“It comes from Rome, father,” answered the servant, bowing.
“From Rome!” said Rodin, hastily; and in spite of himself, a vague uneasiness was expressed in his countenance. But, still holding the letter in his hands, he added: “Who comes in the carriage.”
“A reverend father of our blessed Company.”
Notwithstanding his ardent curiosity, for he knew that a reverend father, travelling post, is always charged with some important mission, Rodin asked no more questions on the subject, but said, as he pointed to the paper in his hand: “Whence comes this letter?”
“From our house at St. Herem, father.”
Rodin looked more attentively at the writing, and recognized the hand of Father d’Aigrigny, who had been commissioned to attend M. Hardy in his last moments. The letter ran as follows:
“I send a despatch to inform your reverence of a fact which is, perhaps, more singular than important. After the funeral of M. Francis Hardy, the coffin, which contained his remains, had been provisionally deposited in a vault beneath our chapel, until it could be removed to the cemetery of the neighboring town. This morning, when our people went down into the vault, to make the necessary preparations for the removal of the body—the coffin had disappeared.
“That is strange indeed,” said Rodin with a start. Then, he continued to read:
“All search has hitherto been vain, to discover the authors of the sacrilegious deed. The chapel being, as you know, at a distance from the house, they were able to effect an entry without disturbing us. We have found traces of a four-wheeled carriage on the damp ground in the neighborhood; but, at some little distance from the chapel, these marks are lost in the sand, and it has been impossible to follow them any farther.”
“Who can have carried away this body?” said Rodin, with a thoughtful air. “Who could have any interest in doing so?”
He continued to read:
“Luckily, the certificate of death is quite correct. I sent for a doctor from Etampes, to prove the disease, and no question can be raised on that point. The donation is therefore good and valid in every respect, but I think it best to inform your reverence of what has happened, that you may take measures accordingly, etc., etc.”
After a moment’s reflection, Rodin said to himself: “D’Aigrigny is right in his remark; it is more singular than important. Still, it makes one think. We must have an eye to this affair.”
Turning towards the servant, who had brought him the letter, Rodin gave him the note he had just written to Ninny Moulin, and said to him: “Let this letter be taken instantly to its address, and let the bearer wait for an answer.”
At the moment the servant left the room, a reverend father entered, and said to Rodin, “Father Caboccini of Rome has just arrived, with a mission from our general to your reverence.”