You are on page 1of 33

decided, one day in

the summer of 1860, that their first baby should

be born in a
hospital. Whether this anachronism had any
bearing upon the
astonishing history I am about to set down will
never be known.

I shall tell you what occurred, and let you judge

for yourself.

The Roger Buttons held an enviable position, both

* A Short Story taken from F. Scott Fitzgerald's social and
"Tales of the Jazz Age" financial, in Antebellum Baltimore. They were
related to the This
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Family and the That Family, which, as every
by F. Scott Fitzgerald Southerner knew, entitled
them to membership in that enormous peerage
I which largely populated
the Confederacy. This was their first experience
As long ago as 1860 it was the proper thing to be with the charming old
born at home. At custom of having babies--Mr. Button was naturally
present, so I am told, the high gods of medicine nervous. He hoped it
have decreed that the would be a boy so that he could be sent to Yale
first cries of the young shall be uttered upon the College in
anaesthetic air of Connecticut, at which institution Mr. Button
a hospital, preferably a fashionable one. So young himself had been known
Mr. and Mrs. Roger for four years by the somewhat obvious nickname
Button were fifty years ahead of style when they of "Cuff."

expression settling on his harsh, medicinal face as
On the September morning consecrated to the Mr. Button drew
enormous event he arose near.
nervously at six o'clock dressed himself, adjusted
an impeccable "What happened?" demanded Mr. Button, as he
stock, and hurried forth through the streets of came up in a gasping rush.
Baltimore to the "What was it? How is she" A boy? Who is it?
hospital, to determine whether the darkness of What---"
the night had borne in
new life upon its bosom. "Talk sense!" said Doctor Keene sharply, He
appeared somewhat
When he was approximately a hundred yards from irritated.
the Maryland Private
Hospital for Ladies and Gentlemen he saw Doctor "Is the child born?" begged Mr. Button.
Keene, the family
physician, descending the front steps, rubbing his Doctor Keene frowned. "Why, yes, I suppose so--
hands together with after a fashion." Again
a washing movement--as all doctors are required he threw a curious glance at Mr. Button.
to do by the unwritten
ethics of their profession. "Is my wife all right?"

Mr. Roger Button, the president of Roger Button & "Yes."

Co., Wholesale
Hardware, began to run toward Doctor Keene with "Is it a boy or a girl?"
much less dignity than
was expected from a Southern gentleman of that "Here now!" cried Doctor Keene in a perfect
picturesque period. passion of irritation,"
"Doctor Keene!" he called. "Oh, Doctor Keene!" I'll ask you to go and see for yourself.
Outrageous!" He snapped the
The doctor heard him, faced around, and stood
last word out in almost one syllable, then he for Ladies and
turned away muttering: Gentlemen--it was with the greatest difficulty that,
"Do you imagine a case like this will help my a moment later,
professional reputation? he forced himself to mount the steps and enter
One more would ruin me--ruin anybody." the front door.

"What's the matter?" demanded Mr. Button A nurse was sitting behind a desk in the opaque
appalled. "Triplets?" gloom of the hall.
Swallowing his shame, Mr. Button approached her.
"No, not triplets!" answered the doctor cuttingly.
"What's more, you "Good-morning," she remarked, looking up at him
can go and see for yourself. And get another pleasantly.
doctor. I brought you
into the world, young man, and I've been "Good-morning. I--I am Mr. Button."
physician to your family for
forty years, but I'm through with you! I don't want At this a look of utter terror spread itself over
to see you or any girl's face. She
of your relatives ever again! Good-bye!" rose to her feet and seemed about to fly from the
hall, restraining
Then he turned sharply, and without another word herself only with the most apparent difficulty.
climbed into his
phaeton, which was waiting at the curbstone, and "I want to see my child," said Mr. Button.
drove severely away.
The nurse gave a little scream. "Oh--of course!"
Mr. Button stood there upon the sidewalk, she cried
stupefied and trembling from hysterically. "Upstairs. Right upstairs. Go--up!"
head to foot. What horrible mishap had occurred?
He had suddenly lost She pointed the direction, and Mr. Button, bathed
all desire to go into the Maryland Private Hospital in cool

perspiration, turned falteringly, and began to a ghost of a reputation after----"
mount to the second
floor. In the upper hall he addressed another "Hurry!" he cried hoarsely. "I can't stand this!"
nurse who approached
him, basin in hand. "I'm Mr. Button," he managed "Come this way, then, Mr. Button."
to articulate. "I
want to see my----" He dragged himself after her. At the end of a long
hall they reached a
Clank! The basin clattered to the floor and rolled room from which proceeded a variety of howls--
in the direction of indeed, a room which, in
the stairs. Clank! Clank! I began a methodical later parlance, would have been known as the
decent as if sharing in "crying-room." They
the general terror which this gentleman provoked. entered.

"I want to see my child!" Mr. Button almost "Well," gasped Mr. Button, "which is mine?"
shrieked. He was on the
verge of collapse. "There!" said the nurse.

Clank! The basin reached the first floor. The nurse Mr. Button's eyes followed her pointing finger, and
regained control this is what he
of herself, and threw Mr. Button a look of hearty saw. Wrapped in a voluminous white blanket, and
contempt. partly crammed into
one of the cribs, there sat an old man apparently
"All right, Mr. Button," she agreed in a hushed about seventy years
voice. "Very of age. His sparse hair was almost white, and from
well! But if you knew what a state it's put us all in his chin dripped a
this long smoke-colored beard, which waved absurdly
morning! It's perfectly outrageous! The hospital back and forth, fanned
will never have by the breeze coming in at the window. He looked

up at Mr. Button with
dim, faded eyes in which lurked a puzzled "Because if you are," went on the old man
question. querulously, "I wish you'd
get me out of this place--or, at least, get them to
"Am I mad?" thundered Mr. Button, his terror put a comfortable
resolving into rage. "Is rocker in here,"
this some ghastly hospital joke?
"Where in God's name did you come from? Who
"It doesn't seem like a joke to us," replied the are you?" burst out Mr.
nurse severely. "And Button frantically.
I don't know whether you're mad or not--but that
is most certainly "I can't tell you exactly who I am," replied the
your child." querulous
whine, "because I've only been born a few hours--
The cool perspiration redoubled on Mr. Button's but my last name is
forehead. He closed certainly Button."
his eyes, and then, opening them, looked again.
There was no "You lie! You're an impostor!"
mistake--he was gazing at a man of threescore
and ten--a baby The old man turned wearily to the nurse. "Nice
of threescore and ten, a baby whose feet hung way to welcome a
over the sides of the new-born child," he complained in a weak voice.
crib in which it was reposing. "Tell him he's wrong,
why don't you?"
The old man looked placidly from one to the other
for a moment, and "You're wrong. Mr. Button," said the nurse
then suddenly spoke in a cracked and ancient severely. "This is your
voice. "Are you my child, and you'll have to make the best of it. We're
father?" he demanded. going to ask you

to take him home with you as soon as possible- eyes of the tortured man--a picture of himself
some time to-day." walking through the
crowded streets of the city with this appalling
"Home?" repeated Mr. Button incredulously. apparition stalking by
his side.
"Yes, we can't have him here. We really can't, you
know?" "I can't. I can't," he moaned.

"I'm right glad of it," whined the old man. "This is People would stop to speak to him, and what was
a fine place to he going to say? He
keep a youngster of quiet tastes. With all this would have to introduce this--this septuagenarian:
yelling and howling, I "This is my son,
haven't been able to get a wink of sleep. I asked born early this morning." And then the old man
for something to would gather his
eat"--here his voice rose to a shrill note of blanket around him and they would plod on, past
protest--"and they the bustling stores,
brought me a bottle of milk!" the slave market--for a dark instant Mr. Button
wished passionately
Mr. Button, sank down upon a chair near his son that his son was black--past the luxurious houses
and concealed his face of the residential
in his hands. "My heavens!" he murmured, in an district, past the home for the aged....
ecstasy of horror.
"What will people say? What must I do?" "Come! Pull yourself together," commanded the
"You'll have to take him home," insisted the
nurse--"immediately!" "See here," the old man announced suddenly, "if
you think I'm going to
A grotesque picture formed itself with dreadful walk home in this blanket, you're entirely
clarity before the mistaken."

"Babies always have blankets." 2

With a malicious crackle the old man held up a

small white swaddling "Good-morning," Mr. Button said nervously, to the
garment. "Look!" he quavered. "This is what they clerk in the
had ready for Chesapeake Dry Goods Company. "I want to buy
me." some clothes for my
"Babies always wear those," said the nurse primly.
"How old is your child, sir?"
"Well," said the old man, "this baby's not going to
wear anything in "About six hours," answered Mr. Button, without
about two minutes. This blanket itches. They due consideration.
might at least have given
me a sheet." "Babies' supply department in the rear."

"Keep it on! Keep it on!" said Mr. Button hurriedly. "Why, I don't think--I'm not sure that's what I
He turned to the want. It's--he's an
nurse. "What'll I do?" unusually large-size child. Exceptionally--ah
"Go down town and buy your son some clothes."
"They have the largest child's sizes."
Mr. Button's son's voice followed him down into
the: hall: "And a "Where is the boys' department?" inquired Mr.
cane, father. I want to have a cane." Button, shifting his
ground desperately. He felt that the clerk must
Mr. Button banged the outer door savagely.... surely scent his
shameful secret.

Mr. Button turned miserably away. Then he
"Right here." stopped, brightened, and
pointed his finger toward a dressed dummy in the
"Well----" He hesitated. The notion of dressing his window display.
son in men's "There!" he exclaimed. "I'll take that suit, out
clothes was repugnant to him. If, say, he could there on the dummy."
only find a very large
boy's suit, he might cut off that long and awful The clerk stared. "Why," he protested, "that's not
beard, dye the white a child's suit. At
hair brown, and thus manage to conceal the least it is, but it's for fancy dress. You could wear
worst, and to retain it
something of his own self-respect--not to mention yourself!"
his position in
Baltimore society. "Wrap it up," insisted his customer nervously.
"That's what I want."
But a frantic inspection of the boys' department
revealed no suits to The astonished clerk obeyed.
fit the new-born Button. He blamed the store, of
course---in such Back at the hospital Mr. Button entered the
cases it is the thing to blame the store. nursery and almost threw
the package at his son. "Here's your clothes," he
"How old did you say that boy of yours was?" snapped out.
demanded the clerk
curiously. The old man untied the package and viewed the
contents with a
"He's--sixteen." quizzical eye.

"Oh, I beg your pardon. I thought you said six "They look sort of funny to me," he complained, "I
hours. You'll don't want to be
find the youths' department in the next aisle."
made a monkey of--" beard, drooping almost to the waist. The effect
was not good.
"You've made a monkey of me!" retorted Mr.
Button fiercely. "Never you "Wait!"
mind how funny you look. Put them on--or I'll--or
I'll spank Mr. Button seized a hospital shears and with three
you." He swallowed uneasily at the penultimate quick snaps
word, feeling amputated a large section of the beard. But even
nevertheless that it was the proper thing to say. with this improvement
the ensemble fell far short of perfection. The
"All right, father"--this with a grotesque simulation remaining brush of
of filial scraggly hair, the watery eyes, the ancient teeth,
respect--"you've lived longer; you know best. Just seemed oddly out of
as you say." tone with the gaiety of the costume. Mr. Button,
however, was
As before, the sound of the word "father" caused obdurate--he held out his hand. "Come along!" he
Mr. Button to start said sternly.
His son took the hand trustingly. "What are you
"And hurry." going to call me,
dad?" he quavered as they walked from the
"I'm hurrying, father." nursery--"just 'baby' for a
while? till you think of a better name?"
When his son was dressed Mr. Button regarded
him with depression. The Mr. Button grunted. "I don't know," he answered
costume consisted of dotted socks, pink pants, harshly. "I think
and a belted blouse we'll call you Methuselah."
with a wide white collar. Over the latter waved the
long whitish

3 baby, and a baby he should remain. At first he
declared that if
Even after the new addition to the Button family Benjamin didn't like warm milk he could go
had had his hair cut without food altogether,
short and then dyed to a sparse unnatural black, but he was finally prevailed upon to allow his son
had had his face bread and butter,
shaved so dose that it glistened, and had been and even oatmeal by way of a compromise. One
attired in small-boy day he brought home a
clothes made to order by a flabbergasted tailor, it rattle and, giving it to Benjamin, insisted in no
was impossible for uncertain terms that
Button to ignore the fact that his son was a he should "play with it," whereupon the old man
excuse for a first family took it with--a weary
baby. Despite his aged stoop, Benjamin Button-- expression and could be heard jingling it
for it was by this name obediently at intervals
they called him instead of by the appropriate but throughout the day.
Methuselah--was five feet eight inches tall. His There can be no doubt, though, that the rattle
clothes did not bored him, and that he
conceal this, nor did the clipping and dyeing of his found other and more soothing amusements when
eyebrows disguise he was left alone. For
the fact that the eyes under--were faded and instance, Mr. Button discovered one day that
watery and tired. In during the preceding week
fact, the baby-nurse who had been engaged in be had smoked more cigars than ever before--a
advance left the house phenomenon, which was
after one look, in a state of considerable explained a few days later when, entering the
indignation. nursery unexpectedly, he
found the room full of faint blue haze and
But Mr. Button persisted in his unwavering Benjamin, with a guilty
purpose. Benjamin was a expression on his face, trying to conceal the butt

10 | P a g e
of a dark Havana.
This, of course, called for a severe spanking, but The sensation created in Baltimore was, at first,
Mr. Button found prodigious. What the
that he could not bring himself to administer it. He mishap would have cost the Buttons and their
merely warned his kinsfolk socially cannot
son that he would "stunt his growth." be determined, for the outbreak of the Civil War
drew the city's
Nevertheless he persisted in his attitude. He attention to other things. A few people who were
brought home lead unfailingly polite
soldiers, he brought toy trains, he brought large racked their brains for compliments to give to the
pleasant animals parents--and
made of cotton, and, to perfect the illusion which finally hit upon the ingenious device of declaring
he was that the baby
creating--for himself at least--he passionately resembled his grandfather, a fact which, due to
demanded of the clerk the standard state of
in the toy-store whether "the paint would come oft decay common to all men of seventy, could not be
the pink duck if denied. Mr. and Mrs.
the baby put it in his mouth." But, despite all his Roger Button were not pleased, and Benjamin's
father's efforts, grandfather was
Benjamin refused to be interested. He would steal furiously insulted.
down the back stairs
and return to the nursery with a volume of the Benjamin, once he left the hospital, took life as he
Encyclopedia found it. Several
Britannica, over which he would pore through an small boys were brought to see him, and he spent
afternoon, while his a stiff-jointed
cotton cows and his Noah's ark were left afternoon trying to work up an interest in tops and
neglected on the floor. marbles--he even
Against such a stubbornness Mr. Button's efforts managed, quite accidentally, to break a kitchen
were of little avail. window with a stone

11 | P a g e
from a sling shot, a feat which secretly delighted but found that no such case had been previously
his father. recorded. At his
father's urging he made an honest attempt to play
Thereafter Benjamin contrived to break something with other boys, and
every day, but he did frequently he joined in the milder games--football
these things only because they were expected of shook him up too
him, and because he much, and he feared that in case of a fracture his
was by nature obliging. ancient bones would
refuse to knit.
When his grandfather's initial antagonism wore
off, Benjamin and that When he was five he was sent to kindergarten,
gentleman took enormous pleasure in one where he initiated into
another's company. They would the art of pasting green paper on orange paper, of
sit for hours, these two, so far apart in age and weaving colored
experience, and, maps and manufacturing eternal cardboard
like old cronies, discuss with tireless monotony necklaces. He was inclined to
the slow events of drowse off to sleep in the middle of these tasks, a
the day. Benjamin felt more at ease in his habit which both
grandfather's presence than irritated and frightened his young teacher. To his
in his parents'--they seemed always somewhat in relief she
awe of him and, complained to his parents, and he was removed
despite the dictatorial authority they exercised from the school. The
over him, frequently Roger Buttons told their friends that they felt he
addressed him as "Mr." was too young.

He was as puzzled as any one else at the By the time he was twelve years old his parents
apparently advanced age of had grown used to him.
his mind and body at birth. He read up on it in the Indeed, so strong is the force of custom that they
medical journal, no longer felt that

12 | P a g e
he was different from any other child--except know. Fourteen
when some curious is the age for putting on long trousers--and you
anomaly reminded them of the fact. But one day a are only twelve."
few weeks after his
twelfth birthday, while looking in the mirror, "But you'll have to admit," protested Benjamin,
Benjamin made, or "that I'm big for my
thought he made, an astonishing discovery. Did age."
his eyes deceive him,
or had his hair turned in the dozen years of his life His father looked at him with illusory speculation.
from white to "Oh, I'm not so
iron-gray under its concealing dye? Was the sure of that," he said. "I was as big as you when I
network of wrinkles on his was twelve."
face becoming less pronounced? Was his skin
healthier and firmer, with This was not true-it was all part of Roger Button's
even a touch of ruddy winter color? He could not silent agreement
tell. He knew that with himself to believe in his son's normality.
he no longer stooped, and that his physical
condition had improved Finally a compromise was reached. Benjamin was
since the early days of his life. to continue to dye his
hair. He was to make a better attempt to play with
"Can it be----?" he thought to himself, or, rather, boys of his own
scarcely dared to age. He was not to wear his spectacles or carry a
think. cane in the street.
In return for these concessions he was allowed his
He went to his father. "I am grown," he first suit of long
announced determinedly. "I trousers....
want to put on long trousers."

His father hesitated. "Well," he said finally, "I don't 4

13 | P a g e
had emptied it the day
Of the life of Benjamin Button between his twelfth before and thrown it away.
and twenty-first
year I intend to say little. Suffice to record that He was in a dilemma. He was due at the
they were years of registrar's in five minutes.
normal ungrowth. When Benjamin was eighteen There seemed to be no help for it--he must go as
he was erect as a man of he was. He did.
fifty; he had more hair and it was of a dark gray;
his step was firm, "Good-morning," said the registrar politely.
his voice had lost its cracked quaver and "You've come to inquire
descended to a healthy about your son."
baritone. So his father sent him up to Connecticut
to take "Why, as a matter of fact, my name's Button----"
examinations for entrance to Yale College. began Benjamin, but
Benjamin passed his Mr. Hart cut him off.
examination and became a member of the
freshman class. "I'm very glad to meet you, Mr. Button. I'm
expecting your son here
On the third day following his matriculation he any minute."
received a
notification from Mr. Hart, the college registrar, to "That's me!" burst out Benjamin. "I'm a
call at his freshman."
office and arrange his schedule. Benjamin,
glancing in the mirror, "What!"
decided that his hair needed a new application of
its brown dye, but "I'm a freshman."
an anxious inspection of his bureau drawer
disclosed that the dye "Surely you're joking."
bottle was not there. Then he remembered--he

14 | P a g e
"Not at all."
Benjamin Button walked with dignity from the
The registrar frowned and glanced at a card room, and half a dozen
before him. "Why, I have undergraduates, who were waiting in the hall,
Mr. Benjamin Button's age down here as followed him curiously
eighteen." with their eyes. When he had gone a little way he
turned around, faced
"That's my age," asserted Benjamin, flushing the infuriated registrar, who was still standing in
slightly. the door-way, and
repeated in a firm voice: "I am eighteen years
The registrar eyed him wearily. "Now surely, Mr. old."
Button, you don't
expect me to believe that." To a chorus of titters which went up from the
group of undergraduates,
Benjamin smiled wearily. "I am eighteen," he Benjamin walked away.
But he was not fated to escape so easily. On his
The registrar pointed sternly to the door. "Get melancholy walk to
out," he said. "Get the railroad station he found that he was being
out of college and get out of town. You are a followed by a group,
dangerous lunatic." then by a swarm, and finally by a dense mass of
undergraduates. The
"I am eighteen." word had gone around that a lunatic had passed
the entrance
Mr. Hart opened the door. "The idea!" he shouted. examinations for Yale and attempted to palm
"A man of your age himself off as a youth of
trying to enter here as a freshman. Eighteen years eighteen. A fever of excitement permeated the
old, are you? Well, college. Men ran hatless
I'll give you eighteen minutes to get out of town." out of classes, the football team abandoned its

15 | P a g e
practice and joined "Ha-ha!" the undergraduates laughed. "Ha-ha-ha!"
the mob, professors' wives with bonnets awry and It was the biggest
bustles out of mistake that Yale College had ever made....
position, ran shouting after the procession, from
which proceeded a
continual succession of remarks aimed at the 5
tender sensibilities of
Benjamin Button. In 1880 Benjamin Button was twenty years old,
and he signalized his
"He must be the wandering Jew!" birthday by going to work for his father in Roger
Button & Co.,
"He ought to go to prep school at his age!" Wholesale Hardware. It was in that same year that
he began "going out
"Look at the infant prodigy!" "He thought this was socially"--that is, his father insisted on taking him
the old men's to several
home." fashionable dances. Roger Button was now fifty,
and he and his son
"Go up to Harvard!" were more and more companionable--in fact,
since Benjamin had ceased
Benjamin increased his gait, and soon he was to dye his hair (which was still grayish) they
running. He would show appeared about the same
them! He would go to Harvard, and then they age, and could have passed for brothers.
would regret these
ill-considered taunts! One night in August they got into the phaeton
attired in their
Safely on board the train for Baltimore, he put his full-dress suits and drove out to a dance at the
head from the Shevlins' country
window. "You'll regret this!" he shouted. house, situated just outside of Baltimore. It was a
gorgeous evening.

16 | P a g e
A full moon drenched the road to the lusterless
color of platinum, They pulled up behind a handsome brougham
and late-blooming harvest flowers breathed into whose passengers were
the motionless air disembarking at the door. A lady got out, then an
aromas that were like low, half-heard laughter. elderly gentleman,
The open country, then another young lady, beautiful as sin.
carpeted for rods around with bright wheat, was Benjamin started; an almost
translucent as in the chemical change seemed to dissolve and
day. It was almost impossible not to be affected recompose the very elements of
by the sheer beauty his body. A rigor passed over him, blood rose into
of the sky--almost. his cheeks, his
forehead, and there was a steady thumping in his
"There's a great future in the dry-goods business," ears. It was first
Roger Button was love.
saying. He was not a spiritual man--his aesthetic
sense was The girl was slender and frail, with hair that was
rudimentary. ashen under the
moon and honey-colored under the sputtering
"Old fellows like me can't learn new tricks," he gas-lamps of the porch.
observed profoundly. Over her shoulders was thrown a Spanish mantilla
"It's you youngsters with energy and vitality that of softest yellow,
have the great butterflied in black; her feet were glittering
future before you." buttons at the hem of
her bustled dress.
Far up the road the lights of the Shevlins' country
house drifted into Roger Button leaned over to his son. "That," he
view, and presently there was a sighing sound said, "is young
that crept persistently Hildegarde Moncrief, the daughter of General
toward them--it might have been the fine plaint of Moncrief."
violins or the
17 | P a g e
her out upon the
Benjamin nodded coldly. "Pretty little thing," he changing floor to the music of the latest waltz
said indifferently. from Paris, his
But when the Negro boy had led the buggy away, jealousies and anxieties melted from him like a
he added: "Dad, you mantle of snow. Blind
might introduce me to her." with enchantment, he felt that life was just
They approached a group, of which Miss Moncrief
was the center. Reared "You and your brother got here just as we did,
in the old tradition, she curtsied low before didn't you?" asked
Benjamin. Yes, he might Hildegarde, looking up at him with eyes that were
have a dance. He thanked her and walked away-- like bright blue
staggered away. enamel.

The interval until the time for his turn should Benjamin hesitated. If she took him for his father's
arrive dragged itself brother, would it
out interminably. He stood close to the wall, be best to enlighten her? He remembered his
silent, inscrutable, experience at Yale, so he
watching with murderous eyes the young bloods decided against it. It would be rude to contradict a
of Baltimore as they lady; it would be
eddied around Hildegarde Moncrief, passionate criminal to mar this exquisite occasion with the
admiration in their grotesque story of
faces. How obnoxious they seemed to Benjamin; his origin. Later, perhaps. So he nodded, smiled,
how intolerably rosy! listened, was happy.
Their curling brown whiskers aroused in him a
feeling equivalent to "I like men of your age," Hildegarde told him.
indigestion. "Young boys are so
idiotic. They tell me how much champagne they
But when his own time came, and he drifted with drink at college, and

18 | P a g e
how much money they lose playing cards. Men of they discovered that
your age know how to they were marvelously in accord on all the
appreciate women." questions of the day. She
was to go driving with him on the following
Benjamin felt himself on the verge of a proposal-- Sunday, and then they
with an effort he would discuss all these questions further.
choked back the impulse. "You're just the
romantic age," she Going home in the phaeton just before the crack
continued--"fifty. Twenty-five is too wordly-wise; of dawn, when the
thirty is apt to be first bees were humming and the fading moon
pale from overwork; forty is the age of long stories glimmered in the cool dew,
that take a whole Benjamin knew vaguely that his father was
cigar to tell; sixty is--oh, sixty is too near seventy; discussing wholesale
but fifty is hardware.
the mellow age. I love fifty."
".... And what do you think should merit our
Fifty seemed to Benjamin a glorious age. He biggest attention after
longed passionately to be hammers and nails?" the elder Button was saying.
"Love," replied Benjamin absent-mindedly.
"I've always said," went on Hildegarde, "that I'd
rather marry a man "Lugs?" exclaimed Roger Button, "Why, I've just
of fifty and be taken care of than many a man of covered the question
thirty and take care of lugs."
of him."
Benjamin regarded him with dazed eyes just as
For Benjamin the rest of the evening was bathed the eastern sky was
in a honey-colored suddenly cracked with light, and an oriole yawned
mist. Hildegarde gave him two more dances, and piercingly in the

19 | P a g e
quickening trees... to a fish, to a snake, and, finally, to a body of solid
brass. He
became known, journalistically, as the Mystery
6 Man of Maryland. But
the true story, as is usually the case, had a very
When, six months later, the engagement of Miss small circulation.
Hildegarde Moncrief to
Mr. Benjamin Button was made known (I say However, every one agreed with General Moncrief
"made known," for General that it was "criminal"
Moncrief declared he would rather fall upon his for a lovely girl who could have married any beau
sword than announce in Baltimore to
it), the excitement in Baltimore society reached a throw herself into the arms of a man who was
feverish pitch. The assuredly fifty. In vain
almost forgotten story of Benjamin's birth was Mr. Roger Button published Us son's birth
remembered and sent out certificate in large type in
upon the winds of scandal in picaresque and the Baltimore Blaze. No one believed it. You had
incredible forms. It was only to look
said that Benjamin was really the father of Roger at Benjamin and see.
Button, that he was
his brother who had been in prison for forty years, On the part of the two people most concerned
that he was John there was no wavering. So
Wilkes Booth in disguise--and, finally, that he had many of the stories about her fiance were false
two small conical that Hildegarde
horns sprouting from his head. refused stubbornly to believe even the true one.
In vain General
The Sunday supplements of the New York papers Moncrief pointed out to her the high mortality
played up the case with among men of fifty--or,
fascinating sketches which showed the head of at least, among men who looked fifty; in vain he
Benjamin Button attached told her of the

20 | P a g e
instability of the wholesale hardware business. many changes. It seemed
Hildegarde had chosen to him that the blood flowed with new vigor
to marry for mellowness, and marry she did.... through his veins. It
began to be a pleasure to rise in the morning, to
walk with an active
7 step along the busy, sunny street, to work
untiringly with his
In one particular, at least, the friends of shipments of hammers and his cargoes of nails. It
Hildegarde Moncrief were was in 1890 that he
mistaken. The wholesale hardware business executed his famous business coup: he brought
prospered amazingly. In the up the suggestion that
fifteen years between Benjamin Button's marriage all nails used in nailing up the boxes in which nails
in 1880 and his are shipped
father's retirement in 1895, the family fortune was are the property of the shippee, a proposal which
doubled--and this became a
was due largely to the younger member of the statute, was approved by Chief Justice Fossile, and
firm. saved Roger Button
and Company, Wholesale Hardware, more than six
Needless to say, Baltimore eventually received hundred nails every
the couple to its year.
bosom. Even old General Moncrief became
reconciled to his son-in-law In addition, Benjamin discovered that he was
when Benjamin gave him the money to bring out becoming more and more
his History of the attracted by the gay side of life. It was typical of
Civil War in twenty volumes, which had been his growing
refused by nine enthusiasm for pleasure that he was the first man
prominent publishers. in the city of
Baltimore to own and run an automobile. Meeting
In Benjamin himself fifteen years had wrought him on the street, his

21 | P a g e
contemporaries would stare enviously at the she had become too settled in her ways, too
picture he made of health placid, too content, too
and vitality. anaemic in her excitements, and too sober in her
taste. As a bride it
"He seems to grow younger every year," they been she who had "dragged" Benjamin to dances
would remark. And if old and dinners--now
Roger Button, now sixty-five years old, had failed conditions were reversed. She went out socially
at first to give a with him, but without
proper welcome to his son he atoned at last by enthusiasm, devoured already by that eternal
bestowing on him what inertia which comes to
amounted to adulation. live with each of us one day and stays with us to
the end.
And here we come to an unpleasant subject which
it will be well to Benjamin's discontent waxed stronger. At the
pass over as quickly as possible. There was only outbreak of the
one thing that Spanish-American War in 1898 his home had for
worried Benjamin Button; his wife had ceased to him so little charm that
attract him. he decided to join the army. With his business
influence he obtained a
At that time Hildegarde was a woman of thirty- commission as captain, and proved so adaptable
five, with a son, to the work that he was
Roscoe, fourteen years old. In the early days of made a major, and finally a lieutenant-colonel just
their marriage in time to
Benjamin had worshipped her. But, as the years participate in the celebrated charge up San Juan
passed, her Hill. He was slightly
honey-colored hair became an unexciting brown, wounded, and received a medal.
the blue enamel of her
eyes assumed the aspect of cheap crockery-- Benjamin had become so attached to the activity
moreover, and, most of all, and excitement of

22 | P a g e
array life that he regretted to give it up, but his continuing. There was no
business required doubt of it--he looked now like a man of thirty.
attention, so he resigned his commission and Instead of being
came home. He was met at delighted, he was uneasy--he was growing
the station by a brass band and escorted to his younger. He had hitherto
house. hoped that once he reached a bodily age
equivalent to his age in
years, the grotesque phenomenon which had
8 marked his birth would cease
to function. He shuddered. His destiny seemed to
Hildegarde, waving a large silk flag, greeted him him awful,
on the porch, and incredible.
even as he kissed her he felt with a sinking of the
heart that these When he came downstairs Hildegarde was waiting
three years had taken their toll. She was a woman for him. She appeared
of forty now, with a annoyed, and he wondered if she had at last
faint skirmish line of gray hairs in her head. The discovered that there was
sight depressed something amiss. It was with an effort to relieve
him. the tension between
them that he broached the matter at dinner in
Up in his room he saw his reflection in the familiar what he considered a
mirror--he went delicate way.
closer and examined his own face with anxiety,
comparing it after a "Well," he remarked lightly, "everybody says I
moment with a photograph of himself in uniform look younger than
taken just before the ever."
Hildegarde regarded him with scorn. She sniffed.
"Good Lord!" he said aloud. The process was "Do you think it's

23 | P a g e
anything to boast about?" Benjamin made no reply,
and from that time on a chasm began to widen
"I'm not boasting," he asserted uncomfortably. between them. He wondered
She sniffed again. "The what possible fascination she had ever exercised
idea," she said, and after a moment: "I should over him.
think you'd have enough
pride to stop it." To add to the breach, he found, as the new
century gathered headway,
"How can I?" he demanded. that his thirst for gaiety grew stronger. Never a
party of any kind in
"I'm not going to argue with you," she retorted. the city of Baltimore but he was there, dancing
"But there's a right with the prettiest of
way of doing things and a wrong way. If you've the young married women, chatting with the most
made up your mind to be popular of the
different from everybody else, I don't suppose I debutantes, and finding their company charming,
can stop you, but I while his wife, a
really don't think it's very considerate." dowager of evil omen, sat among the chaperons,
now in haughty
"But, Hildegarde, I can't help it." disapproval, and now following him with solemn,
puzzled, and
"You can too. You're simply stubborn. You think reproachful eyes.
you don't want to be
like any one else. You always have been that way, "Look!" people would remark. "What a pity! A
and you always will young fellow that age
be. But just think how it would be if every one else tied to a woman of forty-five. He must be twenty
looked at things years younger than
as you do--what would the world be like?" his wife." They had forgotten--as people inevitably
forget--that back
As this was an inane and unanswerable argument in 1880 their mammas and papas had also

24 | P a g e
remarked about this same a naive pleasure in his appearance. There was
ill-matched pair. only one fly in the
delicious ointment--he hated to appear in public
Benjamin's growing unhappiness at home was with his wife.
compensated for by his many Hildegarde was almost fifty, and the sight of her
new interests. He took up golf and made a great made him feel
success of it. He went absurd....
in for dancing: in 1906 he was an expert at "The
Boston," and in 1908
he was considered proficient at the "Maxine," 9
while in 1909 his
"Castle Walk" was the envy of every young man in One September day in 1910--a few years after
town. Roger Button & Co.,
Wholesale Hardware, had been handed over to
His social activities, of course, interfered to some young Roscoe Button--a
extent with his man, apparently about twenty years old, entered
business, but then he had worked hard at himself as a freshman
wholesale hardware for at Harvard University in Cambridge. He did not
twenty-five years and felt that he could soon hand make the mistake of
it on to his son, announcing that he would never see fifty again,
Roscoe, who had recently graduated from nor did he mention the
Harvard. fact that his son had been graduated from the
same institution ten
He and his son were, in fact, often mistaken for years before.
each other. This
pleased Benjamin--he soon forgot the insidious He was admitted, and almost immediately
fear which had come attained a prominent position
over him on his return from the Spanish-American in the class, partly because he seemed a little
War, and grew to take older than the other

25 | P a g e
freshmen, whose average age was about slight and frail that one day he was taken by some
eighteen. sophomores for a
freshman, an incident which humiliated him
But his success was largely due to the fact that in terribly. He became known
the football game as something of a prodigy--a senior who was
with Yale he played so brilliantly, with so much surely no more than
dash and with such a sixteen--and he was often shocked at the
cold, remorseless anger that he scored seven worldliness of some of his
touchdowns and fourteen classmates. His studies seemed harder to him--he
field goals for Harvard, and caused one entire felt that they were
eleven of Yale men to too advanced. He had heard his classmates speak
be carried singly from the field, unconscious. He of St. Midas's, the
was the most famous preparatory school, at which so many of
celebrated man in college. them had prepared for
college, and he determined after his graduation to
Strange to say, in his third or junior year he was enter himself at
scarcely able to St. Midas's, where the sheltered life among boys
"make" the team. The coaches said that he had his own size would be
lost weight, and it more congenial to him.
seemed to the more observant among them that
he was not quite as tall Upon his graduation in 1914 he went home to
as before. He made no touchdowns--indeed, he Baltimore with his Harvard
was retained on the team diploma in his pocket. Hildegarde was now
chiefly in hope that his enormous reputation residing in Italy, so
would bring terror and Benjamin went to live with his son, Roscoe. But
disorganization to the Yale team. though he was welcomed
in a general way there was obviously no
In his senior year he did not make the team at all. heartiness in Roscoe's feeling
He had grown so toward him--there was even perceptible a

26 | P a g e
tendency on his son's part to and take me up there."
think that Benjamin, as he moped about the
house in adolescent "I haven't got time," declared Roscoe abruptly. His
mooniness, was somewhat in the way. Roscoe eyes narrowed and
was married now and he looked uneasily at his father. "As a matter of
prominent in Baltimore life, and he wanted no fact," he added,
scandal to creep out in "you'd better not go on with this business much
connection with his family. longer. You better
pull up short. You better--you better"--he paused
Benjamin, no longer persona grata with the and his face
debutantes and crimsoned as he sought for words--"you better
younger college set, found himself left much turn right around and
done, except for the start back the other way. This has gone too far to
companionship of three or four fifteen-year-old be a joke. It isn't
boys in the funny any longer. You--you behave yourself!"
neighborhood. His idea of going to St. Midas's
school recurred to Benjamin looked at him, on the verge of tears.
"And another thing," continued Roscoe, "when
"Say," he said to Roscoe one day, "I've told you visitors are in the house
over and over that I I want you to call me 'Uncle'--not 'Roscoe,' but
want to go to prep, school." 'Uncle,' do you
understand? It looks absurd for a boy of fifteen to
"Well, go, then," replied Roscoe shortly. The call me by my
matter was distasteful first name. Perhaps you'd better call me 'Uncle' all
to him, and he wished to avoid a discussion. the time,
so you'll get used to it."
"I can't go alone," said Benjamin helplessly. "You'll
have to enter me With a harsh look at his father, Roscoe turned

27 | P a g e
away.... but, alas, sixteen was
the minimum age, and he did not look that old.
His true age, which was
10 fifty-seven, would have disqualified him, anyway.

At the termination of this interview, Benjamin There was a knock at his door, and the butler
wandered dismally appeared with a letter
upstairs and stared at himself in the mirror. He bearing a large official legend in the corner and
had not shaved for addressed to Mr.
three months, but he could find nothing on his Benjamin Button. Benjamin tore it open eagerly,
face but a faint white and read the enclosure
down with which it seemed unnecessary to with delight. It informed him that many reserve
meddle. When he had first officers who had
come home from Harvard, Roscoe had served in the Spanish-American War were being
approached him with the proposition called back into service
that he should wear eye-glasses and imitation with a higher rank, and it enclosed his commission
whiskers glued to his as brigadier-general
cheeks, and it had seemed for a moment that the in the United States army with orders to report
farce of his early immediately.
years was to be repeated. But whiskers had itched
and made him Benjamin jumped to his feet fairly quivering with
ashamed. He wept and Roscoe had reluctantly enthusiasm. This was
relented. what he had wanted. He seized his cap, and ten
minutes later he had
Benjamin opened a book of boys' stories, The Boy entered a large tailoring establishment on Charles
Scouts in Bimini Street, and asked
Bay, and began to read. But he found himself in his uncertain treble to be measured for a
thinking persistently uniform.
about the war. America had joined the Allied
cause during the
28 | P a g e
"Want to play soldier, sonny?" demanded a clerk him from the station,
casually. and turned to the sentry on guard.

Benjamin flushed. "Say! Never mind what I want!" "Get some one to handle my luggage!" he said
he retorted angrily. briskly.
"My name's Button and I live on Mt. Vernon Place,
so you know I'm good The sentry eyed him reproachfully. "Say," he
for it." remarked, "where you
goin' with the general's duds, sonny?"
"Well," admitted the clerk hesitantly, "if you're
not, I guess your Benjamin, veteran of the Spanish-American War,
daddy is, all right." whirled upon him with
fire in his eye, but with, alas, a changing treble
Benjamin was measured, and a week later his voice.
uniform was completed. He
had difficulty in obtaining the proper general's "Come to attention!" he tried to thunder; he
insignia because the paused for breath--then
dealer kept insisting to Benjamin that a nice suddenly he saw the sentry snap his heels
V.W.C.A. badge would together and bring his rifle
look just as well and be much more fun to play to the present. Benjamin concealed a smile of
with. gratification, but when
he glanced around his smile faded. It was not he
Saying nothing to Roscoe, he left the house one who had inspired
night and proceeded by obedience, but an imposing artillery colonel who
train to Camp Mosby, in South Carolina, where he was approaching on
was to command an horseback.
infantry brigade. On a sultry April day he
approached the entrance to "Colonel!" called Benjamin shrilly.
the camp, paid off the taxicab which had brought

29 | P a g e
The colonel came up, drew rein, and looked coolly Benjamin to do but
down at him with a follow with as much dignity as possible--
twinkle in his eyes. "Whose little boy are you?" he meanwhile promising himself a
demanded kindly. stern revenge. But this revenge did not
materialize. Two days later,
"I'll soon darn well show you whose little boy I however, his son Roscoe materialized from
am!" retorted Baltimore, hot and cross
Benjamin in a ferocious voice. "Get down off that from a hasty trip, and escorted the weeping
horse!" general, sans
uniform, back to his home.
The colonel roared with laughter.

"You want him, eh, general?" II

"Here!" cried Benjamin desperately. "Read this." In 1920 Roscoe Button's first child was born.
And he thrust his During the attendant
commission toward the colonel. The colonel read festivities, however, no one thought it "the thing"
it, his eyes popping to mention, that
from their sockets. "Where'd you get this?" he the little grubby boy, apparently about ten years
demanded, slipping the of age who played
document into his own pocket. "I got it from the around the house with lead soldiers and a
Government, as you'll miniature circus, was the
soon find out!" "You come along with me," said new baby's own grandfather.
the colonel with a
peculiar look. "We'll go up to headquarters and No one disliked the little boy whose fresh, cheerful
talk this over. Come face was crossed
along." The colonel turned and began walking his with just a hint of sadness, but to Roscoe Button
horse in the his presence was a
direction of headquarters. There was nothing for source of torment. In the idiom of his generation

30 | P a g e
Roscoe did not were gay hours in
consider the matter "efficient." It seemed to him the cheerful room, with the sunlight coming in the
that his father, in windows and Miss
refusing to look sixty, had not behaved like a "red- Bailey's kind hand resting for a moment now and
blooded then in his tousled
he-man"--this was Roscoe's favorite expression-- hair.
but in a curious and
perverse manner. Indeed, to think about the Roscoe's son moved up into the first grade after a
matter for as much as a year, but Benjamin
half an hour drove him to the edge of insanity. stayed on in the kindergarten. He was very happy.
Roscoe believed that Sometimes when other
"live wires" should keep young, but carrying it out tots talked about what they would do when they
on such a scale grew up a shadow would
was--was--was inefficient. And there Roscoe cross his little face as if in a dim, childish way he
rested. realized that
those were things in which he was never to share.
Five years later Roscoe's little boy had grown old
enough to play The days flowed on in monotonous content. He
childish games with little Benjamin under the went back a third year to
supervision of the same the kindergarten, but he was too little now to
nurse. Roscoe took them both to kindergarten on understand what the
the same day, and bright shining strips of paper were for. He cried
Benjamin found that playing with little strips of because the other
colored paper, boys were bigger than he, and he was afraid of
making mats and chains and curious and beautiful them. The teacher
designs, was the most talked to him, but though he tried to understand
fascinating game in the world. Once he was bad he could not
and had to stand in the understand at all.
corner--then he cried--but for the most part there

31 | P a g e
He was taken from the kindergarten. His nurse, o'clock he would go upstairs with Nana and be fed
Nana, in her starched on oatmeal and nice
gingham dress, became the center of his tiny soft mushy foods with a spoon.
world. On bright days
they walked in the park; Nana would point at a There were no troublesome memories in his
great gray monster and childish sleep; no token
say "elephant," and Benjamin would say it after came to him of his brave days at college, of the
her, and when he was glittering years when
being undressed for bed that night he would say it he flustered the hearts of many girls. There were
over and over aloud only the white, safe
to her: "Elyphant, elyphant, elyphant." Sometimes walls of his crib and Nana and a man who came to
Nana let him jump on see him sometimes,
the bed, which was fun, because if you sat down and a great big orange ball that Nana pointed at
exactly right it would just before his
bounce you up on your feet again, and if you said twilight bed hour and called "sun." When the sun
"Ah" for a long time went his eyes were
while you jumped you got a very pleasing broken sleepy--there were no dreams, no dreams to
vocal effect. haunt him.

He loved to take a big cane from the hat-rack and The past--the wild charge at the head of his men
go around hitting up San Juan Hill; the
chairs and tables with it and saying: "Fight, fight, first years of his marriage when he worked late
fight." When into the summer dusk
there were people there the old ladies would cluck down in the busy city for young Hildegarde whom
at him, which he loved; the days
interested him, and the young ladies would try to before that when he sat smoking far into the night
kiss him, which he in the gloomy old
submitted to with mild boredom. And when the Button house on Monroe Street with his
long day was done at five grandfather-all these had faded

32 | P a g e
like unsubstantial dreams from his mind as
though they had never been.
He did not remember.

He did not remember clearly whether the milk

was warm or cool at his
last feeding or how the days passed--there was
only his crib and
Nana's familiar presence. And then he
remembered nothing. When he was
hungry he cried--that was all. Through the noons
and nights he
breathed and over him there were soft mumblings
and murmurings that he
scarcely heard, and faintly differentiated smells,
and light and

Then it was all dark, and his white crib and the
dim faces that moved
above him, and the warm sweet aroma of the
milk, faded out altogether
from his mind.

33 | P a g e