Donata De Pondtboter Bruxelles/Brussels – 1777
“My lady you are with child!” Pieter Van Aalst burst into his small house. Milda, his wife and as ever her clear-headedness self looked up and shook her head. She was stringing the beans in their little kitchen and thought in desperation “there he is again.” “Oh well Pieter you are from Hekelgem not from Zottegem, you know how it is!”.
Pieter Van Aalst, a devout man, and his wife Milda lived in Sint Jans-Molenbeek (St. John’s Millbrook) for three years now, one of the communities that formed together Brussels. They were married and they had moved from the surroundings of Aalst and came to live near Brussels hoping the living conditions would be better there then at home. In practice it seemed to be a disappointment for living conditions weren’t that well either in Brussels. Pieter had found a job as an assistant parish clerk in Saint Nicolas Church near the Great Market. Milda sewed dresses in a very deservingly way for the rich peoples’ daughters from the Willebroekse Vaart .
“Sit yourself down, Pieter, you get a bowl of tea and then you tell me quietly what this is all about.” Stared after by the servant girls, Pieter came running home all the way from the church for he was too excited to walk quietly. He wanted to share the big news as soon as possible with his beloved Milda. It wasn’t just something he had to tell her. Milda and he still were not blessed with children and to both of them this was a big concern and it gave them a feeling of being incomplete. In addition to that the vicar had visited them asking if there would be anything to baptise in a while.
Early that morning when he wanted to open
up the vestry he found a small parcel on the doorstep. It was wrapped
in yellow cotton cloths and it hardly weighed anything when he lifted
it. “One pound of butter not much more”, he had thought. He took it
inside with him and laid it in the spare font for he wanted to kindle
the lights. Suddenly the parcel started to cry and Pieter was startled
to death. Thomas, the French chaplain made towards the sound “Qu’est
que c’est?” He unwound the cloths and a tiny and dirty naked girl
appeared. “Une enfant trouvée, de nouveau.” He said sighing
and with red cheeks. ”Alerte monsieur le curé immédiatement!”
Excited Pieter and his wife talked about this special matter. They didn’t have to think long if they wanted the little girl in their home. Thinking of a surname took longer. They knew it couldn’t be named after them – Van Aalst; anyway not until the child could be officially adopted, but what to do then? In the end they decided to call her Pondtboter (a pound of butter) for the Saint Nicolas Church was situated in the Butterstreet and the little girl weight so less.
“Dear God, we pray to You to lovingly receive Donata De Pondtboter, born at St. Jans-Molenbeek on 19 November 1777 in order this child shall serve You. Will You take care that this parish stands around this loving couple to help and to stimulate them to give this beautiful being the opportunity to get to know You in all Your splendour. That is what we ask in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen”.
The baptism ceremonial was frugal and simple. The vicar himself served mass and the chaplains Thomas and Leyssens were witnesses. From a well-worn wedding dress Milda had made a beautiful christening robe. Donata cried for an instant when the christening water was poured out over her little head but then slept through the whole ceremony. She seemed to be satisfied with all that was happening around her and she wasn’t aware of it.
Happily Donata grew up with Pieter and Milda. She was very welcome and Milda did do her utmost to raise the little girl as good as possible in spite of their tight money. As a baby she seldom cried and seemed to be happy with her adopted parents. Mother Milda always felt the needs of the little girl and acted to it without spoiling her. Pieter was crazy about her, spoiled her wherever he could and together with Milda they took care she grew up exemplarily. She grew taller and taller, had lovely blond straight hair and she was popular in Master Bellinkx’s – the teacher - classroom.
But in her early years Donata started to ask questions. What am I doing here? Where do I come from? What is the meaning of life? As a young girl she was able to pick up other people’s thoughts and also those from departed souls. Furthermore she often saw strange light orbs around her. At first she was confused when she wanted to talk about it with her girlfriends at school for they laughed at her and so she kept it to herself and she reduced her conversations to what she called “think-talking ”. With father Pieter she shared this big secret and that gave them both a plotty feeling. Furthermore she learned how to draw and to paint and she made the most beautiful artwork at a young stage.
She often talked to the soul of her brother Armand, one of the children of mother Milda, who had died in the womb. She also knew how she was born in the darkness of a cellar without a doctor or midwife to intercept her. She knew who her real mother was and met her sometimes – a shy skinny servant called Clara Audenaert – but didn’t come up to talk to her.
As was socially expected of her in the Brussels of those times, Donata turned out to be extremely polite, forthcoming and helpful to others. This exemplary empathy she didn’t only show to protect herself but it offered possibilities to point her fellow man in a subtle way on their possible deficiencies. Due to her gift she saw, heard, felt and knew all kinds of things she normally couldn’t know. She handled this knowledge always excessively upright and lovingly. She intuitively sensed how to handle people and to use this knowledge without disavowing her love for others.
“When I grew up I came to work in a livery stable where I had to take care of the horses. Soon I got an intense bond with some of the animals. I spoiled them with carrots and fresh straw, learned how to ride on horseback and very quickly knew how to listen to the signals the horses gave to me. In this way I always knew exactly what was going on in their heads and also what I could do about it. All this to the intense pleasure of my patron who made much of me and because of that gave me good wages.”
“Laurette, one of the horses fell ill. The vet said the grey was old and sick and wouldn’t probably last very long. Some days later the animal laid itself on the ground. I came to sit against her, spoke comforting words and gave her something she liked much. Laurette licked the salt from my hand. She then laid her tired head down and I saw her spirit fly away. I laid my head on hers and cried passionate tears while there was a thunderstorm in the distance. That night I dreamed she was back and we endlessly rode through the woods. Thus she said farewell to me.”
After this event Roger, the patron, re-named a proud foal I was befriended with after me. I was very proud and took very good care of the foal that grew up to be a proud mare. When I saw her tread in front of the coach of the Baron I was pleased and content and I embraced her when she returned to the stables to be taken care of.
“One fine day I was to come along in the suite of Baron Jean-Louis on a diplomatic trip to The Hague in the Dutch Republic. It was meant to be that I took care of Donata and the other horses when we were en route. Somewhere en route in the republic I was one night introduced to the Baron in an inn. I liked him instantly and I noticed he had suffered quite a loss and I could see he was wearing a mask in spite of his joviality. Nonetheless I knew he thought about things in the same way I did and I tried to share that tactfully with him.”
“We talked until deep in the night. He struggled with the loss of his only daughter who drowned in the Scheldt river a few months earlier during a trip to Antwerp. It seemed he saw in me a surrogate daughter. I tried to give him energy and noticed that I was successful. I could even see Lieve his daughter standing smiling behind him. She ‘think-talked’ with me and she wished for her father not to be so sad and wouldn’t keep her earthbound. Carefully I tried to explain this to the Baron but his eyes remained dull for in spite of his openness he did not believe me. He was too much troubled by the idea of letting his daughter go and I could almost tangible feel his pain.
The next day we arrived in The Hague. The Baron and his suite were lodged in House Hofwijck at Voorburg, a small town near The Hague. Just like me the horses passed the night in hired stables a bit further on the road and there I got acquainted with Claes the liveryman’s son. Claes was a very special young man and it was evident that he from the moment he laid eyes on me was head over heals in love with me. Although he was an attractive young man I showed my reserves of course. But he wasn’t only attractive for he was also intelligent and very soon it turned out he had the same ‘talents’ as I did, although he didn’t know it yet. When we were busy in the stables and talked to each other about the care of horses his soul spoke about quite other things with my soul. It was remarkable though he didn’t seem to have any idea about it. He rather kept himself busy with the question how to get me into the hay.”
“That was a complicated situation. When he was at long last successful and I let my self seduce by him there was that remarkable situation he consciously did his utmost to mostly cater for himself but his soul talked to me about the position of the stars what that did to us as human beings. It was clear he was influenced by Mars at that time, while Venus was on the horizon for me. The meaning of that isn’t quite clear to me for I do not know much about astrology.”
“From the first moment on it was obvious to me that Claes was nothing more to me than a passing antic. It was good the Baron never got wind of my – let’s call them – flings with Claes for he would have kicked me out at once. After a few days we went back to Brussels and the chapter Claes was closed for good.”
“Afterwards it seemed that The Hague had touched a tender string with me and one way or another it came to happen I married a Dutchman some years later. He took me to his residence where he worked in the household of stadtholder William V.”
“Remarkable how things can develop; a foundling from Brussels becoming a lady in waiting at a foreign court. Not too bad for just a pound of butter.”