The first news I heard of Alastair was that August, scarcely a year before the war started, and it was surely not the news I had expected: a terse telegram informing me that Wilfred Barnham had taken his own life, hanging himself in the closet of a hotel in Jackson, Mississippi, not far from the rail line which would have borne him safely home and on which his passage was already booked. It was devastating news, to be sure, but worse was to come. Through my family, I sent inquiries to the elder Barnham about attending a memorial service or perhaps arranging for flowers to be sent in my name should it be too remote. His reply was a tersely handwritten note, informing me that Wilfred had been promptly cremated and his ashes scattered, that I was better off saving any funerary monies for a worthier cause, and that he would speak no more on the subject. This I attributed to what must have been overwhelming grief on the old man’s part, Wilfred being his only child and the only reminder of the lost Southern love he had once cherished.

And there the matter rested, until two weeks later. A letter arrived at my address in Providence and was forwarded to me at my lodgings upstate; as I had feared, the post had delayed Wilfred’s missives so much that the news of his death had arrived before the news of his life. I opened and read the missive with some trepidation, wary of what I might learn but utterly starved of details about the fate of my dear friend from childhood.

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