Came a beautiful fall day, warm and languid, palpitant with the hush of the
changing season, a California Indian summer day, with hazy sun and wandering
wisps of breeze that did not stir the slumber of the air. Filmy purple mists, that
were not vapors but fabrics woven of color, hid in the recesses of the hills. San
Francisco lay like a blur of smoke upon her heights. The intervening bay was a
dull sheen of molten metal, whereon sailing craft lay motionless or drifted with the
lazy tide. Far Tamalpais, barely seen in the silver haze, bulked hugely by the
Golden Gate, the latter a pale gold pathway under the westering sun. Beyond,
the Pacific, dim and vast, was raising on its sky-line tumbled cloud-masses that
swept landward, giving warning of the first blustering breath of winter.
The erasure of summer was at hand. Yet summer lingered, fading and fainting
among her hills, deepening the purple of her valleys, spinning a shroud of haze
from waning powers and sated raptures, dying with the calm content of having
lived and lived well. And among the hills, on their favorite knoll, Martin and Ruth
sat side by side, their heads bent over the same pages, he reading aloud from
the love-sonnets of the woman who had loved Browning as it is given to few men
to be loved.
But the reading languished. The spell of passing beauty all about them was too
strong. The golden year was dying as it had lived, a beautiful and unrepentant
voluptuary, and reminiscent rapture and content freighted heavily the air. It
entered into them, dreamy and languorous, weakening the fibres of resolution,
suffusing the face of morality, or of judgment, with haze and purple mist. Martin
felt tender and melting, and from time to time warm glows passed over him. His
head was very near to hers, and when wandering phantoms of breeze stirred her
hair so that it touched his face, the printed pages swam before his eyes.
"I don't believe you know a word of what you are reading," she said once when
he had lost his place.
He looked at her with burning eyes, and was on the verge of becoming awkward,
when a retort came to his lips.
"I don't believe you know either. What was the last sonnet about?"
"I don't know," she laughed frankly. "I've already forgotten. Don't let us read any
more. The day is too beautiful."
"It will be our last in the hills for some time," he announced gravely. "There's a
storm gathering out there on the sea-rim."