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Round the Red Lamp

A Straggler Of '15
It was a dull October morning, and heavy, rolling fog-wreaths lay low over the wet grey
roofs of the Woolwich houses. Down in the long, brick-lined streets all was sodden and
greasy and cheerless. From the high dark buildings of the arsenal came the whirr of many
wheels, the thudding of weights, and the buzz and babel of human toil. Beyond, the
dwellings of the workingmen, smoke-stained and unlovely, radiated away in a lessening
perspective of narrowing road and dwindling wall.
There were few folk in the streets, for the toilers had all been absorbed since break of day
by the huge smoke-spouting monster, which sucked in the manhood of the town, to belch
it forth weary and work-stained every night. Little groups of children straggled to school,
or loitered to peep through the single, front windows at the big, gilt-edged Bibles,
balanced upon small, three-legged tables, which were their usual adornment. Stout
women, with thick, red arms and dirty aprons, stood upon the whitened doorsteps,
leaning upon their brooms, and shrieking their morning greetings across the road. One
stouter, redder, and dirtier than the rest, had gathered a small knot of cronies around her
and was talking energetically, with little shrill titters from her audience to punctuate her
remarks.
"Old enough to know better!" she cried, in answer to an exclamation from one of the
listeners. "If he hain't no sense now, I 'specs he won't learn much on this side o'Jordan.
Why, 'ow old is he at all? Blessed if I could ever make out."
"Well, it ain't so hard to reckon," said a sharp- featured pale-faced woman with watery
blue eyes. "He's been at the battle o' Waterloo, and has the pension and medal to prove
it."
"That were a ter'ble long time agone," remarked a third. "It were afore I were born."
"It were fifteen year after the beginnin' of the century," cried a younger woman, who had
stood leaning against the wall, with a smile of superior knowledge upon her face. "My
Bill was a-saying so last Sabbath, when I spoke to him o' old Daddy Brewster, here."
"And suppose he spoke truth, Missus Simpson, 'ow long agone do that make it?"
"It's eighty-one now," said the original speaker, checking off the years upon her coarse
red fingers, "and that were fifteen. Ten and ten, and ten, and ten, and ten--why, it's only
sixty-and-six year, so he ain't so old after all."
"But he weren't a newborn babe at the battle, silly!" cried the young woman with a
chuckle. "S'pose he were only twenty, then he couldn't be less than six-and-eighty now, at
the lowest."
"Aye, he's that--every day of it," cried several.
 
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