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PAGE 3

Andy Page’s Rival
by [?]

“I know that, Dave.”

“There’s my hand on it!”

Andy took his friend’s hand mechanically, but gripped it hard.

“Now, Andy, I’ll tell you straight: It’s Gorstruth about Lizzie Porter!”

They stood as they were for a full minute, hands clasped; Andy with his jaw dropped and staring in a dazed sort of way at Dave. He raised his disengaged hand helplessly to his thatch, gulped suspiciously, and asked in a broken voice:

“How–how do you know it, Dave?”

“Know it? Andy, I SEEN ‘EM MESELF!”

“You did, Dave?” in a tone that suggested sorrow more than anger at Dave’s part in the seeing of them.

“Gorstruth, Andy!”

. . . . .

“Tell me, Dave, who was the feller? That’s all I want to know.”

“I can’t tell you that. I only seen them when I was canterin’ past in the dusk.”

“Then how’d you know it was a man at all?”

“It wore trousers, anyway, and was as big as you; so it couldn’t have been a girl. I’m pretty safe to swear it was Mick Kelly. I saw his horse hangin’ up at Porter’s once or twice. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll find out for you, Andy. And, what’s more, I’ll job him for you if I catch him!”

Andy said nothing; his hands clenched and his chest heaved. Dave laid a friendly hand on his shoulder.

“It’s red hot, Andy, I know. Anybody else but you and I wouldn’t have cared. But don’t be a fool; there’s any Gorsquantity of girls knockin’ round. You just give it to her straight and chuck her, and have done with it. You must be bad off to bother about her. Gorstruth! she ain’t much to look at anyway! I’ve got to ride like blazes to catch the coach. Don’t knock off till I come back; I won’t be above an hour. I’m goin’ to give you some points in case you’ve got to fight Mick; and I’ll have to be there to back you!” And, thus taking the right moment instinctively, he jumped on his horse and galloped on towards the town.

His dust-cloud had scarcely disappeared round a corner of the paddocks when Andy was aware of another one coming towards him. He had a dazed idea that it was Dave coming back, but went on digging another post-hole, mechanically, until a spring-cart rattled up, and stopped opposite him. Then he lifted his head. It was Lizzie herself, driving home from town. She turned towards him with her usual faint smile. Her small features were “washed out” and rather haggard.

“‘Ello, Andy!”

But, at the sight of her, all his hatred of “funny business”–intensified, perhaps, by a sense of personal injury–came to a head, and he exploded:

“Look here, Lizzie Porter! I know all about you. You needn’t think you’re goin’ to cotton on with me any more after this! I wouldn’t be seen in a paddock with yer! I’m satisfied about you! Get on out of this!”

The girl stared at him for a moment thunderstruck; then she lammed into the old horse with a stick she carried in place of a whip.

She cried, and wondered what she’d done, and trembled so that she could scarcely unharness the horse, and wondered if Andy had got a touch of the sun, and went in and sat down and cried again; and pride came to her aid and she hated Andy; thought of her big brother, away droving, and made a cup of tea. She shed tears over the tea, and went through it all again.

Meanwhile Andy was suffering a reaction. He started to fill the hole before he put the post in; then to ram the post before the rails were in position. Dubbing off the ends of the rails, he was in danger of amputating a toe or a foot with every stroke of the adze. And, at last, trying to squint along the little lumps of clay which he had placed in the centre of the top of each post for several panels back–to assist him to take a line–he found that they swam and doubled, and ran off in watery angles, for his eyes were too moist to see straight and single.