The Headsman eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 470 pages of information about The Headsman.
Geneva, which changes from the smiling aspect of fertility and cultivation, at its lower extremity, to the sublimity of a savage and sublime nature at its upper.  Vevey, the haven for which the Winkelried was bound, lies at the distance of three leagues from the head of the lake, or the point where it receives the Rhone; and Geneva, the port from which the reader has just seen her take her departure, is divided by that river as it glances out of the blue basin of the Leman again, to traverse the fertile fields of France, on its hurried course towards the distant Mediterranean.

It is well known that the currents of air, on all bodies of water that lie amid high and broken mountains, are uncertain both as to their direction and their force.  This was the difficulty which had most disturbed Baptiste during the delay of the bark, for the experienced waterman well knew it required the first and the freest effort of the wind to “drive the breeze home,” as it is called by seamen, against the opposing currents that frequently descend from the mountains which surrounded his port.  In addition to this difficulty, the shape of the lake was another reason why the winds rarely blow in the same direction over the whole of its surface at the same time.  Strong and continued gales commonly force themselves down into the deep basin, and push their way, against all resistance, into every crevice of the rocks; but a power less than this, rarely succeeds in favoring the bark with the same breeze, from the entrance to the outlet of the Rhone.

As a consequence of these peculiarities, the passengers of the Winkelried had early evidence that they had trifled too long with the fickle air.  The breeze carried them up abreast of Lausanne in good season, but here the influence of the mountains began to impair its force, and, by the time the sun had a little fallen towards the long, dark, even line of the Jura, the good vessel was driven to the usual expedients of jibing and hauling-in of sheets.

Baptiste had only to blame his own cupidity for this disappointment; and the consciousness that, had he complied with the engagement, made on the previous evening with the mass of his passengers, to depart with the dawn, he should now have been in a situation to profit by any turn of fortune that was likely to arise from the multitude of strangers who were in Vevey, rendered him moody.  As is usual with the headstrong and selfish when they possess the power, others were made to pay for the fault that he alone had committed.  His men were vexed with contradictory and useless orders; the inferior passengers were accused of constant neglect of his instructions, a fault which he did not hesitate to affirm had caused the bark to sail less swiftly than usual, and he no longer even answered the occasional question of those for whom he felt habitual deference, with his former respect and readiness.

Chapter IV.

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The Headsman from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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