1864 St Augustine’s Holy Monastery & Cemetery
Highland Mountains of Scotland
2:30 AM ( give or take an hour)
Snow was poured onto the fire at the base of the gate and its hiss and steam brought little relief to the thief as he stood with the boiling water in a small cauldron ready to drown the lock to the church grounds and make his way into the monastery once the lock was picked. The key in his robes that he had acquired from his source in town was cold against his skin and as he produced it and pushed it into the lock of the gate. He felt the ice give way and with the gentlest rattle and turn ....he was inside the church grounds.
The wind whirled and danced around the tombstones and only a small light lit the way for the thief to make out where the door to the monastery was. He approached the door and held his closed fist out to knock ever so gently against the timber that protected the Nuns and Priest from the bitter elements. St Augustine’s housed 23 mature age women devoted to the preservation of the Roman Catholic doctrine and dogma forsaking all contact with men and pleasures of the flesh. One Priest guarded the sanctity and chastity of the monastery and the nuns and it was he who heard the gentle tap on the door of the church echo amongst the empty pews and beautiful stain glass windows. He stood inside the church door and reached for the length of wood he kept for just this occasion. The priest did not know if it was a friend or foe that stood on the other side of the door so he was very careful to ask who it was on the other side before opening the door.
There was a sound like someone falling against the door and it was then that the Priest opened the church door and the body of the thief fell at his feet. Bleeding! Father Dominique yelled for help and lifted the thief up and onto a pew to see if he could talk to him, but the thief was unconscious most probably due to the lack of blood and how cold it was outside the church. Three nuns ran to the aid of Father Dominique and between all four of them, they carried the thief to an empty room and commenced to stop the bleeding from just below his ribs. It was not a deep puncture wound but enough blood had been lost so as to render the thief unconscious. Some stitches were needed and applied while he was in this state. Almost at once the color in his face came back and he was quickly covered in warm woolen blankets with duck down pillows to support his head.
There was no identification on the man at all and his clothes were taken away to be washed at first light. Father Dominique asked a Nun to sit by his bedside and monitor his movements and condition and that he was to be called if anything should warrant his attention. The door to the monastery was closed and locked and Father Dominique blessed the cross and knelt down to say a prayer for the thief who was sleeping comfortably in an adjoining room. It was the practice of the church to give comfort and lodgings to all who were in need and Father Dominique was pleased that he had opened his and the churches heart to a lost soul who needed medical attention and rest.
He did not know that only hours before the thief was caught red handed stealing a necklace that was rumored to have belonged to Prince Victrov and the royal family. The necklace was all gold inlay and black onyx with a large red ruby hanging delicately from the front nestled in golden angel wings. Some of the local townsfolk call it ‘The Vampires Tear’ as Prince Victrov was reportedly accused of being a vampire and put to death shortly afterwards.
The thief was stabbed as he jumped from the window to the waiting courtyard below. He made his escape on one of the guard’s horses that was tied to a nearby pole. The thief’s assailant was the owner of the grand lodge and keeper of the royal jewels. If his aim had been any better, our thief would not be so lucky as to have escaped, more likely he would be buried in the morning in an unmarked grave and his life and history would be nominally, if at all, barely remembered. But as it was he lay in the warmth and comfort of the church and his life and impending history would become quite different.
The thief’s eyes flew open as the morning bell echoed over the valley below and reverberated around his room. He was wearing a cotton nightshirt and his side hurt as he tried to rise from the warmth of his bed. He was met by the softest of hands on his chest and shoulders and a small voice that told him he needed to heal before he could do any more walking around in the snow late at night. The thief lowered himself back onto his pillows and sipped some water from a homemade chalice and at once.....he felt better. “Where are my clothes good Sister.... if you would be so kind.... I will be on my way....as I have already caused enough.....?”
“Taken to be washed or burned as they were disgusting and unfit to be worn with all the blood you lost.”
“NO! NO! This cannot be..... you must bring them to me at once.”
“I shall look for them once you are better and bring them to you, but for now you must rest and heal if you are to be of any good to us,” said the Nun who was looking after our thief.
“I pray good sister that I heal afore this day is out.....I......have something that .......needs to be hidden....” and with that last comment he went to sleep.
As soon as his eyes closed the good sister went to the clothing basket near the doorway into the room and spilled the contents onto the floor. The thief’s clothes were then riffled and searched until the good sister happened upon something weighty in his trouser pocket. She looked around to see if the thief was still sleeping, and he was, before she gazed upon what it was that had weighed down her hand. She unfolded the blood caked handkerchief and gasped at what she beheld. In her hands, she held the necklace that belonged to the royal family.
It was beautiful.
She had never seen anything so wondrous in her life.
She felt so guilty for lusting after a mere necklace.
Surely God would punish her for her impiety and transgression.
She looked around the room and checked the thief again to make sure he was still asleep, and he was, before she unclasped the necklace and raised it to her chest and fastened the clasp again behind her neck and felt the weight of all the gold … and the ruby against her skin.
Surely God will strike her dead on the spot. Surely God would open the ground beneath her and swallow her whole. Surely God .....was watching her.....wasn’t he? The thief wasn’t … but surely God was.
Some time passed and she felt the weight several times more around her neck and danced around the room as if she was partnered at a Royal Ball. The smile on her face now was not one she had been privy to for several years as smiling was frowned upon in the church. If you were smiling in the church it was wrong. The doctrine exercised into all beings at church was loyalty through fear. The fear of God.
How can one be smiling if they are afraid? How could she let herself smile and dance with what was obviously a stolen piece of property around her neck, and not be afraid? What were her vows all about? The good sister took the necklace off and put all the nasty smelling clothes back into the basket, including the blood soaked handkerchief in his trouser pocket, and returned the basket to the room door. It was as she walked back to the bed and her chair to monitor the thief that Father Dominique knocked and entered the room, tripping on the basket left at the door and knocking over the water barrel from the well that was used to clean the thief’s wounds.
The thief woke up.
The priest was furious and scrambling off the floor all wet and talking at a million and one words a minute. “There are some guards at the front gate who want to know if we know anything about a thief and a stolen necklace....and I am guessing that’s YOU,” he said staring at the thief who was doing his best to convince the priest he was still asleep. The good sister had hold of the necklace and had hidden it within the sanctuary of her clothing, still feeling the weight as she moved about, hoping it didn’t come free and give her away to Father Dominique.
It did not!
The thief lapsed back into sleep and the good sister suggested to Father Dominique that she and the two other sisters who help the thief, take a little holiday … to a far away country … where they could set up a new Monastery … far from the eyes of the prying royal family.
Father Dominique seemed relieved as he thought this was a plan that could very well work given that the guards knew of the hospitable tendencies of the church to ANYONE - not just a simple thief. The sisters would get a papal dispensation and letters for travel......but where to send them???? Somewhere that the royal family would never think to look for them? Somewhere the thief would never think to look for them either.
Where could one go?
It was over dinner that night while Father Dominique was saying grace and chastising a sister for reading a newspaper left in the church after a gathering that he saw and read the headline, “Australia Welcomes Visitors to New Territory.”
THAT’S IT ........ AUSTRALIA IT IS!!!!!!! And with that the three sisters were packed and on the evening coach out of St Augustine’s with enough clothing, money, food (and a beautiful necklace) for the trip to the docks to take the clipper to Australia.
The air was crisp and unfriendly when the coach pulled up alongside the clipper. The three sisters got out and stretched their legs. The good sister directed their luggage onto the boat and it was then that she was addressed to by the captain of the vessel.......“Pleasure to have you aboard dear ladies of God. You will be a good omen for my craft and my men. Can I ask what takes you to such a long way from your home and church?” the Captain asked, all be it uncomfortably. “We are building another home and church Captain,” said the good sister. “What will this wonderment of God to be called?” asked the Captain as he directed his crew to ‘weigh anchor’ and get the clipper underway.
“Heavens Gate,” said the good sister.
And the Captain smiled and tipped his hat in respect to the ladies as they made their collective way below decks for the long voyage to Australia.