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The Cobbler In The Devil's Kitchen From "Mackinac And Lake Stories", 1899   By: (1847-1902)

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From "Mackinac And Lake Stories", 1899

By Mary Hartwell Catherwood

Early in the Mackinac summer Owen Cunning took his shoemaker's bench and all his belongings to that open cavern on the beach called the Devil's Kitchen, which was said to derive its name from former practices of the Indians. They roasted prisoners there. The inner rock retained old smoke stains.

Though appearing a mere hole in the cliff to passing canoe men, the Devil's Kitchen was really as large as a small cabin, rising at least seven feet from a floor which sloped down towards the water. Overhead, through an opening which admitted his body, Owen could reach a natural attic, just large enough for his bed if he contented himself with blankets. And an Irishman prided himself on being tough as any French voyageur who slept blanketed on snow in the winter wilderness.

The rock was full of pockets, enclosing pebbles and fragments. By knocking out the contents of these, Owen made cupboards for his food. As for clothes, what Mackinac Islander of the working class, in those days of the Fur Company's prosperity, needed more than he had on? When his clothes wore out, Owen could go to the traders' and buy more. He washed his other shirt in the lake at his feet, and hung it on the cedars to dry by his door. Warm evenings, when the sun had soaked itself in limpid ripples until its crimson spread through them afar, Owen stripped himself and went bathing, with strong snorts of enjoyment as he rose from his plunge. The narrow lake rim was littered with fragments which had once filled the cavern. Two large pieces afforded him a table and a seat for his visitors.

Owen had a choice of water for his drinking. Not thirty feet away on his right a spring burst from the cliff and gushed through its little pool down the beach. It was cold and delicious.

In the east side of the Kitchen was a natural tiny fireplace a couple of feet high, screened by cedar foliage from the lake wind. Here Owen cooked his meals, and the smoke was generally carried out from his flueless hearth. The straits were then full of fish, and he had not far to throw his lines to reach deep water.

Dependent on the patronage of Mackinac village, the Irishman had chosen the very shop which would draw notice upon himself. His customers tramped out to him along a rough beach under the heights, which helped to wear away the foot gear Owen mended. They stood grinning amiably at his snug quarters. It was told as far as Drummond Island and the Sault that a cobbler lived in the Devil's Kitchen on Mackinac.

He was a happy fellow, his clean Irish skin growing rosier in air pure as the air of mid ocean. The lake spread in variegated copper lights almost at his feet. He did not like Mackinac village in summer, when the engagés were all back, and Indians camped tribes strong on the beach, to receive their money from the government. French and savages shouldered one another, the multitude of them making a great hubbub and a gay show of clothes like a fair. Every voyageur was sparring with every other voyageur. A challenge by the poke of a fist, and lo! a ring is formed and two are fighting. The whipped one gets up, shakes hands with his conqueror, and off they go to drink together. Owen despised such fighting. His way was to take a club and break heads, and see some blood run on the ground. It was better for him to dwell alone than to be stirred up and left unsatisfied.

It was late in the afternoon, and the fresh smell of the water cheered him as he sat stitching on a pair of deer hide shoes for one Léon Baudette, an engagé, who was homesick for Montreal. The lowering sun smote an hour glass of light across the strait which separated him from St. Ignace on the north shore, the old Jesuit station. Mother of pearl clouds hung over the southern mainland, and the wash of the lake, which was as pleasant as silence itself, diverted his mind from a distant thump of Indian drums... Continue reading book >>

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