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‘What letter are you holding in your hand all this time, my dear?’ said Captain Howard Effingham to his wife during a certain family council.
‘Really, I had almost forgotten it. A foreign postmark—I suppose it is from your friend Mr. Sternworth, in Australia or New Zealand.’
‘Sternworth lives in New South Wales, not New Zealand,’ returned he rather testily. ‘I have told you more than once that the two places are a thousand miles apart by sea. Yes! it is from old Harley. When he was chaplain to our regiment he was always hankering after a change from routine duty. Now he has got it with a vengeance. He was slightly eccentric, but a better fellow, a stauncher friend, never stepped.’
‘Don’t people go to Australia to make money?’ asked Rosamond Effingham, a girl of twenty, with ‘eldest daughter’ plainly inscribed upon her thoughtful features. ‘I saw in a newspaper that some one had come home after making a fortune, or it may have been that he died there and left it to his relatives.’
‘Sternworth has not made a fortune. He is not the man to want one. Still, he seems wonderfully contented and raves about the beauty of the climate and the progress of his colony.’
‘Let me read his letter out,’ pleaded the anxious wife softly, and, with a gesture of assent, the father and daughter sat expectant.
Mrs. Effingham had the gift of reading aloud with effect, which, with that of facile, clear-cut composition, came to her as naturally as the notes of a song-bird, which indeed her tuneful voice resembled.
‘The letter is dated from Yass—(what a funny name! a native one, I suppose)—in New South Wales, and June the 20th, 1834. Nearly six months ago! Does it take all that time to come? What a long, long way off it must be. Now then for the contents.
‘My dear Effingham—I have not written for an age—though I had your last in reply to mine in due course—partly because, after my first acknowledgment, I had nothing particular to say, nor any counsel to offer you, suitable for the situation in which you appear to have landed yourself. When you were in the old regiment you were always a bad manager of your money, and the Yorkshireman had to come to your assistance with his hard head more than once. I thought all that sort of thing was over when you succeeded to a settled position and a good estate. I was much put out to find by your last letter that you had again got among the shallows of debt. I doubt it is chronic with you. But it is a serious matter for the family. If I were near you I would scold you roundly, but I am too far off to do it effectually.