Tales of the Argonauts HTML version

A Jersey Centenarian
I have seen her at last. She is a hundred and seven years old, and remembers
George Washington quite distinctly. It is somewhat confusing, however, that she
also remembers a contemporaneous Josiah W. Perkins of Basking Ridge, N. J.,
and, I think, has the impression that Perkins was the better man. Perkins, at the
close of the last century, paid her some little attention. There are a few things
that a really noble woman of a hundred and seven never forgets.
It was Perkins, who said to her in 1795, in the streets of Philadelphia, "Shall I
show thee Gen. Washington?" Then she said careless-like (for you know, child,
at that time it wasn't what it is now to see Gen. Washington), she said, "So do,
Josiah, so do!" Then he pointed to a tall man who got out of a carriage, and went
into a large house. He was larger than you be. He wore his own hair--not
powdered; had a flowered chintz vest, with yellow breeches and blue stockings,
and a broad-brimmed hat. In summer he wore a white straw hat, and at his farm
at Basking Ridge he always wore it. At this point, it became too evident that she
was describing the clothes of the all-fascinating Perkins: so I gently but firmly led
her back to Washington. Then it appeared that she did not remember exactly
what he wore. To assist her, I sketched the general historic dress of that period.
She said she thought he was dressed like that. Emboldened by my success, I
added a hat of Charles II., and pointed shoes of the eleventh century. She
indorsed these with such cheerful alacrity, that I dropped the subject.
The house upon which I had stumbled, or, rather, to which my horse-- a Jersey
hack, accustomed to historic research--had brought me, was low and quaint. Like
most old houses, it had the appearance of being encroached upon by the
surrounding glebe, as if it were already half in the grave, with a sod or two, in the
shape of moss thrown on it, like ashes on ashes, and dust on dust. A wooden
house, instead of acquiring dignity with age, is apt to lose its youth and
respectability together. A porch, with scant, sloping seats, from which even the
winter's snow must have slid uncomfortably, projected from a doorway that
opened most unjustifiably into a small sitting-room. There was no vestibule, or
locus poenitentiae, for the embarrassed or bashful visitor: he passed at once
from the security of the public road into shameful privacy. And here, in the
mellow autumnal sunlight, that, streaming through the maples and sumach on
the opposite bank, flickered and danced upon the floor, she sat and discoursed
of George Washington, and thought of Perkins. She was quite in keeping with the
house and the season, albeit a little in advance of both; her skin being of a faded
russet, and her hands so like dead November leaves, that I fancied they even
rustled when she moved them.
For all that, she was quite bright and cheery; her faculties still quite vigorous,
although performing irregularly and spasmodically. It was somewhat