With a rapid movement Vasile seized the first cross and tried to pull it from the frozen ground. … The cross resisted—resisted like a tree with roots deep down in the ground, resisted like a living creature defending a sacred spot. But Vasile’s blood was up—the resistance he met with awoke the instinct of strife that lies dormant in each man. The stubborn cross became an opponent he had to overcome.
The strangest of struggles then ensued upon that forsaken plain—the wind howling like furies let loose whilst the young man wrestled with the wooden cross! The inert symbol offered a resistance that was ajmost human, and the youth fought desperately as though he had an enemy to throw.
The light of battle still in his eyes, Vasile lay awhile gasping; each time he drew in his breath, it was like a sob he could not hold back. The wind howled around him, whipping up crystals of frozen snow into his face.
But he had won! The cross had been uprooted; he had found wood for the fire of the living… so all was well.
The fire had gone out—even the embers had died down and with them all talk. Like thrown-away bundles of old clothes the captives and captors sat in mute resignation round the dead cinders; there was little difference between them in this night of suffering.
A faint sound of someone approaching came to them out of the dark. For the moment nothing could be seen, and then suddenly Vasile stood before them dragging behind him something heavy and black like a shadow.
A shout of joy rose from the circle seated around the ashes, a sound of unutterable relief rang in the cracked voices greeting Vasile’s return; and several men rose instinctively, searching for their flints with stiff fingers so numbed that they would scarcely obey.
Vasile said nothing. He was breathing heavily. This walk back through the night had been like a battle— a battle against wind and snow and cold—and especially a battle against his conscience. Therefore said he nothing; but with a movement of finality let the heavy cross fall at the feet of those who had been waiting.
Scurtu was the first to realize of what nature was the fuel Vasile had brought and something like a curse fell from his lips: “It is a cross,” he muttered, “a cross… a cross!”