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A Sure Friend

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Jean Valjean thought himself unbelievably lucky.

His daughter was safe here in the convent, growing up amongst her peers. He was able to see her daily. And Fauchelevent was there, always, with a joke and an overheard anecdote after a long day.

Why God had thought fit to place a man like him in such a heaven, he would never know.

This heaven, however, needed work, and that morning saw Valjean and Fauchelevent in the garden, tending to the raspberries. Though the task sounded simple, the canes had grown faster than either had anticipated, and were growing away from their trellis into a tangled patch. Left to grow this way, the harvest would be much more difficult for the gardeners, and the plants would droop under the weight of their fruit.

On top of that, the raspberries were beginning to spread out of their beds. While more raspberries were appreciated, they were not welcome in the cranberries, or the melon bed.

Fauchelevent was beside him, pulling out weeds. They worked in silence for a while, focusing Fauchelevent being in a rare contemplative mood.

Mist wound tendrils through the ground and through the sky, blurring outlines into strange, ghostly figures. The air smelled of damp earth, dew still settled on the grass. There was no sound but that of the birds and of the rustling leaves, although occasionally the wind changed, and brought with it the tolling of a bell, or the hushed chant of voices in prayer.

***

As the sun rose further into the sky, Valjean saw a shape darting through the bushes. A small fox, most likely, he thought, and gave it no more attention.

But later, as he moved on from the raspberries to the melon beds, one of the plants barked at him. He moved the leaves aside, and saw the same small shape. It had moved back a little, and appeared to be a dog. He looked at it, confused. The dog returned the look. He stood up, and the dog shot out of the melons and ran in excited circles around him.

How on earth had a dog found its way into a convent? Surely it had not joined in the hopes of becoming a nun. And it had probably not been recommended for its skills as a gardener, since it was now trying to dig a hole in the middle of the path.

Valjean took a step towards the dog. The bell on his knee jingled. The dog stopped, looked at him, barked again, and took off across the lawn.

Fauchelevent had noticed the dog, and joined Valjean in watching it.
“A swift right turn there. Whatever it’s pursuing must be fleet of foot, oh,” as the dog stopped to scratch its ear amongst the cabbages, “and fond of vegetables, too. And, no, don’t go there, those are my carrots!” His voice grew more and more plaintive as the dog scrabbled at the soil. “I planted those just this past week. Don’t dig those up!”

Valjean saw the distraught expression on Fauchelevent’s face, and strode towards the dog. The dog bowed towards him playfully, looked him in the eyes, and bolted off again towards the convent.

Valjean would have liked to think it was a close chase, but he had to admit the dog easily beat him to an open door, and ran inside.

He turned back to Fauchelevent, who was laughing. Valjean smiled ruefully, and together they walked back to the shed. Dog on the loose or no, it was still time for lunch.

Their calm was soon broken by a call of the bell. Fauchelevent, who spoke to the nuns more often than Valjean did, made his way to the convent; half an hour later, he was back with the dog under his arm and orders, he said, to sell her “as soon as a buyer could be found. The porter’s cousin, I have heard, is in need of a dog since her Filou died last winter...”

As Fauchelevent talked, Valjean filled a bowl with water, setting it to the side of the fireplace. The dog wriggled out of Fauchelevent’s arms and began to slurp happily. She seemed to be in good health, and happy to be around people. Up close, she was clearly extremely young. Perhaps she had been someone’s pet, once, and had got lost, or run away, or been given up to the streets.

***

Cosette was excited to see them that afternoon. “Papa, guess what happened today!”

“Did you find another giant spider?” Cosette had recently discovered the wealth of wildlife — or rather, insects — residing around the convent, and taken on the task of cataloguing all of them. The previous month, she had found a spider the size of her hand hiding in one of the dustier corners.

“No, but I did see some really hairy caterpillars. But that’s not what happened today! Guess again!” she grinned.

“You… ah… saw a ghost?” he smiled.

“No, Papa! I saw a dog!”

“A dog?”

“It ran into the room when we were reading and it licked my hand and Marie got to pet it before Mother Roux caught it.”

“I saw a dog today as well, my dear. I believe your dog and my dog are the same. Would you like to see her again?”

“Yes!” Cosette said loudly.

He led her to the hut. She gasped in delight when she saw her, and ran over to hug her.

“We’re calling her Roch,” she said, “after the patron saint of dogs.”

***

“The porter’s cousin,” said Fauchelevent, “will have to look elsewhere for a dog, I fear.” Valjean nodded in agreement. Roch was asleep on his lap, twitching her paws every so often.

There was, of course the matter of the nuns. But they never came to this corner of the garden, and so long as they kept Roch out of the convent, nobody would mind. And of course, they could always train her to guard the melon-bed. After all, who knew who (or what) might turn up in their melons in the middle of the day or night?

But that was a matter for the next day. For now, there was the fire, and companionship, and warm memories to be treasured.