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The Pilgrims tells the story of an hermit knight who gives shelter to two pilgrims. He begins to tell them about his dramatic and tragic life, when he suddenly perceives, that these pilgrims are not what he thinks them to be ...
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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
The twilight of one of those burning days of summer whose unclouded sky seems to speak to man of happier realms, had already flung broad shadows over the valley of Unspunnen; whilst the departing rays of a gorgeous sunset continued to glitter on the summits of the surrounding hills. Gradually, however, the glowing tints deepened; then grew darker and darker; until they finally yielded to the still more sober hues of night.
Beneath an avenue of lime-trees, which, from their size and luxuriance, appeared almost coeval with the soil in which they grew, Burkhardt of Unspunnen wandered to and fro with uneasy step, as if some recent sorrow occupied his troubled mind. At times he stood with his eyes steadfastly fixed on the earth, as if he expected to see the object of his contemplation start forth from its bosom; at other times he would raise his eyes to the summits of the trees, whose branches, now gently agitated by the night breeze, seemed to breathe sighs of compassion in remembrance of those happy hours which had once been passed beneath their welcome shade. When, however, advancing from beneath them, he beheld the deep blue heavens with the bright host of stars, hope sprang up within him at the thoughts of that glory to which those heavens and those stars, all lovely and beauteous as they seem, are but the faint heralds, and for a time dissipated the grief which had so long weighed heavily upon his heart.
From these reflections he was suddenly aroused by the tones of a manly voice addressing him. Burkhardt advancing, beheld, standing in the light of the moon, two pilgrims, clothed in the usual coarse and somber garb, with their broad hats drawn over their brows.
"Praise be to God!" said the pilgrim who had just before awakened Burkhardt's attention, and who, from his height and manner, appeared to be the elder of the two. His words were echoed by a voice whose gentle and faltering accents showed the speaker to be still but of tender years.
" Whither are you going, friends? what seek you here, at this late hour? " said Burkhardt. " If you wish to rest you after your journey enter, and with God's blessing, and my hearty welcome, recruit yourselves."
"Noble sir, you have more than anticipated our petition," replied the elder pilgrim; " our duty has led us far from our native land, being bound on a pilgrimage to fulfill the vow of a beloved parent. We have been forced during the heat of the day to climb the steep mountain paths; and the strength of my brother, whose youth but ill befits him for such fatigues, began to fail, when the sight of your castle's towers, which the moon's clear beams discovered to us, revived our hopes. We resolved to beg a night's lodging under your hospitable roof, that we might be enabled, on to-morrow's dawn, to pursue our weary way."
" Follow me, my friends," said Burkhardt, as he, with quickened step, preceded them, that he might give some orders for their entertainment. The pilgrims rejoicing in so kind a reception, followed the knight in silence into a high vaulted saloon, over which the tapers that were placed in branches against the walls cast a solemn but pleasing light, well in accordance with the present feelings of the parties.
The knight then discerned two countenances, the pleasing impression of which was considerably heightened by the modest yet easy manner with which the youthful pair received their host's kind attentions. Much struck with their appearance and demeanor, Burkhardt was involuntarily led back into the train of thoughts from which their approach had aroused him; and the scenes of former days flitted before him as he recollected that in this hall his beloved child was ever wont to greet him with her welcome smile on his return from the battle or the chase; brief scenes of happiness, which had been followed by events that had cankered his heart, and rendered memory but an instrument of bitterness and chastisement
Supper was soon after served, and the pilgrims were supplied with the greatest attention, yet conversation wholly languished; for his melancholy reflections occupied Burkhardt, and respect, or perhaps a more kindly feeling, towards their host and benefactor, seemed to have sealed the lips of his youthful guests. After supper, however, a flask of the baron's old wine cheered his flagging spirits, and emboldened the elder pilgrim to break through the spell which had chained them.
" Pardon me, noble sir," said he, " for I feel it must seem intrusive in me to seek the cause of that sorrow which renders you so sad a spectator of the bounty and happiness which you liberally bestow upon others. Believe me, it is not the impulse of a mere idle curiosity that makes me express my wonder that you can thus dwell alone in this spacious and noble mansion, the prey to a deeply-rooted sorrow. "Would that it were in our power to alleviate the cares of one who with such bounteous hand relieves the wants of his poorer brethren! "
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