Others rose to examine the longed-for wood Vasile had brought and exclamations of all kinds arose.
The prisoners raised their heads and stared with sullen eyes at those who were talking. But Vasile was dumb. Overcome by fatigue, he sank down into the snow.
“A cross!” cried Scurtu. “How dare he bring a cross!”
“But it is wood and we are cold,” hazarded someone.
“That may be as it may be, but we cannot burn a cross!”
“It were sacrilege!”
“God would curse us!”
“And the dead also!”
“Yet we are cold and the dead are dead. …”
“What good to the dead if we freeze?”
“We have our country to defend!”
“There are so many dead without crosses!”
“For shame! Who dares burn a cross!”
Thus did exclamations fly from all tongues at once. Only Vasile and the prisoners were silent. Shame, weariness and a dull feeling of resent-ment filled Vasile’s soul—what could he do! He had found nothing else.
The men’s voices rose and fell in a wrangle that had within it notes of strife. The wind added to the discussion stormy gusts of fury that outcried those small voices of humans in dispute.
“I will not allow it!” It was Scurtu’s voice raised to an angry pitch: “Rather would I see you all freeze to death and I with you, than allow Christ’s cross to be burnt!”
Ugly old countenance
The old fellow stood his ground. There was something of the look of a rugged bear about him as he faced his companions. The snow lay thick upon him, his ugly old countenance was blue with cold, he stamped his frozen feet, clapped his hands together, beat them against his sides in futile efforts for keeping off the frost, but being the head of his party, no persuasions nor threats could make him change his mind: “Rather die, rather freeze than commit the mortal sin of burning the holy Sign of Christ. ..!”
Silence had fallen upon the suffering group of half-frozen men. Hud-dled together like lost sheep with heads buried in their arms, they lay around the cold ashes, enemy beside enemy, suffering having leveled every distance—after all they were all men before God and the cruelties of the winter’s night!
A little apart lay Vasile, his head resting upon the cross he had drag-ged with such trouble from so far. Sleep did not come to him. Although the cold numbed his never very acute faculties, Vasile was pondering over the problems of life.