Thila's Hill. (Photo: Mirjam Coumans)

 

 

Thila and Julie

The Nada Chronicles, part 2

© Hans Brockhuis - 2000

 

Today I am in a reflecting mood and while doing so I'm going back in time towards the spring of the year 1794. These are turbulent times in Europe. The Southern Netherlands (now Belgium) still endure the domination of Austria and elsewhere a certain Bonaparte is trying his utmost to make true his ideals of a unified Europe.

Darken times threaten to become real for the Netherlands, and somewhere in the Borinage, not very far from Charleroi, in the town of Farciennes lives the Labruyère family in a narrow and twisting alley, close to the brick church. Father Pierre Labruyère labours in the local coal mine, only a few hundred meters away. On April 3rd 1765 he weds his loved one Agnès from the neighbouring town of Fleurus.

In the course of time they get, while being good Catholics, six children. First three suns are born, of which the eldest, Pierre, arrives in 1765. Then consequently follow, until 1769, Guillaume, Arien and the eldest daughter Mathilde (Thila). Finally in 1771 another son, François is born and in 1774 the youngest, Juliëtte (Julie).

But mother Agnès is sickly and because of that no further worldly citizens are born. Therefore very soon the two girls are expected to help out in the household, which means that they, besides the hours they are at school, are all the time polishing, cooking, getting water, and all that which is essential to get a family going. All five men are going to work successively in the mine as well. Even when they are too old to go to school, the girls continue to live in the parental home to be of aid to mother Agnès and to take care of the men.

Thila and Julie, are almost always together, even when they get older. They talk to each other about all that crosses their minds and they know of no secrets towards each other. They live together as if they were one soul. And in the scant hours they are free, and that is mostly in the evenings, they climb the hill at the other side of the Sambre River and enlighten each other about their dreams. About the stars that contain so many promises and about the customs of the people in other countries who speak different languages than they, who can in fact only speak their own dialect. In the school they have been taught correct French, but that was only something for in the school. At home - and with their rare friends, and with the baker and the butcher only the local dialect is spoken.

Thila, who is more than five years older than Julie, shares with her sister all that is happening to her, and the younger sister, always listens with much pleasure to all the anecdotes of her elder sister, whom she adores. And Thila likes very much to confide her sister in all her fantasies that, as the years go by, turn more and more towards the attraction of the young men in the village. But almost always the sisters are together and anything further than reflecting about these things it does not come to.

On this special evening, the two girls again are sitting under their favourite oak tree and are glancing across the valley. Already it grows dark and they can see that one by one the lights of the town are illuminated. The nightshift of the mine is being helped down the great shaft. They know that Guillaume and Arien are on this shift. The weather is clear and a tender wind is blowing which makes from time to time their long blond hairs flutter in the breeze. Both they have their knees pulled up and with their arms they clasp their long skirts against their legs.
Slowly the first stars become visible and subsequently the Polar Star, and the Big and the Small Bears take on their shape. Orion and the Pleiades are also there. Maître Plon told them about this at the time. And they used to listen, with an immense hunger for more, to these wonderful stories about everything that is happening in the universe. Now a feeling of expectation takes possession of the twosome and suddenly, a bit to the right of them a shooting star splashes. Quickly both girls formulate a wish and bit-by-bit the feeling grows that something big is going to happen.

All at once something startles them. A tremendous clear and white light overwhelms the slope. The surroundings can't be seen any more. Troubled they look at each other. What is going on here? The darkness that made them unable to see each other only moments ago is transformed into a seemingly atrocious light in which a halo magically appears around their heads in which the loose ends of their hairs are clearly visible now in the against-light. It looks as if their skin has taken on a fluorescence that beams out until far beyond the foliage of 'their' oak. But they do not have ample time to think about this, because suddenly a manifestation stands before them. A long and gracious woman abruptly has appeared from naught before their eyes. She is wearing a stunning long robe in two striking hues of blue and the classical face is wreathed with long fair hairs, just like theirs.

"Please, do not be afraid, children", the woman says with outstretched arms to the shaky couple. "Each Sunday you come and pray in the to my memory consecrated church, down in the village. And now I come to you to fulfil your prayers with compassion. My name is Nada, but what more important now is, that I carry, just like your House of God, the essence of Mary of Magdala. And you too, Thila and Julie, carry this essence; because it was long ago that we all together walked upon this planet. Often you talk with each other about the strange far away lands that you would want to visit, and about the miracles of the firmament, but know now that there has been a time that both you and I have been there already and when you chat about these things, in truth you speak about the re-membrance of the adventures that you once experienced."

Thila and Julie look at each other with questions in their eyes. What is going on here? They do not understand very much of all that has been said to them. But the beautiful woman continues.

"But this is not what I wanted to speak about with you, my dear children. I would like to speak with you about Love. And I do not particularly mean the love that you, Thila, seem to feel about this very special boy from the village. No, I mean the Love of people towards each other, and that for your parents and for God and for all the folks who cross your path. Know that very soon a number of incidents will occur in and around your town, of which at first sight it will seem that this will have nothing to do with Love. And that will be more than true. The events in themselves will have a character of hatred, of resentment and of distress. Hatred of people in respect to each other, resulting from the apparent need of some who have hunger for influence, for money, and for possession. Resentment of many because they desire the possessions of others and sorrow of the unfortunate who will have to endure all this."

"And I advice you. That what is going to happen, you will not be capable to avoid. But try to keep in mind at all times to maintain the Love in your Hearts, also and above all in regard to your enemies. Present to these enemies compassion and make it clear to them in this way that it will in the end be the Love, the Oneness and the Power of the Merciful, which will prevail in the end. Try to re-member that, my dear children. Because if you will be able to cling to that notion, the fate that you will have to endure, will be a bit easier to bear."

"In the midst of your community exists a pond. Imagine that many people find themselves about this pond. All of them are hurling stones into the pool. All these stones cause ripples that eventually will touch each other and the turbulence in the pond will be heavy. But keep in mind that all those people inevitably once will cease the tossing. At first one and later more and more. And in the end no more stones will be thrown into the water. By and by the waves will disperse and the waters will be quiet at last, calm and serene. Cling to this notion, dear children. It will help you. Goodbye then, I wish you well and know that - whatever happens - I will always be somewhere in the background to share your fate. And wherever possible I shall try to soften it." Before she leaves, she places her hands for a moment on the heads of the flabbergasted girls…

Two months later, ten kilometres to the north of Farciennes, the battle of Fleurus takes place, where the troops of Napoleon under general Jourdan achieve an impressive victory over the combined forces of the Prussians and the Austrians. Because of this the whole of the Southern Netherlands becomes part of France. The Prussian army recruits Father Pierre and three of his sons, Guillaume, Arien and François, and unfortunately all of them die in this dreadful battle. Because mother Agnès died already in December 1793 to a lingering heart condition, the two girls are left behind in the little house in Farciennes. About the fate of Pierre, who disappeared in all the confusion, nothing can be said and for the two suddenly into young women transformed sisters, those are frightful days.

They are terribly afraid because gradually it becomes clear that father and the other brothers will not return from the battlefield. They are terrified of the groups of wandering soldiers who are underpaid and try to replenish their meagre rations with all that the population can 'borrow' them. And they are frightened for the plundering soldiers who, arms at the ready, revel in lonely left behind women.

Then they have to think back to the appearance on the hill and they talk about courage to each other and they know that all this mischief has been brought down upon them for a reason. And although that reason remains a mystery for the moment, they understand that Mary of Magdala guards over them and will keep them from still greater danger.