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Dick Spindler’s Family Christmas
by [?]

There was surprise and sometimes disappointment in Rough and Ready, when it was known that Dick Spindler intended to give a “family” Christmas party at his own house. That he should take an early opportunity to celebrate his good fortune and show hospitality was only expected from the man who had just made a handsome “strike” on his claim; but that it should assume so conservative, old-fashioned, and respectable a form was quite unlooked-for by Rough and Ready, and was thought by some a trifle pretentious. There were not half-a-dozen families in Rough and Ready; nobody ever knew before that Spindler had any relations, and this “ringing in” of strangers to the settlement seemed to indicate at least a lack of public spirit. “He might,” urged one of his critics, “hev given the boys,–that had worked alongside o’ him in the ditches by day, and slung lies with him around the camp-fire by night,–he might hev given them a square ‘blow out,’ and kep’ the leavin’s for his old Spindler crew, just as other families do. Why, when old man Scudder had his house-raisin’ last year, his family lived for a week on what was left over, arter the boys had waltzed through the house that night,–and the Scudders warn’t strangers, either.” It was also evident that there was an uneasy feeling that Spindler’s action indicated an unhallowed leaning towards the minority of respectability and exclusiveness, and a desertion–without the excuse of matrimony–of the convivial and independent bachelor majority of Rough and Ready.

“Ef he was stuck after some gal and was kinder looking ahead, I’d hev understood it,” argued another critic.

“Don’t ye be too sure he ain’t,” said Uncle Jim Starbuck gloomily. “Ye’ll find that some blamed woman is at the bottom of this yer ‘family’ gathering. That and trouble ez almost all they’re made for!”

There happened to be some truth in this dark prophecy, but none of the kind that the misogynist supposed. In fact, Spindler had called a few evenings before at the house of the Rev. Mr. Saltover, and Mrs. Saltover, having one of her “Saleratus headaches,” had turned him over to her widow sister, Mrs. Huldy Price, who obediently bestowed upon him that practical and critical attention which she divided with the stocking she was darning. She was a woman of thirty-five, of singular nerve and practical wisdom, who had once smuggled her wounded husband home from a border affray, calmly made coffee for his deceived pursuers while he lay hidden in the loft, walked four miles for that medical assistance which arrived too late to save him, buried him secretly in his own “quarter section,” with only one other witness and mourner, and so saved her position and property in that wild community, who believed he had fled. There was very little of this experience to be traced in her round, fresh-colored brunette cheek, her calm black eyes, set in a prickly hedge of stiff lashes, her plump figure, or her frank, courageous laugh. The latter appeared as a smile when she welcomed Mr. Spindler. “She hadn’t seen him for a coon’s age,” but “reckoned he was busy fixin’ up his new house.”

“Well, yes,” said Spindler, with a slight hesitation, “ye see, I’m reckonin’ to hev a kinder Christmas gatherin’ of my”–he was about to say “folks,” but dismissed it for “relations,” and finally settled upon “relatives” as being more correct in a preacher’s house.

Mrs. Price thought it a very good idea. Christmas was the natural season for the family to gather to “see who’s here and who’s there, who’s gettin’ on and who isn’t, and who’s dead and buried. It was lucky for them who were so placed that they could do so and be joyful.” Her invincible philosophy probably carried her past any dangerous recollections of the lonely grave in Kansas, and holding up the stocking to the light, she glanced cheerfully along its level to Mr. Spindler’s embarrassed face by the fire.