The Living Telegraph

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The Living Telegraph  (1884) 
by Bolesław Prus, translated by Christopher Kasparek

During her visit to an orphanage, the Countess observed an unusual scene in the hallway: four boys were tussling over a tattered book while vigorously laying about them with fists.

"I believe, children, that you are fighting?" cried the lady in dismay. "For that, none of you will receive spice cake and you'll end up on your knees."

"He took my Robinson Crusoe!" explained one of the boys.

"That's not true, it was him!" contradicted a second.

"See what a liar you are!" cried a third. "It was you that took the book from me."

The nun explained to the Countess that, despite close supervision, such incidents occurred fairly often because the children craved something to read but the orphanage had no books.

A spark took light in the Countess' heart. But since she was easily wearied by thinking, she endeavored to forget about it. It was only at the Councilor's, where it was fitting to speak of pious and charitable matters, that she described the incident at the orphanage and the nun's explanation.

As he listened, the Councilor likewise experienced an uncommon sentiment and, being more adept at the art of thinking, ventured that the orphans should be sent books. Indeed, he recalled that in a closet or a trunk he had a whole pile of moldering printed matter that he had once purchased for his children; but... he was now too heavy to rummage through rubbish.

In the evening the Councilor found himself at Mr. Z.'s, whose entire life was passed in rendering small services to the humanity contained between the seventh and third classes of the hierarchy of officialdom. Desiring to gratify him, the Counsilor told Mr. Z. what the Countess had seen at the orphanage and had heard from the nun, adding for his own part that books ought to be procured for the orphans.

"Nothing simpler!" exclaimed Mr. Z. "I'll go by the Courier's offices tomorrow and prevail on them to place a notice."

The next day Mr. Z. dashed breathlessly into the Courier's offices, begging the editors by all that was holy to call upon the public to donate books for the orphans.

He was in luck, for the paper needed several lines' worth of a sensational item. The human-interest editor sat down and wrote:

"A group of children in the public charge are suffering a lack of books.

"The little ones pine.

"Remember the hungry souls!"

Then, whistling, he went off to lunch.

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A couple of days later, on a Sunday, before the closed door to the editorial offices I encountered a poorly clad man with hands as black as a chimney sweep's, and with him a slip of a girl carrying a box of old books.

"How may I be of help?"

The stained man doffed his cap and replied diffidently:

"We've brought some books for the 'hungry' ones that you wrote about..."

The slender girl curtsied with a blush, insofar as that was possible given the beginnings of greensickness.

I took the books from her and gave them to the office boy.

"What is your name?" I asked the man.

"What would you be needing that for?" he asked in confusion.

"We have to print the donor's name."

"Oh, it's not necessary, sir; I'm a poor man from a hat factory... It's not necessary..."

And he went away with his thin little daughter.

Standing next to me was a learned professor of physics, and it was doubtless because of this that I was put in mind of a new kind of telegraph.

The main station was the orphanage, a side station was the worker from the hat factory; when the one signaled "attention," the other immediately responded. When the one demanded, the other brought.

The rest of us functioned as telegraph poles.

This is a translation and has a separate copyright status from the original text. The license for the translation applies to this edition only.
Original:
This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.
 
Translation:
This work is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.