Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 1

Resurrection Rock  (1920)  by Edwin Balmer
The Region of the Rock



ABOUT the clear, deep waters of Lake Superior, and bounding the northern sands of Michigan, lies a realm of forest and of heights, rugged, wild, alluring,—rich in copper and iron as are few other regions of the world. Kingdoms, which won wide influence, have owned far meaner materials of power; empire has warred with empire for stakes half as great. Were this domain of the old world, and so situated that nation might match demand with nation for it, innumerable times it must have made armies march; men by the thousand would have lain down their lives for these northern peninsulas.

In fact, France and her Indian allies long ago garrisoned forest stockades in war with England over this territory; but the blockhouses protected only Jesuit missions and fur-trading posts. England defended the region—with few men but bitterly—against the colonists; yet after Pitt surrendered it, half a century was to pass before men began to take the timber for the cargoes of the lakes; and it was the generation of the sons of these lumbermen who sank the copper pits and began to scale away the mighty mountains of red iron which ladened deep the ships for Chicago, Detroit, Toledo, Erie and Buffalo, whence cars freighted the metal to the furnaces of the Monongahela. By that time, there was no question what nation was to own this land; the strength of the United States guaranteed it against foreign aggression and confined the struggle for possession to personal and individual combat of man against man—by right, by strength, by wit, by trick or by violence, open and secret—for the winning of power and wealth.

Of those who won, some departed for distant localities; others remained near-by and became "big" men of Duluth, Marquette, Minneapolis, Detroit and Chicago where they built their huge mansions and gave luxury to their children, while companies, whose shares sold daily upon the Boston and New York Stock exchanges, deepened and extended their mines, and while the Michigan hillsides, stripped to dead stumps of hemlock and pine, slowly reclothed with fluttering forests of second growth,—maple, beech, ironwood, glistening white birch and cedar.

Under the boughs—light-green and bluish-black, many-tinted—Indians crept back to the woodlands. Chippewas and Ottawas raised rude shacks or roofed over and rechinked old walls abandoned by the lumberjacks. Deer and fox, mink, porcupine, beaver and skunk increased; the Indians hunted and trapped somewhat as they used to do before the pine forest vanished; they fished in stream and lake; they kept clear little garden patches and planted corn and beans and potatoes. The railroads through the forest remained; but they served chiefly the Sault or bore goods to St. Ignace for trans-shipment across the Straits. Other settlements on the shores at the point of the northern peninsula lapsed to fishing villages where ancient bells of Jesuit chapels tolled tolerantly, dreamily, and where French and words of the Chippewa tongue were to be heard. In the growing forests, the old mill towns bleached and cracked under the summer sun, rotted in the melting snows,—deserted, gray and ghostlike. But here and there, where something had happened—for good or for evil—which a man might never forget, the ghosts drew back the living.

At least, men thus explained the return of Lucas Cullen to St. Florentin—Lucas, the younger of the two Cullen brothers with whose names everything "successful" in, that section was once associated. More than a generation ago they had gutted St. Florentin township; so when they went, almost every one else went with them. No one thought that Lucas would return; but in 1896 suddenly he appeared and, upon the site of the cabin where he and his wife lived when they founded St. Florentin and bossed the men building the first sawmill, he caused a new, enormous dwelling to be erected.

Lucas, who then was speaking of himself as "of Chicago," called this a summer cottage; and he made it famous immediately by bringing there for the summer the French nobleman, the Marquis de Chenal, "a friend of my daughter Cecilia." The Marquis so well liked Cecilia and liked the place—not to mention, as did many of the enviously minded, Lucas Cullen's millions—that he remained at St. Florentin all summer.

He married Cecilia that winter and took her—together with a million or so of Michigan forest money—to his château in Touraine; and neither of them ever returned to the peninsula. But Lucas and his wife and their younger daughter and their two sons came the next year; then Deborah married a westerner and moved to Wyoming. "Junior" Lucas and his brother John also married; and their wives preferred the more fashionable resorts of the east for the next summers. So, at the turn of the century, old Lucas and his wife, with their servants, were coming alone to the enormous frame house on the edge of the ruined old mill town above the shores of Lake Huron.

Then, when Lucas' wealth and power and position seemed absolutely safe, the madness for assailing successful men broke out; Lucas, more willful and obstinate with his advancing years, received his share of the assaults; and he met them so characteristically that politicians forgot others in their hue and cry to run him "out." When, the next year, Lucas affairs to his sons and retired to St. Florentin, the politicians boasted that they had won; and Lucas, crafty and practical as always, let them say it, as that seemed to satisfy them and keep them from scrutinizing what his sons were doing.

The real reason for Lucas' retreat from Chicago—as the family and a few others knew—was his break with his brother John. They had always quarreled; but now they ceased to speak, and the same streets could not hold both. So Lucas fitted up his cottage for an around-the-year home and, when he emerged and was interviewed by the press, he expounded upon the completeness of his content in surroundings such as those in which his own hands had toiled. He was still strong and huge and hearty to roam the woods on snowshoes and with a gun under his arm. So his motives were comprehensible enough to his white and bronze-skinned neighbors of the new forest.

The purpose of the builder of the other great house near St. Florentin was far more puzzling. In the first place, the site was not upon the peninsula but upon a tiny island in Lake Huron, half a mile from shore, a rocky, precipitous islet locally known as Resurrection Rock. The name, a couple of centuries ago, was French—Isle de la Resurrection—a designation won by some event long forgotten. No one had lived there within recent generations except an Indian fisherman who had found Resurrection Rock too lonely and had departed. When Mackinac and Bois Blanc and other islands near the Straits came into demand as sites for summer homes, no one took enough interest in Resurrection Rock to inquire who might own it. But in 1905, some one bought the isle. The name of the purchaser, Marcellus Clarke of Chicago, meant nothing; and he never appeared. In his stead came a small, alert, observant man of thirty, by name Halford, who built himself a cabin upon the rock and abode there for several months, fishing a bit, gardening a little, but most of the time waiting, doing nothing. He welcomed any one who came to the island; he dined white man and red man; he encouraged conversation and confidences on the part of his callers; but he, himself, confided nothing.

Obviously he was there under orders; for regularly, at two-week intervals, he received at Quesnel, on the railroad, a letter from Marcellus Clarke, Chicago; regularly he dispatched an answer. After three months another young man—taller, a bit slower in action but quite as alert and keen-eyed—relieved him, likewise generous and keeping open cabin upon the island, welcoming acquaintance, silent as to his own business. Then he disappeared and was not relieved, and the island was deserted until the next summer when Halford returned for half a year alone. When he again departed, the cabin stood empty and the island abandoned until, in the summer of 1912, barges appeared and anchored in the smooth water between Resurrection Rock and the shore; masons, carpenters, plasterers and artisans of a dozen trades—all from Chicago—lived upon the barges or camped on the island while they erected a large, handsome house, chimneyed, wide of roof, graceful and pleasing.

When furniture and china, rugs, hangings and draperies came—some new, some old—the neighborhood was certain that the purpose of the long watch upon the island was at last to be disclosed; but when the last draper followed the last carpenter away, no master of the mansion appeared. instead, the newly completed house was closed; doors locked and barred, windows soundly shuttered. A white farmer, who lived a mile or so away upon the opposite mainland, was entrusted with the keys and was paid to inspect the premises periodically. He reported that the house was merely such a house as the rich city people had at Mackinac and Harbour Point, finished and furnished for occupancy; Marcellus Clarke of Chicago, who paid the taxes, paid him; that was all he knew. Yes, it was an ordinary enough house.

But, after a few inspections alone, he always took some one with him. Speculation and wonder in the neighborhood soon took weird and fantastic forms; the mansion had not been built for the living but for the dead; the windows, as seen from the shore in the moonlight, seemed to show lights of their own. Poor, pious people ceased to approach.

At first, old Lucas Cullen laughed at the stories; but as time went on, they began to affect him. He offered himself, once, as escort for the farmer who had the keys; and after going through the empty house, Lucas journeyed to Chicago where he visited and peremptorily challenged Marcellus Clarke. But the interview only returned Lucas to St. Florentin without new information and more disturbed and uneasy than before. The house on the island fastened itself definitely upon Lucas Cullen as an ill omen. For months he would avoid mentioning it, avoid gazing toward it, avoid even the shores opposite; then he would speak of it in some manner every day—and at almost every hour of each day—to his wife or his servants. He would sit in his upper window, gazing from the hilltop over the trees to the Isle de la Resurrection; or he would wander down to the shore and stare and consider and stare. The thing obsessed him. He was an old man now, over seventy, but hardy and strong, clear of eye, steady of hand, vindictive and merciless yet to all who opposed him. In all his long, violent life, no one—and nothing—was known to have shaken him until some one, without reason, raised that house on the islet locally known as Resurrection Rock and left the house in Lucas Cullen's sight, closed and untenanted.