The Lake At Panticosa.
Part Of The Barrier Wall Between France And Spain.
The Baths Of Panticosa.
In The Baths Of Pant1cosa.
I shall never forget being ushered by an attendant into one room at Panticosa, the sulphurous odor from which was so extremely pungent that, when the door opened, it seemed to me that a box of lucifer matches had been ignited and was being held beneath my nose. The room was partially filled with steam, and in the obscurity I beheld, to my great astonishment, a perfectly naked man leaping madly about, as if he were an insane patient dancing the "Highland Fling," while an attendant was playing on him through a hose some almost scalding sulphur-water. At every jump the wretched man gave utterance to a howl of pain, and turned about like a spinning top in his anxiety to offer some cooler surface of his body to the heated stream. Finally, with a wild roar, as though his limit of endurance had been passed, he started, bounding and shrieking, towards the door where I was standing. I turned and fled, as if the sulphurous fiend himself were after me, and did not stop until I reached the outer steps of the establishment. Even then I was obliged to cough, sneeze, and strangle for some minutes before I could expel the fumes of sulphur from my head and throat; and now, though several years have passed since then, if I partake of Welsh rabbit late at night, I sometimes see, in troubled dreams, not the traditional features of "my grandmother," but the appalling figure of that parboiled wretch of Panticosa, leaping and roaring as if possessed of devils and executing antics any one of which could have been justly called a sulphur spring.
On The Way To Panticosa.
Of all the excursions that I made within the limits of the Pyrenees none stands out in my memory with greater vividness than that which led me to the amphitheatre of Gavarnie.
The Amphitheatre Of Gavarnie.
There are indeed few objects in the world which have impressed me more. The savage grandeur of the route approaching it prepares one in a measure for the final scene of desolation and sublimity. For a considerable distance the road winds thither through a labyrinth of monstrous rocks, known as the Chaos. Except in Norway I have never seen boulders, at once so numerous and gigantic, as these moss-covered remnants of disintegrated mountains, hundreds of which are larger than an ordinary church. One shudders to imagine the convulsion that took place here when whole cliffs, driven by an earthquake shock, were toppled over into this ravine, and, rushing down from either side like two opposing troops of cavalry, met with a shock that shattered them to fragments. Many in horrible confusion mounted high upon their fellows, grinding the ones below into the soil of the valley in which they still lie half imbedded; others were split by the encounter into an inconceivable variety of distorted shapes; while others still, too large to break or to recoil, lie front to front, unyielding and immovable. The awful roar of that appalling avalanche apparently sufficed for all time, for it has been succeeded by unbroken silence. Perhaps, in the course of ages, Nature may even cover the remains of these colossal combatants. A few miles distant from this gloomy Chaos is the amphitheatre of Gavarnie, - a semicircle of stupendous precipices at whose base the French Republic terminates and Spain begins. As has been said, the Pyrenean valleys extend north and south, like parallel grooves carved out by prehistoric glaciers, as they forced a passage from the mountains to the plain. These valleys usually end quite imperceptibly, ascending gradually to the loftier regions; but the Gavarnie canon maintains its level fairly well, till, at its ultimate extremity, a curving wall of well-nigh perpendicular cliffs suddenly rises to a prodigious height. These cliffs are parts of three great mountains, ranging from ten to eleven thousand feet in height, which have united thus to form a triple alliance of stupendous precipices, secure against the invasion of the world. It was on an afternoon in June that I stood, speechless, in this mighty cul-de-sac. I felt as if I were a pygmy standing in the arena of a Colosseum within which all the deities of mythology could have found ample room. A bird flying in a straight line from one side of this amphitheatre to the other would traverse the distance of a mile. The huge black walls are absolutely bare of vegetation. Their curving parapet, shaped like the horseshoe archway of the Moors, is covered with eternal snow, but on their almost vertical surfaces nothing can find lodgment, save where on some projection a miniature glacier basks chameleon-like in the bright sun, or where the numerous cascades from upper snow-fields pause for a second in their silvery descent upon some ledge of granite. One of these falls exceeds in altitude any cataract in Europe, having a height of thirteen hundred and eighty feet. Its volume, it is true, is quite diminutive, and, like the Staubbach, it is dissipated into spray before it reaches the arena; and yet it is this small adventurous stream that gives birth to the river Gave, which subsequently rushes musically by the promenade at Pau. Cascades are not, however, the only contributions that the snow-capped mountains make to this arena; for, standing here, we heard at frequent intervals a sullen roar like distant thunder, and could perceive, far up, upon the cliffs, a torrent of descending snow and ice, coursing through channels grooved by former avalanches through unnumbered centuries.