Beth, a young girl, is playing with her doll, Daniel, in front of her family’s farmhouse. The mailman, Mr. Splinters, brings a package for her mother. It is Beth’s older sister Laurie’s graduation dress; the next day she will become the first in their family to graduate from high school. Ma Moss invites Splinters to the graduation party that night; Splinters tells her that two strange men have been seen in the neighborhood, and that they have raped two of the local girls. Laurie comes in; she wonders that her childhood has passed so fast; she feels like she has outgrown her home town. She is angry that her mother, and especially her grandfather, try to control her life.
Two drifters, Martin and Top, enter; they meet Laurie, and convince her grandfather, against his better judgement, to hire them to help with the harvest. Laurie invites them to her party, and Top asks Martin to get Grandpa drunk there so he can get acquainted with Laurie.
At the party, Grandpa makes a toast to Laurie; while the guests dance, Top begins to get Grandpa drunk. Ma Moss, still suspicious, sends Mr. Splinters for the sherriff. Martin dances with Laurie; the two of them, smitten with each other, go off alone to the porch; their kiss is interrupted by Grandpa, and Ma Moss accuses the boys of being the men who attacked the other local girls; just as she does, though, Splinters returns, saying the sherriff has already caught those men, who have confessed. Grandpa tells Martin and Top to leave by morning.
That night, Martin and Laurie meet secretly outside. They agree that Laurie will come with Martin when he leaves, but after she leaves Martin begins to have second thoughts; when Top arrives, he convinces Martin that Laurie couldn’t come with them; they depart. Laurie, coming out and finding them gone, decides to leave anyway rather than staying for her graduation. Ma Moss, left alone with Beth, turns her attention to her younger daughter; as the curtain falls, she goes back into the house and Beth is left playing in the road as at the beginning of the opera.