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Grif: A Story of Colonial Life

Chapter XIX. Grif Makes a Dying Statement

page 245

Chapter XIX. Grif Makes a Dying Statement.

When Grif heard Richard Handfield tell Alice of the murder of the Welshman, by the Tenderhearted Oysterman, and when he heard Alice say that Heaven, would surely send a witness to prove her husband's innocence, he crept softly away, with a suddenly-formed, but fixed, purpose in his mind. He heard Alice call to him, but he would not reply. “She wouldn't call me if she knew wot I wos goin' to do,” he thought. “Besides, she's got 'er 'usband, now; she don't want me.” And he walked off towards Mathew Nuttall's house, talking, and communing with himself as he went.

“She wants a witness,” he said. “She's got 'er 'usband, and she'd be all right if she 'ad a witness. It's not a bit of good 'er comin' all the way up 'ere, if she don't get a witness. Wot did Dick Handfield say? If he 'ad a witness who could swear that he 'eard the Oysterman confess to stealin' 'is knife, and murderin' the poor cove with it, 'is innocence would be proved? Yes, that wos wot he sed. If he don't git that witness, he'll be took up for murder, and somethin' dreadful 'll 'appen to Ally. And if 'is innocence is proved, Ally would be 'appy all 'er life. That'd be wery good, that would. 'Eaven 'll send the witness, Ally sed. No, it won't. For I'll be the witness! 'Eaven didn't send me! If I can git in with the gang——but they'd suspect me. I wos moral wen the Oysterman and Jim sor me in Melbourne—they page 246 won't b'lieve I ain't moral now. How shall I manage it? I've got it!” he cried, after pondering for a few moments. “I'll say I've bin sent up by Old Flick, to tell 'em that Dick Handfield's goin' to peach upon 'em. They'll b'lieve that. Father's in the gang, too; I 'eard Dick tell Ally that; though he sed it in a whisper, and didn't want me to 'ear. I'll get father to tell me all about it. Then, I'll go and be a witness. Lord!” he mused, “wot a queer move it is! They'll kill me wen they find it out, but I don't care. It'll make Ally 'appy, and she'll like me all the better. Then there's the Oysterman! I'll cry quits with 'im, now, for pizenin' Rough! Won't he be savage!”

But any pleasure he might have derived from this last reflection was soon lost in the contemplation of his fixed purpose to serve Alice. Grif's love for her amounted almost to worship. When he told her that he would die for her, he meant, actually, that he would be glad to die, if, by his death, he could serve her. Born and reared in the midst of thieves and ruffians, no softening influence had fallen upon him until he had met Alice. She had been kind and gentle to him, who had never before received kind or gentle treatment. He could not disentangle himself from the evil associations by which he was surrounded. Once he had tried to free himself, rather to please Alice than because he realised that his then position was one of evil or degradation: but his will was weak, and he was powerless in proportion to his ignorance. The world had punished him for what he felt dimly was not his fault; but Alice had pitied him for his unfortunate position, and her sympathy fell upon page 247 his heart, like rain upon parched land. To the world, for its harshness, he returned defiance: to Alice, for her tenderness, he gave all he had to give of love.

“I wonder if they're at the house,” Grif said, as he walked along. “If they are, I 'ope they won't 'urt no one. He's a wicked devil, is Jim. Pizey, though, and he'll be mad at Dick's runnin' away from, 'em.”

Soon he came to a fence, and, three or four hundred yards before him, he saw the home station. He crept slowly along by the side of the fence, in the direction of the house.

“I can see lights movin' about,” he muttered. “There's a man outside, walkin' up and down. He's got a gun in ‘is’ and, too. Yes, they're there, and he's keepin' watch. Everythin's wery quiet.”

By this time, Grif was within twenty yards of the house. He halted for a minute or two: he had crept slowly along in the shade of the fence, and had not been observed.

“Who's that keepin' watch?” he muttered, looking eagerly forward. “It ain't Jim Pizey, and it ain't the Oysterman. “Wy, it's father! I'll go right up to 'im.”

And he walked away from the fence, towards the house. As he did so, he was seen by the sentinel, who gave a shrill whistle, and cried—


“It's me, father!” cried Grif, running towards him. “Don't fire! It's me—Grif!”

He had scarcely uttered the words, when he was struck down by a bullet. Confused and dizzy, he struggled to his feet, pressing his hand to his side. As he looked page 248 round, dazed, he saw men running towards the house, and heard the sound of shots following each other rapidly.

“Who are you?” asked one of the men, seizing him roughly by the shoulder.

“Who am I?” the boy replied, looking about him in a bewilderment of deathly pain. The blood was flowing from his wound, and everything was fading from his sight, when he suddenly saw Alice. “Who am I?” he repeated. “Arks Ally! She knows. I'm Grif!”

And, with a wild shudder, he fell senseless at Alice's feet!

She threw herself beside him, and, tearing off a portion of her dress, she endeavoured to staunch his wound, By this time, the bushrangers were in full retreat, pursued by most of the men who had been engaged in the search for the children. Amongst those who stayed behind were Mathew Nuttall and his brother, and Richard Handfield. Nicholas had hurried into the house, to ascertain if his wife and daughter were safe; and he now returned with some brandy, which he put to Grif's lips. Richard, who had some little knowledge of surgery, examined the wound, and said—

“He must not be moved, Alice. He cannot live many minutes.”

“Do not say that!” cried Alice, weeping bitterly. “Oh, my poor Grif! He has died for me! My poor, dear Grif!”

The brandy which Grif tasted partially restored him, Opening his eyes, and looking with a loving tenderness; upon Alice's face, he pressed her hand which held his, and said, faintly—

page 249

“All right, Ally. Don't cry for me. I'd die to make you 'appy, I would. I'm 'er friend,” he muttered, and 'er brother, too. She sed so 'erself, she did.”

“Are you in pain, dear Grif?” she asked.

“Not much. 'T ain't worth botherin' about. I've got somethin' to say!” he cried, trying to raise himself. “Don't let me die till I've sed wot I've got to say. Will anybody fetch a magerstrate for a poor cove? I want a magerstrate, that's wot I want.”

Mathew Nuttall, who had been standing by the lad, said that he was a magistrate.

“That's the sort,” Grif gasped out. “You 'ear wot I got to say, and put it down in writin'! I'm dyin', yer know. Take 'er away first,” and he relinquished Alice's hand. “Stand off a bit for a minit or two, Ally, and take 'im away with yer.” And he pointed to Richard Handfield. The husband and wife fell back, in wonder; but, although she could not hear what he said, Alice followed, with her eyes, every movement of the dying lad.

“Now, then,” said Grif, when Alice and her husband were out of hearing. “I've got somethin' to say with my dyin' breath. Will wot I say be evidence? I arks you, as a magerstrate, will wot I say wen I'm dyin' be evidence?”

“If you swear to it, my poor boy,” replied Mathew Nuttall, gently.

“I'll swear to it! All right! I'll kiss the Bible on it. That's swearin', ain't it?”

“Yes,” said Mathew, whispering to Nicholas, who ran into the house, and returned with a Bible and a page 250 writing-desk. While he was away, Grif turned his eyes to where Alice was standing, weeping, and he continued to gaze on her lovingly as he spoke.

“All right. Ally,” he muttered to himself. “I'll make you 'appy. I'm the witness you want, that's wot I am.”

“Now, my lad,” said Mathew Nuttall. “Commence. Do not speak too fast, for you are very weak.”

“Yes, I'm wery weak. I'm a-dyin', yer know, and wen I've sed wot I got to say, I shan't trouble nobody no more. Fust and foremost, then, them coves as stuck up yer 'ouse was bushrangers. Put that down.”

“That is down. I can write as you speak.”

“Jim Pizey and the Tenderhearted Oysterman was two on 'em. I kiss the Bible, and I ses, I 'eard the Tenderhearted Oysterman say as 'ow he murdered a man—a Welshman—on the diggins, and as 'ow he stole Dick Handfield's knife to kill 'im with, so that it'd look as if Dick 'ad done it instead of 'im; and I kisses the Bible agin, and I ses as 'ow all the gang knows it wos the Tenderhearted Oysterman who done the murder, and not Dick Handfield.”

“You heard the man you call the Tenderhearted Oysterman confess to the murder?”

“I 'eard 'im say he done it 'imself, with Dick Handfield's knife. I kisses the Bible on it. You've got all that down?”

“It is all written, my lad,” said Mathew Nuttall, gravely.

“And I furthermore ses as 'ow Jim Pizey and the Oysterman wanted Dick Handfield, wen they wos in page 251 Melbourne, to join 'em in stickin' up Highlay Station——everything goin' away? 'Old me up! Don't let me die till I'm done! The sky's a-comin' down upon me!”

The brandy was put to his lips, and he revived again; but the words now came very slowly from him.

“Were wos I?” he asked.

“They wanted Dick Handfield to join them in sticking up Highlay Station.”

“Yes, that's it,” said Grif, his voice falling to a whisper. “And as 'ow Dick Handfield wouldn't. And as 'ow they wanted to throw the murder on 'im, out of revenge.”

“Have you finished?” asked Mathew Nuttall, as the boy paused.

“Yes—I forget all the rest,” muttered Grif. “Were's Ally?”

“One moment. You swear to this?

“I kisses the Bible on it.”

“Can you sign your name?”

“I can't write. I can only read large letters on the walls.”

“What is your name?”


“But your other name?”

“I never 'ad no other. I'm Grif, that's wot I am!”

“Raise him, Nicholas, and let him put a cross, here.”

The boy was raised, and the pen being held in his almost nerveless fingers, he scrawled a cross.

“Tell Ally to come,” he said, as they laid him down.

Alice came, and knelt by him.

“It's all right, Ally,” he gasped. She had to place page 252 her ear to his lips to catch his words. “You won't 'ave no more trouble. I've never bin no good all my life till now. Ally, dear, you sed there was another world. Is there?”

“Yes, Grif. You are going there, now.”

“Shall I see you there, by and by?”

“We shall meet there, dear Grif,” she answered, keeping back her tears.

“It wosn't my fault that I wosn't no good. I only wanted my grub and a blanket. If any swell 'ad a-given 'em to me, it 'd bin all right. Wy, there's Milly!” and he suddenly raised himself, and a bright expression came over his face. Alice held him in her arms, and watched the fading light in his eyes.

“And there's Rough. Rough! Rough! And the old pie-woman, too!” he cried, as his arm stole round Alice's neck. “Wot wos it Milly sed the other night? Oh, I know! Forgive me, God!”

And with that supplication upon his lips, Grif closed his eyes upon the world!

Richard Handfield's innocence was proved without Grif's dying statement The bushrangers were pursued; the Oysterman was shot dead, and the others were captured, When Jim Pizey was lying in prison, Alice visited him, and gave him. Milly's message. In that poor girl's name, Alice implored him to confess who had killed the Welshman. His hard nature was softened by the thought of Alice's kindness to Milly, and by her promise to take care of Milly's baby; and, knowing that his career was over, he admitted that it was the Oyster- page 253 man who had committed the minder with Richard Handfield's knife.

Here our story ends. If misfortune and poverty should come again to Richard, he would battle with them bravely, if only for the sake of tine true woman who called him husband. But it is not likely he will be so tried, for Mathew Nuttall has been reconciled to him, and Richard and Alice live happily at Highlay.

Grif was buried near the home station. The husband and wife often visit his grave, and often speak of him, tenderly and lovingly, as of a dear and cherished friend!

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