And this was the picnic of the Catholics of Octavius. He gazed in mingled amazement and exhilaration upon the spectacle. There seemed to be literally thousands of people on the open fields before him, and apparently there were still other thousands in the fringes of the woods round about. The noises which arose from this multitude—the shouts of the lads in the water, the playful squeals of the girls in the swings, the fused uproar of the more distant crowds, and above all the diligent, ordered strains of the dance-music proceeding from some invisible distance in the greenwood—charmed his ears with their suggestion of universal merriment. He drew a long breath—half pleasure, half wistful regret—as he remembered that other gathering in the forest which he had left behind.
At any rate, it should be well behind him today, whatever the morrow might bring! Evidently he was on the wrong side of the circle for the headquarters of the festivities. He turned and walked to the right through the beeches, making a detour, under cover, of the crowds at play. At last he rounded the long oval of the clearing, and found himself at the very edge of that largest throng of all, which had been too far away for comprehension at the beginning. There was no mystery now. A rough, narrow shed, fully fifty feet in length, imposed itself in an arbitrary line across the face of this crowd, dividing it into two compact halves. Inside this shed, protected all round by a waist-high barrier of boards, on top of which ran a flat, table-like covering, were twenty men in their shirt-sleeves, toiling ceaselessly to keep abreast of the crowd’s thirst for beer. The actions of these bartenders greatly impressed Theron. They moved like so many machines, using one hand, apparently, to take money and give change, and with the other incessantly sweeping off rows of empty glasses, and tossing forward in their place fresh, foaming glasses five at a time. Hundreds of arms and hands were continually stretched out, on both sides of the shed, toward this streaming bar, and through the babel of eager cries rose without pause the racket of mallets tapping new kegs.