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IL GRAN' MONDO.

Feb. 1.

ABOVE the olive-clad hills on the east of Mentone, rises a bare mountain peak, of micacious limestone, which gleams white against the blue sky on a sunshiny morning. This mountain, known as the Berceau, is one of the favorite expeditions from Mentone, being the nearest point whence the map-like appearance of the different valleys, and the grand chain of snowy Alps, can be seen at once, and being easily manageable in a day's excursion.

The road thither passes through Castellare, and it is well for those who wish to save themselves fatigue, to take donkeys thus far, and indeed as much further as possible, for the last part of the way is very steep and impracticable, except for walkers. The view from the Berceau is very fine, and the snow Alps are seen from thence rising above the nearer hills, but it is not to be compared to that from a more distant mountain generally known by its patois name of Gran' Mondo, which intercepts what would otherwise be the finest part of the view from the Berceau.

We made a party for this expedition last Monday, and at eight o'clock were climbing, some on donkeys, some on foot, up the tufa staircase, and through the steep pine woods to Castellare. Here, in the narrow street, where the golden sunlight was just breaking in upon the gloom of the dirty old houses, the usual morning smells saluted us. The path in the bare mountain beyond, is overhung by the Saracenic fortress, and the jagged walls of old Castellare, half overgrown with ivy, and standing thirteen hundred and fifty feet above the sea. This stronghold, which was a terror to the middle ages, became still more so during the French revolution, when band after band of emigres, attempting to escape into Sardinia by its solitary pass, were taken and murdered by its covetous inhabitants. Hence some of the walkers in our party diverged to the Berceau. At this point also, our donkeys, which had been getting on very badly for. some time, collapsed altogether, and giving vent to horrible inward heavings, looked so like dying, that we were obliged to leave them, to return to Castellare when sufficiently recovered, and wait for us there till the evening. It was evident that they had nothing to eat that day, and were sinking from faintness and starvation; the moral of which is, to insist upon the Theresines feeding them well before setting out upon any long expedition. Beyond this point the way is difficult to find, so, on reaching a brown desolate chapel on the ridge of the mountain, we persuaded a little peasant to go with us as guide, he, declaring he knew the way, and his father directing him to take us without fail, "Alla cima stessa del Gran' Mondo." However, the sultriness of the day, and the incessant ups and downs by which he led us, made us all very impatient, and we had not gone far before two of our party began to doubt both his knowledge and his veracity, and on his sturdily persisting that his way was the right one, they deserted us and went off in another direction. We continued to follow a desolate valley between high mountains, till the path, became very intricate, and at length the boy, bursting into floods of tears, cried out in piteous patois, "Non c'č strada pių, non so la strada, non so niente." There was certainly an end of the way, and above us towered the barren peak of the Gran' Mondo, seemingly an inaccessible precipice. The view, however, was very beautiful, of the snowy range, rising from deep purple rocks, over which cloud shadows were calmly floating, while a huge cliff, jagged in outline, and varied in colour, divided the picture in half. It was really almost too hot in the glowing February sun, though snow lay thick around in the hollow of the rock, and the dips in the stunted yellow turf. Two of us sat down to draw, and when we had finished, all our companions were gone leaving no sign left to tell what had become of them. However, we determined to go on, and find the best way we could to the summit. So up we toiled, sometimes slipping down on our faces in the snow, sometimes crawling on our hands and knees in the rough beds of slippery shale, which came roaring down with our weight, as if the whole mountain was coming down upon us. At last we reached the top, with its cluster of huge boulder stones, which are wonderously heaped together at the very "cima del monte," and had the comfort of knowing we were a good deal higher than everything else we saw, except the eternal snows themselves. The view is magnificent; on the north, across a gulf of green pines, is the glorious line of snowy peaks, with their purple children beneath; on the east a ruin, perhaps of a Saracenic stronghold, crowning a neighbouring crag, and below, the stony bed of the Roya winding away to Ventimiglia; on the west, swelling blue mountains, among which rises the castellated rock of St. Agnese; and on the south, amid rolling clouds, the Berceau, black in the afternoon shadow, and above it the vast expanse of the Mediterranean, beyond the horizon of which, as we stood watching, one after another of the snowy peaks of Corsica, slowly revealed themselves. Among the rocks grew a number of small auricula and saxifrage plants; and when we had dug up as many of these as we could carry, it was time to descend.

We thought we should be too late to go along the ridge to the Berceau, though that way is quite practicable, and not at all dangerous earlier in the day, and we were so afraid of finding ourselves at Ventimiglia, whither all the other paths lead, that we decided it would be best to go down the same way by which we had come up. Rocks, however, and stones, are singularly alike on the Gran' Mondo, and somehow we missed our track, and found ourselves in worse beds of sliding shale than ever. "It won't do, I do not think it will do," was the constant cry of my companion, but a roar of stones falling under hurrying feet was his only answer, for the mist was rising so fast, that there was . no time to be lost, as the Gran' Mondo would soon be enveloped, and then we might be anywhere, probably in the bed of the Roya itself, before we knew how to help ourselves.

When we had reached the bottom of the first descent, we left the mist behind us, and the view was again clear, hill and river and valley lying below us like a map, yet all seemed strange. ''Can you recognise any single object you have ever seen before in your life," said my companion. "No," I was forced to answer, "not one single object." We had evidently lost our way. In this position the only thing which seemed clear was, that if we kept to the valleys, we could not fall over precipices and on this we acted, and hurried downwards incessantly and as quickly as we could; at last, after incessant jumping from one rock terrace to another, we descried a tiny path, but evidently utterly unfrequented, for a goatherd, who appeared like a vision against the sky, on a mountain peak above our heads, held up his hands in astonishment, at the sight of two Englishmen in that desert place, while he shrieked at us in patois. At last we regained a path which, after some hard walking, led us out close to the deserted chapel, where we had first engaged our guide, and near this we picked up three of our party, who had also arrived by another way at the summit of the Gran' Mondo, where they had refreshed themselves with sherry iced in snow, and had come down again without losing themselves. The rest were not so fortunate. The last objects we saw were the two first deserters who had wandered on to the Berceau, shouting at the top of an inaccessible precipice above old Castellare, where they were overtaken by the mist, and were near being kept till morning. The party who had gone originally to the Berceau lost their way altogether, and one lady falling down and spraining her ankle severely, had to be dragged along by her companions, during their wanderings among rocks and olive woods, and down the beds of torrents, till at last they emerged more dead than alive, close to the cemetery of Mentone.

On the way down to Castellare, we met with one more adventure. Half-way down the narrow precipitous path, we heard a noise behind us, and on looking round, saw a runaway mule, which seemed to have been driven mad by overdriving and beating, and which was rushing down the mountain, with red glaring eyes, and uttering the dreadful peculiar cry, which only an angry mule knows how to make. It was rushing straight at us, and there was only just time to jump upon the olive terrace below, before the furious beast arrived, and stood raging on the path above, and trying all it could to get down after us. Happily we had two white umbrellas, and by poking them in its face, we contrived to keep it at bay, till its owners, who were running down the mountain after it, came to the rescue.

Twilight fell as we entered Castellare, where we were refreshed by some wine in the "Piazza Grande," and where we found our donkeys waiting for us, who, we were glad to discover had a much better knowledge of the way than we had ourselves, for it was pitch dark when we reached Mentone, and the descent into its narrow lanes between high walls, was like going down into Hades.

One of the ladies of our party went to a ball in the evening, and was looked upon as quite a heroine by the Mentonese. "No lady," they said, "at Mentone, had ever been up the Gran' Mondo, and very few gentlemen," yet, the ascent would be perfectly easy, if one only knew the way, or could possibly find any native who did.


Sunday, Feb. 2, was the festival of Sta. Devota, and we heard the guns at Monaco firing incessantly like distant thunder. A great procession and an immense crowd o people celebrated the festa, but when we went the next day, the humble little shrine was again quite deserted, except by two peasants, praying before its grated windows, under the tall cypresses.