“Let me guess,” Ben said, thinking back to his encounter with Joshua Kelly at the bar. “The fisherman’s wife.”
“Yes, sir,” Calen said.
“Well, I don’t believe in such things, and I don’t have two dollars.” Ben Levy clapped the boy on the back. “Nice try,” he said, and kept walking.
Ben had a busy schedule with little time for nonsense. That afternoon, after lunch, Ruth was taking him to meet Lillian Gale, a distant cousin of the Partridges, direct descendants of the town founders. Miss Gale, the oldest woman in Blackwell, lived up the hill with an assortment of animals she’d rescued. She had a raccoon that sat on a chair and drank tea from a cup, along with two hound dogs that had come wandering out of the woods one day, a tame crow, and a lynx, which looked like nothing more than a huge gray-brown housecat until Ben bent to pet him and he bared his teeth.
Out in the barn Lillian Gale had chickens and two goats. The local children told her there was a stray donkey stranded in the woods. She planned to go out in search of it that very day, as soon as her company left. Miss Gale was starving herself in order to continue feeding her animals. On most days she had little more than two cups of oatmeal and a pot of tea. Ben was taking notes so fast his hand was cramping. Today their hostess was especially talkative and outraged because she’d taken the lynx, named Amos, down to the river on a long leather leash the evening before. In this way Amos could hunt for himself without running away. He was missing an eye, Ben noticed, and would probably not survive in the wild if set free. Miss Gale assured him that Amos was still hunter enough to take down rabbits, which he had for his dinner. When he was finished, she collected the bones and gristle to cook into a stew for the dogs.
“Do you have a recipe for that?” Ben interrupted. His own mother hadn’t been much of a cook. Her specialties had been potato dumplings and potato bread, with a dried roast whenever she could get something on sale at the butcher’s. He couldn’t imagine her getting by on oatmeal, or being resourceful enough to fix a gristle stew.
“A recipe?” The two old women looked at each other and laughed. “You cook it, add water, then you serve it. I’m not talking about a custard pie here, mister. Let’s just call it Whatever You Have Stew and leave it at that. The dogs like it, and so do I.”
“I see.” Ben was wondering what was in the tea he’d been drinking, which had a faint yellow hue. It had probably been made with whatever, and that was worrisome since he’d had allergies as a boy. Later, he would ask Ruth what they’d been drinking and she’d tell him it was chamomile, but for the time being he only took a polite sip, then pushed his cup away.
“Anyway, I decided to try Amos down at the river,” Lillian Gale went on. “I figured he’d be a pretty good fisherman, and the shad were running. There are always eels, as well, if you know where to look. We went down to the bank, and I sat down and let him have a bit of freedom. Amos traipsed on and stood in the water, still as a statue, waiting. That’s what fishermen do, I suppose, and it comes to him naturally. I guess I fell asleep because the next thing I know Amos is yowling and someone is shouting at him. He comes leaping back up the riverbank soaking wet with a gash in his head.” Sure enough, there was a cut above the lynx’s single good eye. “It was the woman who’d done it.”
“The fisherman’s wife,” Ben Levy guessed.
Lillian Gale nodded. “Something’s not right there. That’s all I’ll say.”
“She always donates food for the poor,” Ruth reminded her friend.
“She can donate till she turns blue, that won’t change the facts. My Amos has a scar on his head and I know who did it. And I know the reason why.” Miss Gale leaned forward. “She’s more fish than wife.”
When they left, Ben gave Lillian Gale the last of the cash he had left—ten dollars he’d been given for train fare back to the city. “For your menagerie,” he said. “Wouldn’t want them to starve.”
Miss Gale took his hand in hers and kissed it. “I don’t care if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ,” she announced. Of course the whole town knew Ben wasn’t a Christian, with a name like Levy and a hometown like New York. “You’re a fine man.”
“That was a good deed you did,” Ruth Carson said as they set off on the winding road back to town. There were blackcap raspberries growing, which Ruth pointed out. They stopped to pick some so she could make a pie.
“It’s called a mitzvah,” Ben explained. “It’s a person’s responsibility to help those around him.” He had no idea how he would get back to New York City now, not that he was in any hurry. “Whatever good you do comes back to you in some way.”