THE CROSS BREAKER.
By Nicholas Klein, of the Cincinnati Bar, Legal Advisor I. B. W. A.
There was great excitement in Massara. The people stood in groups about the narrow streets. Some still clad in their nightclothes, were talking to the family across the street. Many windows were open. There seemed to be some trouble.
The priest of the village, in his strong Italian, was shouting in the public square. He was arousing the populace of the sleepy village. The group in the square quickly became a crowd and when they understood the situation, they too shouted with their priest.
Some men were using their hands in talking.Many women began to weep.
Led by their priest, the crowd hurriedly made its way to the cross roads entrance to the village. The sight they beheld was a revelation to them. The priest was right. There, before their very eyes, they beheld the beloved Crucifix, the same Crucifix that had been standing there for nearly a century, broken to pieces. The stone pillar was in ruins and the figure of Jesus was found in a nearby field. The arms were broken and the face was beyond recognition.
At the sight of this, the crowd became an infuriated mob. They ceased wringing their hands. Above the sobs of the multitude could be heard the clear voice of the priest, crying aloud for vengeance.
Cool headed ones began to figure it out, but they were at a loss to find an explanation. There had been no storm that evening; they were sure of that. And so the bewildered mob was “at sea.”
Explanation was quickly had when the priest, in his usual definite language, proclaimed, “It is Bretano, the radical. We must sieze him at once.” Why did they not think of him before? Here was the real explanation. Who else could it have been but Bretano? Was he not always agitating the crowd in the square? Was it not old Bretano who declared that churches were unnecessary and that a man’s church was in his own heart? It must be Bretano and no other, reasoned the mob.
The mob, armed with clubs, some with the clods of earth, and some others with crude hatchets, entered the little home owned by Bretano. They forced the door and despite his denials and protests, the old fellow was soon stored in the village jail, more dead than alive, with blood streaming from his nostrils.
Within two weeks a firm from Genoa had
Erected a larger and greater Crucifix. The unveiling was a time never to be forgotten. Massara was in all her glory. The village was decorated with the national colors. The farmers came in to have a good time and see the sights. There was a big procession with brand-new banners of the Savior and the red one of the Virgin was regilted and looked better than ever.
It was a beautiful day. There was nothing to mar the occasion. The chorus consisted of twenty-five voices and the services were very impressive. The village folk as well as the farmers were dressed in their holiday clothes. The children were dressed in white, the girls wearing white hoods, hand embroidered. And Bretano was in jail.
When Massara awoke the morning after the feast, the populace was startled by a report that the new Crucifix was broken. A farmer coming in with his vegetables, reported this to some people in the square, and the news spread quickly. “I suppose it is a joke,” said the priest, when he heard the rumor. “The farmer doesn’t know that we have Bretano in jail and will keep him there, too!”
But the farmer was not joking. His words were found to be true. The new Crucifix was completely destroyed. Bits of it were in the road. The arms of the Savior were found in the ditch. The gold letters “I. N. R.I.,” were erased and the nose was missing. Who could have committed this outrage Bretano was in jail! To be sure he was the only crank in town. There was Dr. Cipriani who often sided with Bretano. But the Doctor was away on a trip. “Perhaps the ‘crank’ does know something of this outrage. At least we will question him,” said the priest. And poor old Bre. tano, now about half starved, was put through the “third degree.” He denied everything. He said he was not in league with evil spirits. He knew nothing about the Crucifix and had not even seen it. So the old man was turned over to the mob, who after flogging and torturing him, marched him to the village limits and told to go and return no more under the pains and penalty of death.
Now that Bretano was gone, all would be well. A committee was formed to collect funds for a new and grander Crucifix; one which would eclipse anything in the county. The committee collected in the neighboring villages and found that the excitement produced more than enough money.
Many insisted that this time a Milano firm should get that contract. And so it was. The work was the very best they could produce, the workmen were all known to be safe gainst witchcraft. And, of course, Bretano was no more, so far as they were concerned.
But to make certain, a guard was organized. Men armed with heavy clubs were placed on watch. They had a day and a night relief, Many of the leading citizens of the village offered their services. Rango left his Tea Shop to become a guard. Fuggazi, the Fruit Shipper, was a member, Munzio, the Mayor, was made Chief of the Guards.
The day guard returned to the village, after the first day’s watch, without special news. The Mayor was in the night watch. He provided lanterns and a good supply of “Vermouth.’ It was a regular picnic for the poorer members of the Guard. The time passed most interestingly with lots of singing and dancing and the “Vermouth” flowed freely.
About 11 o’clock, the priest went home, leaving the Guard as merry as ever, Just as the church bells were striking of the midnight hour and before the last stroke was heard, someone let out a yell of distress. This put an end to the singing and dancing. The guards ran out of the tent.
‘Down with him,’ shouted the Mayor. The guards advanced with raised clubs, ready to kill the Cross Breaker. But they were stopped by a sight which dazzled their eyes and held
them spellbound. They stood still as death. They dropped their clubs.
There in the distance stood a man with a hammer. Only his face and arms could be seen Apparently he had strong, brawny arms, for his muscles were visible. Now and then his face could be seen, but it was so very difficult to describe. It seemed firm, yet so gentle. It was a strong face, yet so very kind. Some thing about it was beautiful, but it was very determined in expression. A brilliant light appeared to encircle him. It was not the moon They knew that. It was a kind of mist. Some thing dazzling. Something they could not understand and had never seen before.
The figure dropped his hammer, opened his mouth and said: “I am come to save you. I am here to deliver you from idolatry and slavery. Behold, you have been building false works unto my name. You have been mocking me by building stone images. Even as your fathers before you, even so know ye not my message. Even as your fathers drove me out,
even so you have driven out my good disciple, Bretano.
“Behold! I had no place to lay my head, I delivered my message to the multitudes under the bare heavens.
“I found fault with your fathers for having the poor amongst them, even so do I find fault with you. I say unto you, be happy and you will be religious. Make others happy and some will be doing my work. Bring me joy and sunshine into the lives of the poor, instead of building images to me. Seek ye heaven for all mankind now and here. Throw away your mantle of hate, Rule by love as I taught your fathers before you.
Ye are dreaming of a heaven in the clouds, but keeping hell in the streets. Make all your days holy by good and useful deeds and kindly words and reflect upon the words you utter daily: “May it be on earth as it is in heaven.” As I drove the money changers out because they were not after God’s own heart, even so do I now destroy this stone and mortar you have erected unto me.’
Then there was a flash of lightning and the figure vanished and was seen no more. The guards, when they recovered their senses, rushed back to the village and awoke the populace. But they dared not to approach the spot during the hours of darkness.
After sunrise, upon examination, they found their beloved Crucifix mashed to powder. The stone foundation supporting the figure of Jesus has not been found to this day.