Vasile crossed himself instinctively, murmuring under his breath a prayer for the dead. He stood gazing in a dazed way at those three melancholy effigies, vaguely wondering the end of whose road they marked. Were they soldiers’ graves? or the graves of women? or perhaps of little children… of little children who had died of hunger and frost? Since the war so many children had died of hunger and frost.
Then with a start Vasile realized that the crosses were made of wood .. .of heavy wood! Had he not been sent out into the night to find wood ?
As one who stares at an unexpectedly discovered treasure upon which he dare not lay hand, Vasile remained standing before the three crosses, fascinated by the wood, yet not daring to touch them and at the same time unwilling to move on.
Sleep so profoundly
A terrible temptation rose within him: why not tear up one of those crosses and carry it off to feed the dying fire he had left! After all the dead are dead! Their sleep is so profound that they cannot hear what is being done above their heads! Thank God that they sleep so profoundly, for who otherwise could even contemplate such a thought!
Going a few steps nearer, he laid his hand upon the first cross. As he did so, a great revulsion of feeling came over him—No! such an act was sacrilege—the dead must be honored, even above the living. Such an act would surely be condemned by both God and Man. The dead cannot defend themselves; each one is at the mercy of him who passes by—therefore must a grave be respected as one respects the altar steps of a church… it were verily impossible to lay hands upon its cross, the last tribute paid to one who upon earth someone had surely loved!
Then again the voice of temptation rose in Vasile’s soul. The dead are dead, their sufferings are passed, whilst over there men were freezing for want of wood, brave men who were doing their duty; surely, surely it were better to despoil the dead than let the living die—brave soldiers defending their country! If the dead had voices, they would cry to him to take their crosses—all their crosses! to warm the country’s defenders—to warm brave soldiers who were dying of cold.