THE OCCULT ROOM BOOKCASE
In the northwall recess of the Occult Room, Hodgson's Plan (see Plate II) purports to show a bookcase or cupboard as it was found on examination, May 18, 1884. It had a moveable panel within the back and, as viewed from the hallway outside, was described by the missionaries' agent, a Mr. Gribble, as having also "two doors which open into a kind of book-shelf" (339). Mme. Coulomb claimed that this arrangement had been in secret existence when, on May 26, 1883, Col. Olcott received a pair of vases which mysteriously appeared in the cupboard.
1. Like the aperture in the bricked-frame, inconveniently small for the use trickery required (though it need not have been so, if planned beforehand for trickery, as alleged), this aperture was ridiculously large for the surreptitious passage of a vase --- large enough, in fact, to admit "even a person," confessed Mme. Coulomb (53-4).
2. Despite the fact that incriminating "Blavatsky-Coulomb letters" called for trickery to take place "in the presence of respectable persons besides our own familiar muffs" (55) and before "a larger audience than our domestic imbeciles only" (56), and though not attributing any other phenomenon to this arrangement, Hodgson did not try to explain why H.P.B. would have gone to such trouble and danger merely to impress the President of her Society who, he said, was anyway subject by "blind obedience" (311) to H.P.B., "who herself regarded him as the chief of those 'domestic imbeciles' and 'familiar muffs' . . . ."
3. Neither did he explain why, with the vases delivered, this "sliding panel" (if it had then existed) would have been left in disuse, unlocked and open to casual discovery, concealed only by the "two doors," for practically a year.
4. As if to counter Gribble's significant remark that this sliding panel was "made without the slightest attempt at concealment" (339), Hodgson does his best to make the "two doors" disappear, and to replace them with something more ingenious and substantial to conceal the "sliding panel" within. He (a) charges that Gribble's "account of the 'two doors which open into a kind of book-shelf' suggests, moreover, at the double-backed cupboard (see Plan, No. 8) had been altered in some way since the dismissal of the Coulombs, before it was shown to Mr. Gribble" (330); and he proceeds to give Hartmann's incomplete description of what was found at the "exposure." And (b), in Hodgson's Plan, to which the reader is referred as though in disproof of what Gribble saw, the "two doors" have vanished, being replaced by a solid back.
5. But at the same time, Hodgson --- to accomplish this feat --- has to suppress Mme. Coulomb's admission (53) that the "inner back" ("sliding panel") was concealed on the outside only by "simple shutters painted grey," i.e., only by Gribble's "two doors"!
6. Similarly, Hodgson suppressed her additional admission that this "inner back" was unfinished, "not painted and not varnished" (53), as if the work had been interrupted, as indeed the Theosophists at Adyar claimed it had --- in 1884.
7. Dr. Hodgson declares that Mons. Coulomb "would have performed a feat which I should find more difficult of explanation than all Madame Blavatsky's phenomena together" if, under the circumstances and "during the interval assigned to M. Coulomb for his secret work," he "could, without the knowledge of any persons at headquarters, have constructed the double-backed cupboard" among other things (340). Yet it was never denied that this cupboard had originally existed since long before 1884, the defence claim merely being that the sliding panel within had been made after H.P.B. left Adyar in 1884.
8. Moreover, Gribble's remarks suggest that the sliding panel did not appear to have been a device built in secret but as "having been constructed so as to place food on the shelves inside without opening the door" (339). This would solve the problem previously encountered by H.P.B. when having to dine in the bedroom (See Section III, B-3 and I-10); and, according to construction plans left by H.P.B. at her departure for Europe in 1884, this part of the Occult Room was evidently intended to be "the cabinet that will remain for writing, for Damodar or one of my Secretaries" (77) --- a piece of evidence Hodgson suppressed.
9. As for the origin of the vases themselves, Hodgson charged (324) that, as if to throw him off the scent, Mme. Blavatsky: (a) "alleged" that Mme. Coulomb "had tried to obtain vases like them, but had failed," though purchasing one pair of vases afterwards which "differed in shape, &c., from those received by Colonel Olcott;" and (b), that H.P.B. made a rough sketch of the vases the Colonel had received, but this differed "greatly" from the description the Colonel had given. The latter description, so far as it went, says Hodgson, "exactly tallied with the description of the vases Madame Coulomb had purchased at Hassam's." But "exactly tallied" with whose description? Hodgson fails to say. The manager at Hassam's had been unable to show Hodgson a pair identical with Col. Olcott's (supporting H.P.B.'s claim that Mme. Coulomb --- apparently quite fixed on the acquisition --- had failed to find another pair), but it is not recorded that he gave Hodgson a "description" of the originals --- only that he "showed me a pair of vases somewhat similar, as he alleged. . . ."
How then do we know H.P.B.'s "roughly" made "sketch" was not more accurate than the Colonel's verbal description "as far as it went"? But is Hodgson's narrative itself even as reliable? Significantly, he fails to claim that his inquiry at Hassam's showed Mme. Coulomb had not purchased a third pair "afterwards." So, he did find that Col. Olcott's description of his vases, "as far as it went, in shape, height," etc., "exactly tallied with the description of the vases Madame Coulomb had purchased at Hassam's" --- but this could not be, for Hodgson has omitted to tell his readers that, according to Mme. Coulomb's own description (suppressed by Hodgson), these vases were not all alike in shape or size, the two pair she had purchased together at Hassam's made "four, 2 large and 2 small" (66)!
10. There is little doubt that, as the sales entries and receipt disclosed, two pair of vases were purchased by Mme. Coulomb at that shop on May 25th, 1883, one pair answering --- we must suppose --- to those Col. Olcott received in the new bookcase (cupboard) at Headquarters the next day. The explanation? "These items appear in the account to Madame Coulomb, but have been struck out. Madame Coulomb's explanation of this is that she wished them not to appear in the bill rendered to headquarters, and she therefore paid cash for them" (324). And where did she get the cash --- from the Headquarters' housekeeping funds? Note that by her own confession, it was "she" herself (not H.P.B.) who did not want the sale known at Headquarters. One can only guess that she was here indulging a practice for which she was ultimately expelled (105). If she was stealing from the Society, secretly trafficking in such things as vases for private profit, the Mahatma (who is reported to have made a gift of this pair to the Colonel) quite rightly claimed the vases for the President of the Society --- and did so in her presence, Mme. Coulomb being present at the phenomenon, to teach her a good lesson. But Mme. Coulomb seems to have been a poor pupil for the Mahatma, because, after her departure, it was found that all the vases in question had disappeared "mysteriously" (324).