Our latin teacher had five names: William Owen Ellis Alexander Humphreys. The students called him WOE! melodramatically elongating the diphthong-- but never to his face. None would have dared that.
It was a long thin Virgilian face bisected by with a longer and thinner nose better fashioned for marble frieze than living man. His suits too were of an antique cut: pencilthin lapels and razorsharp cuffs. A crinolated crown of well-oiled curlicues were his sole vanity.
His twin gods were the Queen and Robert E. Lee whose portraits graced either side of his rostrum.
Though well over six feet and at best 110 lbs, his spindly figure could inspire terror, or if not terror, at least awe-- like an apparition appearing when least expected or like the past to a boy of twelve or thirteen.
He did not live on campus, but in a rented room at the Read House with the final effects, it was rumored, of a Tidewater family whose fortunes had flagged with 'the War' and which had left him in lieu of patrimony those five names.
Mr. Humphreys was the best kind of teacher, being essentially a myth-- it wasn't so much the latin verbs we learned, the six declensions or the dreaded hexameter-- in him we could imagine pius Aeneas transplanted to that absurd kingdom called McCallie School, making the best of a bad situation: listening all day to pygmies recite their conjugations, make a muddle of Caesar and confound Cicero.
And though he would have won no beauty contest, I can think of no more arresting illustration of the Beautiful than of Mr. Humphreys, his Horace tucked under his arm, slowly floating down the oak-panelled corridor of the old A-building past rows of lockers, "wine-dark" at sunset, growing longer and thinner in the receding light, thinner and longer, until he reaches the darkness of the vestibule and is seen no more.
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