OLD DIARY LEAVES, Second Series (1878-83)
by Henry Steel Olcott
A LITTLE DOMESTIC EXPLOSION
By way of contrast to the pleasant experiences of the Ceylon tour, we had a terribly rough sea-passage from Galle to Colombo, and all of us were miserably sea-sick. We lay in Colombo harbor all the next day, the ship tossing about and the water so tumultuous that only a very few of our friends felt inclined to come aboard; but among these few was Megittuwatte. Our fateful number seven asserted itself as usual: our visitors numbering seven, the last boat to come off (bringing us a copy of the latest issue of the Theosophist) bearing that number, and our engines being started at 7.7 p.m. Another stormy night followed, and we reached Tuticorin, our first Indian port, several hours late.
It amuses me to find a note in my Diary about our weights, as compared with those we took before starting. H. P. B. had gained 8 lbs., and turned the scale at 237 lbs. (16 st. 13 lbs.); I had lost 15, and weighed 170 lbs. (12 st. 2 lbs.); Wimbridge had neither gained nor lost; Ferozshah had gained 12 lbs.; and Damodar, the antithesis of H. P. B., was found to weigh only 90 lbs., (6 st. 6 lbs.), having dropped 6 lbs. of flesh, which he could ill afford to part with!
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It rained cats and dogs on the last day of our return voyage—as it had nearly every day; the decks were wet; the awning dripped from the great bags of water that formed wherever the ropes were at all slack; H. P. B. made absurd efforts to write at a table placed for her by the accommodating Captain on a couple of gratings, in a comparatively dry spot, but used more strong words than ink, her papers were so blown about by the gusts that swept the ship fore and aft. At last we entered Bombay harbor and in due course had the peace of solid ground under our feet. No other, however, for on reaching Headquarters we found as pretty a moral storm-centre in action as any household could wish for its dearest neighbors: Miss Bates and Mme. Coulomb were at daggers-drawn, and all sorts of charges and counter-charges were poured into our unwilling ears by those two irate women. Miss Bates charged Mme. Coulomb with having attempted to poison her, and the latter paid her back in kind. I should have liked to sweep them both out with a broom, and it would have been an excellent thing if we had, as things turned out. But instead of that I was called upon to arbitrate their differences, and sat judicially, listening to their absurd contentions for two whole evenings, and finally deciding in Mme. Coulomb's favor as regards the stupid poisoning libel, which had not a single fact to substantiate it. The real, the teterrima causa belli, was our having put the housekeeping into Mme. Coulomb's hands on leaving; Miss Bates not being satisfied with the responsible duty of sub-editorship, which we gave her. H. P. B. sat near while the
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arbitration proceeded, smoking rather more cigarettes than usual, and putting in an occasional remark, the tendency of which was rather to augment than allay the excitement. Wimbridge, who stood as Miss B.'s next friend, finally joined me in forcing the belligerents to consent to an "armed neutrality," and the storm-cloud passed over for the time being. The next few days were fully occupied with literary work for the Magazine made necessary by our long absence.
Just before our return, our staunch friend Moolji Thackersey had died, and the Society thus lost one of its most willing workers. On the evening of 4th August, a Mahatma visited H. P. B., and I was called in to see him before he left. He dictated a long and important letter to an influential friend of ours at Paris, and gave me important hints about the management of current Society affairs. I was sent away before his visit terminated, and as I left him sitting in H. P. B.'s room, I cannot say whether his departure was a phenomenal disappearance or not. It was a timely visit for me, for the very next day there was a great explosion of Miss B.'s wrath against us two—against H. P. B. on account of a certain lady of New York, a mutual acquaintance, and against me for my decision in the quarrel with Mme. Coulomb. At moment when her back was turned towards me and she was abusing H. P. B., a note from the teacher who had been to see us the previous evening dropped from the air into my lap. On opening it I found advice given me as to my best course of action in the present difficulty. It may perhaps interest our late American colleagues to learn that the situation was
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discussed by the Master as though we were the T. S. de jure and not merely a de facto body; the ingenious theory of these latter days having apparently failed to suggest itself to the members of the Great White Lodge!1
The next day the split in our quartette began, Mr. Wimbridge taking sides with Miss Bates. Things began to grow unpleasant. The plan had been agreed upon to purchase a return ticket and send the lady back to New York; but this was subsequently rejected by her, after Mr. Seervai had made the necessary arrangements. On the third day we dined separately; H. P. B., Damodar and I, in her small bungalow, and Wimbridge and Miss B. in the dining-room, which we abandoned to them. Day by day things grew worse; we ceased speaking to each other at last; H. P. B. fretted herself into a fever; there was an impasse by the 9th, and on the 10th a complete separation between the two parties. The Coulombs moved from the adjoining compound into Miss Bates's quarters; she into theirs; Wimbridge retained his, in a small bungalow in the same enclosure with her; the door which had been cut in the dividing wall between the properties was bricked up; and two families were formed out of the original one. And how pitiful to think that this whole bother grew out of some contemptible feminine rivalries and jealousies; that it was utterly unnecessary and uncalled for; that no
1A reference to the absurd pretext put orward by the seceding members who followed the late Mr. Judge out of the Society, seven years ago, as an excuse for their illegal action.
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great principle was involved; that it might have been avoided by exercising a little self-restraint; and that, however little it might have mattered to us individually, it had a bad effect on the Society, and cast a burden upon it which it had to stagger under for many a day. One bad result of it was that the seceders managed to gain the favor of one of the leading vernacular papers of Bombay, never very cordial to us, and it used its columns to abuse the Society and Theosophy in general with a bitterness which, so far as I know, has been exhibited down to the present day.
Before the separation I had successfully used my personal influence with a Parsi friend to get Wimbridge capital to set up an art-furniture and art-decoration business—his art-education and skill in designing well fitting him to engage in it. After a while he took suitable premises in another part of Bombay, and established a connection which has proved an extremely lucrative one, and, I believe, gained a fortune for him and his associates. We two poor literary "chums" kept moving on in the chosen path, without glancing at the Egyptian flesh-pots on either side of our thorny way; and perverse enough, from the world's point of view, to prefer our poverty and perpetual suffering from cruel slanders, to the most enticing prospects of worldly reward. And that, in truth, was the one sufficient buckler that H. P. B. could use, and did constantly use, to repel the attacks of her hostile critics: not one of them could ever show that she gained money by her phenomena or her Theosophical drudgery.
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I used to think she rather overdid it in that direction, and that, to hear her speak, one might fancy that she wanted to have one believe that, because she made nothing out of her wonders, therefore none of the other charges laid against her— plagiarism, for instance, or misquotations of texts, or misrepresentations of authors' teachings—could be true! I remember very well that various persons at Simla and Allahabad took this view of the case, and I pointed it out to her very often.
To add to the gloominess of the outlook on our return from Ceylon, we found the Bombay members inert and the new Branch asleep. Two months of our absence seemed to have almost stifled the local interest in our work, and when the vernacular paper above referred to opened its batteries against us, our sky looked cloudy. Still we kept on with stout hearts, getting the Theosophist out punctually every month, and attending to our ever-increasing correspondence. That was one of those crises when, in quasi-isolation, H. P. B. and I were drawn together most closely for mutual support and encouragement. Though the dearest friends might prove false and the staunchest adherents fall away, we just gave each other the more words of cheer, and conspired to make each other think that the trouble was not worth mentioning and must pass over us like a flitting summer cloud. And then we knew; for both of us had the constant proof, that the Great Ones with whom we worked had their potent thought round and about us, a very shield from all harm, a harbinger of perfect success for our cause.
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A few of our Hindu, and Parsi coadjutors visited us regularly, and by degrees we regained our lost ground in India. In America things were at a standstill: nobody there having at that time the ability or energy to push on the movement. Judge, then but a dreaming tyro of twenty-five or twenty-six, was starving at the law, and General Doubleday, our only other quasi-effective, was living in country seclusion on his army pension, and incapacitated in various ways from devoting himself to this propaganda. More than ever, the evolutionary centre was confined to us two, and the only hope of the survival of the movement was in our living on and never permitting our energies to flag for a moment. We were not so alone as we had been, for among other real helpers whom we had found in India, there was poor, slender, fragile Damodar Mavalankar, who had thrown himself heart and soul into the work with a devotion which could not be surpassed. Frail as a girl though he was, he would sit at his table writing, sometimes all night, unless I caught him at it and drove him to bed. No child was ever more obedient to a parent, no foster-son more utterly selfless in, his love to a foster-mother, than he to H. P. B.: her lightest word was to him law; her most fanciful wish an imperative command, to obey which he was ready to sacrifice life itself. When a lad, brought near to death by fever and tossing in delirium, he had had a vision of a benignant sage, who came and took his hand and told him he should not die but should live for useful work. After meeting H. P. B., his interior vision gradually opened, and in him whom we know as
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Master K. H., Damodar saw revealed the visitor of his youthful crisis. That sealed his devotion to our cause, and his discipleship to H. P. B. From him, I personally had unbroken trust, affection, and respect; he defended me in my absence from public and private calumny, and deported himself towards me as a son to a father. I hold his memory in respect and love.
On the very day of the rupture between our two family groups, we received from Mr. Sinnett an invitation to visit them at Simla. It was like a draught of sweet water to the caravan, and H. P. B. telegraphed her acceptance: the post was too slow for her. She fumed about until the afternoon, when she took me away on a shopping excursion, bought herself a new outfit for her debut in "Coerulia," as the mountain capital of the Government of India is sometimes called, and began to count the hours to the earliest practicable time of departure. What came of it is widely known through the medium of various books and many journals; one notice of our presence being that made by Marion Crawford in his Mr. Isaacs, where he speaks of us two and Mr. Sinnett moving about through the rhododendrons. But as the exact truth has not been all told, it remains for me to supply the missing links in another chapter.