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- Two Little Women on a Holiday - 20/37 -
a museum. There were enormous cases filled with specimens of every sort of bird, butterfly or insect. Or, if not every kind was represented, surely they were nearly all there, so multitudinous were the exhibits.
"What a lot!" exclaimed Dolly, "I had no idea it was such an enormous collection."
"Yes," said Mr. Forbes, with justifiable pride, "it Is the largest private collection that I know of. Come, let me show you the birds first."
Obediently the girls followed his directions, and with ever growing interest they saw the rows and rows of stuffed birds, of all sizes and of all varieties of plumage.
Then came great cabinets filled with shallow drawers, each of which, when opened, displayed tiny moths, queer flies, and microscopic insects, each daintily mounted on its own pin and all standing in trim rows.
The butterflies were the prettiest exhibit of all. These showed rare varieties and well-known ones; specimens from far distant countries and from their own state.
All the girls were interested, but Dolly was absorbed. She walked from case to case, asking intelligent questions, that Mr. Forbes was glad to answer.
"You ought to make natural history a special study," he said to her. "You seem so fond of it."
"Oh, I am!" responded Dolly. "I shall try to get mother to let me take it up specially next year. And here are the beetles! How wonderfully they are arranged, and what beautiful colours!"
"Yes, see the iridescent wings of this chap," and Uncle Jeff pointed to a fine specimen. "I don't wonder the old Egyptians loved this creature and carved their scarabs in its likeness, do you?"
"No indeed," responded Dolly. "And do you like old Egyptian things, too? So do I. I saw wonders in the Museum."
"I have quite an antique collection, if you're interested."
"If I'm interested! Well, I just guess I AM!"
The other girls enjoyed the exhibition, too, but not so much as Dolly, who was enthusiastic over it all. They had so far seen only the front rooms, but now Uncle Jeff conducted them to the room in the rear extension of the house, and as he unlocked the door he said, "Here are my greatest treasures of all."
The girls went in, and Mr. Forbes rolled up the shades and let in the sunlight.
"My, but it's close and stuffy!" exclaimed Bernice; "mayn't we have a window open, uncle?"
"Yes, indeed; I believe in fresh air, but I keep this room closed so much of the time it does get stale."
Mr. Forbes threw open a window that faced the south, and as there was no wind blowing, the fresh winter air was balmy and pleasant.
"That's better," said Bernice, and she began to look at the treasures all about her.
There were many tall cases, like book-cases, and on their shelves were ranged curios and valuables of all sorts. These proved more interesting to Dotty than the birds and butterflies.
"Oh, look at the old jewellery!" she cried. "Just like what we saw in the museum, Doll."
"Yes, here are old Egyptian trinkets,--aren't they, Uncle Forbes?"
"Yes, those are Egyptian and Abyssinian. This nose ring was worn by a lady in India some centuries before you girls were born."
"What is the oldest thing you have, Uncle?" asked Alicia. "This jewellery?"
"No; this is my oldest piece," and Mr. Forbes took from a shelf an image of a cat. It was of dark brown material, and was dingy and roughened, as if by fire.
"This came from an old Egyptian tomb," he said. "You know they put all sorts of idols and charms in the tombs of their dead. Then once in a while these things are exhumed, and in some instances sold by the Egyptian Museum authorities. I buy only what is guaranteed by them to be genuine. I have an agent, who has travelled in many countries to collect authentic antiquities for me. This cat dates from about 2000 B. C."
"Gracious!" cried Dotty, "and there's been nearly two thousand years since B. C. That makes Mr. Cat about four thousand years old! Some cat!"
"Well, a cat has nine lives anyway," laughed Alicia, "so it ought to be a long time dead."
"That never was a live cat, was it?" asked Dolly.
"Oh, no. This was a bronze image, but fire and age have turned it to a mere brittle shell. If it were dropped to the floor it would break into a thousand pieces."
"Oh, my! take it!" exclaimed Dolly, who was holding the precious relic. "I didn't know it was so fragile."
Mr. Forbes took it carefully. "That's why I don't often bring young people up here. They're too heedless to appreciate the value of these old things. Yes, two centuries before the Christian Era, this piece of bric-a-brac, as we would call it, adorned the tomb of some Egyptian citizen. I have the guarantee, signed by the Egyptian Museum. And here is a fine specimen. This is in a better state of preservation. See, you can read the date on it clearly, 537 B. C."
Mr. Forbes took from a cabinet a small image of a mummy. It was of blue stone, somewhat chipped and worn, but preserving its shape and colour. On the back, in rude figures, but clearly discernible was the date to which he called their attention.
"Wonderful!" said Alicia. "Their figures are much like ours, aren't they?"
"Yes, my child, the Arabic numerals are of ancient usage. Think of the old hand that carved that date! Long since mouldered to dust!"
"It gives me the creeps!" declared Bernice, "and yet it fascinates me, too. Was this found in a tomb?"
"Yes, or in a temple. Excavations in Egypt, latterly, produce so many of these things that it is not difficult to get them. But that's pretty old, you see,--half a century before Christ."
"I wonder who was King of Egypt then," said Dotty. "I wish I could remember my history better. I learned about the Ptolemies and the other dynasties, but I get 'em all mixed up."
Although the others were eagerly examining the old mummy relic, Dolly stood looking at it thoughtfully.
"May I take it?" she said, after the others had scrutinised it.
Dolly handled it carefully, as she minutely observed it on every side. It was about six inches long and was a perfect little model of an Egyptian mummy. She gazed at the date deeply graven on the back, and then with a slight smile she handed it back to Mr. Forbes, saying, "Very good, Eddie!"
"What! What do you mean?" cried the old gentleman, glaring at her, and Alicia exclaimed, "Why, Dolly Fayre! You rude little thing!"
"But what do you mean?" persisted Mr. Forbes. Why do you call me Eddie?"
"Oh," and Dolly laughed, "that's a slang phrase that people say when they see through a joke."
"Joke, miss! Are you making fun of my antiques? Explain yourself!"
"Yes, what DO you mean, Dolly?" said Dotty, anxiously; "you can't mean to insult Mr. Forbes."
"You goosies!" cried Dolly, "he's fooling you. It's a joke on us."
"What is? What's a joke?"
"This mummy," and now Mr. Forbes had joined in Dolly's laughter.
"You're a cute one!" he said. "Not one person in a dozen catches on to that. Tell 'em, my dear. Oh, you are a smart one!"
Mr. Forbes shook with glee, and Dolly held up the image to the mystified girls.
"Don't you see, you blindies, the date 537 B. C. couldn't have been put on in the year 537 B. C.?"
"Why not?" asked Alicia, looking blank.
"Why, at that time they didn't know how many years it would be before Christ's birth. Nobody dated anything B. C. until after the Christian Era had begun."
"But why didn't they?" and Bernice also looked bewildered.
"Think a minute, you sillies. Nobody knew the exact date of the year one until after the year one was here. In fact, I don't think they began to count right away, anyhow. But certainly they didn't know five hundred and thirty-seven years before!"
"Oh, I see!" cried Bernice. "All the B. C. years have been computed or dated since the A. D. years began."
"Of course they have, and Mr. Forbes had the date carved on this mummy on purpose to fool people. Didn't you?"
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