Pa laid the fiddle in its box and opened the front door quickly. Snow and cold swirled in, and again a husky shout. “Hullo-o-o, Ingalls!”
“It’s Boast!” Pa cried. “Come in! Come in!” He snatched his coat and cap, jerked them on and went out into the cold.
“He must be nearly frozen!” Ma exclaimed, and she hurried to put more coal on the fire. From outside came voices and Mr. Boast’s laugh.
Then the door opened, and Pa called, “Here’s Mrs. Boast, Caroline. We’re going to put up the horses.”
Mrs. Boast was a great bundle of coats and blankets.
Ma hurried to help her take off layer after layer of wrappings. “Come to the stove! Your must be nearly frozen.”
“Oh, no,” a pleasant voice answered. “The horse was warm to sit on and Robert wrapped me so tightly in all these blankets, the cold couldn’t reach me. He even led the horse so my hands would be under cover.”
“This veil is frozen just the same,” said Ma, unwinding yards of frosted woolen veil from Mrs. Boast’s head. Mrs. Boast’s face appeared, framed in a fur-edged hood. Mrs. Boast did not look much older than Mary. Her hair was soft brown, and her long-lashed eyes were blue.
“Did you come all this way on horseback, Mrs.
Boast?” Ma asked her.
“Oh, no. Only about two miles. We were coming in a bobsled, but we got stuck in the snow in a slough. The team and the sled fell down through the snow,” she said. “Robert got the team out but we had to leave the sled.”
“I know,” said Ma. “The snow drifts over the top of the tall slough grass, and you can’t tell where the slough is. But the grass underneath won’t hold up any weight.” She helped Mrs. Boast out of her coat.
“Take my chair, Mrs. Boast. It’s in the warmest place,” Mary urged her. But Mrs. Boast said she would sit beside Mary.
Pa and Mr. Boast came into the lean-to with a great stamping of snow from their feet. Mr. Boast laughed, and in the house everyone laughed, even Ma.
“I don’t know why,” Laura said to Mrs. Boast. “We don’t even know what the joke is, but when Mr. Boast laughs—”
Mrs. Boast was laughing too. “It’s contagious,” she said. Laura looked at her blue, laughing eyes and thought that Christmas would be jolly.
Ma was stirring up biscuits. “How do you do, Mr. Boast,” she said. “You and Mrs. Boast must be starved. Supper will be ready in a jiffy.”
Laura put slices of salt pork in the frying pan to parboil, and Ma set the biscuits in the oven. Then Ma drained the pork, dipped the slices in flour and set them to fry, while Laura peeled and sliced potatoes.
“I’ll raw-fry them,” Ma said to her low, in the pantry, “and make milk gravy and a fresh pot of tea. We can make out well enough for food, but what will we do about the presents?”
Laura had not thought of that. They had no presents for Mr. and Mrs. Boast. Ma whisked out of the pantry to fry the potatoes and make the gravy, and Laura set the table.
“I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a meal more,” said Mrs. Boast, when they had eaten.
“We didn’t look for you until spring,” said Pa. “Winter is a bad time to make such a drive.”
“We found that out,” Mr. Boast answered. “But I tell you, Ingalls, the whole country is moving west in the spring. All Iowa is coming, and we knew we must be ahead of the rush or some claim jumper would be on our homestead. So, we came, weather or no weather. You should have filed on a homestead last fall. You’ll have to rush it in the spring, or you’ll find no land left.”
Pa and Ma looked soberly at each other. They were thinking of the homestead that Pa had found. But Ma only said, “It’s getting late, and Mrs. Boast must be tired.”
“I am tired,” Mrs. Boast said. “It was a hard drive, and then to leave the sled and come on horseback through the snowstorm. We were so glad to see your light. And when we came nearer, we heard you singing. You don’t know how good it sounded.”
“You take Mrs. Boast in with you, Caroline, and Boast and I will bunk down here by the fire,” Pa said. “We’ll have one more song, then all you girls skedaddle.”
He raised the fiddle again from its nest in the box and tried it to see that it was in tune. “What’ll it be, Boast?”
“‘Merry Christmas Everywhere,’” said Mr. Boast. His tenor voice joined Pa’s bass. Mrs. Boast’s soft alto and Laura’s soprano and Mary’s followed, then Ma’s contralto. Carrie’s little treble piped up happily.
“Merry, Merry Christmas everywhere! Cheerily it ringeth through the air; Christmas bells, Christmas trees, Christmas odors on the breeze.
“Why should we so joyfully Sing with grateful mirth?
See the Sun of Righteousness Beams upon the earth!
“Light for weary wanderers, Comfort for the oppressed;
He will guide his trusting ones, Into perfect rest.”
“Good night! Good night!” they all said. Ma came upstairs to get Carrie’s bedding for Pa and Mr. Boast. “Their blankets are sopping wet,” she said. “You three girls can share one bed for one night.”
“Ma! What about the presents?” Laura whispered.
“Never mind, I’ll manage somehow,” Ma whispered back. “Now go to sleep, girls,” she said aloud. “Good night, sleep tight!”
Downstairs Mrs. Boast was softly singing to herself, “Light for weary wanderers . . .”[/sociallocker]