WITH ZOLA IN ENGLAND
A STORY OF EXILE
ERNEST ALFRED VIZETELLY
TO VIOLETTE AND TO VICTOR TO DORA AND TO BOTH MARIES DEAR WIFE AND ROMPING DAUGHTER I LOVINGLY INSCRIBE THIS LITTLE BOOK
He begged for Light! . . Lo, Darkness fell, And round him cast its stifling pall! In vain he clamoured! Ev'ry Hell Poured forth its fumes to drown his call.
He cried for Truth! . . Lo, Falsehood came, In robes of Impudence array'd, Polluting Patriotism's name, Degrading Honour to a trade.
He asked for Justice! . . Lo, between Him and the judgment-seat there rose The Sword of Menace, ever keen To smite the braggart War-Wolf's foes!
Light, Truth, and Justice all denied, He struggled on 'mid threat and blow— A brave Voice battling by his side— Till Error's minions struck him low.
Yet is his faith not dead, nor mine: O'er deepest gloom, o'er worst distress, Ever the mighty Sun doth shine Aglow with Truth and Righteousness.
The blackest clouds are rent at last; And the divine resistless flame Through all, some morn, its blaze shall cast, The Wrong disclose, the Right proclaim!
E. A. V.
February 23, 1898.
[Printed in 'The Star' on the morrow of M. Zola's condemnation in Paris]
All that I claim for this little book, reprinted from the columns of 'The Evening News,' is the quality of frankness. I do not desire to check or disarm criticism, but I have a right to point out that I have performed my work rapidly and have largely subordinated certain literary considerations to a desire to write my story naturally and simply, in much the same way as I should have told it in conversation with a friend. Very rarely, I think, have I departed from this rule.
The book supplies an accurate account of Emile Zola's exile in this country; but some matters I have treated briefly because he himself proposes to give the world—probably in diary form—some impressions of his sojourn in England with a record of his feelings day by day whilst the great campaign in favour of the unfortunate Alfred Dreyfus was in progress.
First, however, M. Zola intends to collect in a volume all his published declarations, articles and letters on the Affair. Secondly, he will recount in another volume his trials at Paris and Versailles; and only in a third volume will he be able to deal with his English experiences. The last work can scarcely be ready before the end of 1900, and possibly it may not appear until the following year. And this is one of the reasons which have induced me to offer to all who are interested in the great French writer this present narrative of mine. Should the master's promised record duly appear, my own will sink into oblivion; but if, for one or another reason, M. Zola is prevented from carrying out his plans, here, then, will at least be found some account of one of the most curious passages in his life. And then, perchance, my narrative may attain to the rank of memoire pour servir.
I have said that I claim for my book the quality of frankness. In this connection I may point out that I have made in it a full confession of certain delinquencies which were forced on me by circumstances. I trust, however, that my brother-journalists will forgive me if I occasionally led them astray with regard to M. Zola's presence in England; for I did so purely and simply in the interests of the illustrious friend who had placed himself in my hands.
That M. Zola should have applied to me directly he arrived in London will surprise none of those who are aware of the confidence he has for several years reposed in me. A newspaper referring to our connection recently called the great novelist 'my employer.' But there has never been any question of employer or employed between Mr. Zola and me. I should certainly never think of accepting remuneration for any little service I might have been able to render him; nor would he dream of hurting my feelings by offering it. No. The simple truth is that for some years now I have translated M. Zola's novels into English, and that I have taken my share of the proceeds of the translations. For the rest our intercourse has been purely and simply that of friends.
It is because, I believe, I know and understand Emile Zola so well, that I never once lost confidence in him throughout the events which led to his exile in England. That exile, curiously enough, I foreshadowed in a letter addressed to the 'Star' some months before it actually began. When, however, one has been intimate with the French for thirty years or so it is not, to my thinking, so very difficult to tell what is likely to happen in a given French crisis. The unexpected has to be reckoned with, of course; and much depends on ability to estimate the form which the unexpected may take. Here experience, familiarity with details of contemporary French history, and personal knowledge of the men concerned in the issue, become indispensable.
On January 16, 1898, three days after M. Zola's famous 'J'accuse' letter appeared in 'L'Aurore,' and two days before the French Government instructed the Public Prosecutor to proceed against its author, I wrote to the 'Westminster Gazette' a long letter dealing with M. Zola's position. In this letter, which appeared in the issue of the 19th, I began by establishing a comparison between Zola and Voltaire, whose action with regard to the memory of Jean Calas I briefly epitomised. Curiously enough at that moment M. Zola, as I afterwards learnt, was telling the Paris correspondent of the 'Daily Chronicle' that the opposition offered to his advocacy of the cause of Alfred Dreyfus was identical with that encountered by Voltaire in his championship of Calas. This was a curious little coincidence, for I wrote my letter without having any communication with M. Zola respecting it. It contained some passes which I here venture to quote. In a book dealing with the great novelist these passages may not be out of place, as they serve to illustrate his general attitude towards the Dreyfus case.
'Truth,' I wrote, 'has been the one passion of Emile Zola's life.* "May all be revealed so that all may be cured" has been his sole motto in dealing with social problems. "Light, more light!"—the last words gasped by Goethe on his death-bed—has ever been his cry. Holding the views he holds, he could not do otherwise than come forward at this crisis in French history as the champion of truth and justice. Silence on his part would have been a denial of all his principles, all his past life. . . . Against him are marshalled all the Powers of Darkness, all the energy of those who prefer concealment to light, all the enmity of the military hierarchy which has never forgotten "La Debacle," all the hatred of the Roman hierarchy which will never forgive "Lourdes" and "Rome." And the fetish of Patriotism is brandished hither and thither, rallying even free-thinkers to the cause of concealment, while each and every appeal for light and truth is met by the clamorous cry: "Down with the dirty Jews!"
* He himself wrote these very words seventeen months later in his article 'Justice,' published in Paris on his return from exile.
'For even as Jean Calas was guilty of being a Protestant so is Alfred Dreyfus guilty of being a Jew, and at the present hour unhappily there are millions of French people who can no more believe in a Jew's innocence than their forerunners could believe a Protestant to be guiltless. Zola, for his part, is no Jew, nor can he even be called a friend of the Jews—in several of his books he has attacked them somewhat violently for certain tendencies shown by some of their number—but most assuredly does he regard them as fellow-men and not as loathsome animals. In the same way Voltaire wrote pungent pages against the narrow practices of Calvinism and yet espoused the causes of Calas and Sirven, even as Zola has espoused that of Dreyfus. The only remaining question is whether Zola will prove as successful as his famous forerunner. [Nearly the whole of the European press was at that stage expressing doubt on this point.] In this connection I may say that I regard Zola as a man of very calm, methodical, judicial mind. He is no ranter, no lover of words for words' sake, no fiery enthusiast. Each of his books is a most laborious, painstaking piece of work. If he ever brings forward a theory he bases it on a mountain of evidence, and he invariably subordinates his feeling to his reason. I therefore venture to say that if he has come forward so prominently in this Dreyfus case it is not because he feels that wrong has been done, but because he is absolutely convinced of it. Doubtless many of the expressions in his recent letter to President Faure have come from his heart, but they were in the first place dictated by his reason. It is not for me here and at the present hour to speak of proofs, however great may be public curiosity; but most certainly Zola has not taken up this case without what he considers to be abundant proof. I do not say he will be able to prove each and every item of his great indictment, but when you wish to bring everything to light it is often necessary to cast your net so wide that none shall escape it, none linger in concealment with their actions unexplained. And I take it that whatever be the verdict of Zola's countrymen, whether or not Alfred Dreyfus be again and this time absolutely proved guilty . . . Zola himself will have done good work in striving to bring the whole truth to light so that it shall be as evident to one and all as the very sun itself. And this, when all is said, is really Zola's one great object in this terrible business.
'I may add that he is risking far more than his great predecessor risked in favour of Calas. Voltaire pleaded from his retirement on the Swiss frontier; Zola pleads the cause he has adopted on the very spot, on the very scene of all the agitation. Anonymous assassins threaten him with death in letters and postcards. Fanatical Jew-baiters march through the streets anxious for an opportunity to wreck his house and murder not only himself but his wife also in the sacred name of Patriotism.* Should their menaces be escaped there remains the Assize Court with a jury that will need to be brave indeed if it is to resist all the pressure of a deliberately organised "terror." At the end possibly lie imprisonment, fine, disgrace, ruin. How jubilantly some are already rubbing their hands in the bishops' palaces, the parsonages, the sacristies of France! Ah! no stone will be kept unturned to secure a conviction! But Emile Zola does not waver. It may be the truth, the whole truth will only be known to the world in some distant century; but he, anxious to hasten its advent and prevent the irreparable, courageously stakes all that he has, person, position, fame, affections, and friendships. . . . And this he does for no personal object whatsoever, but in the sole cause of truth and justice, ever repeating the cry common to both Goethe and himself: "Light, more light!"
* There is not the slightest doubt that M. Zola incurred the greatest personal danger between January and April 1898. M. Ranc, the old and tried Republican, who knows what danger is, has lately pointed this out in forcible terms in the Paris journal Le Matin.
'Ah! to all the true hearts that have followed and loved him through years of mingled blame and praise, hard-earned victory and unmerited reviling, he is at this hour dearer even than he was before; for he has now put the seal upon his principles, and to the force of precept has added that of the most courageous personal example.'
This then is what I wrote immediately after the publication of Zola's letter 'J'accuse,' basing myself simply on my knowledge of the master's character, of the passions let loose in France, and of a few matters connected with the Dreyfus case, then kept secret but now public property. And had I to write anything of the kind at the present time, I should, I think, have but few words to alter beyond substituting the past for the present or future tense. In one respect I was mistaken. I did not imagine the truth to be quite so near at hand. Since January 1898, however, nine-tenths of it have been revealed and the rest must now soon follow. And I hold, as all hold who know the inner workings of l'Affaire Dreyfus, that M. Zola's exile, like his letter to President Faure and his repeated trials for libel, has in a large degree contributed to this victory of truth. For by going into voluntary banishment, he kept not only his own but also Dreyfus's case 'open,' and thus helped to foil the last desperate attempts that were being made to prevent the truth from being discovered.
I should add that in the following pages I deal very slightly with l'Affaire Dreyfus, on which so many books have already been written. Indeed, as a rule, I have only touched on those incidents which had any marked influence on M. Zola during his sojourn in this country.
E. A. V.
MERTON, SURREY. June 1899.
WITH ZOLA IN ENGLAND
ZOLA LEAVES FRANCE
From the latter part of the month of July 1898, down to the end of the ensuing August, a frequent heading to newspaper telegrams and paragraphs was the query, 'Where is Zola?' The wildest suppositions concerning the eminent novelist's whereabouts were indulged in and the most contradictory reports were circulated. It was on July 18 that M. Zola was tried by default at Versailles and sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment on the charge of having libelled, in his letter 'J'accuse,' the military tribunal which had acquitted Commandant Esterhazy. On the evening of the 19th his disappearance was signalled by various telegrams from Paris. Most of these asserted that he had gone on a tour to Norway, a course which the 'Daily News' correspondent declared to be very sensible on M. Zola's part, given the tropical heat which then prevailed in the French metropolis.
On the 20th, however, the telegrams gave out that Zola had left Paris on the previous evening by the 8.35 express for Lucerne, being accompanied by his wife and her maid. Later, the same day, appeared a graphic account of how he had dined at a Paris restaurant and thence despatched a waiter to the Eastern Railway Station to procure tickets for himself and a friend. The very numbers of these tickets were given!
Yet a further telegram asserted that he had been recognised by a fellow-passenger, had left the train before reaching the Swiss frontier, and had gaily continued his journey on a bicycle. But another newspaper correspondent treated this account as pure invention, and pledged his word that M. Zola had gone to Holland by way of Brussels.
On July 21 his destination was again alleged to be Norway; but—so desperate were the efforts made to reconcile all the conflicting rumours—his route was said to lie through Switzerland, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands. His wife (so the papers reported) was with him, and they were bicycling up hill and down dale through the aforenamed countries. Two days later it was declared that he had actually been recognised at a cafe in Brussels whence he had fled in consequence of the threats of the customers, who were enraged 'by the presence of such a traitor.' Then he repaired to Antwerp, where he was also recognised, and where he promptly embarked on board a steamer bound for Christiania.
However, on July 25, the 'Petit Journal' authoritatively asserted that all the reports hitherto published were erroneous. M. Zola, said the Paris print, was simply hiding in the suburbs of Paris, hoping to reach Le Havre by night and thence sail for Southampton. But fortunately the Prefecture of Police was acquainted with his plans, and at the first movement he might make he would be arrested.
That same morning our own 'Daily Chronicle' announced M. Zola's presence at a London hotel, and on the following day the 'Morning Leader' was in a position to state that the hotel in question was the Grosvenor. Both 'Chronicle' and 'Leader' were right; but as I had received pressing instructions to contradict all rumours of M. Zola's arrival in London, I did so in this instance through the medium of the Press Association. I here frankly acknowledge that I thus deceived both the Press and the public. I acted in this way, however, for weighty reasons, which will hereafter appear.
At this point I would simply say that M. Zola's interests were, in my estimation, of far more consequence than the claims of public curiosity, however well meant and even flattering its nature.
One effect of the Press Association's contradiction was to revive the Norway and Switzerland stories. Several papers, while adhering to the statement that M. Zola had been in London, added that he had since left England with his wife, and that Hamburg was their immediate destination. And thus the game went merrily on. M. Zola's arrival at Hamburg was duly reported. Then he sailed on the 'Capella' for Bergen, where his advent was chronicled by Reuter. Next he was setting out for Trondhiem, whence in a few days he would join his friend Bjornstjerne Bjornson, the novelist, at the latter's estate of Aulestad in the Gudbrandsdalen. Bjornson, as it happened, was then at Munich, in Germany, but this circumstance did not weigh for a moment with the newspapers. The Norway story was so generally accepted that a report was spread to the effect that M. Zola had solicited an audience of the Emperor William, who was in Norway about that time, and that the Kaiser had peremptorily refused to see him, so great was the Imperial desire to do nothing of a nature to give umbrage to France.
As I have already mentioned, the only true reports (so far as London was concerned) were those of two English newspapers, but even they were inaccurate in several matters of detail. For instance, the lady currently spoken of as Mme. Zola was my own wife, who, it so happens, is a Frenchwoman. At a later stage the 'Daily Mail' hit the nail on the head by signalling M. Zola's presence at the Oatlands Park Hotel; but so many reports having already proved erroneous, the 'Mail' was by no means certain of the accuracy of its information, and the dubitative form in which its statement was couched prevented the matter from going further.
At last a period of comparative quiet set in, and though gentlemen of the Press were still anxious to extract information from me, nothing further appeared in print as to M. Zola's whereabouts until the 'Times' Paris correspondent, M. de Blowitz, contributed to his paper, early in the present year, a most detailed and amusing account of M. Zola's flight from France and his subsequent movements in exile. In this narrative one found Mme. Zola equipping her husband with a nightgown for his perilous journey abroad, and secreting bank notes in the lining of his garments. Then, carrying a slip of paper in his hand, the novelist had been passed on through London from policeman to policeman, until he took train to a village in Warwickshire, where the little daughter of an innkeeper had recognised him from seeing his portrait in one of the illustrated newspapers.
There was something also about his acquaintance with the vicar of the locality and a variety of other particulars, all of which helped to make up as pretty a romance as the 'Times' readers had been favoured with for many a day. But excellent as was M. de Blowitz's narrative from the romantic standpoint his information was sadly inaccurate. Of his bona fides there can be no doubt, but some of M. Zola's friends are rather partial to a little harmless joking, and it is evident that a trap was laid for the shrewd correspondent of the 'Times,' and that he, in an unguarded moment, fell into it.
On the incidents which immediately preceded M. Zola's departure from France I shall here be brief; these incidents are only known to me by statements I have had from M. and Mme. Zola themselves. But the rest is well within my personal knowledge, as one of the first things which M. Zola did on arriving in England was to communicate with me and in certain respects place himself in my hands.
This, then, is a plain unvarnished narrative—firstly, of the steps that I took in the matter, in conjunction with a friend, who is by profession a solicitor; and, secondly, of the principal incidents which marked M. Zola's views on some matters of interest, as imparted by him to me at various times. But, ultimately, M. Zola will himself pen his own private impressions, and on these I shall not trespass. It is because, according to his own statements to me, his book on his English impressions (should he write it) could not possibly appear for another twelve months, that I have put these notes together.
The real circumstances, then, of M. Zola's departure from France are these: On July 18, the day fixed for his second trial at Versailles, he left Paris in a livery-stable brougham hired for the occasion at a cost of fifty francs. His companion was his fidus Achates, M. Fernand Desmoulin, the painter, who had already acted as his bodyguard at the time of the great trial in Paris. Versailles was reached in due course, and the judicial proceedings began under circumstances which have been chronicled too often to need mention here. When M. Zola had retired from the court, allowing judgment to go against him by default, he was joined by Maitre Labori, his counsel, and the pair of them returned to Paris in the vehicle which had brought M. Zola from the city in the morning. M. Desmoulin found a seat in another carriage.
The brougham conveying Messrs. Zola and Labori was driven to the residence of M. Georges Charpentier, the eminent publisher, in the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, and there they were presently joined by M. Georges Clemenceau, Mme. Zola, and a few others. It was then that the necessity of leaving France was pressed upon M. Zola, who, though he found the proposal little to his liking, eventually signified his acquiescence.
The points urged in favour of his departure abroad were as follows: He must do his utmost to avoid personal service of the judgment given against him by default, as the Government was anxious to cast him into prison and thus stifle his voice. If such service were effected the law would only allow him a few days in which to apply for a new trial, and as he could not make default a second time, and could not hope at that stage for fresh and decisive evidence in his favour, or for a change of tactics on the part of the judges, this would mean the absolute and irrevocable loss of his case.
On the other hand, by avoiding personal service of the judgment he would retain the right to claim a new trial at any moment he might find convenient; and thus not only could he prevent his own case from being closed against him and becoming a chose jugee, but he would contribute powerfully towards keeping the whole Dreyfus affair open, pending revelations which even then were foreseen. And, naturally, England which so freely gives asylum to all political offenders, was chosen as his proper place of exile.
The amusing story of the nightgown tucked under his arm and the bank notes sewn up in his coat is, of course, pure invention. A few toilet articles were pressed upon him, and his wife emptied her own purse into his own. That was all. Then he set out for the Northern Railway Station, where he caught the express leaving for Calais at 9 P.M. Fortunately enough he secured a first-class compartment which had no other occupant.
M. Clemenceau had previously suggested to him that on his arrival at London he might well put up at the Grosvenor Hotel, and it is quite possible that the same gentleman handed him—as stated in the 'Times' narrative—a slip of paper bearing the name of that noted hostelry. But, at all events, this paper was never used by M. Zola. He has an excellent memory, and when he reached Victoria Station at forty minutes past five o'clock on the morning of July 19, the name of the hotel where he had arranged to fix his quarters for a few days came readily enough to his lips.
There was, however, one thing that he did not know, and that was the close proximity of this hotel to the railway station. So, having secured a hansom, he briefly told the Jehu to drive him to the Grosvenor. At this, cabby looked down from his perch in sheer astonishment. Then, doubtless, in a considerate and honest spirit—for there are still some considerate and honest cabbies in London—he tried to explain matters. At all events he spoke at length. But M. Zola failed to understand him.
'Grosvenor Hotel,' repeated the novelist; and then, seeing that the cabby seemed bent on further expostulation, he resolutely took his seat in the vehicle. This driver, doubtless after the fashion of certain of his Paris colleagues, must be trying to play some trick in order to avoid a long journey. It was as well, therefore, to teach him to refrain from trifling with his 'fares.'
However, cabby said no more, or if he did his words failed to reach M. Zola. The reins were jerked, the scraggy night-horse broke into a spasmodic trot turned out of the station, and pulled up in front of the caravansary which an eminent butcher has done so much to immortalise.
Zola was astonished at reaching his destination with such despatch, and suddenly became conscious of the cabby's real motive in expostulating with him. However, he ascended the steps, entered the hotel, produced one of the few hundred-franc notes which his purse contained, and asked first for change and afterwards for a bedroom. English money was handed to him for his note, and the night porter carried cabby the regulation shilling for the journey of a few yards which had been made.
Then, as M. Zola had no luggage with him, he was requested to deposit a sovereign with the hotel clerk and to inscribe his name in the register. This he did, and the tell-tale signature of 'M. Pascal, Paris,' still remains as a token of the accuracy of this narrative.
Such, then, was the way in which M. Zola travelled across London, obligingly passed on from policeman to policeman, and carrying a slip of paper—a 'way-bill,' as it were—in his hand! As the above account was given to me by himself, it will probably be deemed more worthy of credit than the amusing romance which was so successfully palmed off on M. de Blowitz of the 'Times.'
Of his journey from Paris that night, he reclining alone in his compartment as the Calais express rushed across the plains of Picardy under a star-lit sky; of his embarking on board the little Channel boat amidst the glimmer of lanterns, his transference to a fresh train at Dover, followed by another and even faster rush on to London; of his gloomy thoughts at this sudden severance from one and all, at speeding in this lonely fashion into exile, and returning surreptitiously, as it were, to the city where but a few years previously he had been received as one of the kings of literature, he will ever retain a keen impression.
It was at Victoria that his journey ended, even as it had ended in 1893; but how changed the scene! He finds the station gaunt and well-nigh deserted; the few passengers are gliding away like phantoms into the morning air; the porters loiter around, and the Customs officers discharge their duties in a perfunctory, sleepy way. No crowd of Pressmen and sightseers is present; there are no delegates and address, and flowers, and cheers as of yore. Only cabby, who expostulates, and who doubtless thinks this Frenchman a bit of a crank to insist upon being driven just around the corner!
And at the hotel no army of servants appears to marshal the master to the best suite of rooms on the principal floor. In lieu thereof comes a doubtful greeting and a demand for a deposit of money, for fear lest he should be some vulgar bilker. Then, once he is in the lift, he goes up and up without stopping, until the very topmost floor is reached. And afterwards he is marched along interminable passages, with walls painted a crude, hideous shade of blue, so offensive to all artistic instinct as verily to make one's gorge rise. Then at last he finds himself in a room which, high as it is situated, is of lowly, common aspect. Yet he is only too glad to reach it, and throw himself on the bed to rest awhile, and to think.
New experiences are awaiting him. He is far away from the mob that pelted his windows with stones and yelled 'Conspuez! Conspuez!' whenever he left his house. Here there is no hostility. Here quietude prevails, save for the shrill whistles of arriving or departing trains. Yet he is also far from the great majority of his affections and friendships. But at this remembrance a fresh thought comes to him; he takes one of his visiting cards from his pocket-book, pencils a few lines on it, and encloses it in an envelope ready to be posted. Then he again lies down; tired as he is, after his exciting day at Versailles and his wearisome night journey, he soon falls soundly asleep.
On Tuesday, July 19, I went to London on business, and did not return to my home in the south-western suburbs until nearly seven o'clock in the evening. My wife immediately placed in my hands an envelope addressed to me in the handwriting of M. Zola. At first, having noticed neither the stamp nor the postmark, I imagined that the communication had come from Paris.
On opening the envelope, however, I found that it contained a card on which was written in French and in pencil:—
'My dear confrere,—Tell nobody in the world, and particularly no newspaper, that I am in London. And oblige me by coming to see me to-morrow, Wednesday, at eleven o'clock, at Grosvenor Hotel. You will ask for M. Pascal. And above all, absolute Silence, for the most serious interests are at stake.
'Cordially, 'EMILE ZOLA.'
I was for a moment amazed and also somewhat affected by this message, the first addressed by M. Zola to anybody after his departure from France. Since the publication of his novel 'Paris,' which had followed his first trial, I had not seen him, and we had exchanged but few letters. I had written to express my sympathy over the outcome of the proceedings at Versailles, but owing to his sudden flitting my note had failed to reach him. And now here he was in London—in exile, as, curiously enough, I myself had foretold as probable some time before in a letter to one of the newspapers.
My first impulse was to hurry to the Grosvenor immediately, but I reflected that I might not find him there, and that even if I did I might inconvenience him, as he had appointed the following day for my call. So I contented myself with telegraphing as follows: 'Pascal, Grosvenor Hotel.—Rely on me, tomorrow, eleven o'clock.' And, as a precautionary measure, I signed the telegram merely with my Christian name.
As I afterwards learnt, M. Zola had spent that day companionless, walking about the Mall and St. James's Park, and purchasing a shirt, a collar, and a pair of socks at a shop in or near Buckingham Palace Road, where, knowing no English, he explained his requirements by pantomime. He had further studied several street scenes, and had given some time to wondering what purpose might be served by a certain ugly elongated building, overlooking a drive and a park. There was a sentry at the gate, but the place had such a gaunt, clumsy, and mournful aspect, that M. Zola could not possibly picture it as the London palace of her most Gracious Majesty the Queen.
However, evening found him once more in his room at the Grosvenor; and feeling tired and feverish he lay down and dozed. When he awoke between nine and ten o'clock he perceived a buff envelope on the carpet near by him. It had been thrust under the door during his sleep, and its presence greatly astonished him, for he expected neither letter nor telegram. For a moment, as he has told me, he imagined this to be some trap; wondered if he had been watched and followed to London, and almost made up his mind to leave the hotel that night. But when, after a little hesitation, he had opened the envelope and read my telegram, he realised how groundless had been his alarm.
On the morrow, when I reached the Grosvenor and inquired at the office there for M. Pascal, I was asked my name, on giving which I received a note from M. Zola saying that he unexpectedly found himself obliged to go out, but would return at 2.30 P.M. As I stood reading this note, I espied a couple of individuals scrutinising me in what I deemed a most suspicious manner. Both were Frenchmen evidently; they wore billycock hats and carried stout sticks; and one of them, swarthy and almost brigandish of aspect, had the ribbon of the Legion of Honour in his buttonhole. It was easy to take these individuals for French detectives, and I hastily jumped to the conclusion that they were on 'M. Pascal's' track.
To make matters even more suspicious, when, after placing Zola's note in my pocket, I began to cross the vestibule, the others deliberately followed me, and in all likelihood I should have fled never to return if a well-known figure in a white billycock and grey suit had not suddenly advanced towards us from the direction of the staircase. In another moment I had exchanged greetings with M. Zola, and my suspicious scrutinisers had been introduced to me as friends. One of them was none other than M. Fernand Desmoulin. They had arrived from Paris that morning, and were about to sally forth with M. Zola in search of Mr. Fletcher Moulton, Q.C., to whom they had brought a letter of introduction from Maitre Labori.
Hence the note which M. Zola had already deposited for me at the hotel office. Had I been a moment later I should have found them gone.
My arrival led to a change in the programme. It was resolved to begin matters with lunch at the hotel itself, to postpone the quest for Mr. Fletcher Moulton until the afternoon. I made, at the time, a note of our menu. The 'bitter bread of exile' consisted on this occasion of an omelet, fried soles, fillet of beef, and potatoes. To wash down this anchoretic fare M. Desmoulin and myself ordered Sauterne and Apollinaris; but the contents of the water bottle sufficed for M. Zola and the other gentleman.
With waiters moving to and fro, nearly always within hearing, there was little conversation at table, but we afterwards chatted in all freedom in M. Zola's room just under the roof. Ah! that room. I have already referred to the dingy aspect which it presented. Around Grosvenor Hotel, encompassing its roof, runs a huge ornamental cornice, behind which are the windows of rooms assigned, I suppose, to luggageless visitors. From the rooms themselves there is nothing to be seen unless you throw back your head, when a tiny patch of sky above the top line of the cornice becomes visible. You are, as it were, in a gloomy well. The back of the cornice, with its plaster stained and cracked, confronts your eyes; and with a little imagination you can easily fancy yourself in a dungeon looking into some castle moat.
'Le fosse de Vincennes,' so M. Zola suggested, and that summed up everything. Yet it seemed to him very appropriate to his circumstances, and he absolutely refused to exchange rooms with M. Desmoulin, who was somewhat more comfortably lodged.
The appointments of M. Zola's chamber were, I remember, of a summary description. There were few chairs, and so one of us sat on the bed. We succeeded in procuring some black coffee, though the chambermaid regarded this as a most unusual 'bedroom order' at that hour of the day; and when M. Desmoulin had lighted a cigar, his friend a pipe, and myself a cigarette, a regular Council of War was held. [N.B.—M. Zola gave up tobacco in his young days, when it was a question of his spending twopence per diem on himself, or of allowing his mother the wherewithal to buy an extra pound of bread.]
The council dealt mainly with two points—first, what was M. Zola to do in England? Should he go into the country, or to the seaside, or settle down in the London suburbs? Since he wished to avoid recognition, it would be foolish for him to remain in London, particularly at an hotel like the Grosvenor. Then, for my benefit, the legal position was set forth, as well as the object of taking Maitre Labori's letter to Mr. Fletcher Moulton.
The chief point was, Could the French Government in any way signify the judgment of the Versailles Court to M. Zola personally while he remained in Great Britain? If the French officials could legally do nothing of that kind, there would be less necessity for M. Zola to court retirement.
After the hurly-burly of l'affaire Dreyfus, he certainly needed some rest and privacy, but the question was whether retirement would be a necessity or a mere matter of convenience. Now the choice of a place of sojourn depended on the answer to the second question, and it was resolved, nem. con., that M. Desmoulin, who spoke a little English and knew something of London, should forthwith drive to Mr. Fletcher Moulton's house in Onslow Square, S.W., in accordance with the address given on M. Labori's letter. M. Desmoulin's friend, on his side, was to return to Paris that afternoon by the Club train. So, the council over, both these gentlemen went off, leaving M. Zola and myself together.
We had a long and desultory chat, now on the Dreyfus affair generally, now on M. Zola's personal position, the probable duration of his exile, and so forth. He himself did not think that he would remain abroad beyond October at the latest, and as there might be a delay if not a difficulty in getting any clothes sent to him from Paris, he proposed to make a few purchases.
It was then that he told me how he had already bought a shirt, collar, and socks on the previous day.
'I had nothing but what I was wearing,' said he. 'I had been to Versailles and had sat perspiring in the crowded court; then I had spent the night travelling. I looked dirty, and I felt abominably uncomfortable. So I go out, yesterday morning, and see a shop with shirts, neckties, collars, and socks in the window. I go in; I take hold of my collar, I pull down my cuffs, I tap my shirt front. The shopman smiles; he understands me. He measures my neck; he gives me a shirt and some collars. But then we come to the socks, and I pull up my trousers and point to those I am wearing. He understands immediately. He is very intelligent. He climbs his steps and pulls parcels and boxes from his shelves.
'Here are socks of all colours, dark and light, spotted, striped, in mixtures, in cotton, in wool, some ribbed and some with silk clockings. But they are huge! I look at one pair; it is too big; he shows me another and another; they are still of a larger size. Then, impatient, and perhaps rather abruptly, I hold out my fist for the man to measure it, and thus gauge the length of my foot as is done in Paris. But he does not understand me. He draws back close to the shelves as if he imagines that I want to box him. And when I again lift my foot to call his attention to its size, he shows even greater concern. Fortunately an idea comes to me. I take one of the mammoth socks that are lying on the counter and fold parts of it neatly back, so as to make it appear very much smaller than it is. Then the shopman suddenly brightens, taps his forehead, climbs his steps again, and pulls yet more boxes and parcels from his shelves. And here at last are the small socks! So I choose a pair, and pay the bill. And the man bows his thanks, well pleased, it seems, to find that in thrusting out my fist and raising my foot I had been actuated by no desire to injure him.'
I was still chuckling over M. Zola's anecdote when M. Desmoulin returned from his journey to Onslow Square. He had there interviewed a smart boy in buttons, who had informed him that his learned master was out of town electioneering, and might not be home again for a week or two. Desmoulin had, therefore, retained possession of Maitre Labori's note of introduction.
I now remembered what I ought to have recalled before—namely that Mr. Fletcher Moulton was at that moment a candidate for the parliamentary representation of the Launceston division of Cornwall. Under such circumstances it was unlikely that his advice would be available for some little time to come. And so all idea of applying to him was abandoned. It may be that this narrative, should it meet the learned gentleman's eye, will for the first time acquaint him with what was intended by M. Zola, acting under Maitre Labori's advice.
M. Zola, I should add, remained most anxious to secure an English legal opinion on his position, and I therefore suggested to him that I should that evening consult a discreet and reliable friend of mine, a solicitor. We, of course, well knew that there could be no extradition, but it was a point whether a copy of the Versailles judgment might not be legally be placed in M. Zola's hands, under such conventions as might exist between France and Great Britain.
This, I thought, could be ascertained within the next forty-eight hours, and meantime M. Zola might remain where he was, for I could not well offer him an asylum in my little home. My connection with him as his English translator being so widely known, newspaper reporters were certain to call upon me, and what ever precautions I might take, his presence in my house would speedily be discovered. On the other hand, M. Desmoulin wished to go to Brighton or Hastings, but, in my estimation, both those places, crowded with holiday-makers, were not desirable spots.
Leaving the Grosvenor, the three of us discussed these matters while strolling up Buckingham Palace Road. It was a warm sunshiny afternoon, and the street was full of people. All at once a couple of ladies passed us, and one of them, after turning her head in our direction, made a remark to her companion.
'Did you hear that?' Desmoulin eagerly inquired. 'She spoke in French!'
'Ah!' I replied. 'What did she say?'
'"Why," she exclaimed, "there's M. Zola!" Our secret is as good as gone now! It will be all over London by to-morrow!'
We felt somewhat alarmed. Who could those ladies be? For my part I had scarcely noticed them. Desmoulin opined, however, that they might perchance be French actresses, members possibly of Madame Sarah Bernhardt's company, which was then in London. And again he urged the necessity of immediate departure. They must go to Hastings, Brighton, Ramsgate—some place at all events where the author of 'J'accuse' would incur less chance of recognition.
To me it seemed that some quiet, retired country village would be most suitable. In any town M. Zola would incur great risk of being identified. Moreover his appearance was conspicuous, his white billycock, his glasses, his light grey suit, his rosette of the Legion of Honour, his many characteristic gestures all attracted attention. If anything was to be done he must begin by Anglicising his appearance. But whatever I might urge I found him stubborn on that point; and, as for departure from London, he preferred to postpone this until I should have seen my friend the solicitor.
'Everything is as good as lost!' cried M. Desmoulin. 'How foolish, too, of Clemenceau to have sent you to a swell hotel in a fashionable neighbourhood! I am certain there are other French people staying at the Grosvenor—I heard somebody talking French there this morning.'
This again might lead to unpleasantness, and I could see that the master was gradually growing anxious. By this time, however, we had reached St. James's Park, and there, as we seated ourselves on some chairs beside the ornamental water, I led the conversation into another channel by producing an evening newspaper, and reading therefrom successive narratives of how M. Zola had sailed for Norway, how he had taken train at the Eastern Terminus in Paris, and how he had been bicycling through the Oberland on his way to some mysterious Helvetian retreat. Then we laughed—ah! those journalists!—and fears were at an end.
The ducks paddled past us, the drooping foliage of the island trees stirred in the warm breeze. On a bench near at hand a couple of vagrants sat dozing, with their toes protruding through their wretched footgear. Then a soldier, smart and pert, strolled up, a flower between his lips and a good-looking girl beside him. Away in front of us were the top windows and the roofs of St. Anne's Mansions. Farther, on the left, the clock tower of Westminster glinted in the sun-rays.
'Fine ducks!' said M. Zola.
'A pretty corner,' added Desmoulin, waving his hand towards some branches that drooped to the water's edge. And suddenly I remembered and told them of another French exile, the epicurean St. Evremond, whose needs were relieved by Charles II. appointing him governor of yonder Duck Island at a salary of three hundred pounds a year.
'Well, I have little money in my pocket,' quoth Zola, 'but I don't think I shall come to that. I hope that my pen alone will always yield me the little I require.'
But Big Ben struck the hour. It was six o'clock. So we separated, Messrs. Zola and Desmoulin to retire to the dungeon at the Grosvenor, and I to go in search of my friend the solicitor at his private house at Wimbledon.
That evening, I called upon my friend—Mr. F. W. Wareham, of Wimbledon, and Ethelburge House, Bishopsgate Street—and laid before him the legal points. I afterwards arranged to see him on the following morning in town, when I hoped to fix a meeting between him and M. Zola. My first call on Thursday, July 21, was made to the Grosvenor Hotel, where I found both the master and M. Desmoulin in a state of anxiety. M. Zola, for his part, felt altogether out of his element. After the excitement of his trial and his journey to England, and the novelty of finding himself stranded in a strange city, a kind of reaction had set in and he was extremely depressed.
M. Desmoulin on his side, having procured several morning newspapers, had explored their columns to ascertain whether the ladies by whom the master had been recognised in the street on the previous day, had by any chance noised the circumstance abroad. However, the Press was still on the Norway and Holland scents, and as yet not a paper so much as suggested M. Zola's presence in England.
'There has hardly been time,' said Desmoulin to me, 'but there will probably be something fresh this afternoon. Those actresses are certain to tell people, and we shall have to make ourselves scarce.'
I tried to cheer and tranquillise both him and M. Zola, and then arranged that Wareham should come to the hotel at 2 P.M. Meantime, said I, whatever M. Desmoulin might do, it would be as well for M. Zola to remain indoors. Several commissions were entrusted to me, and I went off, promising to return about noon.
I betook myself first to Messrs. Chatto and Windus's in St. Martin's Lane, where I arrived a few minutes before ten o'clock. Neither Mr. Chatto nor his partner, Mr. Percy Spalding, had as yet arrived, and I therefore had to wait a few minutes. When Mr. Spalding made his appearance he greeted me with a smile, and while leading the way to his private room exclaimed, 'So our friend Zola is in London!'
To describe my amazement is beyond my powers. I could only gasp, 'How do you know that?'
'Why, my wife saw him yesterday in Buckingham Palace Road.'
I was confounded. For my part I had scarcely glanced at the ladies whom Desmoulin had conjectured to be French actresses—simply because they were young, prepossessing, and spoke French!—and certainly I should not readily have recognised Mrs. Spalding, whom I had only met once some years previously. It now seemed to me rather fortunate that she should be the person who had recognised M. Zola, since she would naturally be discreet as soon as the situation should be made clear to her.
After I had explained the position, I ascertained that the only person besides herself who knew anything so far were her husband and the lady friend who had accompanied her on the previous day.
'I will telegraph to my wife at once,' said Mr. Spalding, 'and you may be sure that the matter will go no further. We certainly had a hearty laugh at breakfast this morning when we read in the "Telegraph" of Zola bicycling over the Swiss frontier; but, of course, as from what you tell me, the matter is serious, neither my wife nor myself will speak of it.'
'And her friend?' I exclaimed, 'she knows nothing of the necessity for secrecy, and may perhaps gossip about it.'
'She is going to Hastings to-day.'
'Hastings!' said I, 'why M. Desmoulin, Zola's companion, does nothing but talk of going to Hastings! I am glad I know this. Hastings is barred for good, so far as Zola is concerned.'
'Well, I will arrange for my wife to see her friend this morning before she starts,' Mr. Spalding rejoined, 'and in this way we may be sure that her friend will say nothing.'
This excellent suggestion was acted upon immediately. Mr. Spalding telegraphed full instructions to his wife, and later in the day I learnt that everything had been satisfactorily arranged. But for this timely action, following upon my lucky call at Messrs. Chatto and Windus's establishment, it is virtually certain that the meeting in the Buckingham Palace Road would have been talked about and the game of 'Where is Zola?' brought to an abrupt conclusion. As it happened, both ladies, being duly warned, preserved absolute secrecy.
After going to Bishopsgate Street to see Wareham, and executing several minor commissions, I returned to the Grosvenor, where Zola and Desmoulin were much amused when I told them of the outcome of the previous day's fright.
'It was a remarkable coincidence certainly,' said M. Zola. 'At a low calculation I daresay a thousand women passed me in the streets yesterday; just one of them recognised me, and she, you say, was Mrs. Spalding. Shortsighted as I am, not having seen her, too, since I was in England, a few years ago, I had no notion she was the person who turned as she passed along, and said, "There's Monsieur Zola."
'But the curious part of it is that you should have had to go to Chatto's, and should have learnt the lady's name so promptly from her husband! Mathematically there were untold chances that this lady who recognised me might be some stranger's wife, and that we might never more hear anything of her! Yet you discover her identity at once. This is the kind of thing which occasionally occurs in novels, but which critics say never happens in real life. Well, now we know the contrary.'
And he added gaily, 'You see it is another instance of my good luck, which still attends me in spite of all the striving of those who bear me grudges.'
So far as the ladies were concerned things were, indeed, very satisfactory. But the same could hardly be said of the position at the Grosvenor. Neither M. Zola nor M. Desmoulin could leave the hotel or return to it without being scrutinised. They had also noticed many a glance in their direction at meal-time in the dining-room; and they had come to the conclusion that departure was imperative. I did not gainsay them, for I shared their views, and, in fact, I had already discussed the matter with Wareham. I explained, however, that one must have a few hours to devise suitable plans.
Seaside places were dangerous at that time of the year, and the best course would probably be to take a furnished house in the country. Meantime, said I, Wareham had kindly offered to accommodate M. Zola at his residence at Wimbledon, while M. Desmoulin might sleep close by at the house of Mr. Everson (Wareham's managing clerk), who also disposed of a spare bedroom. Further discussion of these matters was postponed, however, until Wareham's arrive at the Grosvenor in the afternoon.
As Zola and Desmoulin both distrusted the inquisitive glances of the visitors and the attendants at the hotel, we lunched, I remember, at a restaurant in or near Victoria Street—a deep, narrow place, crowded with little tables. And here again M. Zola, in his light garments, with the rosette of the Legion of Honour showing brightly in his buttonhole, became the observed of all observers.
He was, indeed, so conspicuous, so characteristic a figure that, looking backward and remembering how repeatedly the illustrated papers had portrayed him and how many photographs of him were to be seen in shop windows, I often wonder how it happened that he was not recognised a hundred times during those few days spent in London. It may be that many did recognise him, but held their tongues. As yet, certainly, there was not a word in the newspapers to set his adversaries upon his track.
It was in a corner of the smoking-room at the Grosvenor, a hot gloomy apartment overlooking Victoria Station, that I introduced Wareham to the novelist. The former had already formed some opinion, but a few points remained for consideration. The chief of these, as Wareham explained, was how far the French Republic might claim jurisdiction over Frenchmen.
In matters of process some countries asserted a measure of authority over their subjects wherever they might be; and the question was, what might be the law of France in that respect? Of course M. Zola could not be extradited. The offence for which he had been sentenced did not come within the purview of the Extradition Act. Again (in reply to a query from M. Zola), there was no diplomatic channel through which a French criminal libel judgment could be signified in England. But suppose that French detectives should discover M. Zola's whereabouts, and suppose a French process-server should quietly come to England with a couple of witnesses, and by some craft or good luck should succeed in placing a copy of the Versailles judgment in M. Zola's hands?
Unless a breach of the Queen's peace were committed, it might be difficult for the English authorities to interfere. There appeared to be no case or precedent in England applying to such a matter. In Germany a foreign process-server would be liable to penal servitude. But, of course, that was not to the point. Again, although the service by a foreigner might not hold good in English law, that had nothing to do with it. The process-server and his witnesses would immediately return to France; they would there prove to the satisfaction of their employers that they had served the judgment on M. Zola personally, and they would be able to snap their fingers at English lawyers should the latter complain that the thrusting of a document into a man's hand under such circumstances was a technical assault. They would have gained their point. Judgment would have been served, and in accordance with French law M. Zola would be called upon to enter an appearance against it at Versailles.
'Things must largely depend,' concluded Wareham, 'on whether French law allows process to be served on a subject out of the jurisdiction. And that is a point rather for French legal advisers than for me. Still I shall look into the matter further; and if at the same time Maitre Labori can be communicated with and can supply his opinion on the question, so much the better. I now raise the point because it seems the crux of the whole matter, and if it goes against us it is certain that M. Zola ought to remain in close retirement. For the present it is as well that he should run as little risk as possible.'
M. Zola acquiesced in the suggestion of writing to his French counsel on the point which had been raised; and the conversation then went on in the same low tone that had been preserved from the outset.
On entering the smoking-room we had found it deserted, but whilst Wareham was speaking a couple of gentlemen had come in. One, I remember, was an elderly, florid man, with mutton-chop whiskers and a buff waistcoat, who took his stand beside the fireplace at the further end of the room and puffed away at a big cigar. He looked inoffensive enough, and paid no attention to us. But the other, a middle-aged individual, tall and slim, with military moustaches, eyed us very keenly, changed his position two or three times, and finally installed himself in a chair, whence, while trifling with a cigarette, he commanded a good view of M. Zola's face. Desmoulin, I think, was the first to notice this, and to call the novelist's attention to it. Zola then shifted his position, and the military looking gentleman soon did the same. At last, doubtless having satisfied his curiosity, he left the room, not, however, without a sharp, comprehensive survey of our party as he passed us on his way out.
I do not now exactly remember how it happened that Wareham was not received in the 'dungeon,' instead of the smoking-room. The choice of the latter apartment was unfortunate. I have no doubt that, if some of the newspapers were, a day or two afterwards, able to state that M. Zola was staying at the Grosvenor Hotel, it was through certain remarks made by the inquisitive military looking gentleman to whom I have referred.
On the other hand his curiosity exercised decisive influence over M. Zola's subsequent movements. He had hitherto been rather chary of accepting Wareham's hospitality, for fear lest he should inconvenience him. But the offer now being renewed was promptly accepted, and it was agreed that I should take both Messrs. Zola and Desmoulin to Wimbledon that evening.
As it was to be expected that several letters from Paris would arrive at the hotel, addressed to M. Pascal, I arranged to call or send for them. The same course was adopted with regard to a few articles which M. Zola had given to be washed and which had not yet been returned to him. Some of these things were significantly marked with the letter 'Z,' and for this reason it was desirable that they should be recovered. Here I may mention that during the next few days my wife repeatedly called at the Grosvenor for M. Zola's correspondence, a circumstance which doubtless gave rise to the rumour that Mme. Zola had joined her husband in London.
The exodus from the hotel was not particularly imposing. M. Desmoulin had originally intended to stay but one day in London, and thus merely had a dressing-case with him. As for M. Zola, his few belongings (inclusive of a small bottle of ink, which he would not part with) were stuffed into his pockets, or went towards the making of a peculiarly shaped newspaper parcel, tied round with odd bits of string. Dressing-case and parcel were duly brought down into the grand vestibule, where the hotel servants smiled on them benignly. There was, indeed, some little humour in the situation.
The novelist, with his gold pince-nez and gold watch-chair, his red rosette, and a large and remarkably fine diamond sparking on one of his little fingers, looked so eminently respectable that it was difficult to associate him with the wretched misshapen newspaper parcel—his only luggage!—which he eyed so jealously. However, as the attendants were all liberally fee'd, they remained strictly polite even if they felt amused. I ordered a hansom to be called, and we just contrived to squeeze ourselves and the precious newspaper parcel inside it. The dressing-case was hoisted aloft. Then the hotel porter asked me, 'Where to, sir?'
'Charing Cross Station,' I replied, and the next moment we were bowling along Buckingham Palace Road.
Perhaps a minute elapsed before I tapped the cab-roof with my walking stick. On cabby looking down at me, I said, 'Did I tell you Charing Cross just now, driver? Ah! well, I made a mistake. I meant Waterloo.'
'Right, sir,' rejoined cabby; and on we went.
It was a paltry device, perhaps, this trick of giving one direction in the hearing of the hotel servants, and then another when the hotel was out of sight. But, as the reader must know, this kind of thing is always done in novels—particularly in detective stories.
And recollections had come to me of some of Gaboriau's tales which long ago I had helped to place before the English public. It might be that the renowned Monsieur Lecoq or his successor, or perchance some English confrere like Mr. Sherlock Holmes, would presently be after us, and so it was just as well to play the game according to the orthodox rules of romance. After all, was it not in something akin to a romance that I was living?
A CHANGE OF QUARTERS
It should be mentioned that the departure of Messrs. Zola and Desmoulin from the Grosvenor Hotel took place almost immediately after Wareham had returned to his office. We were not to meet our friend the solicitor again until the evening at Wimbledon, but the hotel being apparently a dangerous spot, it was thought best to quit it forthwith.
When we reached Waterloo the dressing-case and the newspaper parcel were deposited at one of the cloak-rooms; and after making the round of the station, we descended into the Waterloo Road. At first we sauntered towards the New Cut, and of course M. Zola could not help noticing the contrast between the dingy surroundings amidst which he now found himself and the stylish shops and roads he had seen in the Buckingham Palace Road. The vista was not cheering, so I proposed that we should retrace our steps and go as far as Waterloo Bridge.
There seemed to be little risk in doing so, for, as usual hereabouts in the middle of the afternoon, there were few people to be seen. The great successive rush of homeward-bound employers, clerks, and workpeople had not yet set in. And, moreover, there was plenty of time; for Wareham, having important business in town that day, could not possibly be at Wimbledon till half-past six at the earliest.
We reached the bridge—'that monument,' as a famous Frenchman once put in, 'worthy of Sesostris and the Caesars'—and went about half-way across. It was splendid weather, and the Thames was aglow with the countless reflections of the sunbeams that fell from the hot, whitening sky. London was before us, 'with her palaces down to the water'; and M. Zola stopped short, gazing intently at the scene.
'Up-stream the view was spoilt,' said he, 'by the hideous Hungerford Bridge, unworthy alike of the city and the river'—an erection such as no Paris municipality would have tolerated for four and twenty hours. It was the more obtrusive and aggravating, since beyond it one discerned but little of the towers of Westminster. 'Admitting,' added the novelist, 'that a bridge is needed at that point for railway traffic, surely there is no reason why it should be so surprisingly ugly. However, from all I see, it seems more and more evident that you English people are very much in the habit of sacrificing beauty to utility, forgetting that with a little artistic sense it is easy to combine the two.'
Then, however, he turned slightly, and looked down-stream where the Victoria Embankment spreads past the Temple to Blackfriars. The colonnades of Somerset House showed boldly and with a certain majesty in the foreground, whilst in the distance, high over every roof, arose the leaden dome of St. Paul's. This vista was rather to M. Zola's liking. Close beside us, on the bridge, was one of the semi-circular embrasures garnished with stone seats. A pitiful-looking vagrant was lolling there; but this made no difference to M. Zola. He installed himself on the seat with Desmoulin on one hand and myself on the other, and there we remained for some little time looking about us and chatting.
'This was the only thing wanted,' said Desmoulin, who generally had some humorous remark in readiness for every situation. 'Yesterday at the Grosvenor we were in the fosse de Vincennes, and now, as they say in the melodrama of "The Knights of the Fog" ("Les Chevaliers du Brouillard"*), we are "homeless wanderers stranded on the bridges of London."'
* The French dramatic adaptation of Ainsworth's 'Jack Sheppard.'
The allusion to the fog roused M. Zola from his contemplation.
'But where is the Savoy Hotel, where I stayed in '93?' he inquired. 'It must be very near here.'
I pointed it out to him, and he was astonished. 'Why, no—that cannot be! It is so large a place, and now it looks so small. What is that huge building beside it?'
'The Hotel Cecil,' I replied.
Then again he shook his head in disapproval. From an artistic standpoint he strongly objected to the huge caravansary on which builder Hobbs and pious Jabez Balfour spent so much of other people's money. Soaring massively and pretentiously into the sky it dwarfed everything around; and thus, in his opinion, utterly spoilt that part of the Embankment.
'To think, too,' said he, 'that you had such a site, here, along the river, and allowed it to be used for hotels and clubs, and so forth. There was room for a Louvre here, and you want one badly; for your National Gallery, which I well remember visiting in '93, is a most wretched affair architecturally.'
'But I want to see rather more of the south side of the river,' he added, after a pause. 'I should like to ascertain if my lion is still there. I recollect that there was some fog about on the morning after my arrival at the Savoy in '93; and when I went to the window of my room I noticed the mist parting—one mass of vapour ascending skyward, while the other still hovered over the river. And, in the rent between, I espied a lion, poised in mid air. It amused me vastly; and I called my wife, saying to her, "Come and see. Here's the British lion waiting to bid us good-day."'
We went to the end of the bridge and thence espied the lion which surmounts the brewery of that name. M. Zola recognised it immediately. Desmoulin would then have led us Strandward; but the Strand, said I, was about the most dangerous thoroughfare in all London for those who wished to escape recognition; so we went back over the bridge and again down the Waterloo road.
'I should like very much to send a line to Paris to-day to stop letters from going to the Grosvenor,' said M. Zola. 'Is there any place hereabouts where I could write a note?'
This question perplexed me, for the numerous facilities for letter-writing which are supplied by the cafes of Paris are conspicuously absent in London; and this I explained to M. Zola. A postage stamp may often be procured at a public-house, but only now and again can one there obtain ink and paper. However, I thought we might as well try the saloon bar of the York Hotel, which abuts on the famous 'Poverty Corner,' so much frequented by ladies and gentlemen of the 'halls,' when, sorely against their inclinations, they are 'resting.'
It was Thursday afternoon; still there were several disconsolate-looking individuals lounging about the corner; and in the saloon bar we found some fourteen or fifteen loudly dressed men and women typical of the spot. I forget what I ordered for Desmoulin and myself, but M. Zola, I know imbibed, mainly for the good of the house, 'a small lemon plain.' Then we ascertained that the young lady at the bar had neither stamps, nor paper, nor envelopes, and so we were again in a quandary. Fortunately I recollected a little stationer's shop in the York Road, and leaving the others in the saloon bar, I went in search of the requisite materials.
When I returned I found the master an object of general attention. His extremely prosperous appearance, his white billycock, his jewellery, and so forth, coupled with the circumstance that he conversed in French with Desmoulin, had led some of those present to imagine that he was a Continental music-hall director on the look out for English 'artists.'
Again and again I noticed, as it were, a 'hungry' glance in his direction; and when, after procuring an inkstand from over the bar, I had ensconced him in a corner, where he was able after a fashion to pen his correspondence, a vivacious and, it seemed to me, somewhat bibulous gentleman in a check suit sidled up to where I stood and introduced himself in that easy way which repeated 'drops' of 'Mountain Dew' are apt to engender.
'Ah!' said he, after a few pointless remarks, 'your friend is over here on business, eh? Right thing, splendid thing. It's only by looking round that one can get real tip-top novelties. Oh! I know Paree and the bouleywards well enough. I was on at the Follee Bergey only a few years ago myself. A good place that—pays well, eh? I shouldn't at all mind taking a trip across the water again. There's nothing like a change, you know. Sets a man up, eh?'
Then mysteriously—lifting his forefinger and lowering his voice, 'Now your friend wants "talent," eh? Real, genuine "talent"! I could put him in the way——'
But I interposed: 'You've applied to the wrong shop,' I said by way of a joke; 'my friend has all the talent he requires. He's quite full up.'
A sorrowful look came over the angular features of the gentleman in the check suit. 'It's like my luck,' said he; 'there was a fellow over from Amsterdam the other day, but he'd only take girls. I think the Continental line's pretty nigh played out.'
He heaved a sigh and glanced in the direction of his empty glass. Then, seeing that the novelist and Desmoulin were rising to join me, he whispered hurriedly, 'I say, guv'nor, you haven't got a tanner you could spare, have you?'
I had foreseen the request; nevertheless I pressed a few coppers into his hand and then hurried out after my wards.
Though it was still early we decided to start at once for Wimbledon. The master, I thought, might like to see a little of the place pending Wareham's arrival.
The journey through Lambeth, Vauxhall, and Queen's Road is not calculated to give the intelligent foreigner a particularly favourable impression of London. Still M. Zola did not at first find the surroundings very much worse than those one observes on leaving Paris by the Northern or Eastern lines. But as the train went on and on and much the same scene appeared on either hand he began to wonder when it would all end.
On approaching Clapham Junction a sea of roofs is to be seen on the right stretching away through Battersea to the Thames; while on the left a huge wave of houses ascends the acclivity known, I believe, as Lavender Hill. And at the sight of all the mean, dusty streets, lined with little houses of uniform pattern, each close pressed to the other—at the frequently recurring glimpses of squalor and shabby gentility—M. Zola exploded.
'It is awful!' he said.
We were alone in our compartment, and he looked first from one window and then from the other. Next came a torrent of questions: Why were the houses so small? Why were they all so ugly and so much alike? What classes of people lived in them? Why were the roads so dusty? Why was there such a litter of fragments of paper lying about everywhere? Where those streets never watered? Was there no scavengers' service? And then a remark: 'You see that house, it looks fairly clean and neat in front. But there! Look at the back-yard—all rubbish and poverty! One notices that again and again!'
We passed Clapham Junction, pursuing our journey through the cutting which intersects Wandsworth Common. 'Well,' I said, 'you may take it that, except as regards the postal and police services, you are now out of London proper.'
Presently, indeed, we emerged from the cutting, and fields were seen on either hand. One could breathe at last. But as we approached Earlsfield Station all M. Zola's attention was given to a long row of low-lying houses whose yards and gardens extend to the railway line. Now and again a trim patch of ground was seen; here, too, there was a little glass-house, there an attempt at an arbour. But litter and rubbish were only too often apparent.
'This, I suppose,' said the novelist, 'is what you call a London slum invading the country? You tell me that only a part of the bourgeoisie cares for flats, and that among the lower middle class and the working class each family prefers to rent its own little house. Is this for the sake of privacy? If so, I see no privacy here. Leaving out the question of being overlooked from passing trains, observe the open four-foot fences which separate one garden or yard from the other. There is no privacy at all! To me the manner in which your poorer classes are housed in the suburbs, packed closely together in flimsy buildings, where every sound can be heard, suggests a form of socialism—communism, or perhaps rather the phalansterian system.'
But Earlsfield was already passed, and we were reaching Wimbledon. Here M. Zola's impressions changed. True, he did not have occasion to perambulate what he would doubtless have called the 'phalansterian' streets of new South Wimbledon. I spared him the sight of the chess-board of bricks and mortar into which the speculative builder has turned acre after acre north of Merton High Street. But the Hill Road, the Broadway, the Worple Road, and the various turnings that climb towards the Ridgeway pleased him. And he commented very favourably on the shops in the Broadway and the Hill Road, which in the waning sunshine still looked gay and bright. At every moment he stopped to examine something. Such displays of fruit, and fish, poultry, meat, and provisions of all kinds; the drapers' windows all aglow with summer fabrics, and those of the jewellers coruscating with gold and gems. Then the public-houses —dignified by the name of hotels, though I explained that they had no hotel accommodation—bespoke all the wealth of a powerful trade.
There was an imposing bank, too, and a stylish carriage builder's, with furniture shops, stationers, pastrycooks, hairdressers, ironmongers, and so forth, whose displays testified to the prosperity of the town. Again and again did M. Zola express the opinion that these Wimbledon shops were by far superior to such as one would find in a French town of corresponding size and at a similar distance from the capital.
We sauntered up and down the Hill Road, looking in at the Free Library on our way. Then, on passing the Alexandra Road, I explained to Desmoulin that he would sleep there, at No. 20, where Wareham has a local office and where his managing clerk, Everson by name, resides.
The arrangement with Wareham had been concluded so precipitately that, to spare him unnecessary trouble at home, we had arranged to dine that evening at a local restaurant—in fact, the only restaurant possessed by Wimbledon. Wareham was to join us there. The proprietor, Mr. Genoni, is of foreign origin, but Wareham knowing him personally had assured me that even should he suspect our friend's identity his discretion might readily be relied upon. And so the sequel proved. During our repast, however, I felt a little doubtful about one of the waiters who know French, and I therefore cautioned M. Zola and M. Desmoulin to be as reticent as possible.
After dinner we adjourned to Wareham's house in Prince's Road, where Mrs. Wareham gave the travellers the most cordial of welcomes. The conversation was chiefly confined to the question of finding some suitable place where M. Zola might settle down for his term of exile. He, himself, was so taken with what he had seen of Wimbledon that he suggested renting a furnished house there. This seemed a trifle dangerous, both to Wareham and myself; but the novelist was not to be gainsaid; and as Wareham, in anticipation of his services being required, had made special arrangements to give M. Zola most of his time on the morrow, we arranged to see some house agents, engage a landau, and drive round to visit such places as might seem suitable.
It was nearly half-past eleven when I left Wareham's to escort Desmoulin to the Alexandra Road. I there left him in charge of his host, Mr. Everson, and then turning (by way of a short cut) into the Lover's Walk, which the South Western Railway Company so considerately provides for amorous Wimbledonians, I hurried homeward, wondering what the morrow would bring forth.
It will be obvious to all readers of this narrative that from the moment M. Zola left Paris, and throughout his sojourn in London and its immediate neighbourhood, there was little if any skill shown in the matter of keeping his movements secret. In point of fact, blunder upon blunder was committed. A first mistake was made in going to an hotel like the Grosvenor; a second in openly promenading some of the most frequented of the London streets; and a third in declining to make the slightest alteration with regard to personal appearance. Again, although press of circumstances rendered departure for Wimbledon a necessity, as it was imperative to get M. Zola out of London at once, this change of quarters was in the end scarcely conducive to secrecy. A good many Wimbledonians were aware of my connection with M. Zola, and even if he were not personally recognised by them, the circumstance of a French gentleman of striking appearance being seen in my company was fated to arouse suspicion. My home is but a mile or so from the centre of Wimbledon, and M. Zola's proposal to make that locality his place of sojourn seemed to me such a dangerous course that when I returned to Wareham's house on the morning of Friday, July 22, I was determined to oppose it, in the master's own interests, as vigorously as might be possible.
However, I found Messrs. Zola and Desmoulin ready to start for an inspection of such furnished houses as might seem suitable for their accommodation; and nothing urged either by Wareham or by myself could turn them from their purpose. So the four of us took our seats in the landau which had been ordered, and were soon driving in the direction of Wimbledon Park, where stood the first of the eligible residences entered in the books of a local house agent. The terms for these houses varied, if I recollect rightly, from four to seven guineas a week. Some we did not trouble to enter; others, however, were carefully inspected.
Nothing in the way of a terrace house would suit; for M. Zola was not yet a phalansterian. And in like way he objected to the semi-detached villas. He wished to secure a somewhat retired place, girt with foliage and thus screened from the observation of neighbours and passers-by. The low garden railings and fences usually met with were by no means to his taste. The flimsy party walls of the semi-detached villas, through which every sound so swiftly passes, were equally objectionable to him. And I must say that I viewed with some little satisfaction his dislike for several of the houses which we visited; for this made it easier to dissuade him from his plan of fixing his abode in Wimbledon, where, unless he should rigidly confine himself within doors, it was certain that his presence would be known before a week was over.
There were, however, some houses which the master found to his liking; and here he lingered awhile, inspecting the rooms, taking stock of the furniture, examining the engravings and water-colours on the walls, and viewing the trim gardens with visible satisfaction. One place, a large house in one of the precipitous roads leading from the Ridgeway to the Worple Road, was, perhaps, rather too open for his requirements, but its appointments were perfect, and at his bidding I plied the lady of the house with innumerable questions about plate, linen, and garden produce, the servants she offered to leave behind her, and so forth. She was a tall and stately dame, with silver hair and a soft musical voice—a perfect type of the old marquise, such as one sees portrayed at times on the boards of the Comedie Francaise, and after I had acted as interpreter for a quarter of an hour or so, she suddenly turned upon the master and, to the surprise of all of us, addressed him in perfect French. It was this which broke the spell. Though M. Zola was taken aback, he responded politely enough, and the conversation went on in French for some minutes, but I could already tell that he had renounced his intention of renting the house. When we drove away, after promising the lady a decisive answer within a day or two, he said to me:
'That would never do. The lady's French was too good. She looked at me rather suspiciously too. She would soon discover my identity. She has probably heard of me already.'
'Who hasn't?' I responded with a laugh. And once again I brought forward the objections that occurred to me with respect to the plan of remaining at Wimbledon. It was a centre of Roman Catholic activity. There was a Jesuit college there, numbering both French professors and French pupils. Moreover, several French families resided in Wimbledon, and with some of them I was myself acquainted. Then also the population included a good many literary men, journalists, and others who took an interest in the Dreyfus case. And, finally, the town was far too near to London to be in anywise a safe hiding-place.
Nevertheless, M. Zola only abandoned his intentions with regret. In that bright sunshiny weather there was an attractive je ne sais quoi about Wimbledon which charmed him. Not that it was in his estimation an ideal place. The descents from the hill and the Ridgeway (though he admired the beautiful views they afforded, stretching as far as Norwood) appalled him from certain practical standpoints, and he was never weary of expatiating on the pluck of the girls who cycled so boldly and gracefully from the hill crest to the lower parts of the town. Here it may be mentioned that M. Zola has become reconciled to the skirt as a cycling garment. Once upon a time he was an uncompromising partisan of 'rationals' and 'bloomers,' a warm adherent of the views which Lady Harberton and her friends uphold. But sojourn in England has changed all that—at least so far as the English type of girl is concerned. Those who have read his novel, 'Paris,' may remember that he therein ascribed the following remarks to his heroine—Marie: 'Ah! there is nothing like rationals! To think that some women are so foolish and obstinate as to wear skirts when they cycle! . . . To think that women have a unique opportunity of putting themselves at their ease and releasing their limbs from prison, and yet won't do so! If they fancy they look the prettier in short skirts, like schoolgirls, they are vastly mistaken. . . . Skirts are rank heresy.'
Well, so far as Englishwomen are concerned, M. Zola himself has become a heretic. 'Rationals,' he has more than once said to me of recent times, 'are not suited to the lithe and somewhat spare figure of the average English girl. Moreover, I doubt if there is a costumier in England who knows how to cut "rationals" properly. Such women as I have seen in rationals in England looked to me horrible. They had not the proper figure for the garment, and the garment itself was badly made. For rationals to suit a woman, her figure should be of the happy medium, neither too slim nor over-developed. Now the great bulk of your girls are extremely slim, and appear in skirts to advantage. In cycling, moreover, they carry themselves much better than the majority of Frenchwomen do. They sit their machines gracefully, and the skirt, instead of being a mere bundle of stuff, falls evenly and fittingly like a necessary adjunct—the drapery which is needed to complete and set off the ensemble.'
At the same time, the master does not cry 'haro' on the 'bloomer.' It is admirably suited, he maintains, to the average Frenchwoman, who is more inclined to a reasonable plumpness than her English sister. 'The skirt to England,' says he, 'the bloomer to France.' The whole question is one of physique and latitude. The Esquimaux lady would look ungainly and feel uncomfortable if she exchanged her moose furs for the wisp of calico which is patronised by the lady of Senegal; and in the like way the Englishwoman is manifestly ungainly and uncomfortable when she borrows the breeches of the Parisienne.
This digression may seem to carry one away from Wimbledon, but I should mention that many of the points enunciated were touched upon by M. Zola for the first time, while we postponed further house-hunting to drive over Wimbledon Common. The historic mill and Caesar's Camp, and the picturesque meres were all viewed before the horses' heads were turned to the town once more.
By this time the master had come to the conclusion that however pleasant Wimbledon might be, it was no fit place for him, and that his best course would be to pitch his tent 'far from gay cities and the ways of men.' Within a few hours I had some proof of the wisdom of his decision, and a week had not elapsed before I found that M. Zola's sojourn at Wimbledon had become known to a variety of people. Mr. Genoni, the restaurateur, had been one of the first to identify him; but, as he explained to me, he was no spy or betrayer, and whatever he might think of the Dreyfus business—he was a reader of that anti-Revisionist print the 'Petit Journal'—M. Zola's secret was, he assured me, quite safe in his hands. But, independently of Mr. Genoni, the secret soon became le secret de Polichinelle. A French resident in Wimbledon recognised M. Zola as he stood one day by the railway bridge admiring some fair cyclists. Then a gentleman connected with the local Petty Sessions court espied him in my company, and shrewdly guessed his identity. Subsequently a local hairdresser, an Englishman, but one well acquainted with Paris and Parisian matters, 'spotted' him in the Hill Road. Others followed suit, and at last one afternoon a member of the 'Globe' staff called upon me and supplied me with such circumstantial particulars that I could not possibly deny the accuracy of his information. But M. Zola had then left Wimbledon, and thus I was able to fence with my visitor and inform him that, even if the novelist had ever been in the town, he was not there at that time.
It had been arranged that some of the leading London house agents should be written to, with the view of securing some secluded country house, preferably in Surrey, and on the South Western line; but the question was, where, in the meantime, could M. Zola be conveniently installed? Having left England in the year 1865, and apart from a few brief sojourns in London, having remained abroad till 1886, my knowledge of my native land is very slight indeed. Years spent in foreign countries have made me a stay-at-home—one who nowadays buries himself in his little London suburb, going to town as seldom as possible, and without need of country or seaside trip, since at Merton, where I live, there are green fields all around one and every vivifying breeze that can be wished for. Thus I was the worst person in the world to take charge of M. Zola and pilot him safely to a haven of refuge.
Fortunately, Mr. Wareham knows his way about, as the saying goes, and his cycling experience proved very useful. He suggested that until a house could be secured, M. Zola should be installed at a country hotel; and he mentioned two or three places which seemed to him of the right character. One of these was Oatlands Park; and Wareham, who, although a solicitor, claims to have some little poetry in his nature, waxed so enthusiastic over the charms of Oatlands and neighbouring localities, that both M. Zola and M. Desmoulin, fervent admirers of scenery as they are, became curious to visit this leafy district of Surrey, where, as will be remembered, King Louis Philippe spent his last years of life and exile.
One afternoon, then, I started with Messrs. Zola and Desmoulin for Walton, from which station the Oatlands Park Hotel is most conveniently reached. A Gladstone bag had now replaced the master's newspaper parcel, and as M. Desmoulin's dressing-case was as large as a valise, there was at least some semblance of luggage. I fully realised that it was hardly the correct thing to present oneself at Oatlands Park and ask for rooms there ex abrupto; as with hostelries of that class it is usual for one to write and secure accommodation beforehand. However, there was no time for this; and we decided to run the risk of finding the hotel 'full up,' particularly as Wareham had informed us that in such a case we might secure a temporary billet at one or another of the smaller hotels of Walton or Weybridge. Thus we went our way at all hazards, and during the journey I devised a little story for the benefit of the manager at Oatlands Park.
That gentleman, as I had surmised, was a trifle astonished at our appearance. But I told him that my friends were a couple of French artists, who had been spending a few weeks in London 'doing the lions' there, and who had heard of the charming scenery around Oatlands, and wished to view it, and possibly make a few sketches. And, at the same time, a solicitor's recommendation being of some value, since it might mean a good many future customers, I handed the manager one of Wareham's cards. There was, I remember, some little difficulty at first in obtaining rooms, for the hotel was nearly full; but everything ended satisfactorily.
I may mention, perhaps, that in describing Messrs. Zola and Desmoulin as French artists, I had at least told half the truth. M. Fernand Desmoulin is, of course, well known in the French art world; and, moreover, he had already spoken to me of purchasing a water-colour outfit for the very purpose of sketching, as I had stated. Then, too, M. Zola first distinguished himself in literature as an art critic, the defender of Manet, the champion of the school of the 'open air.' And if he made no sketches whilst he remained at Oatlands he at least took several photographs. Sapient critics will stop me here with the oft-repeated dictum that photography is not art. But however that may be, so many painters nowadays have recourse to the assistance of photography that M. Zola's 'snap-shotting' largely helped to bear out the account which I had given of him at the hotel.
Oatlands Park is a large pile standing on the site of a magnificent palace built by Henry VIII. Anne of Denmark, wife of James I., resided there, and Henrietta Maria there gave birth to the Duke of Gloucester, the brother of our second Charles and second James. The palace was almost entirely destroyed during the Civil Wars, and subsequently the property passed in turn to Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans; Herbert, the admiral, first Earl of Torrington; and Henry, seventh Earl of Lincoln. A descendant of the last-named sold the estate to Frederick, Duke of York, the son of George III. and Commander-in-Chief of the British army. Soon afterwards the house at Oatlands was destroyed by fire, and the prince erected a new building, some portions of which are incorporated in the present hostelry. A pathetic interest attaches to those remains of York House. Within those walls were spent many of the honeymoon hours of a fair and virtuous princess, one whose early death plunged England into the deepest grief it had known for centuries; there she conceived the child who in the ordinary course of nature might have become King of Great Britain. But the babe, so anxiously awaited by the whole nation (there was no Princess Victoria at that time) proved stillborn; and of the unhappy 'mother of the moment,' Byron wrote in immortal lines:
Of sackcloth was thy wedding garment made; Thy bridal's fruit is ashes; in the dust The fair-hair'd Daughter of the Isles is laid, The love of millions!
I am bound to add that the tragic story of the Princess Charlotte was not that which most appealed to M. Zola's feelings at Oatlands Park. Nor was he particularly impressed by the far-famed grotto which the hotel handbook states 'has no parallel in the world.' The grotto, an artificial affair, the creation of which is due to a Duke of Newcastle, whom it cost 40,000 pounds, besides giving employment to three men for twenty years, consists of numerous chambers and passages, whose walls are inlaid with coloured spars, shells, coral, ammonites, and crystals. This work is ingenious enough, but when one enters a bath-room and finds a stuffed alligator there, keeping company with a statue of Venus and a terra-cotta of the infant Hercules, one is apt to remember how perilously near the ridiculous is to the sublime.
Ridiculous also to some minds may seem the Duchess of York's dog and monkey cemetery, in which half a hundred of that lady's canine and simian pets lie buried with headstones to their tombs commemorating their virtues. This cemetery, however, greatly commended itself to M. Zola, who, as some may know, is a rare lover of animals. Among the various distinctions accorded to him in happier times by his compatriots there is none that he has ever prized more highly than the diploma of honour he received from the French 'Society for the Protection of Animals,' and I believe that one of the happiest moments he ever knew was when, as Government delegate at a meeting of that society, he fastened a gold medal on the bosom of a blushing little shepherdess, a certain Mlle. Camelin, of Trionne, in Upper Burgundy, a girl of sixteen, who, at the peril of her life, had engaged a ravenous wolf in single combat, killed him, and thereby saved her flock.
And M. Zola's books teem with his love of animals. During his long exile one of the few requests addressed to him from France, to which he inclined a favourable ear, was an appeal on behalf of a new journal devoted to the interests of the animal world. To this he could not refuse his patronage, and he gave it enthusiastically, well knowing how much remains to be accomplished in inculcating among the masses such affection and patience as are rightful with regard to those dumb creatures who serve man so well.
The Duchess of York's cemetery reminded him of his own. Below his house at Medan a green islet rises from the Seine. This he purchased some years ago, and there all his favourites have since been buried: an old horse, a goat, and several dogs. During his exile a fresh interment took place in this island cemetery, that of his last canine favourite, the poor 'Chevalier de Perlinpinpin,' who, after vainly fretting for his absent master, died at last of sheer grief and loneliness. Those only can understand Emile Zola who have seen him as I saw him then, bowed down with sorrow, distraught, indifferent to all else, both the weightiest personal interests and the very triumph of the cause he had championed; and this because his pet dog had pined away for him, and was beyond all possibility of succour. It was of course a passing weakness with him; such weakness as may fall upon a man of kindly heart. In Zola's case it came, however, almost like a last blow amidst the sorrow and loneliness of the exile which he was enduring in silence for the sake of his much-loved country.
STILL AT OATLANDS
For a time, at all events, Messrs. Zola and Desmoulin found themselves in fairly pleasant quarters; they could stroll about the gardens at Oatlands or along the umbrageous roads of Walton, or beside the pretty reaches of the Thames, amidst all desirable quietude. After all his worries the master needed complete mental rest, and he laughed at his friend's repeated appeals for newspapers.
At that period I procured a few French journals every time I went to town and posted them to Oatlands, where they were eagerly conned by M. Desmoulin, on whom the Dreyfus fever was as strong as ever. But M. Zola during the first fortnight of his exile did not once cast eyes upon a newspaper, and the only information he obtained respecting passing events was such as Desmoulin or myself imparted to him. And in this he evinced little interest. Half of it, he said, was absolutely untrue, and the other half was of no importance. There is certainly much force and truth in this curtly-worded opinion as applied to the contents of certain Paris journals.
However, communications were now being opened up between the master and his Paris friends, and every few days Wareham or myself had occasion to go to Oatlands. There were sundry false alarms, too, through strangers calling at Wareham's office, and now and again my sudden appearance at the hotel threw Messrs. Zola and Desmoulin into anxiety. In other respects their life was quiet enough. The people staying at Oatlands were, on the whole, a much less inquisitive class than those whom one had found at the Grosvenor. There were various honeymoon-making couples, who were far too busy feasting their eyes on one another to pay much attention to two French artists. Then, also, the family people gave time to the superintendence of their sons and daughters; whilst the old folks only seemed to care for a leisurely stroll about the grounds, followed by long spells of book or newspaper reading, under the shelter of tree or sunshade.
Moreover the exiles saw little of the other inmates of the hotel, excepting at the table d'hote dinner. M. Zola then brought his faculties of observation into play, and after a lapse of a few days he informed me that he was astonished at the ease and frequency with which some English girls raised their wine-glasses to their lips. It upset all his idea of propriety to see young ladies of eighteen tossing off their Moselle and their champagne as to the manner born. In France the daughter who is properly trained contents herself with water just coloured by the addition of a little Bordeaux or Burgundy. And the contrast between this custom and incidents which M. Zola noticed at Oatlands—and to which he once or twice called my attention—made a deep impression on him.