The Night That Patti Sang
by Charles Weathers Bump
When I moved there 10 years ago that Franklin-street block just west of
Charles was even then known as "Doctors' Row," though there was by no
means the number of professional men the street now has. From Dr.
Osler's at the Charles-street corner of the south side—in the old
Colonial mansion where now the Rochambeau apartments stand—to Dr. Alan
P. Smith's on the north side next to the old Maryland Club building at
Cathedral street, there were in all five doctors. And my own
shingle—newly painted in gilt letters as befitted a specialist freshly
returned from the Vienna hospitals—made the sixth sign of the kind.
On the south side not far from Dr. Osler's, the front of one of those
fine old houses erected in the thirties, and the homes of the elite of
Baltimore for many years before Mount Vernon place was built up, bore
the announcement of:
JAMES COURSEY DUNTON, M. D.
The sign was of a very old pattern, and was so rain-washed that the name
could scarcely be deciphered. This, too, was the case with a frosted
pane in the front window, on which—perhaps 40 years ago—Dr. Dunton had
had his name painted in black letters. The house, too, showed the same
lack of paint and care.
In my student days at the Johns Hopkins Medical School I had never heard
the name of Dr. Dunton, and this led me to make inquiries of a
professional neighbor. I learned that Dunton was in effect an elderly
hermit, that for years he had abandoned his practice and had declined to
respond to calls. His self-enforced isolation had grown to such a degree
that he was rarely seen on the street and made all his household
purchases through notes stuck in his vestibule door for "order boys". "I
have seen Dunton only once in eight years," said my informant. "They
say, too, he used to be an excellent practitioner, an Edinburgh
graduate, with a patronage of the best classes—a courtly gentleman who
was well liked by his patients."
"What was the cause for the change?" I asked.
"A love tragedy of some kind, they told me, though I never got the
I developed a lively curiosity in the elderly recluse, and nearly every
time I moved in or out of my own residence, or passed my front windows,
I glanced at Dr. Dunton's house in hopes of seeing him. My first glimpse
was, perhaps, a month after I had been told about him. The sun had gone
down, save where I could see the gilded tops of the Cathedral with a red
glint upon them. In the half-light Dr. Dunton came to his second-story
window—I knew it must be he—a tall, slender figure, somewhat bent,
garbed in unrelieved black, save for the open white collar of
ante-bellum style. Scant white hair extended from his temples back over
his ears and framed a face that seemed, in the dusk, refined and kindly,
though seared with many wrinkles. I watched the silent figure at the
window unnoticed by him, for he gazed with intentness at the
vine-adorned front of the old Unitarian Church at the corner, until the
real darkness came upon us both.
It was, I think, about a week later when I again encountered Dr. Dunton.
The Edmondson-avenue trolley line had just been completed up Charles
street, and for the first time this old residential section resounded
with the clangor that betokened rapid transit. About 9 one night I
observed Dr. Dunton stepping down from the pavement of the Athenaeum
Club to cross the street. A trolley car was coming rapidly, but the old
gentleman, his head bent in thought and unused as he was to modern
inventions and modern bursts of speed, paid no attention and moved in
front of it. The motorman threw off his current, tried to reverse, and
rang his gong furiously, but saw that he could not stop in time to avoid
hitting the Doctor. I had bounded into the street, and when the car was
only half a dozen feet off I was fortunately able to draw the old chap
back and hold him clear of the Juggernaut that had so nearly wrought his
His first impulse, as he turned toward me, was one of anger that I had
presumed to intrude so violently upon his thoughts. Then he saw what a
narrow escape he had had, and anger gave place to a courtly smile and a
slight twinkle in his sunken eyes.
"We young fellows are not so careful as we ought to be," he said. "I owe
you my life."
I hastened to assure him that my act was one of simple kindness, but he
renewed his expressions of thanks in even more polished phrases. The car
had gone on and we had crossed to the church corner.
"I am Dr. Dunton," he said. "My house is yonder and, though I dwell
alone, and with little ceremony, I will be pleased to have you partake
of such hospitality as I can offer."
I accepted with alacrity. "I am Dr. Seaman," I responded. "I have just
moved into the block." And I indicated my own home.
We crossed Franklin street to Dr. Dunton's house. He opened the heavy
door with a latch-key, but before I could enter it was necessary for him
to go ahead and light up. He was profuse in his apologies for the
disorder of everything as he led me into the room behind the parlor, but
beyond a thick coating of dust the dark mahogany furniture showed no
signs of the absence of servants.
"I suppose you younger men might call this your 'den,'" he said as he
applied a match to the centre chandelier, "but I prefer to name it my
study." There were rows upon rows of medical works of a past generation
on the shelves around the room, a familiar bust of Esculapius, a skull
or two, some assorted bones and other signs of my host's former
profession. A worn leather arm-chair sat behind the table under the
chandelier, another arm-chair on the right. Dr. Dunton drew the latter
forward for me and dropped into the other one. As the light fell full
upon him I noted that he was not only thin, but gaunt, and that his
face, which interested me strangely, was marked by hollow places that
gave him an almost uncanny appearance, despite its refinement and
intellectuality. His eyes had a haunting expression, as if at times he
suffered much physical pain, and there was a sadness in them that
quickened my sympathies.
For a minute or so there was silence. I felt that he was at a loss for
topics upon which to converse on common ground. Finally he said:
"You are the first visitor I have had here since poor Wallis sat in that
chair a dozen years ago."
"You mean Mr. Wallis the lawyer?" I asked.
"He was my good friend in many dark days," he answered gently. I felt
that he was slipping away from me into the past.
"You must have it lonely here," I remarked.
"Not lonely," was the response. "I live with my memories."
The shadow on his face grew deeper.
"Why not practice your profession," I hazarded, "and forget some part of
your past sorrows in a busy life?"
He leaned forward, looking intently at me and yet beyond. "Ah! lad," he
said, as he laid a thin hand upon my wrist, "if you but knew, if you
but knew! I tried hard, and then I found I couldn't, and then I gave up
trying. There are griefs so great that one cannot lose them until the
last sleep. I am not lonely, for I have Her always with me here."
It was best for me to remain silent. He was almost unaware of my
presence. I felt he would go on if I did not divert his train of
"Night after night She sits here with me," he pursued; "day after day
She is by my side. In spirit the loving companionship I sought is ever
mine, and yet, great God, how different!" His face he buried in his
hands. In my eyes the tears could not be kept back.
Presently he rose from his seat and moved to the wall next to the
parlor. To my surprise, the pressure of his finger against a spot in the
wooden door pillar opened up a secret cupboard in the partition. The
Doctor reached in and lifted out an arm chair of the same pattern as
that upon which I was seated. It was heavy and I jumped to aid him, but
he negatived me with a short, sharp twist of his head. As he came into
the full light I saw that the chair contained a woman's cloak, one of
shimmery gray satin, but now sadly faded and time-stained. Reverently he
lifted the cloak and laid it across the back of the chair.
"That's as it was the night she sat there and passed away," said the
For several minutes there was no word between us. The Doctor, his mouth
twitching, his thoughts far from me, stared intently at the old cloak.
"How I loved her, how I loved her!" he finally murmured. Again he was
becoming aware of my presence. "You can't understand, sir, the depth of
my devotion. It stood the test of years—it stood even her marriage to
"She was the prettiest and merriest child you ever saw," he finally went
on. "Had she been an Indian maid they would have called her 'Dancing
Sunshine.' But being just a Baltimore girl, with her parents more fond
of reading Scott than of any other literature save the Bible, she was
named Geraldine. You remember that line in the 'Lay of the Last
The fair and lovely form, the Lady Geraldine.
"That's where she got her romantic and historic name. To us boys—my
brother Tom and myself—she was always Dina. She was our cousin. Her
father had died when she was but a babe. So had my mother, and Aunt
Patty thenceforth was the housewife with us. Father was one of those
merchants and ship owners who have long passed away in Baltimore. No
firm was better known around the Basin than that of Dunton & Jameson,
and no clipper ships were faster than those with the Dunton signal.
"Dina was Tom's age, some years younger than I, but both of us made her
our playmate. We didn't have the hundred and one diversions and sports
that young people seem to have nowadays—no suburban clubs, no motoring,
little driving. We roamed through Howard's woods around and beyond the
Washington Monument, and we strolled the banks of the 'canal' that used
to parallel Jones' Falls down there above Centre street. And in all our
rambles and excursions Dina was our joyous, care-free companion. I can
see her now, as she was at 14, a simply dressed school girl, with her
olive complexion, her clear, trustful gray eyes, her trim, petite,
lissom figure and her rosebud mouth, ready ever to kiss either of us in
fond sisterly affection.
"She was 16 when I was sent to Edinburgh on one of father's ships, to
become a doctor. For once her laughter deserted her, and the last
picture I had of her as our boat headed down the Patapsco on a bright,
blue morning was of a tearful miss on Bowly's wharf, waving a bedewed
handkerchief and watching through misty eyes the going of Cousin Jim
across the water. There had been a tender farewell between us, and
though no word of love was spoken, I tell you, lad, I knew I was leaving
my heart behind.
"My three years in Scotland were ones of hard work, and the chief joy I
knew came with Dina's letters. The mails were slow in those days, and
they came too uncertainly for me, you may be sure. But each brought me,
in addition to a budget of news, just a bit of Dina's lovely
personality. I saw her, in her letters, growing into sweet womanhood,
and, as I sometimes stretched myself in meditation on Arthur's Seat, far
above old Edinburgh, my thoughts were not of the city, nor of my own
lifework, but of the little girl at home.
"I was just completing my course, when there came my first terrible
blow. A letter came from Dina, the first in two months, and it brought
me word, lad, that she was married! Married! Just think of it! And to
Tom. He had been with Watson and Ringgold in the Mexican War, and
clippings they sent me had recounted the bravery of young Captain
Dunton. I confess to you, sir, that for days I had murder in my heart,
and against my own brother. I went off on a walking trip in the
Trossachs, and a savage time I had of it with myself; I had schemes of
petty revenge; I abused Dina; I vowed she could not love Tom; that she
must have been swept off her feet by the brass buttons and the war
glamour about him.
"By the time I came back to Baltimore I had regained self-control, and
when I met Tom and his wife it was with the determination to do
everything for Dina's happiness, even though she were another's. I was
not wrong in my prophecy that she would develop into sweet womanhood,
only I underestimated it. In all our circle of acquaintances in
Baltimore there was no more beautiful young matron than Mrs. Dunton; no
more sprightly and piquant bride; no hostess more gracious, as she
presided over the dinners and 'small and early' affairs that were given
at our home here.
"But, alas! it was not long before sorrows came to her. Tom began to
drink heavily. He got in with a gay set at Barnum's Hotel, his hours
grew irregular, his absences from home more numerous and more
prolonged. Father and I remonstrated ineffectually, at first pleadingly
and then in anger. We did our best to keep Dina ignorant of some of the
worst stories out concerning Tom's dissipation, but she knew. And though
she loyally never criticised him in talking to us, we saw the joy fade
out of her heart and lips, and the glint of ineffaceable sadness come
into those pure gray eyes. God only knows what she suffered in the nine
years before death, invited by alcohol, came and took Tom.
"It may sound brutal, but I was glad when besotted Tom was gone. It
ended Dina's terrible worry, it relieved father and myself of
unexplainable trouble, expense and annoyance, it laid to rest a family
skeleton of whose existence all Baltimore seemed to know. And deep down
in my heart, I confess it, there was a thrill that the woman I loved
above all was free.
"Of course, being a true woman, and a tender-hearted one, Dina grieved
long over Tom's death. She had loved him sincerely despite his grievous
faults, and ours was a melancholy household for another year. In those
days our women wore deep black mourning and veils, and sombre, indeed,
was Dina as she went out to church, to Tom's grave, or to half a dozen
poor households she had taken under her wing. But most of the time she
was at home ministering to father, whose declining health was a cause of
alarm to both of us.
"Presently I began to urge her to go about with me. At first she said
no, then with her characteristic considerateness she seemed unwilling to
hurt me by refusing further. I took her to the homes of our friends for
an evening of music or whist, or to an occasional public concert. The
color began to come back into the cheeks whence it had been so long
absent, and that glint of grief in the gray eyes grew dimmer. I spoke no
word of love, but unobtrusively carried on a campaign to let her see how
badly I yearned for her. The new books, the best sweets, the prettiest
flowers, such delicate compliments as sincerity could dictate—all these
I gave her and watched patiently to see the dawning of love on her part.
I had always had her fond affection, but I wanted more and strove in
every way to gain it.
"Two years passed and there came a night memorable in Baltimore when
18-year-old Adelina Patti—a singer in the first flush of youth and
beauty, fresh from triumphs in New York—was brought to Holliday-Street
Theatre to sing 'La Somnambula.' Strakosch had stirred up a furore about
Patti and Brignoli in Gotham, and Baltimore was curious to hear them. I
took Dina, and proud was I of her beauty and her sweet garb as we sat in
the midst of a hundred acquaintances in an audience the newspapers
called 'brilliant'. She had abandoned black and wore a satin gown of a
soft color, shimmery and splendidly adorned with lace. Her matured
beauty seemed to me more glorious than the promise of childhood, which
had first captured me. She was entranced with the music, but I had no
ears for the diva, and was there only to enjoy the divinity by my side.
I had a feeling that the end of my probation was near. I believed she
would say 'yes' should I ask her, and I determined to do so that night.
"After we had gotten away from our friends she talked animatedly of the
opera in the carriage, and I listened contentedly all the while I kept
saying 'Tonight, Jim, tonight!' As we came into the house she led the
way into this office, and with a smile dropped into that chair you see.
She allowed me to unfasten her opera cloak and draw it across the back
of the chair, but she playfully bade me sit down, when I let my arm
steal caressingly about her neck. Ah! man, if you could but know how I
loved her that minute!"——
The Doctor's voice broke. There were tears in his eyes. As for me, I was
profoundly moved, and my own eyelashes were wet.
"I passed into the dining-room to get her some sherry and cake. I was
gone but a moment, but in that instant she was lost to me forever."
The veins in the old man's forehead stood out like whipcords. He resumed
fiercely after a pause:
"She was dead, sir. She was dead. She sat in the same position in that
chair as when I had left her, but her hand clutched her side and the
smile she had given me was replaced by a sharp contraction, as if from
pain. Swiftly her heart action had been gripped by an unseen force and
stopped forever. I grew frantic when I found I could not revive her; I
shrieked aloud in the agony of my heart, and father and the servants
rushed here in alarm. They tell me I was mad for days; that I raved and
called incessantly. I do not remember. I knew nothing for a long time,
and then I cursed myself for living on when memory returned. Twice I had
lost her—once by marriage and once by death—and the joy of living was
never to be mine again. I have survived, sir, these many years. I buried
Father after Dina, and I am alone here. But, God, man! I died long ago.
My soul is with her I adored."
He arose and I followed. I felt that he meant to end our talk. He wiped
away the tears from his cheek with a silk handkerchief, and then,
placing his gaunt hand on my right shoulder, he moved his face close to
mine and spoke earnestly:
"I never dare visit her grave in Greenmount. I am afraid of myself. But
if you can, to please an old man whose wretched life you have saved
tonight, will you go there some time and see that her resting place has
been tended reverently? I have paid them for it."
I promised him I would, and then I passed out into the starlit night
with a thousand impressions of the terrible tragedy of this man's life
crowding my excited brain. I could not sleep, and I lay in bed for hours
reconstructing the tale and fancying many details he had not supplied.
The next morning I went to the Dunton lot in Greenmount and found it
well cared for. Over his loved Dina's grave was a handsome stone of
Carrara marble, with this inscription:
Beloved wife of Thomas Bowly Dunton.
Passed away suddenly,
Aged 30 years.
"God is love."
On one side was the grave of the ill-fated Tom. On the other the green
turf waited to be disturbed to make room for the last of the Duntons,
and there, on a raw day in the following March, I saw the body of the
old Doctor laid beside her whom he had loved so long and with such