A Section Of Gavarnie.
As we rode out of the arena of Gavarnie, we turned to see to better advantage the glittering summits that surmount it. In the level crest of one of them is a singular indentation, which at this distance appears no larger than a cavity made by the loss of a front tooth. Small as it looks, however, from the valley, this insignificant notch in the great mountain wall is more than nine thousand feet above the sea, and is a kind of rectangular window looking into Spain, three hundred feet in width and three hundred and fifty in height. This is the famous Cleft of Roland, to which attaches one of the most romantic legends of the Pyrenees. Thus tradition says that when Charlemagne, in 778, had finally rolled back from France the northward moving wave of Saracenic conquest, and was pursuing the Moors across the Pyrenees into Spain, he found the mountain wall above the amphitheatre of Gavarnie utterly impassable. Riding beside him then, as usual, was the half-mythical hero of mediaeval chivalry, Roland, whose courage, love affairs, and exploits were to form for centuries themes for romantic poetry. Charlemagne, therefore, called upon this famous paladin to open a passage for the army; and Roland, in response, with one tremendous stroke of his great sword, cut in the mountain's crest the opening still called Roland's Cleft, through which the invading army passed exultantly.
On Pyrenean Heights.
To one who journeys eastward, along the French side of the Pyrenees, the halting places steadily increase in interest and beauty, the climax being reached in the most popular of all the Pyrenean resorts, - Luchon. This charming spot reminded me of Baden-Baden, in its long shaded avenues, its fine hotels, its tempting shops and flower-stalls, its mineral baths and fountains, and the variety of walks and drives which make a lengthy sojourn here delightful. The loveliness of Baden-Baden's Lichtenthaler Allee is here approximately reproduced in an extensive park with well-kept lawns, fine trees, an artificial lake with swans, and rustic summer-houses where we passed many pleasant hours listening to music, watching the promenaders, and looking off on the enchanting scenery surrounding us. Nor was there lack of amusement here when darkness veiled the mountains from our sight, for Luchon has a fine casino with restaurant and reading-room, concert-hall, and theatre where opera is given every other night, and lesser entertainments are provided almost daily. A stay of twenty-four hours in Luchon convinced us it would have been a grave mistake to come here first, and thus reverse the order of the route. Eaux Bonnes and Cau-terets, though pleasing in themselves, seemed to us tame in comparison. Luchon and its surroundings proved to be so delightful, that I could not forgive myself for having allowed so many summers to elapse without enjoying it.
In The Park Of Luchon.
The Casino At Luchon.
The Thermal Establishment, Luchon.
"Oh, the years I lost before I knew you, love! Oh, the hills I climbed and came not to you, love! Ah, who shall render unto us to make us glad The things which for and of each other's sake We might have had?"
The most enjoyable of all the numberless excursions to be made here is the trip to the Port de Venasque, through which is seen the giant of the Pyrenees, the Maladetta.
This "port" or notch in the mountain wall, somewhat resembling the Cleft of Roland, is only a few hours distant from Luchon, yet there are not a dozen excursions I have ever made in any portion of the world that I so cherish in my list of inspiring memories as the trip to that aerial gateway, eight thousand feet above the level of the sea. The Port de Venasque (so called from a neighboring Spanish village of that name) is a natural doorway between France and Spain, and many are the merchants, mule-drivers, and tourists who pass through it annually. To one who approaches it from the French side the view which it reveals is an instantaneous revelation, for intervening rocks conceal till the last moment all that lies beyond, and one ascends to it as to a portal leading to some castle in the clouds. Never shall I forget the moment when turning a sharp cliff I saw before me that gigantic fissure in the mountain crest, several hundred feet in height, yet only fourteen feet in breadth. It is thus a mere crack or loop-hole in the Pyrenean battlements, hardly discernible from a distance. Within its shadow is an iron cross, marking the boundary between the two countries, but this we could not linger to examine, for a strong wind was sweeping through this narrow aperture, and we were almost literally blown straight through the "port" from France to Spain. Sheltering ourselves, however, on the southern side, we looked with bated breath upon the scene before us. Directly opposite, and separated from us by an awful chasm, rose in stupendous majesty the Maladetta, covered with everlasting snow save where some sharp peaks pierced the ice-crust like gigantic tusks. Its area is enormous, and as my astonished gaze traveled along its miles of glaciers glittering in the sun, and then descended to the frightful gulf between us, which has for ages been the desolate receptacle of all the Maladetta's avalanches, it seemed to me the contrast was as striking and as sharply drawn as between Paradise and the Inferno. And yet, aside from the display of its vast area of sunlit glaciers, I realized that this monarch of the Pyrenees was terrible in its austerity. Had not the sun been turning all its snow-fields into a silvery coat of mail, it would have justified its name of the "Accursed Mountain," for neither animal nor vegetable life can possibly exist upon its naked cliffs and icebound crest. For years it was regarded, like the Matterhorn in Switzerland, as fatal to the man who should attempt its conquest. Nor were such superstitious fears unfounded; for once, in trying to ascend it, a guide fell headlong into one of its crevasses in the presence of his son, and his body was never recovered. At last, however, in 1842, the conquest of the mountain was achieved, its summit being reached by five adventurous cragsmen after a struggle of four days and nights. A curious legend is connected with the Maladetta. Peasants believe that this now Arctic region was once a beautiful pasture-land, covered with grazing sheep. Christ, it is said, came to visit its shepherds, but was stoned by them; whereupon the mountain was immediately turned to a mass of rocks and ice, and all the men and animals upon its surface perished.