He really has—queer fatuous investigator!—an unusually sensitive touch for the human texture, and the specimens he gathers into his museum of heterogeneous memories have almost always some mark of the rare and chosen. I felt, therefore, that I was really to be congratulated on the fact that I didn’t know what had become of the Daunt Diana, and on having before me a long evening in which to learn. I had just led my friend back, after an excellent dinner at Foyot’s, to the shabby pleasant sitting-room of my rive-gauche hotel; and I knew that, once I had settled him in a good arm-chair, and put a box of cigars at his elbow, I could trust him not to budge till I had the story.
YOU remember old Neave, of course? Little Humphrey Neave, I mean. We used to see him pottering about Rome years ago. He lived in two tiny rooms over a wine shop, on polenta and lentils, and prowled among the refuse of the Ripetta whenever he had a few soldi to spend. But you’ve been out of the collector’s world for so long that you may not know what happened to him afterward...
He was always a queer chap, Neave; years older than you and me, of course—and even when I first knew him, in my raw Roman days, he gave me an extraordinary sense of age and experience. I don’t think I’ve ever known any one who was at once so intelligent and so simple. It’s the precise combination that results in romance; and poor little Neave was romantic.
He told me once how he’d come to Rome. He was originaire of Mystic, Connecticut—and he wanted to get as far away from it as possible. Rome seemed as far as anything on the same planet could be; and after he’d worried his way through Harvard—with shifts and shavings that you and I can’t imagine—he contrived to get sent to Switzerland as tutor to a chap who’d failed in his examinations. With only the Alps between, he wasn’t likely to turn back; and he got another fellow to take his pupil home, and struck out on foot for the seven hills.
I’m telling you these early details merely to give you a notion of the man’s idealism. There was a cool persistency and a headlong courage in his dash for Rome that one wouldn’t have guessed in the little pottering chap we used to know. Once on the spot, he got more tutoring, managed to make himself a name for coaxing balky youths to take their fences, and was finally able to take up the more congenial task of expounding “the antiquities” to cultured travellers. I call it more congenial—but how it must have seared his soul! Fancy unveiling the sacred scars of Time to ladies who murmur: “Was this actually the spot—?” while they absently feel for their hatpins! He used to say that nothing kept him at it but the exquisite thought of accumulating the lire for his collection. For the Neave collection, my dear fellow, began early, began almost with his Roman life, began in a series