A year had elapsed since Adam Ladd'sprize had been discussed over the teacupsin Riverboro. The months had come andgone, and at length the great day had dawned forRebecca,--the day to which she had been lookingforward for five years, as the first goal to be reachedon her little journey through the world. School-days were ended, and the mystic function knownto the initiated as "graduation" was about to becelebrated; it was even now heralded by the sundawning in the eastern sky. Rebecca stole softlyout of bed, crept to the window, threw open theblinds, and welcomed the rosy light that meant acloudless morning. Even the sun looked differentsomehow,--larger, redder, more important thanusual; and if it were really so, there was no memberof the graduating class who would have thoughtit strange or unbecoming, in view of all thecircumstances. Emma Jane stirred on her pillow,woke, and seeing Rebecca at the window, came andknelt on the floor beside her. "It's going to bepleasant!" she sighed gratefully. "If it wasn'twicked, I could thank the Lord, I'm so relieved inmind! Did you sleep?""Not much; the words of my class poem keptrunning through my head, and the accompanimentsof the songs; and worse than anything, MaryQueen of Scots' prayer in Latin; it seemed as if"`Adoro, imploro,Ut liberes me!'
were burned into my brain."No one who is unfamiliar with life in ruralneighborhoods can imagine the gravity, the importance,the solemnity of this last day of school. Inthe matter of preparation, wealth of detail, and generalexcitement it far surpasses a wedding; for thatis commonly a simple affair in the country, sometimeseven beginning and ending in a visit to theparsonage. Nothing quite equals graduation in theminds of the graduates themselves, their families,and the younger students, unless it be the inaugurationof a governor at the State Capitol. Wareham,then, was shaken to its very centre on thisday of days. Mothers and fathers of the scholars,as well as relatives to the remotest generation, hadbeen coming on the train and driving into the townsince breakfast time; old pupils, both married andsingle, with and without families, streamed back tothe dear old village. The two livery stables werecrowded with vehicles of all sorts, and lines of buggiesand wagons were drawn up along the sides ofthe shady roads, the horses switching their tails inluxurious idleness. The streets were filled withpeople wearing their best clothes, and the fashionsincluded not only "the latest thing," but the wellpreserved relic of a bygone day. There were allsorts and conditions of men and women, for therewere sons and daughters of storekeepers, lawyers,butchers, doctors, shoemakers, professors, ministers,and farmers at the Wareham schools, eitheras boarders or day scholars. In the seminary buildingthere was an excitement so deep and profoundthat it expressed itself in a kind of hushed silence,a transient suspension of life, as those most interestedapproached the crucial moment. The femininegraduates-to-be were seated in their ownbedrooms, dressed with a completeness of detailto which all their past lives seemed to have beenbut a prelude. At least, this was the case with theirbodies; but their heads, owing to the extreme heatof the day, were one and all ornamented with leads,or papers, or dozens of little braids, to issue laterin every sort of curl known to the girl of thatperiod. Rolling the hair on leads or papers was afavorite method of attaining the desired result, andthough it often entailed a sleepless night, therewere those who gladly paid the price. Others, inwhose veins the blood of martyrs did not flow,substituted rags for leads and pretended that theymade a more natural and less woolly curl. Heat,however, will melt the proudest head and reduceto fiddling strings the finest product of the waving-pin; so anxious mothers were stationed overtheir offspring, waving palm-leaf fans, it havingbeen decided that the supreme instant when thetown clock struck ten should be the one chosenfor releasing the prisoners from their self-imposedtortures.