Adventures in Torts
EXTREMES meet. You would n’t think that Law Books and Tabloid Stories have much in common. But open any book on what the lawyers call Torts or Delicts, or Quasi-Offenses, and you will find that the book is really a collection of fascinating little short stories. The fascination is all the greater from the fact that the law book always leaves out the very thing that the writer of romance is anxious to put in. There is no color, no weather, — unless it causes damage, — and no human emotions whatever; no love, no hate, just the actions as they come and go.
More than that, the law book never tells the end of the matter — never says what happens next. It gets to the point where someone assessed damages, or did n’t, and ends up at that, even if it is obviously leaving family life suspended over a chasm.
I spent a happy afternoon the other day with such a book, a bright little galaxy of fun and fancy entitled Delicts under the Civil Code of Quebec.
Here is a sample: —
‘A dog, which was owned by A, barked at a horse and caused it to run away and throw its rider, B. It was held that A was liable for the damages sustained by B.’
Yes, but how badly was B hurt? It does n’t say. Did he break his back, or was he just what you would call shaken up? And what about the dog? Did A have it shot, or was he fond of it? And are A and B still on speaking terms, or did this incident terminate a friendship of long years?
Not a word said about all that. What might have been a thrilling romance of one hundred pages, thrown away in a few lines.
Here’s another: —
‘In the waiting room of a railway station, X opened a door with no sign on it, fell downstairs and was killed.’
Think of it! But is the law book horrified? Not at all. It seems to think it was a good joke on X. It says: —
‘Having indicated the doors for public use, the railway was not negligent when it failed to put notices on doors not intended for public use. The sole effective cause of the accident was the defendant’s own want of caution in proceeding beyond the door in the dark in a strange place.’
Think how much a romance writer could have made of that: poor X, — no doubt under the strain of some great anxiety, — groping his way in the dark only to fall headlong! And then what! Who found X after he fell? Did he look pretty awful? Was he killed outright?
But no — the law book is not concerned with that. It merely says: ‘The railway company was exonerated.’
Here is another that I can hardly bear to read:—
‘A boy was a trespasser on a roof and as a result . . . ’
But no, don’t let’s read it. The poor little fellow! Fell off the edge or something, I suppose. . . . But the book, I see, does not give the ultimate fate of the boy after he fell. It just says, ‘Trespassers have no right to complain of the condition of the premises as they find them.’
Here’s a story with more action in it: —
‘A young man, X, employed by a bank which had obtained good references as to his character . . . ’
This, you observe, is one of the rare stories with a touch of local color, and very likely the boy X was a son of poor X who was killed in the railway station, and so he got his job out of sympathy for himself and his mother. Anyway, let’s see what happened to him: —
‘ X was required to carry a revolver while accompanying the messenger to the clearing house. Disobeying instructions to replace the revolver in the vault on his return, X, without the knowledge and permission of the bank, kept it in his possession and during the evening shot a boy . . .’
Very likely the poor boy who fell off the roof; shot him as he fell, no doubt.
Here would be the opening of a first-class mystery story. But the law book gets it all hushed up in a few sentences.
‘The bank,’ it says, ‘was exonerated from liability because, at the time of the shooting, X was not in its employ, nor doing its work.’
That’s right, too, when you think of it. The bank did n’t hire X to go boy-shooting. In fact, as the court put it, ‘no fit injuria’ — which means there was no harm done. No, just another boy gone, that’s all.
But if you want an afternoon’s reading of plots, scenes, and mysteries, enough in one page for a volume, just ask any lawyer to lend you a book on Torts, Delicts, or Quasi-Offenses.