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Augustus Does His Bit

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The Mayor's parlor in the Town Hall of Little Pifflington. Lord Augustus Highcastle, a distinguished member of the governing class, in the uniform of a colonel, and very well preserved at forty-five, is comfortably seated at a writing-table with his heels on it, reading The Morning Post. The door faces him, a little to his left, at the other side of the room. The window is behind him. In the fireplace, a gas stove. On the table a bell button and a telephone. Portraits of past Mayors, in robes and gold chains, adorn the walls. An elderly clerk with a short white beard and whiskers, and a very red nose, shuffles in.

AUGUSTUS [hastily putting aside his paper and replacing his feet on the floor]. Hullo! Who are you?

THE CLERK. The staff [a slight impediment in his speech adds to the impression of incompetence produced by his age and appearance].

AUGUSTUS. You the staff! What do you mean, man?

THE CLERK. What I say. There ain't anybody else.

AUGUSTUS. Tush! Where are the others?

THE CLERK. At the front.

AUGUSTUS. Quite right. Most proper. Why aren't you at the front?

THE CLERK. Over age. Fifty-seven.

AUGUSTUS. But you can still do your bit. Many an older man is in the G.R.'s, or volunteering for home defence.

THE CLERK. I have volunteered.

AUGUSTUS. Then why are you not in uniform?

THE CLERK. They said they wouldn't have me if I was given away with a pound of tea. Told me to go home and not be an old silly. [A sense of unbearable wrong, till now only smouldering in him, bursts into flame.] Young Bill Knight, that I took with me, got two and sevenpence. I got nothing. Is it justice? This country is going to the dogs, if you ask me.

AUGUSTUS [rising indignantly]. I do not ask you, sir; and I will not allow you to say such things in my presence. Our statesmen are the greatest known to history. Our generals are invincible. Our army is the admiration of the world. [Furiously.] How dare you tell me that the country is going to the dogs!

THE CLERK. Why did they give young Bill Knight two and sevenpence, and not give me even my tram fare? Do you call that being great statesmen? As good as robbing me, I call it.

AUGUSTUS. That's enough. Leave the room. [He sits down and takes up his pen, settling himself to work. The clerk shuffles to the door. Augustus adds, with cold politeness] Send me the Secretary.

THE CLERK. I'M the Secretary. I can't leave the room and send myself to you at the same time, can I?

AUGUSTUS, Don't be insolent. Where is the gentleman I have been corresponding with: Mr Horatio Floyd Beamish?

THE CLERK [returning and bowing]. Here. Me.

AUGUSTUS. You! Ridiculous. What right have you to call yourself by a pretentious name of that sort?

THE CLERK. You may drop the Horatio Floyd. Beamish is good enough for me.

AUGUSTUS. Is there nobody else to take my instructions?

THE CLERK. It's me or nobody. And for two pins I'd chuck it. Don't you drive me too far. Old uns like me is up in the world now.

AUGUSTUS. If we were not at war, I should discharge you on the spot for disrespectful behavior....