She returned in the late summer and I went back to my work at college in a hopeless fashion that gave way under the whip of a strong will.
I made myself as contented as possible. I knew all the pretty girls and went about with some of them to the entertainments of the college season. At last came the long looked for day of my graduation — the end of my student life.
The streets of the town were thronged, every student having the college colours in his coat lapel. The little company of graduates trembled with fright as the people crowded in to the church, whispering and faring themselves, in eager anticipation. As the former looked from the two side pews where they sat, many familiar faces greeted them — the faces of fathers and mothers aglow with the inner light of pride and pleasure; the faces of many they loved come to claim a share in the glory of that day. I found my own, I remember, but none of them gave me such help as that of Uncle Eb. However I might fare, none would feel the pride or disgrace of it more keenly than he. I shall never forget how he turned his head to catch every word when I ascended the platform. As I warmed to my argument I could see him nudging the arm of David, who sat beside him, as if to say, ’There’s the boy that came over the hills with me in a pack basket.’ when I stopped a moment, groping for the next word, he leaned forward, embracing his knee, firmly, as if intending to draw off a boot. It was all the assistance he could give me. When the exercises were over I found Uncle Eb by the front door of the church, waiting for me.
‘Willie, ye done noble!’ said he.
‘Did my very best, Uncle Eb,’ I replied.
‘Liked it grand — I did, sartin.’ ‘Glad you liked it, Uncle Eb.’
‘Showed great larnin’. Eho was the man ‘at give out the pictur’s?’
He meant the president who had conferred the degrees. I spoke the name.
‘Deceivin’ lookin’ man, ain’t he? Seen him often, but never took no pertick’lar notice of him before.’
‘How deceiving?’ I enquired.
‘Talked so kind of plain,’ he replied. ‘I could understan’ him as easy as though he’d been swappin’ hosses. But when you got up, Bill’. why, you jes’ riz right up in the air an’ there couldn’t no dum fool tell what you was talkin’ ‘bout.’
Whereat I concluded that Uncle Eb’s humour was as deep as it was kindly, but I have never been quite sure whether the remark was a compliment or a bit of satire.
The folks of Faraway have been carefully if rudely pictured, but the look of my own person, since I grew to the stature of manhood, I have left wholly to the imagination of the reader. I will wager he knew long since what manner of man I was and has measured me to the fraction of an inch, and knows even the colour of my hair and eyes from having been so long in my company. If not — well, I shall have to write him a letter.