And in that city, there was in those years a man of great wealth. He lived in a fine house with many servants to attend him, and he had also a beautiful garden in which grew every kind of flower and fruit. And about this garden there was a high wall. But one of his fruit trees, a peach tree, sent a branch out over the wall. And every year the tree grew larger and larger, and the branch over the wall grew longer and lower, so that there came a time when the people passing outside the wall might reach out and pluck the ripe peaches from the branch where they hung.
And this was brought to the wealthy man’s ears, and he became angry and said, Why should all the people of the city be able to pick the peaches from that branch? for by rights they belong to me.
And the wife of his bosom said, Do not mind the branch, for we have more peaches than we can eat, nay, we have more than we and our children and our servants can eat, or yet the birds of the air. Our peaches lie on the ground within the wall and rot, and the wasps and the beetles feast on them.
But the man heeded not the words of his wife. And he called to him his man of business, that he might advise him on the matter. And the man of business said, Your gardener planted the tree, and it is he who tends and waters it, and you pay him to do so. The tree draws its strength from the soil of your garden and the care of your gardener. I cannot see but that the peaches of every branch are yours by right, even this branch which is outside the wall. For if that branch was to be hewn from your tree, it would surely wither and die.
And the man could not forget his peaches. He thought of them night and day and it disturbed his peace, and at night he lay upon his bed but he slept not.
And so his wife caused peach pie to be made, and peach cake and peach preserves and peach chutney, and peach buckle and Melba and tart. And the man ate of peach pancakes and roast chicken with spiced peaches and peach sorbet and peach tea. For his wife was a wise woman.
But the man was uneasy in his mind, for he knew that the people of the city were also eating peach crisp and peach cobbler and peach salsa, and that though these things might taste of ashes now to him, they did not taste so to the people. For it is not well said, that the dinner which costs a man nothing hath a great savor? So then the man called to him his man of law, and said to him, is there nothing I can do to prevent the people from reaching out and plucking these peaches, which by rights belong to me?
And the man of law said, Alas, there is nothing. For though the garden is yours and everything within it is yours, the air above the garden is not yours, nor is anything outside the wall yours. And thus the peaches on this single branch belong to no one and to everyone, and those passing by may freely take of them and eat. But take heart, for all the peaches within the wall are yours, and these they may not pluck.
And the man’s wife brought peach liqueur in golden cups and urged the man to drink of it.
But the man became enraged and dashed the golden cup to the ground, spilling the liqueur. And he called his gardener to him and said, Take now your sharpest ax and hew the branch of the peach tree which hangs over the wall, that it might wither and die. And the gardener did as he was bid. And the people of the city lamented and cursed, because there were no more peaches hanging over the wall for them to pluck.
And the next year, when the time came for the peaches to come into season, the man felt a great peace, that there would be none outside the wall. And he went forth, to pluck the first peach with his own hand, and to eat of it. For the winter had been long, and the memory of peach crumble was faded and dim to him. But lo, the tree was stunted and sere, and it bore but one small, hard fruit The man called his gardener to him and he said, Why is my tree, which last year bore so much fruit it fell to the ground for the wasps and beetles to feast on, now so barren? And the gardener replied, Sire, when you caused the large branch to be hewn, a rot entered into the tree from the wound, and it is this rot which has caused the tree to sicken. It will not live out another summer.
And the man stretched forth his hand and plucked the single peach, and ate of it, and it was bitter as gall.