Chapter 5 – Twenty
In 1880, Benjamin Button turned twenty years old, and he started working for his father at Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware.
That same year, he began going out socially – that is, his father insisted on taking him to several fashionable dances. Roger Button was now fifty, so he and his son (who looked fifty) got along better than ever before. In fact, since Benjamin had stopped dying his grayish hair, the two looked like brothers.
One night in August, they dressed up in formal suits and got in their car. They drove out to a dance at the Shevlins’ country house which was situated just outside of Baltimore. It was a gorgeous evening. A full moon drenched the road, and it glowed silver. The blooming harvest flowers swayed, and gave off delicious aromas. The open country was carpeted with bright wheat. It was almost impossible not to be affected by the beauty of the night sky.
“Our dry goods business has a great future,” Roger Button was saying. He wasn’t a spiritual type of man. He had very simple desires.
“Old people like me can’t learn new tricks,” he said profoundly. “It’s you young people with energy and vitality that have the great future in front of you.”
Far up the road, the lights of the Shevlins’ country house drifted into view, and presently, there was a sighing sound… perhaps the delicate song of a violin.
They pulled up behind another handsome car, whose passengers were getting out.
A lady got out, then an elderly gentleman, and then another young lady who was as beautiful as sin.
Benjamin eyes snapped to her. He felt his body getting warmer. His cheeks blushed and his heart pounded in his ears. It was first love.
The girl was slender and frail, with hair that looked ashen under the moonlight. When she walked toward the house, the porch light made her hair honey colored. Over her shoulders, she was wearing a soft, yellow scarf. Her feet looked like little glittering buttons under her dress.
Roger Button leaned over to his son. “That,” he said, “is young Hildegarde Moncrief, the daughter of General Moncrief.”
Benjamin nodded coldly. “Pretty little thing,” he said indifferently. Later, he added: “Dad, you should introduce me to her.”
Miss Moncrief was in the center of a group. The Buttons approached. Being a traditional girl, she curtsied low to Benjamin. Yes, she said she would save a dance for him. He thanked her and walked away akwardly.
Until the time for his dance, he waited impatiently. He stood close to the wall, silent. He watched with jealousy as the beautiful Hildegarde Moncrief danced and talked with other young men. He could see the admiration in the boys’ faces. How obnoxious! How annoying! He got hot with anger.
But when his time came, he walked happily to the dance floor with her. The song was a lovely waltz from Paris. As he started dancing with her, his jealousy and anxiety melted away. He was blinded by love, and he felt like his life was just beginning.
“You and your brother got here at the same time that we did, didn’t you?” asked Hildegarde, looking up at him with eyes that were like bright blue enamel.
Benjamin hesitated. If she mistook him for his father’s brother, should he tell her the truth? He remembered his experience at Yale, so he decided not to. He didn’t want to be made fun of again. And anyway, it would be rude to correct a lady. And it was even ruder to upset this beautiful occasion with the grotesque story of his birth. Maybe that story should be told later.
So he nodded, smiled, listened, and was happy.
“I like men who are your age,” Hildegarde told him. “Young boys are so idiotic. They only talk about how much alcohol they drink at college and how much money they lose playing cards. Men of your age know how to appreciate women.”
Benjamin felt like he was ready to propose. With an effort, he stopped himself from saying something stupid.
“You’re just the romantic age,” she continued, “fifty. Twenty five is too immature, thirty is overworked, forty is the age of long stories and sixty is… oh sixty is too near seventy. But fifty is the mellow age. I love fifty.”
Fifty seemed to be a glorious age. Benjamin wished passionately to be fifty.
“I’ve always said,” Hildegarde went on, “that I’d rather marry a man of fifty and be taken care of, than marry a man of thirty and take care of him.”
For Benjamin, the rest of the evening was bathed in a honey-coloured mist. Hildegarde gave him two more dances, and they discovered that they seemed to agree about everything.
They made plans to go driving together on the following Sunday, and continue talking.
Benjamin and his father finally left the party just before the crack of dawn, when the morning bees were humming and the fading moon was glimmering. They got in the car and Roger Button was talking about their family business, although Benjamin was hardly listening.
“… And what do you think is our best seller after hammers and nails?” Benjamin’s father was saying.
“Love,” replied Benjamin absent-mindedly.
“Gloves?” exclaimed Roger Button, “No, no, I mentioned gloves earlier.”
Benjamin glanced at his father with dazed eyes, still unable to listen to his father’s words.
The eastern sky cracked with pink morning light, and birds chirped and sang in the trees.