We had nearly ascended the opposite side of this wooded hollow, when the guide, pointing through the sunlit trees to a very dark but narrow opening in the rocks, said, ‘There it is!’ We had reached the cavern. He went first, carrying aloft a wisp of burning straw, which he renewed from time to time from the bundle that he carried under his arm.
The practice of burning straw, so that people may have a good flare-up for their money, has, together with the selfish custom of throwing stones at the stalactites, gone far to spoil all the caverns of this region, which have been much visited. The Grotte de Robinet must have been dazzlingly beautiful at one time, but now most of the stalagmite and stalactite has been completely blackened by smoke. Even the rocks, over which one has to climb, and sometimes crawl, are covered with a sooty slime, which gives one the appearance, when daylight returns, of having been smeared with lamp-black. I put on a blouse before entering, and had great reason to be glad that I did so. In spite of all the mischief that has been done to it, the Grotte de Robinet is a very remarkable cavern, and the time spent on the somewhat arduous and slippery task of exploring its depths is not wasted. Its length is about half a mile, and the descent, which is almost continuous, is at times very rapid. The passage connects a succession of vast and lofty spaces, which are not inappropriately termed salles. In some of these, the dropping water has raised from the floor of the cavern statuesque and awful forms of colossal grandeur. Some of these have been little changed by the smoke, but stand like white figures of fantastic giants. While looking at them, I thought how little I should like to be in the position of a certain cure of Marcillac, who spent three days and three nights in this weird company. He frequently entered the cavern alone, with a scientific object, and his familiarity with it led him to despise ordinary precautions. One day he was far underground,