Image: Michael Vella
There was a garden in the heart of Verona, and it was owned by a man called Justice. It was a child of the Enlightenment and the inheritor of Mammon. Few people were granted entrance, though everyone was allowed a glimpse through the gates. On his deathbed, the old Justice told his son:
“Do not let them in, those whom you do not know with mind above heart, for they shall betray you and they shall make it their own…”
But the young Justice had eyes, and he could see all that went and came beyond the gates of the garden at the heart of the city.
Every day he saw a young woman pass, and every day she would stop to look at his garden. She held her parasol far back and pressed her chin against the bars. It seemed as though her love of the sight might make her shape melt through.
For a year Justice watched her perform the same lingering ritual, until at last, against his father’s advice, he let the young woman in. She was hesitant, but pleased, and Justice took her hand, finally leading her over the threshold and into the garden.
“Dear lady,” said he, “I have spied here, every day, your love for this garden, and cannot, without guilt-feelings, keep from you its wonders and delights. From this day on, it shall be open to you, for you to gaze upon and wander freely.”
The young woman bowed lightly and proceeded to walk through the garden, her face offering awe and peace at turns.
Justice would watch her coming and going every day, like clockwork; and like the predictable quivering of the songbirds’ chirps, her movements always gave up the same display of emotion. Before bidding the garden farewell for the day, she would seat herself at her best-loved spot; under the ancient cypress tree, upon the antique ruins which now served for a lovely seat. Of this Justice also took note.
At the close of another year, Justice joined the lovely lady yet again, took her by the waist and said:
“Oh constant lady, you give me faith that one can love a thing for more than a glance’s worth. I can see that your heart to this garden is truly bound, and thus your joy. Let me then give you this little patch, which out of all my treasures gives your face the most pleasing of all its looks. It is yours! And for the sake of your trinket, I may not dispatch the whole plot without your consent!”
As before, the young woman bowed, and every day returned to the garden and to her favourite little nook. Justice was pleased at his act of kindness, and sure in the preservation of his garden and the fair young woman who strolled there; part and parcel now, of each other.
But one very cruel winter, Justice found that his well was dry: the genteel class no longer cared for him, the cardinals had no use for him and his creditors were growing impatient. All that was left to his name was his garden, and that he could not sell without his dear lady’s goodwill.
So Justice went, the day they took his house away, to his garden, to her favourite spot. He took her gently by the nape of the neck and begged for her charity:
“Sweet lady, I have no money and am forsaken; if I do not sell our garden, then I shall die out in the cold of winter.”
The young woman retained her constant smile, stroked his cheek and shook her head. Her temperance horrified Justice, and he implored her mercy for what seemed eternity. But the young woman remained firm, and said finally:
“Dear, sweet Justice, you think me wicked and ungrateful, my face now wretched where it once seemed fair. Though know that I am prepared to return your gesture with as much kindness. Here, have these gloves, without which my graceful ensemble is incomplete. I fear, however, that they may be far too small for the width of your hands’ desire.”
At that, she threw her autumn-coloured gloves to the ground where he knelt, and in the falling snow, left him alone, where he would freeze to death.