my fate without a murmur; but I was greatly worried as to what might befall M. Zola during my absence in London, and I more than once thought of defaulting and 'paying up.' But the master would not hear of it. He was now located at Oatlands, and felt sure that he would have no trouble there. Moreover, said he, it would always be possible for me to run down now and again of an evening, dine with him, and attend to such little matters as might require my help.

So, on the Monday morning when the sessions opened, I duly repaired to town; and on the journey up, I saw in the 'Daily Chronicle' the announcement of M. Zola's recent presence at the Grosvenor Hotel. This gave me quite a shock. So the Press was on the right track at last! Starting from the Grosvenor Hotel, might not the reporters trace the master to Wimbledon, and thence to his present retreat? I had no time for hesitation. My instructions, moreover, were imperative. For the benefit of M. Zola personally, and for the benefit of the whole Dreyfus cause, I had orders to deny everything. So I drove to the Press Association offices, sent up a contradiction of the 'Daily Chronicle's' statement, and then hurried up Ludgate Hill to the Court, where my name was soon afterwards called.

I found myself on the second or third jury got together, and that day I was not empanelled. But on the morrow I was required to do duty; and between then and the latter part of the week I sat upon four or five cases—all crimes of violence, and one described in the indictment as murder. This position was the more unpleasant for me, as I am, by strong conviction, an adversary of capital punishment. I absolutely deny the right of society to put any man or any woman to death, whatever be his or her crime. My proper course then seemed to lie in the direction of a public statement, which would have created, I suppose, some little sensation or scandal; but happily the prosecuting counsel in his very first words abandoned the count of murder for that of manslaughter, and I was thereby relieved from my predicament.

The cases on which I sat, and those to which I listened while I remained in attendance, need not be particularised. I will merely mention that they were nearly all due to drink. Mr. Justice Lawrance, who sat upon the bench, was visibly impressed by the circumstance, to which he more than once alluded in his summings up. In one case he was so good as to refer to a question, put by me from the jury box, as a proper and pertinent one, at which I naturally felt vastly complimented. On the second or third day, either before the proceedings began or when the Court rose for luncheon—I do not exactly remember which—a gentleman approached me, and introduced himself as a member of the Press. Said he, 'I have been asking Mr. Avory for you. You are Mr. Vizetelly, I believe?'

'That is my name,' I answered.

'Well, I have come to speak to you about M. Zola's presence in England.'

I should here mention that, in spite of my contradiction of the 'Chronicle' story, there remained some people who had reason to believe it. Moreover, it had been more or less confirmed by the 'Morning Leader,' and some editors, rightly surmising that if M. Zola were in London he would very likely be in communication with his usual translator, had despatched reporters to my house, where my wife had seen them. On learning that I was quietly during jury service at the Old Bailey, some had apparently concluded that I was not concerned in M. Zola's movements, which, so it happened, was the very conclusion I had desired them to arrive at. One gentleman, however, not content with his repulse at my house, had followed me to the Court.

I answered his inquiries with a variety of suggestions. Zola in England, and in London too! Well, we had heard that before, said I. But was it a probable course for the novelist to take? He knew no English, and had but few personal friends in England. His portraits, however, were in several shops and in many newspapers. And only a few years previously he had been seen by a thousand English pressmen and others. So would he not be liable to recognition almost immediately? Now, the only modern language besides French of which M. Zola had any knowledge was Italian. And if I were in his place, I said, I should go to Italy—for instance, to one of the little towns in the North, whence, if needful, one could cross over into Switzerland; though, of course, there was little likelihood that the Italian Government would ever surrender the distinguished writer to his persecutors.

Continuing in this strain I gave my interviewer material for a very plausible article, which I remember was duly published, and which thus helped to divert attention from the right scent.

At the week-end, having given considerable time to jury duties, I was compelled to spend Saturday morning in London on business, and in the afternoon I allowed myself a few hours' relaxation. Reaching Wimbledon about eight in the evening I called on Wareham, who received me with a great show of satisfaction; for, said he, my services had been required for some hours past and nobody had known where I might be. That day, it seemed, just before Wareham had left his Bishopsgate Street office, he had received a visit from a most singular-looking little Frenchman, who had presented one of Maitre Labori's visiting cards and requested an interview with M. Zola. Questioned as to his business, the only explanation he would give was that he had with him a document in a sealed envelope which he must place in M. Zola's own hands. Wareham had wired to me on the matter, but owing to my absence from home had of course received no reply. Then, on reaching Wimbledon, he had called on me and found me out. And, finally, he had gone down to Oatlands and had there seen M. Zola, who had handed him a note authorising Maitre Labori's messenger to call at the hotel on the morrow. However, the messenger and his manners had seemed very suspicious to Wareham—as, indeed, they afterwards seemed to me—and the question arose, was he a genuine envoy, was the writing on Maitre Labori's card perchance a forgery, and what was the document in a sealed envelope which was to be handed to nobody but M. Zola himself? Well, said I at a guess, perhaps it is a copy of the Versailles judgment, and this is simply an impudent attempt to serve it.

Wareham still had Zola's note in his possession, and we resolved to go to town that evening to interview the messenger and extract from him some decisive proof of his bona fides before allowing matters to go any further.

The envoy's address was the Salisbury Hotel, Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, which I thought a curious one, being in the very centre of the London newspaper district; and all the way up to town my suspicions of having to do with a 'plant' steadily increased. It was quite ten o'clock when we reached the hotel, and on inquiring for our party found that he had gone to bed.

'Well,' said Wareham, sharply, 'he must be roused. We must see him at once.'

I spoke to the same effect, and the hotel servants looked rather surprised. I have an idea that they fancied we had come to arrest the man.

In about ten minutes he was brought downstairs. His appearance was most unprepossessing. He was very short, with a huge head and a remarkable shock of coal-black hair. Having hastily risen from bed, he had retained his pyjamas, but a long frock-coat hung nearly to his slippers, and in one hand he carried a pair of gloves, and in the other a huge eccentric silk hat of the true chimney-pot type. These were details, and one might have passed them over. But the man's face was sadly against him. He had the slyest eyes I have ever seen; that peculiar shifty glance which invariably sets one against an individual. And thus I became more and more convinced that we had to deal with some piece of trickery.

We entered the smoking-room where the gas was burning low. A gentleman stopping at the hotel was snoring in solitary state in one of the arm chairs. Reaching a table near a window we sat down and at once engaged in battle.

'I have not brought you a definite answer,' said Wareham to the envoy, 'but this gentleman is in M. Zola's confidence, and wishes further proof of your bona fides before allowing you to see M. Zola.'

Then I took up the tale, now in French, now in English, for the envoy spoke both languages. Who was he? I asked. Did he claim to have received Labori's card from Labori himself? What was the document in the envelope which he would only deliver to M. Zola in person? And he replied that he was a diamond-broker. Did I know So-and-So and So-and-So of Hatton Garden? They knew him well, they did business with him; they could vouch for his honorability. But no, I was not acquainted with So-and-So and So-and-So. I never bought diamonds. Besides, it was ten o'clock on Saturday night, and the parties mentioned were certainly not at their offices for me to refer to them.

Afterwards the little envoy began to speak of his family connections and his Paris friends, mentioning various well-known names. But the proofs I desired were not forth-coming; and when he finally admitted that he had not received Maitre Labori's card from that gentleman himself, all my suspicions revived. True he added that it had been given him by a well-known Revisionist leader to whom Maitre Labori, in a moment of emergency, having nobody of his own whom he could send abroad, had handed it.

But what was in the envelope? That was the great question. The envoy could or would not answer it. He knew nothing certain on that point. Then we—Wareham and I—brought forward our heavy artillery. We could not allow a document to be handed to M. Zola under such mysterious conditions. We must see it. But no, the envoy had strict instructions to the contrary; he could not show it to us. In that case, we rejoined, he might take it back to Paris. He had produced no proof of any of his assertions; for all we knew he might have told us a fairy tale, and the mysterious document might simply be a copy of the much dreaded judgment of Versailles. This suggestion produced a visible impression on the little man, and for half an hour we sat arguing the point. Finally he began to compliment us: 'Oh! you guard him well!' he said. 'I shall tell them all about it when I get back to Paris. But you do wrong to distrust me; I am honourable. I am well known in Hatton Gardens. I have done business there, ten, twelve years with So-and-So and So-and-So. I speak the truth: you may believe me.'

We shrugged our shoulders. For my part, I could not shake off the bad impression which the envoy had made on me. The gleams of craft and triumph which now and again I had detected in his eyes were not to my liking. Assuredly few men are responsible for any physical repulsiveness; we cannot all be 'Belvedere' Apollos; but then the envoy was not only of the ugly, but also the cunning-looking class. Yet a more honourable man never breathed. He at once thrust one hand into the depths of a capacious inner pocket, produced the mysterious envelope, and opened it in our presence. It contained simply a long letter from Maitre Labori, accompanied by a document concerning the prosecution which had been instituted with reference to the infamous articles that Ernest Judet, of the 'Petit Journal,' had recently written, accusing Zola's father of theft and embezzlement whilst he was a wardrobe officer in the French Foreign Legion in Algeria. It was needful that Zola should see this document, and return it by messenger to Paris immediately.

The affair in question is still sub judice, and I must therefore speak of it with some reticence. But all who are interested in M. Zola's origin and career will do well to read the admirable volume written by M. Jacques Dhur, and entitled 'Le Pere d'Emile Zola,' which the Societe Libre d'Edition des Gens de Lettres (30, Rue Laffitte, Paris) published a short time ago. This will show them how strong are the presumptions that the documents cited by Judet in proof of his abominable charges are rank forgeries—similar to those of Henry and Lemercier-Picard! In this connection it afforded me much pleasure to be able to supply certain extracts from Francesco Zola's works at the British Museum, showing how subsequent to the date at which the novelist's father is alleged to have purloined State money he was received with honour by King Louis-Philippe, the Prince de Joinville, the Minister of War, and other high personages of the time—incidents which all tend to establish the falsity of the accusations by which Judet, in his venomous spite and malignity, hoped to cast opprobrium on the parentage of my dear master and friend.

But I must return to Maitre Labori's envoy. When I had seen the contents of his envelope I heartily apologised to him for the suspicions which I had cast upon his good faith. At this he smiled more maliciously and triumphantly than ever, and then candidly remarked: 'Well, if you have tested me, I have tested you, and I shall be able to tell all our friends in Paris that M. Zola is in safe hands.'

According to our previous agreement we re-sealed the envelope, writing across it that it had been opened in the presence of Wareham and myself. And afterwards our reconciliation also was 'sealed' over a friendly glass. Nevertheless the envoy never saw M. Zola. M. Desmoulin luckily turned up on the morrow, and, armed with a fresh note from the master, persuaded our little French friend to hand him the documents.

We left the Salisbury Hotel, Wareham and I, well pleased to find that our suspicions had been unfounded. Nevertheless the whole conversation of the last hour had left its mark on us; and, for my part, I was in much the same state of mind as in the old days of the siege of Paris, when the spy mania led to so many amusing incidents. Thus, the circumstance of finding two persons at the corner of Salisbury Square as we left it—two persons who were speaking in French and who eyed us very suspiciously—revived my alarm. They even followed us along Fleet Street towards the Ludgate Circus, and though we dodged them through the cavernous Ludgate Hill Railway Station, across sundry courts and past the stores of Messrs. Spiers and Pond, we again found them waiting for us on our return towards the embankment, determined, so it seemed, to convoy us home. We hastened our steps and they hastened theirs. We loitered, they loitered also. At last Wareham made me dive into a side street and thence into a maze of courts, and though the others seemed bent on following us, we at last managed to give them the slip.

I never saw these men again, but I have retained a strong suspicion that no mere question of coincidence could explain that seeming pursuit. I take it that the individuals had come over to England on the track of the little French envoy; for it was after he had bidden us good-night outside the Salisbury Hotel that they had turned to follow us. He had told us, too, that earlier in the evening he had spent a hour smoking and strolling about Salisbury Court whilst anxiously awaiting Wareham's arrival with his promised answer. Whether these men were French police spies, whether they were simply members of some swell mob who know that the little gentleman with the huge head and the coal-black hair sometimes journeyed to London with a fortune in diamonds in his possession, must remain a mystery. As for Wareham and myself, when we had again reached Fleet Street we hailed a passing hansom and drove away to Waterloo.



VIII

OTHER PERSONAL ADVENTURES

I had another alarm a few days later. Returning one evening by train from Waterloo, I was followed into the compartment I selected by a party of five men, two of whom I recognised. One was the landlord of the Raynes Park Hotel, now deceased, and the other his son. Their companions proved to be Frenchmen, which somehow struck me as a curious circumstance. This was the time when a letter addressed by me to Paris for M. Zola appeared to have gone astray, and when we were therefore rather apprehensive of some action on the part of the French authorities. Could it be that the two Frenchmen who had followed me into the railway carriage in the company of a local licensed victualler were actually staying at Raynes Park, within half a mile of my home? And, if so, what could be their purpose?

I remained silent in my corner of the carriage, pretending to read a newspaper; but on glancing up every now and then I fancied that I detected one or another of the Frenchmen eyeing me suspiciously. They conversed in French, either together or with the landlord's son—who spoke their language, I found—on a variety of commonplace topics until we had passed Earlsfield and were fast approaching Wimbledon. Then, all at once, one of them inquired of the other: 'Shall we get out at Wimbledon or Raynes Park?'

'We'll see,' replied the other; and at the same time it seemed to me that he darted a very expressive glance in my direction.

I now began to feel rather nervous. It was my own intention to alight at Wimbledon, as I had an important message from M. Zola to communicate to Wareham that evening. But it now occurred to me that the best policy might be to go straight home. If these men were French detectives, or French newspaper men of the anti-Dreyfusite party, who by shadowing me hoped to discover M. Zola's retreat, it would be most unwise for me to go to Wareham's. If once the latter's name and address should be ascertained by detectives, communications between M. Zola and his friends would be jeopardised. On the other hand, of course, I might be mistaken with regard to the men; and before all else I ought to make sure whether they really had any hostile intentions. So I resolved to leave the train at Wimbledon, as I had originally proposed doing, and then shape my course by theirs.

As soon as the train pulled up I rose to alight, and at that same moment the Frenchman who had said 'We'll see,' exclaimed to his companion: 'Well, I think we will got out here.'

I waited to hear no more. I rushed off, threw my ticket to an inspector, climbed the steps from the platform, descended another flight into the station-yard, hurried into the Hill Road, and did not pause until I reached the first turning on the right. This happened to be the Alexandra Road, in which Wareham's local office is situated.

Then I turned round and, sure enough, I saw the two Frenchmen, the licensed victualler and his son, deliberately coming towards me. Forthwith, under cover of a passing vehicle, I crossed the street to the corner of St. George's Road, which offered a convenient, shady retreat. Then I awaited developments. To my great relief the party of four went straight on up the Hill Road.

Nevertheless, this might only be a feint, and I hesitated about going to Wareham's immediately. Before anything, I had better let those suspicious Frenchmen get right away. So I retraced my steps towards the station, and entered the saloon bar of the South-Western Hotel. There I found a foreign gentleman, whether French or Italian I do not know, whom I had previously met about Wimbledon on various occasions. A short, rather stout, and elderly man, formerly, I believe, in business in London, and now living on his income, he had more than once spoken to me of the Dreyfus case, Zola, Esterhazy, and all the others. And on this particular evening he approached me with a smile, and inquired if there were any truth in the reports he had heard to the effect that M. Zola had lately been seen in Wimbledon.

Nervous as I was at that moment, I was about to give him a sharp reply, when the door of the saloon bar opened, and to my intense alarm in marched the two Frenchmen who had already inspired me with so much distrust. Their friends were behind them; and I could only conclude that my movements had somehow been observed by them, and that now I was virtually caught, like a rat in a trap.

I was the more startled, too, when my foreign acquaintance (about whom I really knew very little) abruptly quitted me to accost the new comers. But this gave me breathing time. The door was free, and so, leaving the refreshment I had ordered untouched, I bolted out of the house in much the same way as a thief might have done, and ran, as if for my life, right down the Alexandra Road until I reached Wareham's office. And there I seized the knocker in a frenzy, and made such a racket as might have awakened the dead. The door suddenly opened, and I fell into the arms of Everson, Wareham's managing clerk.

'Great Scott!' said he. 'What is the matter? You've nearly brought the house down!'

'Shut the door!' I replied. 'Shut the door!'

'But what has happened to you?'

I had seated myself on the stairs, and a full minute went by before I could begin my story. Then I told Everson all that had befallen me. Some Frenchmen were on Zola's track; they must be the very same men who had shadowed Wareham and myself from the Salisbury Hotel some nights previously; and now they were in Wimbledon, having heard, no doubt, that M. Zola had been seen there. Wareham must be warned of it. Every precaution must be taken; we must remove our charge from Oatlands, and so forth.

Everson puffed away at his pipe and listened meditatively. At last he remarked, 'Well, it is a curious business if what you say is true. What were these Frenchmen like?'

Forthwith I began to describe them as accurately as I could. The first likeness I sketched must have been a faithful one, for Everson started, and exclaimed, 'And the other. Was he not so-and-so and so-and-so?'

'Yes, he was. But how do you know that?' I rejoined, with considerable surprise.

'Why, because I know who the men are! Although you saw them with Mr. Savage of the Raynes Park Hotel, it doesn't follow that they are staying at Raynes Park. As a matter of fact they live here in this very road. They have been here I daresay, eight or nine months now. And as for being detectives, my dear sir, they are musicians!'

'You don't mean it!'

I collapsed again. To think that out of a mere chain of chance coincidences I should have forged a perfect melodramatic intrigue! To think that I should have let my fancy run away with me in such a fashion, and have worked myself into such a state of nervousness and alarm! I could not help feeling a trifle ashamed. 'Well,' I pleaded, 'for my part, I had never seen the men before, either in Wimbledon or elsewhere. Of course, I am short-sighted, and my eyes sometimes play me tricks; however, as you are sure—'

'Sure!' repeated Everson; and again he described the men in such a way as to convince me that there was no mistake in the matter. 'Moreover,' he added, 'I saw them go past the house this very morning when they went up to town.'

'Well,' I rejoined, 'I suppose I am losing my head. Ten minutes ago I could have sworn that those men were after me.'

'Your statement that you never saw them before,' said Everson, 'does not surprise me. As a rule they go to town every morning, and as you are seldom in Wimbledon in the evening you can't very well meet one another.'

'I suppose you regard me as a bit of a fool?' I inquired.

'Oh, no. The circumstances were curious enough, and in your place I might have drawn the same conclusions. Only I don't think I should have hurried off to a friend's house and have nearly "knocked" it down.'

We both laughed, and then I apologised.

'As a matter of fact,' said I, 'all this is the natural outcome of events. The beginning was long ago. I have a secret which I find haunting me when I get up in the morning; all day long it occupies my mind; at night it clings to me and follows me through my sleep. And I grow more and more suspicious; it seems as if everybody I meet has designs upon my secret. Every Frenchman I don't know is a detective or a process server with a copy of the Versailles judgment in his pockets. And thus I shall soon become a monomaniac if I do not discover some remedy. I think I shall try the shower-bath system.'

Then I recalled experiences dating from long prior to M. Zola's arrival in England. First mysterious offers of important documents bearing on the Dreyfus case—documents forged a la Lemercier-Picard, hawked about by adventurers who tried to dispose of them, now in Paris, now in Brussels, and now in London. Needless to say that I, like others, had rejected them with contempt. Then had come an incident that Everson already know of: a stranger with divers aliases beseeching me for private interviews in M. Zola's interest, a request which I ultimately granted, and which led to a rather curious experience. I had declined to see my correspondent alone, and had given him the address of Wareham, who had been present at the interview. And at first the stranger, a tall and energetic looking man, with sunburnt face and heavy moustaches, had refused to disclose his business in Wareham's presence. If at last he did so, it was solely because I told him that before coming to any decision in the matters which he might have to submit to me I should certainly lay them before my solicitor. So the result would be the same, whether he spoke out before Wareham or not. And Wareham very properly added that a solicitor was, in a measure, a confessor bound to observe professional secrecy.

At last the man told us his business, and it proved to be a scheme for rescuing Dreyfus from Devil's Island and carrying him to an American port. Neither Wareham nor myself was able to take the matter seriously, but our visitor spoke with great earnestness, as though he already saw the suggested feat accomplished. He had a ship at his disposal, and a crew also. He gave particulars about both. If I remember rightly, the ship lay at Bristol. He knew Cayenne and Devil's Island, and Royal Island, and so forth. He was convinced of the practicability of the venture, he had weighed all the pros and cons, and it rested with Dreyfus's friends and relatives to decide whether or no he (the prisoner) should be a free man within another six weeks.

Wareham laughed. He was thinking of 'Captain Kettle,' and said so. But the would-be rescuer protested that all this was no romancing. Oh! he was not a philanthropist, he should expect to be well paid for his services; but the Dreyfus family was rich, and M. Zola, too, was a man of means. So surely they would not begrudge the necessary funds to release the unhappy prisoner from bondage.

But I replied that though the Dreyfus family and M. Zola also were anxious to see Dreyfus free, they were yet more anxious to prove his innocence. Personally I knew nothing of the Dreyfus family, and could give no letter of introduction to any member of it, such as I was asked for. And, as regards M. Zola, I was sufficiently acquainted with his character to say that he would never join in any such enterprise. He intended to pursue his campaign by legal means alone, and it was useless to refer the matter to him.

Then the interview ended rather abruptly. A French client of Wareham's happened to call at that very moment, and was heard speaking in French in the hall. This seemed to alarm the stranger, who ceased pressing his request that I should give him letters of introduction to prominent Dreyfusites. He rose abruptly, saying that the time would come when we should probably regret having refused to entertain his proposals, and hurrying past the waiting French client he ran off down the Alexandra Road in much the same way as I myself subsequently ran off from the French 'detectives' who were simply harmless disciples of St. Cecilia.

To this day I do not know whether the man was a lunatic, an imposter seeking money, or an agent provocateur, that is, one who imagined that he might through me inveigle M. Zola into an illegal act which would lead to prosecution and imprisonment. The last-mentioned status that I have ascribed to my interviewer is by no means an impossible one, considering the many dastardly attempts made to discredit and ruin M. Zola. And yet, suspicious and abrupt as was the man's leave-taking when he heard French being spoken outside Wareham's private room (where the interview took place), I nowadays think it more charitable to assume that he was a trifle crazy. One thing is certain, he had come to the wrong person in applying to me to aid and abet him in the foolhardy enterprise he spoke of.

This is the first time I have told this anecdote in any detail; but at the period when the incident occurred I spoke of it casually to a few friends, to which circumstance I am inclined to attribute the earlier paragraphs which appeared in the newspapers about American schemes for delivering Dreyfus. The person whom I saw was, I believe, a German-American.

Well, this incident, preposterous as it may appear (but truth, remember, is quite as fantastic as fiction), had proved another link in the chain of suspicious occurrences in which I had been mixed up prior to M. Zola's exile. Other curious little incidents had followed, and thus for many months I had been living—even as we lived long ago in besieged Paris—in distrust of all strangers, and the climax had come with my foolish fears respecting a couple of French musicians. The story I have told goes against me, but the man who cannot tell a story against himself when he thinks it a good one can have, I think, little grit in his composition.

From the time of my adventure with the French musicians I steeled myself against excessive fears whilst remaining duly vigilant. On one point I was still anxious, which was that M. Zola should be able to settle down in a convenient retreat where him himself would enjoy all necessary quietude; whilst we, Wareham and I, knowing him to be well screened from his enemies, would be less liable to those 'excursions and alarums' which had hitherto troubled us. As the next chapter will show, this consummation was near at hand.



IX

A QUIET HOME AND A HAUNTED HOUSE

It was M. Zola himself who, after some stay at Oatlands, discovered, in the course of his excursions with M. Desmoulin, a retreat to his liking. It was a house in that part of Surrey belonging to a city merchant, who was willing to let it furnished for a limited period. The owner met M. Zola on various occasions and showed himself both courteous and discreet.

The details of the 'letting' were arranged between him and Mr. Wareham; and my wife hastily procured servants for the new establishment. These servants, however, did not speak French, and I settled with M. Zola that my eldest daughter, Violette, should stay with him to act in some measure as his housekeeper and interpreter. This was thrusting a young girl, not quite sixteen, into a position of considerable responsibility, but I thought that Violette would be equal to the task, provided she followed the instructions and advice of her mother; and as she was then at home for the summer holidays she was sent down to M. Zola's without more ado.

I shall have occasion to speak of her hereafter in some detail, in connection with a very curious incident which marked M. Zola's exile. Here I will merely mention that a Parisienne by birth and speaking French from her infancy, it was easy for her to understand and explain the master's requirements.

Like M. Zola, she was provided with a bicycle, and the pair of them occasionally spent an afternoon speeding along leafy Surrey lanes and visiting quaint old villages. The mornings, however, were devoted to work, for it was now that M. Zola started on his novel, 'Fecondite,' the first of a series of four volumes, which will be, he considers, his literary testament.

These books, indeed, are to embody what he regards as the four cardinal principles of human life. First Fruitfulness, as opposed to neo-Malthusianism, which he holds to be the most pernicious of all doctrines; next Work, as opposed to the idleness of the drones, whom he would sweep away from the human community; then Truth, as opposed to falsehood, hypocrisy, and convention; and, finally, Justice to one and all, in lieu of charity to some, oppression to others, and favours for the privileged few.

All four books—'Fruitfulness,' 'Work,' 'Truth,' and 'Justice'—are to be stories; for years ago M. Zola arrived at the conclusion that mere essays on sociology, though they may work good in time among people of culture, fail to reach and impress the masses in the same way as a story may do. It is, I take it, largely on this account that Emile Zola has become a novelist. He has certainly written essays, but he knows how inconsiderable have been their sales in comparison with those of his works embodying precisely the same principles, but placed before the world in the form of novels. To criticise him as a mere story-teller is arrant absurdity.

He himself put the whole case in a nutshell when he remarked, 'My novels have always been written with a higher aim than merely to amuse. I have so high an opinion of the novel as a means of expression that I have chosen it as the form in which to present to the world what I wish to say on the social, scientific, and psychological problems that occupy the minds of thinking men. I might have said what I wanted to say to the world in another form. But the novel has to-day risen from the place which it held in the last century at the banquet of letters. It was then the idle pastime of the hour, and sat low down between the fable and the idyll. To-day it contains, or may be made to contain, everything; and it is because that is my creed that I am a novelist. I have, to my thinking, certain contributions to make to the thought of the world on certain subjects, and I have chosen the novel as the best means of communicating these contributions to the world.'

If critics in reviewing one or another of M. Zola's books would only bear these declarations of the author in mind, the reading public would often be spared many irrelevant and foolish remarks.

M. Zola's device is Nulla dies sine linea, and even before the materials for 'Fecondite' were brought to him from France he had given an hour or two each day to the penning of notes and impressions for subsequent use. With the arrival of his books and memoranda, work began in a more systematic way. At half-past eight every morning he partook of a cup of coffee and a roll and butter, no more, and shortly after nine he was at his table in a small room overlooking the garden of the house he had rented. And there he remained regularly, hard at work, until the luncheon hour, covering sheet after sheet of quarto paper with serried lines of his firm, characteristic handwriting.

M. Zola has retained possession of the MSS. of almost every work written by him, and I know that these MSS. often differ largely from the books actually given to the world. The 'copy' is not only extremely clear, but remarkably free from erasures and interpolations. But when his first proofs reach him M. Zola revises them with the greatest care. He will strike out whole passages in the most drastic manner, and alter others until they are almost unrecognisable.

He will even at the last moment change some character's name, and I know all the inconvenience that arises on certain occasions from having had to prepare portions of my translations from first proofs, through lack of time to wait for the corrected matter.

This was notably the case with my version of 'Paris.' While that work was passing through the Press M. Zola was already in all the throes of the Dreyfus affair, and somehow, as he has acknowledged to me with regret, he forgot to tell me that at the last moment he had changed the names of several personages in the story. Thus Duthil (as originally written and given in my translation) became Dutheil in the French book; Sagnier was changed to Sanier; the Princess de Horn was renamed Harn and finally Harth, and young Lord George Eliott became Elson.

Of course some of the reviewers of my translations attacked me virulently for my unwarrantable presumption in changing the very names of M. Zola's characters; they were unaware that the names given by me were those first selected by the author, who had afterwards altered them and forgotten to tell me of it.

Coming back to 'Fecondite,' I should say that M. Zola wrote an average of three pages per day of that book during his exile in England. Work ceased at the luncheon hour, as I have said, and consequently he could dispose of his afternoons.

But it will be remembered that the summer of 1898 was exceptionally hot, so hot indeed that M. Zola, though many years of his childhood were spent under the scorching sun of Provence, found a siesta absolutely necessary after the midday meal. It was only later that he ventured out on foot or on his bicycle, often taking his hand camera with him.

At some distance from the house where he was residing, in the midst of large deserted grounds, overrun with grass and weeds, there stood a mournful-looking, unoccupied private residence of some architectural pretensions, on the building of which a considerable sum had evidently been expended. The place took M. Zola's fancy the first time he passed it on his bicycle. The iron entrance gate was broken, and he was able to enter the garden and peep through the ground-floor windows.

All spoke of decay and abandonment; and when, through my daughter, M. Zola began to make inquiries about the place, he was told a fantastic tragic story. A murder, it was said, had been committed there many years previously; a poor little girl had been killed by her stepmother, and her remains had been buried beneath a scullery floor.

There was also talk of the child's father, who at night drove up to the house in a phantom carriage drawn by ghostly horses, and hammered at the door of the mansion and shouted aloud for his dead child!

The story was alleged to be well known, and it was said that not a girl from Chertsey to Esher, from Walton to Byfleet, would have dared to pass that house after nightfall, when harrowing voices rang out through the trees, and the shadowy horses of the ghostly carriage trotted swiftly and silently over the gravel.

The story not only impressed my daughter Violette, but it greatly interested M. Zola, on whose behalf I made various inquiries. For instance, I closely questioned an old gardener who had known the district for long years. All he could tell me, however, was that there were certainly some strange rumours abroad among the womenfolk, but that for his own part he had never heard of any crime and had never seen any ghost.

And at last others told me quite a different story of the house's abandonment, and this I here venture to give, though I certainly cannot vouch for its accuracy. The place had been built, it seemed, some forty years previously by a retired and wealthy London pawnbroker, a gaunt, shrivelled old man, who, mounted on a white mare, had in his declining years been a familiar figure on the roads of the district.

Extremely eccentric, he had largely furnished and decorated the house with unredeemed articles that had been pledged with him. There was nothing en suite. Old chairs of divers patterns were mingled with odd tables and sideboards and sofas; there were also innumerable daubs 'ascribed' to old masters, and a wonderful display of Wardour-street bric-a-brac. But, indeed, one has only to look at an average pawnbroker's shop to picture what kind of articles the house must have contained.

It seems that the old fellow in question had three daughters, whom he kept more or less imprisoned on his recently-acquired property, though they were charming girls well worthy of being sought in marriage; and the story I heard was that three officers sojourning in the district had one day espied the three forlorn damsels over the garden hedge, and had forthwith begun to court them, much to the ire of the misanthropic, retired pawnbroker. That stern old gentleman ordered his daughters into the house, and then kept them in stricter confinement than ever.

But love laughs at locksmiths, and the amorous officers eventually carried the place by storm, and beat down all parental resistance. Three weddings followed on the same day, and all ended for a time as in a fairy tale. But the old pawnbroker subsequently married again to relieve his solitude, and after his death his will was attacked, and an interminable lawsuit ensued, with the result that the property was left unoccupied. Now, it appeared, it was for sale, and before long would probably be cut up into building plots.

Whatever romantic element there might be in the story of the pawnbroker and his daughters, M. Zola much preferred the popular and gruesome legend of the little girl murdered in the scullery; and, some time later, when he consented to write a short story for 'The Star,' it was this legend which he took as his basis, building thereon the pathetic sketch of 'Angeline,' the scene of which he transferred to France.

He has stated in his article 'Justice,' published in Paris on his return from exile, that during most of the time he spent in England he was virtually in a desert. There were people about him of course; but he retired into himself as it were, communing with his own thoughts, and seeking no intercourse with strangers. This is true of the period to which I am now referring. Still he did not complain of solitude. In fact he knew that quiet was essential for his work. Only once or twice did anything happen of a nature to cause any anxiety. Neither Wareham nor myself was much troubled at this period; there was a lull even in the periodical visits which gentlemen of the Press kindly favoured me.

Still we had taken our precautions by admitting a mutual friend, Mr. A. W. Pamplin, into our confidence. If M. Zola's communications with Paris, through Wareham and myself, should be threatened, Mr. Pamplin was to take upon himself the duty of re-establishing them.

At M. Zola's house there was, so far as I am aware, but one brief alerte. This occurred one afternoon, when a servant came to my daughter with the tidings that there was a French hunchback at the door. Violette impulsively rushed off to tell M. Zola of it; but when in her turn she went to the door to see who the person might be, she found that he was an Englishman, a traveller for some county directory, who had merely performed his legitimate work in requesting to know the name of the occupier of the house. Of course the only name given was that of the owner, then absent at the seaside.

Thus the hot days sped by peacefully enough. M. Zola had at least found occupation and quietude, though it was naturally impossible that he should feel content with his lot. Each day brought more and more home to him the consciousness that he was in exile, and that contumely had been his reward for seeking to save France from the shame of a great crime.

I have previously mentioned that during the first week or so of his sojourn in England he had refused to look at newspapers and—at least so it seemed to me—had sought to banish the Dreyfus affair and his own troubles from his mind, much as one might seek to drive away a hateful nightmare. But before long he again fell under the spell and followed the course of events with the keenest interest. And again and again, reading of the great battle being waged in France, he longed to return home, and grew restless and impatient.

Moreover a complaint from which he has suffered on and off for some years troubled him on more than one occasion. He always rallied, however, and returned to his work with renewed energy. 'Fecondite' was already taking shape in the leafy solitude in which he dwelt. And undoubtedly the steady task of creation, resumed morning by morning, greatly helped him to quiet the anguish of heart which the course of events in France would otherwise have rendered intolerable.

NOTE.—While this work was appearing serially in the 'Evening News' I received numerous letters from readers interested in various matters mentioned by me. With respect to the foregoing chapter, a lady living at Staines wrote saying that she was looking out for 'a cheap haunted house,' and asking for the address of the one I had mentioned. I was unable to comply with her request, as personally I do not believe the house was haunted at all. Moreover, to prevent the sale or letting of any particular house by asserting it to be haunted would be an offence under the libel laws. As I could not tell what course my lady-correspondent might take in the matter, I preferred not to answer her. May she forgive me my impoliteness!



X

'LE REVE': THE DREAM

When the owner of the house which M. Zola had rented desired to resume possession, it became necessary to find new quarters of a similar character for the master. And so he was transferred to another Surrey country house where the arrangements remained much the same as previously: work every morning, resting or bicycling in the afternoon, followed by newspaper reading and letter-writing in the evening.

The grounds of M. Zola's new retreat were very extensive, and in part very shady, which last circumstance proved extremely welcome to the novelist, who on coming to 'cold, damp, foggy England,' as the French put it, had never imagined that he would have to endure a temperature approaching that of the tropics.

The heat deprived him of appetite, and, moreover, he did not particularly relish some of the dishes provided for him by a new cook who had lately been engaged. We all know how great is the servant difficulty even under the best of circumstances; and when cooks and maids have to be secured in hot haste an entirely satisfactory result is hardly to be expected. Moreover, many servants refuse to live in country retirement, far away from their 'followers,' and thus one has at times to take such as one can find.

As for the cookery to which M. Zola was at certain periods treated, he beheld it with wonder and repulsion. His tastes are simple, but to him the plain, boiled, watery potato and the equally watery greens were abominations. Plum tart, though served hot (why not cold, like the French tarte?) might be more or less eatable; but, surely, apple pudding—the inveterate breeder of indigestion—was the invention of a savage race. And why, when a prime steak was grilled, should the cook water it in order to produce 'gravy,' instead of applying to it a little butter and chopped parsley? This, Dundreary-wise, was one of those things which nobody, not even M. Zola, could understand.

However, a visit to a fishmonger's shop had made him acquainted with the haddock, the kipper, and likewise the humble bloater; and occasionally, I believe, when his appetite needed a stimulant he turned to the smoked fish, which seemed so novel to his palate. The cook, of course, was mightily incensed thereat. For her part, she most certainly would not eat haddock or kippers for dinner; she had too much self-respect to do such a thing, so she boiled or roasted a leg of mutton for her own repast and the maids'. I do not say that she was wrong; and, indeed, M. Zola never forced people to eat what they did not care for.

But in the same way he wished for something that he himself could eat, and he was weary of the perpetual joint and the vegetables a l'eau. One day, when in a jocular spirit he was talking to me on this subject, I told him that we English had a saying to the effect that 'God sent us food, but the devil invented cooks.'

'You are quite right,' he replied, 'only as a Frenchman I should put it this way: "God sent us food, but the devil invented English cooks."'

Towards the end of August he again became very dispirited. The 'cause' did not at that time appear to be prospering in France, where so many people remained under the spell of the deceptive declarations and documents which had been made public in the Chamber of Deputies by War Minister Cavaignac early in July.

Of course the Revisionists were still hard at work, but in the face of M. Cavaignac's speech, placarded throughout the 36,000 townships of France, they seemed to have a very uphill task before them. The anti-Dreyfusites on their side were more arrogant than ever, and although M. Zola never once lost faith in the justice of his cause and its ultimate triumph, he did, on more than one occasion, question whether that triumph would come in a peaceful way.

Felix Faure was then still President of the Republic, and I am abusing, I think, no confidence in saying that M. Zola regarded that vain, showy man as one of the great obstacles to the victory of truth and justice. Faure, he said to me, had undoubtedly at one time enjoyed well-deserved popularity; he, Zola, had been received by him and in the most cordial manner. But the President's intercourse with crowned heads, and his intimacy with arrogant general officers, coupled with all the flummery of the Protocole, all the pomp and display observed whenever he stirred from the Palace of the Elysee, had virtually turned his head. He was in the hands of those military men who opposed revision, and he shielded them because their downfall would mean his own. He was bent on the hushing-up course lest his Presidency should become synonymous with a great judicial crime; he feared that he might be forced to resign even before his term of office was over, or, at all events, that he might have to abandon all hope of re-election.

And thus with the President and the more prominent generals opposed to revision, M. Zola, though confident in the final issue, more than once said to me that there might be serious trouble before all was over.

He was now kept very well informed of all that took place in France; intelligence often reached him before it appeared in the newspapers; and now and again he told me what was brewing. Going backward, too, he confided to me some curious particulars of the genesis of the Revisionist campaign. But he will himself some day tell all this in a book of his own, and I must not anticipate him. I will only say that various important things he mentioned to me in the autumn of 1898 have since become well-known, acknowledged facts, and I have every reason to believe that time will duly show the accuracy of those which have not as yet been publicly revealed.

There is one point to which I must refer at more length. In his declaration 'Justice,' published on the expiration of his exile, M. Zola stated that he had long suspected Colonel Henry, though he had possessed no actual proof of that officer's guilt. This is so true, that I well recollect listening to a conversation between him and M. Desmoulin during the first days of their sojourn in England, when they compared notes with respect to their impressions of Henry, whom they had particularly noticed at Versailles on the occasion of M. Zola's sentence by default.

They had then observed how nervous and crestfallen the colonel looked—the very picture, indeed, of a man who dreads the discovery of his guilt. This was the more remarkable, as Henry's confident arrogance at the earlier trial in Paris had been so conspicuous. The man had a skeleton in his cupboard—to Zola and Desmoulin that was certain.

M. Zola is a good physiognomist, and his friend (as a portraitist) is scarcely less gifted in that respect, and they felt equally certain of Henry's culpability. As yet they could not say that it was he who had actually forged that famous 'absolute proof' of Dreyfus's guilt, which they knew to have been forged by some one, but that time would prove him guilty of some abominable machination was to them a foregone conclusion.

One day, it must have been I suppose the 31st of August, a rather strange telegram in French reached me for transmission to M. Zola. It came from Paris, and was, so far as I remember, to this effect: 'Be prepared for a great success.'

A name I was acquainted with followed; but what the telegram might mean I knew not. There was absolutely nothing in the newspapers with reference to any great success achieved at that moment by the Revisionist party; but possibly the message might refer to one or another of M. Zola's lawsuits, such as that with the 'Petit Journal' or that with the handwriting experts. I re-telegraphed it to M. Zola, and that day, at all events, I thought no more of the matter.

But I afterwards learnt that the telegram had perplexed him quite as much as it perplexed me. A great success? What could it be? He racked his mind in vain. He reviewed all the phases and aspects of the Dreyfus case, wondering whether this or that had happened, but not suspecting the public revelations which were then impending, the tragedy which was being enacted.

For a while he walked up and down, feverish and anxious (he was at the time in poor health), and then he would fling himself on a sofa, still and ever indulging in his surmises. With that kind of prescience which he had so frequently displayed in the Dreyfus affair, he felt certain that something very important had occurred, for otherwise such a mysterious telegram would never have been sent him. This lasted the whole evening.

My daughter Violette was with him at the time, and his feverishness doubtless gained on her. At last she retired to rest, while M. Zola, according to his wont, carried a lamp into his own room to sit there a while and read some French newspapers which had reached him, via Wareham, by the evening delivery. There was nothing in them of a nature to explain the mysterious telegram; still he read on and on in the hope, as it were, of quieting himself.

It was, I believe, between eleven o'clock and midnight when he rose to go to bed, and as he did so he heard some loud exclamations, followed by a cry. At first he fancied that the calls came from one of the servants' rooms, and he paused on the landing. Then, however, as they were repeated, he found that they came from my daughter's apartment. With fatherly solicitude he waited and listened. Violette was calling in her sleep.

Practical enough in matters of everyday life, this girl of mine has literary partialities of a somewhat gruesome kind, and her avowed ambition (I quote her own words) is to write, some day, stories full of witches and wizards, that shall make people's flesh creep. For this reason I keep such of Anne Radcliffe's uncanny novels as I possess carefully locked up.

I can well remember my daughter telling me at times of strange things dreamt by her in her sleep; but not of being of a romantic or a mystical turn myself, I have usually pooh-poohed all this as nonsense. And such I believe is the course which fathers usually adopt if their daughters' imaginations begin to run riot.

As for M. Zola, when he heard Violette calling in her sleep, his first impulse was to rouse her, but all suddenly became still again. The girl had probably sunk into a more peaceful slumber. And so, after waiting a few minutes longer, he thought it best to leave her as she was.

Nothing further disturbed M. Zola that night; but on the following morning, when he met Violette downstairs, he asked her how she felt, and told her that he had heard her calling in her sleep. He had probably formed the same opinion as I should have formed under the circumstances, namely, that it was a case of indigestion or a little excitement.

But she turned to him and replied, 'Oh! I had such a frightful dream. . . I was in a big black place, and there was a man on the ground covered with blood, and people were crowding round him, talking with great excitement. And I saw you, Monsieur Zola, and you came up looking like a giant and waved your arms again and again, and seemed well pleased.'

M. Zola was dumbfounded. He could make nothing of it. A man in a pool of blood and others round him; and he, Zola, waving his arms and looking well pleased! It was nonsense; and he was disposed to laugh at the girl and chide her. But a little later, with the arrival of some morning newspapers, the position suddenly changed.

Here I should mention that as the Paris journals only reached M. Zola with a delay of twelve or four-and-twenty hours, it had just been arranged that he should be supplied with two or three London papers every morning, and that he and Violette between them should put the telegrams concerning the Dreyfus business into French.

He opened one of these English newspapers—which it was I do not recollect—and there he saw a whole column dealing with the arrest and confession of Colonel Henry. The heading to the telegrams, the very words 'arrest' and 'confession,' made everything intelligible to M. Zola; and beneath all this came a brief wire headed, I think, 'Paris, midnight,' and worded much to this effect: 'Colonel Henry has been found dead in his cell at Mont Valerien.'

So that was the man whom Violette, in her dream, had seen weltering in a pool of blood, surrounded by his custodians, who had rushed in full of excitement! M. Zola's presence in that vision was, so to say, symbolical. 'He had waved his arms and had seemed well pleased'—so the girl had put it in her frank, artless way. 'Well pleased' may perhaps appear to be scarcely the correct expression. At all events, it needs to be interpreted. Most certainly Zola never desired the death of a sinner; but, on the other hand, he could only feel some satisfaction at knowing that Henry's crime was at last divulged to the world.

This, then, is how my daughter dreamt Henry's death. I do not wish to insist unduly on the incident, and I have no intention of appealing to the Psychical Research Society to test, corroborate, or disprove the case.

There was one rather curious feature that I have not yet mentioned. My daughter has assured me that during the same night she dreamt the same thing over and over again. She tried to banish the vision, but ever and ever it returned, as if to impress itself indelibly upon her mind. And ever did she see M. Zola waving his arms as he hovered round the scene.

At that time the girl knew nothing of Colonel Henry; she understood very little about the Dreyfus case; and all she had to go upon was the enigmatical telegram and M. Zola's talk during the evening, when he was expressing his thoughts aloud. But at that moment he had foreseen no death, murder, or suicide, and if the possibility of any arrest had occurred to him it was that of M. du Paty de Clam, which the Revisionist papers were then demanding.

It is true that in infancy my daughter had often seen Mont Valerien, as I lived for some years at Boulogne-sur-Seine, and the hill and fortress towering across the river were then familiar objects to us all. But the girl was little more than a baby at the time, and so this circumstance can have exercised no influence upon her. Moreover, she has told me that she had no notion as to what might be the actual scene of her dream; it merely appeared to her that she was in France, because the people she saw raised ejaculations in French.

Passing from this incident, I may point out that the telegram sent to M. Zola through me was explained by the news in the English newspapers. It was evident that the 'great success' referred to in the message was the discovery of Henry's forgery and possibly his arrest.

Directly I saw the news in a London newspaper I hurried off to M. Zola's, and when I reached his abode about noon I found him expecting me. We then went over matters together, the press telegrams, my daughter's dream and the probable outcome of the whole affair.

As was natural, M. Zola was quite excited. First, the document which Henry had confessed to having forged was the very one that General de Pellieux had imported into the Zola trial in Paris as convincing proof of Dreyfus's guilt. At that time already its effect had been very great; it had destroyed all chance of M. Zola's acquittal. Then, too, it had been solemnly brought forward in the Chamber of Deputies by War Minister Cavaignac, who had vouched for its authenticity. And now, as previously alleged by Colonel Picquart, it was shown to be a forgery of the clumsiest kind.

Here at least was 'a new fact' warranting the revision of the whole Dreyfus case. Surely the blindest bigot could not resist such evidence of the machinations of those who had sent Dreyfus to Devil's Island; truth and justice would speedily triumph, and in a week or two he, Zola, would be able to return to France again.

But he did not take sufficient account of human obstinacy and vileness. His friends, to whom he appealed on the subject of his return, urged him to remain where he was, for the battle, they said, was by no means over, and his name was still like the red scarf of the matador that goads the bull to fury. The advice proved good, for again were passions stirred. Henry, the ignoble forger, was raised to the position of martyr, and Cavaignac and Zurlinden and Chanoine in turn strove to impede the course of justice. 'Hope deferred maketh the heart sick,' and thus M. Zola, finding so many difficulties in the way of his return, abandoned for a time all work and fell into brooding melancholy.



XI

THROUGH THE AUTUMN

Important events were now taking place in Paris. Cavaignac resigned the position of War Minister and was succeeded by Zurlinden; Du Paty de Clam was turned out of the army; Esterhazy, who had likewise been 'retired,' fled from France, Mme. Dreyfus addressed to the Minister of Justice a formal application for the revision of her unfortunate husband's case; and that application was in the first instance referred to a Commission of judges and functionaries. Then General Zurlinden resigned his Ministerial office, and again becoming Governor of Paris, apprehended the gallant Picquart on a ridiculous charge of forgery, and cast him into close confinement in a military prison. There was talk, too, of a military plot in Paris, and again and again were attempts made to prevent the granting of Revision.

Throughout those days of alternate hope and fear M. Zola suffered keenly. It was, too, about this time that he heard of the death of his favourite dog—an incident to which I have previously referred as coming like a blow of fate in the midst of all his anxiety.

When he rallied he spoke to me of his desire to familiarise himself in some degree with the English language, with the object principally of arriving at a more accurate understanding of the telegrams from Paris which he found in the London newspapers. A dictionary, a conversation manual, and an English grammar for French students were then obtained; and whenever he felt that he needed a little relaxation, he took up one or another of these books and read them, as he put it to me, 'from a philosophical point of view.'

Later I procured him a set of Messrs. Nelson's 'Royal Readers' for children, when he greatly praised, declaring them to be much superior to the similar class of work current in France. Afterwards he himself purchased a prettily illustrated edition of the classic 'Vicar of Wakefield' (the work to which all French young ladies are put when learning our language), but he found portions difficult to understand, and a French friend then procured him an edition in which the text is printed in French and English on alternate pages.

One day when he had been dipping into English papers and books he tackled me on rather a curious point. 'Why is it,' said he, 'that the Englishman when he writes of himself should invariably use a capital letter? That tall "I" which recurs so often in a personal narrative strikes me as being very arrogant. A Frenchman, referring to himself, writes je with a small j; a German, though he may gratify all his substantives with capital letters, employs a small i in writing ich; a Spaniard, when he uses the personal pronoun at all, bestows a small y on his yo, while he honours the person he addresses with a capital V. I believe, indeed—though I am not sufficiently acquainted with foreign languages to speak with certainty on the point—that the Englishman is the only person in the world who applies a capital letter to himself. That "I" strikes me as the triumph of egotism. It is tall, commanding, and so brief! "I"—and that suffices. How did it originate?'

It was difficult for me to answer M. Zola on the point; I am a very poor scholar in such a matter, and I could find nothing on the subject in any work of reference I had by me. I surmised, however, that the capital I, as a personal pronoun, was a survival of the time when English, whether written or printed, was studded with capitals, even as German is to-day. If I am wrong, perhaps some one who knows better will correct me. One thing I have often noticed is that a child's first impulse is to write 'i,' and that it is only after admonition that the aggressive and egotistical 'I' supplants the humbler form of the letter. This did not surprise M. Zola, since vanity, like most other vices, is acquired, not inherent in our natures. But in a chaffing way he suggested that one might write a very humorous essay on the English character by taking as one's text that tall, stiff, and self-assertive letter 'I.'

How far M. Zola actually carried his study of English I could hardly say, but during the last months of his exile he more than once astonished me by his knowledge of an irregular verb or of the correct comparative and superlative of an adjective. And if he seldom attempted to speak English, he at least made considerable progress in reading it. By the time he returned to France he could always understand any Dreyfus news in the English papers. Of course the language in which the news was couched was of great help to him, as in three instances out of four it was simply direct translation from the French.

In this connection, while praising many features of the English Press, M. Zola more than once expressed to me his surprise that so much of the Paris news printed in London should be simply taken from Paris journals. Some correspondents, said he, never seemed to go anywhere or to see anybody themselves. They purely and simply extracted everything from newspapers. This he was able to check by means of the many Paris prints which he received regularly.

'Here,' he would say, 'this paragraph is taken verbatim from "Le Figaro"; this other appeared in "Le Temps," this other in "Le Siecle,"' and so forth. And he was not alluding to extracts from editorials, but to descriptive matter—accounts of demonstrations and ceremonies, fashionable weddings and other social functions, interviews, and so forth. The practice upset all his ideas of a foreign correspondent's duties, which should be to obtain first-hand and not second-hand information.

In principle this is of course correct, but a correspondent cannot be everywhere at the same time; and nowadays, moreover, English journalists in Paris do not enjoy quite the same facilities as formerly. As regards more particularly the Dreyfus business, the French, with a sensitiveness that can be understood, have all along deprecated anything in the way of foreign interference, and the English Pressman of inquiring mind on the subject has more than once met with a rebuff from those in a position to give information. Again, the political difficulties between the two countries of recent years have often placed the Paris correspondents in a very invidious position.

This brings me to the Fashoda trouble, which arose last autumn while M. Zola was still in his country retreat. The great novelist's enemies have often alleged that he was no true Frenchman; but for my part, after thirty years' intimacy with the French, I would claim for him that his country counts no better patriot. He is on principle opposed to warfare, but there is a higher patriotism than that which consists in perpetually beating the big drum, and that higher patriotism is Zola's.

The Fashoda difficulties troubled him sorely, and directly it seemed likely that the situation might become serious he told me that it would be impossible for him to remain in England. The progress of the negotiations between France and Great Britain was watched with keen vigilance, and M. Zola was ready to start at the first sign of those negotiations collapsing. As all his friends were opposed to his return to France (they had again virtually forbidden it late in September when the Brisson Ministry finally submitted the case for revision to the Criminal Chamber of the Cour de Cassation), he would probably have gone to Belgium, but I doubt whether he would have remained long in that country.

I have said that M. Zola is opposed to warfare on principle. His views in this respect have long been shared by me. Life's keenest impressions are those acquired in childhood and youth. And in my youth—I was but seventeen, though already acting as a war correspondent, the youngest, I suppose, on record—I witnessed war attended by every horror:—A city, Paris, starved by the foreigner and subsequently in part fired by some of its own children. And between those disasters, having passed through the hostile lines, I saw an army of 125,000 men with 350 guns, that of Chanzy, irretrievably routed after battling in a snowstorm of three days' duration, cast into highways and byways, with thousands of barefooted stragglers begging their bread, with hundreds of farmers bewailing their crops, their cattle, and their ruined homesteads, with mothers innumerable weeping for their sons, and fair girls in the heyday of their youth lamenting the lads to whom their troth was plighted. And in that 'Retraite Infernale,' as one of its historians has called it, I saw want, hunger, cupidity, cruelty, disease, stalking beside the war fiend; so no wonder that, like Zola, I regard warfare as the greatest of abominations that fall upon the world. I often regret that, short of actual war itself and its disaster and misery, there should be no means of bringing the whole horror of the thing home to those silly, arm-chair, jingo journalists of many countries, our own included, who, viewing war simply as a means of imposing the will of the stronger upon the weaker, and losing sight of all that attends it, save martial pomp and individual heroism, ever clamour for the exercise of force as soon as any difficulty arises between two governments.

Ties of affection, bonds of marriage, as well as long years of intimacy, link me moreover to the French people; and more keenly, perhaps, than even the master himself, did I realise what war between France and England might mean; thus we both had an anxious time during the Fashoda trouble. Fortunately for the general peace hostilities were averted, and M. Zola was thus able to remain in his secluded English home, and to continue the writing of his novel.

The weather was still very fine, and now and again he ventured upon a little excursion. The principal one was to Virginia Water, where he strolled round the lake, then drove through part of the Great Park, and thence on to Windsor Castle, where he saw all the sights, the State apartments, St. George's Hall and Chapel, the Albert Memorial Chapel, and so forth. And, as he had brought his hand camera with him, he was able to take a few snapshots of what he saw. I was not present on that occasion; his companions were a French gentleman, a very intimate friend, and my daughter, but I was pleased to hear that he had, at all events, seen Windsor. As a rule, it was extremely difficult to induce him to emerge from his solitude. When he took a walk or a bicycle ride his destination was simply some sleepy Surrey village or deserted common.

He appreciated English scenery. Around Oatlands he had been much struck by the beauty of the trees, and was greatly astonished to find such lofty and perfect hedges of holly running at times for a mile almost without a break on either side of the roads. I suppose that some of the finest holly hedges in England are to be found in that district. Then, too, the rookeries surprised and interested him. There was one he could see from his window at the last half of his country residences, and many an idle half-hour was spent by him in watching the flight of the birds or their occasional parliaments.

Nobody recognised him on his rambles. I even doubt if people, generally, thought him a foreigner. He had long ceased to wear his rosette of the Legion of Honour, and he had replaced his white billycock by an English straw hat. Towards the close of the fine weather he purchased a 'bowler,' which greatly altered his appearance. Indeed, there is nothing like a 'bowler' to make a foreigner look English.

Wareham and I had now quite ceased to fear that any attempt would be made to serve the Versailles judgment on M. Zola. We were only troubled by gentlemen of the Press, both French and English, for since Esterhazy had fled from France and the case for revision had been formally referred to the Cour de Cassation, several newspapers had become desirous of ascertaining M. Zola's views on the course of events. My instructions remained, however, the same as formerly: I was to tell every applicant that M. Zola declined to make any public statement, and that he would receive nobody. I was occasionally inclined to fancy that some of those who called on me imagined that these instructions were of my own invention, and that I was simply keeping M. Zola au secret for purposes of my own. But nothing was further from the truth.

Personally, at certain moments, when the revision proceedings began, when M. Brisson fell from office, when M. Dupuy, listening to the clamour of a pack of jackals, transferred the revision inquiry from the Criminal Chamber to the entire Court of Cassation, I thought that it might really be advisable for him to speak out. But, anxious though he was, disgusted, indignant, too, at times, he would do nothing to add fuel to the flame. Passions were roused to a high enough pitch already, and he had no desire to inflame them more.

Besides the cause was in very good hands; Clemenceau and Vaughan, Yves Guyot and Reinach, Jaures and Gerault-Richard, Pressense, Cornely, and scores of others were fighting admirably in the Press, and his intervention was not required. Many a man circumstanced as M. Zola was would have rushed into print for the mere sake of notoriety, but he condemned himself to silence, stifling the words which rose from his throbbing heart. And, after all, was not that course more worthy, more dignified?

Thus I could only return one answer to the newspaper men who wrote to me or called at my house. Late in autumn there was an average of three applications a week. One or two gentlemen, I believe, imagined that M. Zola was staying very near me, and, failing to learn anything at my place, they tried to question one or two tradesmen in the neighbourhood. One of these, a grocer, became so irate at the frequent inquiries as to whether a Frenchman, who wrote books and had a grey beard, and wore glasses, was not staying in the vicinity, that he ended by receiving the reporters with far more energy than politeness, not only ordering them out of his shop at the double quick, but pursuing them with his vituperative eloquence. 'Taking one consideration with another, a reporter's lot, at times, is not a happy one.'

A climax was reached when one gentleman, after communicating with M. Zola by letter through various channels and receiving no answer from him, ascertained my address and called there. As servants are not always to be depended upon, we had made it virtually a rule at home that whenever a stranger was seen at the front door my wife herself should, if possible, answer it. And she did so in the instance I am referring to.

Well, the gentleman first asked for me, and on learning that I was absent, he explained that he was a friend, a private friend of M. Zola, whom he wished to see on an important private matter. Could she, my wife, oblige him with M. Zola's address? No, she could not; he had better write, and his letter would be duly forwarded by me. Then the applicant started on another story. It was no use his writing, he must see me. Should I be at home on the morrow? The matter was of great importance, it would mean a large sum of money for myself and so on. My wife had not much confidence in what was told her, but she requested the visitor to leave his name and address in order that I might make an appointment with him, should I think such a course advisable.

She was, at the moment, far more amazed and amused than indignant. She bade the gentleman keep his money, and then showed him to the door. To me that evening she did not mention the incident, and, indeed, I only heard of it after I had taken the trouble to communicate with M. Zola respecting the gentleman's urgent private business, which (so it turned out) was purely and simply connected with journalism, my visitor having acted on behalf of the owner of a well-known London newspaper.

I do not know whether his principal had any knowledge of his impudent attempt at bribery. For my own part I much regret that my wife (I suppose in the interests of peace) should have kept it from me at that time as she did, for the gentleman might otherwise have experienced, as he deserved, a rather unpleasant ten minutes.



XII

THE FINAL RESTING-PLACE

At last the time arrived when it became necessary to remove M. Zola from his country quarters, and by his desire Wareham and I then looked around us for a suitable suburban hotel. The autumn was now far spent and M. Zola felt confident that he would be back in Paris by the end of the year. Had he foreseen that his exile would prove so long, he would certainly have sent for a couple of his French servants, and have set up a quiet establishment in some other furnished house. But for another month or two he considered that hotel accommodation would well suffice.

The place selected for him by Wareham and myself was the Queen's Hotel, Upper Norwood, and there he remained from late in the autumn of 1898 until his departure from England.

A glance at the Queen's Hotel shows one that it is composed of what were once separate houses, now connected together by buildings of one storey only. Each of these houses, or, as one may perhaps call them, pavilions, has a separate entrance and staircase; and the advantage of this, to one circumstanced as M. Zola was, must be obvious. A person lodging in one of the pavilions can come and go freely. There is no vast hall to cross, with a dozen servants standing around, ready to scrutinise you as you pass in and out. You have your suite of rooms in one or another pavilion, you take your meals there in your own dining-room, and you can shut yourself off, as it were, from the greater part of the establishment and enjoy privacy and quiet. This, no doubt, is the reason why so many well-to-do people, who dislike the stir and bustle of the ordinary hotel, patronise the hostelry at Upper Norwood.

There at one time—when consulting Sir Morell Mackenzie, I believe—stayed the unfortunate Emperor Frederick; and now it may add to its list of patrons the most famous Frenchman of his day.

It seemed to Wareham and me that the Queen's Hotel would, under the circumstances, prove an ideal retreat for M. Zola. Moreover, Upper Norwood stands on very high ground, and it was probable therefore that he would largely escape the winter fogs. Of course the Crystal Palace was comparatively near, but it was not very largely patronised in the winter, and, besides, if M. Zola wished to escape a crowd, he had only to take his walks in another direction.

The Queen's Hotel stands back from the road; but, in the first instance, as a precautionary measure it was thought best to select for M. Zola a suite of rooms overlooking the extensive gardens. As time went on, however, the trees lost their last leaves, the vista from these rooms, charming enough in summer, became very cheerless. So the master's quarters were shifted to a larger suite on the ground floor, with the windows of the two communicating sitting-rooms overlooking both the road and the garden.

The two sitting-rooms were an advantage, particularly during the time that Mme. Zola stayed at the Queen's Hotel (for she joined her husband on and off), as he could devote one of them entirely to his work. But when Mme. Zola finally left England (in a very ailing state, after a terrible cold had kept her within doors for some weeks) her husband moved once again, and installed himself on the second floor, where the rooms were smaller and therefore easier to warm. It was then mid-winter.

The various rooms M. Zola occupied and in which he spent from seven to eight months—that is by far the greater portion of his exile—were all part of the same house or pavilion, this being the last of the pavilions constituting the hotel proper. Adjoining is a lower building, belonging to the same proprietary as the hotel, but, in a measure, distinct from it. Most of M. Zola's tenancy was spent in the topmost rooms. After bringing the master up from the country, I took him one morning down to Norwood, and he cordially approved of the arrangements which had been made for him. There was only one thing amiss. Wareham and I had been promised that he should have a waiter speaking French to attend on him; and the one provided knew perhaps just a few words of that language. However, he was very intelligent, very discreet, very willing to oblige—a pattern waiter of the good old English school. And when I had explained to him exactly what would be required, he took due note of everything, and for many months the arrangements that were made worked virtually without a hitch.

If M. Zola's surroundings had altered, the routine of his life remained the same as formerly. With regard to his novel 'Fecondite' he had, as the saying goes, 'warmed to his work,' which he pursued at the Queen's Hotel with unflagging energy.

Knowing his habits I never (unless under exceptional circumstances) visited him till he had finished his daily quantum of 'copy,' that was about the luncheon hour. Then we would talk business, communicate to one another such news as might be necessary, and at times exchange impressions with regard to the incidents of the day.

Among other matters often discussed were the English birth-rate and the rearing of English children, points which deeply interested M. Zola, as they were germane to the subject of 'Fecondite.' I could at first only give him general information, but the Rev. R. Ussher, vicar of Westbury, Bucks, the able author of 'Neo-Malthusianism,' very kindly sent me a copy of his exhaustive work, which contained many particulars on the points that principally interested M. Zola. Moreover, Mr. George P. Brett, the President of the Macmillan Company of New York (M. Zola's American publishers), supplied him with some interesting information respecting the United States.

With regard to England, M. Zola had been much struck by certain proceedings instituted during his exile against medical men, midwives, and others, proceedings which seemed to point to the existence in this country of a state of affairs much akin to that prevailing in France. The affair of the brothers Chrimes, who first sold bogus medicines and then proceeded to blackmail the women who had purchased them, was, in Zola's estimation, particularly significant, for here were hundreds and hundreds of Englishwomen applying to those men for the means of accomplishing the greatest crime against Nature there could be.

Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse