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Andy Page’s Rival
by [?]

Tall and freckled and sandy,
Face of a country lout;
That was the picture of Andy–
Middleton’s rouseabout.
On Middleton’s wide dominions
Plied the stock-whip and shears;
Hadn’t any opinions——

And he hadn’t any “ideers”–at least, he said so himself–except as regarded anything that looked to him like what he called “funny business”, under which heading he catalogued tyranny, treachery, interference with the liberty of the subject by the subject, “blanky” lies, or swindles–all things, in short, that seemed to his slow understanding dishonest, mean or paltry; most especially, and above all, treachery to a mate. THAT he could never forget. Andy was uncomfortably “straight”. His mind worked slowly and his decisions were, as a rule, right and just; and when he once came to a conclusion concerning any man or matter, or decided upon a course of action, nothing short of an earthquake or a Nevertire cyclone could move him back an inch–unless a conviction were severely shaken, and then he would require as much time to “back” to his starting point as he did to come to the decision.

Andy had come to a conclusion with regard to a selector’s daughter–name, Lizzie Porter–who lived (and slaved) on her father’s selection, near the township corner of the run on which Andy was a general “hand”. He had been in the habit for several years of calling casually at the selector’s house, as he rode to and fro between the station and the town, to get a drink of water and exchange the time of day with old Porter and his “missus”. The conversation concerned the drought, and the likelihood or otherwise of their ever going to get a little rain; or about Porter’s cattle, with an occasional enquiry concerning, or reference to, a stray cow belonging to the selection, but preferring the run; a little, plump, saucy, white cow, by-the-way, practically pure white, but referred to by Andy–who had eyes like a blackfellow–as “old Speckledy”. No one else could detect a spot or speckle on her at a casual glance. Then after a long bovine silence, which would have been painfully embarrassing in any other society, and a tilting of his cabbage-tree hat forward, which came of tickling and scratching the sun-blotched nape of his neck with his little finger, Andy would slowly say: “Ah, well. I must be gettin’. So-long, Mr. Porter. So-long, Mrs. Porter.” And, if SHE were in evidence–as she generally was on such occasions–“So-long, Lizzie.” And they’d shout: “So-long, Andy,” as he galloped off from the jump. Strange that those shy, quiet, gentle-voiced bushmen seem the hardest and most reckless riders.

But of late his horse had been seen hanging up outside Porter’s for an hour or so after sunset. He smoked, talked over the results of the last drought (if it happened to rain), and the possibilities of the next one, and played cards with old Porter; who took to winking, automatically, at his “old woman”, and nudging, and jerking his thumb in the direction of Lizzie when her back was turned, and Andy was scratching the nape of his neck and staring at the cards.

Lizzie told a lady friend of mine, years afterwards, how Andy popped the question; told it in her quiet way–you know Lizzie’s quiet way (something of the old, privileged house-cat about her); never a sign in expression or tone to show whether she herself saw or appreciated the humour of anything she was telling, no matter how comical it might be. She had witnessed two tragedies, and had found a dead man in the bush, and related the incidents as though they were common-place.

It happened one day–after Andy had been coming two or three times a week for about a year–that she found herself sitting with him on a log of the woodheap, in the cool of the evening, enjoying the sunset breeze. Andy’s arm had got round her–just as it might have gone round a post he happened to be leaning against. They hadn’t been talking about anything in particular. Andy said he wouldn’t be surprised if they had a thunderstorm before mornin’–it had been so smotherin’ hot all day.