Chapter 5: Falling in love

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In 1880 Benjamin Button was twenty years old, and he signalised his birthday by going to work for his father in Roger Button & Co., Wholesale Hardware. It was in that same year that he began "going out socially"—that is, his father insisted on taking him to several fashionable dances. Roger Button was now fifty, and he and his son were more and more companionable—in fact, since Benjamin had ceased to dye his hair (which was still grayish) they appeared about the same age, and could have passed for brothers. One night in August they got into the phaeton attired in their full-dress suits and drove out to a dance at the Shevlins' country house, situated just outside of Baltimore. It was a gorgeous evening. A full moon drenched the road to the lustreless colour of platinum, and late-blooming harvest flowers breathed into the motionless air aromas that were like low, half-heard laughter. The open country, carpeted for rods around with bright wheat, was translucent as in the day. It was almost impossible not to be affected by the sheer beauty of the sky—almost.
"There's a great future in the dry-goods business," Roger Button was saying. He was not a spiritual man—his aesthetic sense was rudimentary. "Old fellows like me can't learn new tricks," he observed profoundly. "It's you youngsters with energy and vitality that have the great future before you." Far up the road the lights of the Shevlins' country house drifted into view, and presently there was a sighing sound that crept persistently toward them—it might have been the fine plaint of violins or the rustle of the silver wheat under the moon. They pulled up behind a handsome brougham whose passengers were disembarking at the door. A lady got out, then an elderly gentleman, then another young lady, beautiful as sin. Benjamin started; an almost chemical change seemed to dissolve and recompose the very elements of his body. A rigour passed over him, blood rose into his cheeks, his forehead, and there was a steady thumping in his ears. It was first love.
The girl was slender and frail, with hair that was ashen under the moon and honey-coloured under the sputtering gas-lamps of the porch. Over her shoulders was thrown a Spanish mantilla of softest yellow, butterflied in black; her feet were glittering buttons at the hem of her bustled 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. But when the negro boy had led the buggy away, he added: "Dad, you might introduce me to her." They approached a group, of which Miss Moncrief was the centre. Reared in the old tradition, she curtsied low before Benjamin. Yes, he might have a dance. He thanked her and walked away—staggered away. The interval until the time for his turn should arrive dragged itself out interminably. He stood close to the wall, silent, inscrutable, watching with murderous eyes the young bloods of Baltimore as they eddied around Hildegarde Moncrief, passionate admiration in their faces. How obnoxious they seemed to Benjamin; how intolerably rosy! Their curling brown whiskers aroused in him a feeling equivalent to indigestion.
But when his own time came, and he drifted with her out upon the changing floor to the music of the latest waltz from Paris, his jealousies and anxieties melted from him like a mantle of snow. Blind with enchantment, he felt that life was just beginning. "You and your brother got here just as we did, didn't you?" asked Hildegarde, looking up at him with eyes that were like bright blue enamel. Benjamin hesitated. If she took him for his father's brother, would it be best to enlighten her? He remembered his experience at Yale, so he decided against it. It would be rude to contradict a lady; it would be criminal to mar this exquisite occasion with the grotesque story of his origin. Later, perhaps. So he nodded, smiled, listened, was happy. "I like men of your age," Hildegarde told him. "Young boys are so idiotic. They tell me how much champagne they drink at college, and how much money they lose playing cards. Men of your age know how to appreciate women." Benjamin felt himself on the verge of a proposal—with an effort he choked back the impulse. "You're just the romantic age," she continued—"fifty. Twenty-five is too wordly-wise; thirty is apt to be pale from overwork; forty is the age of long stories that take a whole cigar to tell; sixty is—oh, sixty is too near seventy; but fifty is the mellow age. I love fifty."
Fifty seemed to Benjamin a glorious age. He longed passionately to be fifty. "I've always said," went on Hildegarde, "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 were marvellously in accord on all the questions of the day. She was to go driving with him on the following Sunday, and then they would discuss all these questions further. Going home in the phaeton just before the crack of dawn, when the first bees were humming and the fading moon glimmered in the cool dew, Benjamin knew vaguely that his father was discussing wholesale hardware. "…. And what do you think should merit our biggest attention after hammers and nails?" the elder Button was saying. "Love," replied Benjamin absent-mindedly. "Lugs?" exclaimed Roger Button, "Why, I've just covered the question of lugs." Benjamin regarded him with dazed eyes just as the eastern sky was suddenly cracked with light, and an oriole yawned piercingly in the quickening trees…

After you listened:

Mark the words which Hildegarde uses to describe men aged 50.
Chose the right answer to the questions.
  1. What does Hildegarde think about Benjamin's relationship to his father?
    • Hildegarde thinks that Benjamin and his father are brothers.
    • Hildegarde thinks that Benjamin and his father are sisters.
    • Hildegarde thinks that Benjamin and his father are twins.
  2. What does Hildegarde say?
    • "I'd rather marry a man of fifty and be taken care of than marry a man of thirty and take care of him."
    • "Young boys are so romantic."
    • "Men of your age don't know how to appreciate women."
  3. When Benjamin and Hildegarde dance, Benjamin …
    • feels himself on the verge of a proposal.
    • feels sick.
    • gets dizzy.
  4. What does the expression "to feel oneself on the verge of a proposal" mean?
    • It means that someone is about to ask a person to marry him or her.
    • It means that someone is about to suggest to another person to move in together.
    • It means that someone is about to faint.
Hildegarde and Benjamin meet at a ball. Usually, people don't wear everyday clothes on such an occasion. Below you can find a list of words on the topic "evening dress". To learn the new vocabulary you can use the vocabulary trainer at the end of this page.

Word List: Evening dress

  • waistcoat
    • waistcoat, waistcoats[ˈweɪskəʊt](noun)
    • Definition:
      • a sleeveless, collarless garment worn over a shirt and under a suit jacket
    • Example:
      • Look at that pretty waistcoat the man is wearing!
  • wedding dress
    • wedding dress, wedding dresses(noun)
    • Definition:
      • the clothing worn by a bride during a wedding ceremony, in Western culture traditionally white with a long train
    • Example:
      • She already knows what her wedding dress will look like.
  • evening dress
    • evening dress, evening dresses(noun)
    • Definition:
      • an elegant dress worn by women, especially for social events in the evening
    • Example:
      • She wore a beautiful white evening dress.
  • dinner jacket
    • dinner jacket, dinner jackets(noun)
    • Definition:
      • an elegant jacket, mostly black, worn by men
    • Example:
      • The man took off his dinner jacket when he entered the room.
      • Synonym(s):
  • fur coat
    • fur coat, fur coats(noun)
    • Definition:
      • an elegant coat to wear outside made out of animal fur
    • Example:
      • Some people would never wear fur coats because of their beliefs.
  • shirt
    • shirt, shirts[ʃɜː(r)t](noun)
    • Definition:
      • an article of clothing that is worn on the upper part of the body, often with sleeves, either long or short, that cover the arms
    • Example:
      • The blue shirt he was wearing did not match the black tie.
  • blouse
    • blouse, blouses[blaʊs](noun)
    • Definition:
      • an outer garment, usually loose, that is similar to a shirt and reaches from the neck to the waist or below, often buttons down the front
    • Example:
      • I need a new blouse that matches with this skirt.
  • suit
    • suit, suits[suːt](noun)
    • Definition:
      • a set of clothes to be worn together, now especially a man's matching jacket and trousers, or a similar outfit for a woman
    • Example:
      • Nick hired a navy-blue suit for the wedding.
  • tie
    • tie, ties[taɪ](noun)
    • Definition:
      • an item of clothing consisting of a strip of cloth tied around the neck, usually worn in combination with a suit and a shirt
    • Example:
      • Some men don't know how to put on a tie.
      • Synonym(s):
  • bow tie
    • bow tie, bow ties[bəʊ'taɪ](noun)
    • Definition:
      • a man’s necktie tied in a bow around the throat
    • Example:
      • The male guests were asked to wear bow ties.

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