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R Austin Freeman
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 280 pages of information about The Vanishing Man.

I suppose I must have reddened—­I certainly resented the remark—­for he continued in the same even tone:  “I made the suggestion because I know that she takes an intelligent interest in the subject and is, in fact, quite well informed on it.”

“Yes; she seems to know a great deal about the antiquities of Egypt, and I may as well admit that your surmise was correct.  It was she who showed me her uncle’s collection.”

“So I had supposed,” said Mr. Jellicoe.  “And a very instructive collection it is, in a popular sense; very suitable for exhibition in a public museum, though there is nothing in it of unusual interest to the expert.  The tomb furniture is excellent of its kind and the cartonnage case of the mummy is well made and rather finely decorated.”

“Yes, I thought it quite handsome.  But can you explain to me why, after taking all that trouble to decorate it, they should have disfigured it with those great smears of bitumen?”

“Ah!” said Mr. Jellicoe, “that is quite an interesting question.  It is not unusual to find mummy-cases smeared with bitumen; there is a mummy of a priestess in the next gallery which is completely coated with bitumen excepting the gilded face.  Now, this bitumen was put on for a purpose—­for the purpose of obliterating the inscriptions and thus concealing the identity of the deceased from the robbers and desecrators of tombs.  And there is the oddity of this mummy of Sebek-hotep.  Evidently there was an intention of obliterating the inscriptions.  The whole of the back is covered thickly with bitumen, and so are the feet.  Then the workers seem to have changed their minds and left the inscriptions and decoration untouched.  Why they intended to cover it, and why, having commenced, they left it partially covered only, is a mystery.  The mummy was found in its original tomb and quite undisturbed, so far as tomb-robbers are concerned.  Poor Bellingham was greatly puzzled as to what the explanation could be.”

“Speaking of bitumen,” said I, “reminds me of a question that has occurred to me.  You know that this substance has been used a good deal by modern painters and that it has a very dangerous peculiarity; I mean its tendency to liquefy, without any very obvious reason, long after it has dried.”

“Yes, I know.  Isn’t there some story about a picture of Reynolds’ in which bitumen had been used?  A portrait of a lady, I think.  The bitumen softened, and one of the lady’s eyes slipped down on to her cheek; and they had to hang the portrait upside down and keep it warm until the eye slipped back into its place.  But what was your question?”

“I was wondering whether the bitumen used by the Egyptian artists has ever been known to soften after this great lapse of time.”

“Yes, I think it has.  I have heard of instances in which the bitumen coatings of mummy cases have softened under certain circumstances and become quite ‘tacky.’  But, bless my soul! here am I gossiping with you and wasting your time, and it is nearly a quarter to nine!”

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