I had known my friend Wilfred Barnham since we were youths, and his father came from Puritan stock older than mine, yet a cloud had always hung over him due to his parentage. His mother, as I’d heard my own aunt whisper, had been a debutante from a small town south of the Mason-Dixon line, and she had died not long after Wilfred’s birth, as the couple had been traveling to his father’s estate in Providence. The rumors always seemed to suggest that the elder Barnham had been seduced by a hardscrabble woman of ill repute who intended to drag herself to the upper crust and prosperity using their child as an anchor, but Wilfred maintained–often angrily–that they had truly been in love, that his mother had been a model of Southern hospitality and manners, and her sudden death even now hung over the elder Barnham like a pall.

It was partially in response to those society rumors, and partially the same wanderlust and yearning for answers that takes hold of all young men, that led Wilfred to undertake a journey to his mother’s hometown of Calhoun, Mississppi, in the summer of 1913. It was not long after our final days at school together, and even though the postal service in the backwater bayous of that oft-rebellious state was not the best, Wilfred promised to write me as I undertook my first readings to become a law clerk.

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