Augustus Does His Bit
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?