Published by The Blavatsky Archives Online. Online Edition copyright 1999.
"H. P. B."
Personal Recollections of Madame Blavatskyby Esther Milworthy
[First published in The Westminster Gazette
(London), December 11, 1894.]
I think at a distance of six years my principal impression of Madame Blavatsky is avoirdupois. She was the fattest woman I ever saw. No set of hooks-and-eyes that human ingenuity could devise would have been adequate to hold her dress round her elephantine figure. How it was retained in its place I am at a loss to imagine. I saw her first at Ootacamunde, a little town in the Madras Presidency, where I was living with my father and mother. It was a broiling evening, following an even more exhausting day. We were lolling on the verandah, trying to imagine that the hot breeze was refreshing, when there was borne to our ears the sound of a distant bugle. We knew that was the signal that someone was coming, and at once set ourselves to guess who the stranger might be. Suddenly there appeared, round the bend of the road, the most comic spectacle I think I ever beheld. Seated on the back seat of a tonga, or light dog-cart was the great high-priestess herself. As might be imagined, there was no room for anybody else on her seat, but in front was the syce with Madame Blavatskys faithful native confidante, Baboula. Their combined weight was a matter of no little importance.
Once on terra-firma she literally leaped towards my mother, and half-smothered her in a ponderous embrace.
"Ma tear Mrs. Milworthy," she said in her strange accent, which it is impossible to reproduce, "I am so glat to see you."
As it was her very first meeting with my mother, on whom she had probably never set eyes before, her conduct seemed to me a little eccentric. However, we got to know her better during the next three months, the length of her stay at our house. Lest it should be supposed that she was our guest on account of any feeling of personal friendship, I may mention that her market price for a conversion to her tenets was just twenty rupees per convert, and that that sum was paid to her in succession by my father and my mother. I was too young at the time to come into her sphere of influence, being a mere schoolgirl, and not yet of sufficiently full age to appreciate her strong meat. With my father and mother truth-seeking was a positive malady, and, like the Athenians, they were always on the lookout for some new thing. On that account they desired Mdme. Blavatskys professional services.
At the time she had recently visited Thibet, where she made the acquaintance of Koot-humi, a Mahatma of great reverence, whose astral was seldom at home in its earthly tabernacle. I may mention, by the way, that she told us she had ridden to visit him on the back of a yak, which to us who had seen her progress in a tonga seemed a little hard on that unfortunate quadruped. He must have been a very powerful animal. However, she had reached Koot-humi, and ever since making his acquaintance had kept up a constant correspondence with him, entirely without the aid of a post-office. She would be sitting discoursing in the midst of our circle, eternally smoking cigarettes after her custom, and calling any dissentient from her opinions a "dem-fool," also after her custom, when an envelope would flutter into our midst. Somebody would pick it up and hand it to "the Madame." "Ah," she would exclaim, "Koot-humi has agen wreeten to me." She would produce a paper scrawled over with Chinese-looking characters, and read her message. My father and mother thereby received great spiritual comfort, and we children would look on in puzzled astonishment. One day we got behind the scenes. We happened to be in the hall outside the drawing-room when we saw Baboula, the Madames confederate, creeping warily to the door. We hid ourselves, and presently noticed that he stuck an envelope into the space between the top of the door and the lintel. Attached to one corner of the envelope was a long hair, possibly one of the Madames own. With a quick motion he jerked the hair, at the same time blowing sharply on the envelope. By that means the letter fluttered into the drawing-room, and my deluded parents experienced another phenomenon. Even when we were in our carriage letters used to arrive by a similar method. In that case Baboula cut a slit in the lining, and before we started he used to deposit the letter in the aperture, with the hair, invisible in the darkness, dangling from one corner. Of course, Mdme. Blavatsky knew where to find it, and a vigorous jerk was enough to send the letter flying into my mothers lap. "How could there be any trickery, when we were in a carriage, isolated on all sides?" my mother would say. I knew very well, for had I not seen Baboula place the letter in the slip myself? But I held my peace.
Close to our house was the Mul-Muli-Mullie mountain, on the top of which was a cairn, said to be the hiding place of some of the treasure of Tippoo Sultan. Many a time we had searched for treasure there, but in vain. Now it seemed to us that our golden opportunity had come. Surely Mdme. Blavatsky could discover the treasure for us. She knew all the secrets of the earth, or said she did. The Madame herself met us more than half way. "Traisyour? Ah, tek me to it! Tek me to the place! I weel show it to you." A palanquin was laden with her, and a goodly number of coolies staggered under its weight. My father and my brother-in-law armed themselves with blasting powder and dynamite to an extent that made contact with them dangerous. An army of labourers with shovels and pickaxes was got together, and then we began the ascent of the Mul-Muli-Mullie. For a while all went well, in spite of the Madames loudly-expressed fears. But there came a moment and a crash, and one after another the poles of the palanquin snapped asunder. I hardly know what happened next, except that the Madame was rolling over and over in the road, and my mother was distraught with terror for fear the life of the high-priestess had been spilt as well as her body. For myself, I know I cried, but with laughter. They picked her up gradually, and set her on her feet. My mother brushed her clothes with a handkerchief. Half a dozen coolies pushed her from behind, and half a dozen more pulled at her arms, and so, by degrees, we reached the cairn on the top of the mountain.
"The traisyour," she said; "ah, I must breeng myself into contact weeth eet." And she seated her ponderous body on the earth, and there she stayed. We gave her a vast meal, chiefly of cream -- for in public she abstained strictly from meat. She sat on and on. My father and mother, on the tiptoe of expectation, hovered round her awaiting a word from her lips. But the oracle was dumb. At last my mother summoned up courage to ask:
"Madame, do you think there is any treasure there?"
"I theenk it ees dem cold, and I am going to get up."
And she did with the assistance of several coolies. I have said that her diet in public was confined to light if nutritious matter. It consisted chiefly of apricots and cream. In private, I have reason to believe it was otherwise. I remember well our native cook saying to me, "Madame eating apricots and cream in the dining-room. Bacon and eggs going up the back stair. O-oh baba! Missis believing white face, black face telling plenty, plenty lie."
From which it may be gathered that apricots and cream do not conduce to 21 stone, and do not seem to be absolutely essential as the sole diet of the Theosophist. I could multiply instances of her fraud, but enough has been said. My recollection of the old woman using her long finger-nail to flick the ash off her cigarette, blaspheming in her peculiar dialect as she sits in our best arm-chair, is fresh upon me. I hope there is a hereafter where she can repent herself.