Chateaubriand's memoirs, VII, 3

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book VII - Chapter 3
My savage outfit– Hunting– The Carcajou or Wolverine– The Muskrat – Water dogs – Insects – Montcalm and Wolfe

London, April to September 1822.

I bought a complete outfit from the Indians: two bearskins, one to serve as a half-toga; the other as a bed. I added to my new apparel the red cap in ribbed cloth, the cloak, the belt, the horn for calling in the dogs, and the bandolier of a trapper. My hair hung down over my bare neck; I sported a long beard, I was savage, hunter, and missionary all in one. They invited me to a hunt taking place next day, to track down a carcajou, or wolverine. This species is almost entirely extinct in Canada, like the beaver.

We embarked before dawn, to ascend a river flowing from the woods where the wolverine had been seen. There were thirty or so of us, Indians as well as American and Canadian trappers: part of the group walked the bank beside the flotilla, with the dogs, and the women carried our provisions.

We found no trace of the carcajou; but we killed some lynxes and muskrats. The Indians would go into deep mourning, when they accidentally killed any of the latter, since the female muskrat is, as they all know, the mother of the human race. The Chinese, being even better observers, maintain with certainty that the rat can turn into a quail, the mole into an oriole.

Our table was furnished with an abundance of river-birds and fish. The dogs are trained to dive; when they are not hunting they go fishing: they throw themselves into the rivers and seize the fish from the very bottom of the water. The women cooked our meals on a large fire, round which we took our places.

We had to lay flat, faces to the earth, to protect our eyes from the smoke, clouds of which, floating above our heads, preserved us to some degree from mosquito bites.

The various carnivorous insects, seen through a microscope, are formidable creatures. They were those winged dragons perhaps whose fossils are met with: diminished in size, in the way that matter loses energy, those hydras, griffons and the rest, are found today in an insect state. The antediluvian giants are the little men of our own day.