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A Peck of Gold

A Peck of Gold

William and Isabelle Frost with baby Robert.

William acquired a revolver. A year or two later, as city editor of the Daily Evening Post, he began displaying a jar of bull’s testicles on his desk. And here we arrive at the Frost family drama, an intrigu-ing but very dark story, with few hints of poetry or redemption to come; a case study in frozen Vic-torian gender identities; one of the many domestic mini-tragedies of the era, starring a mismatched young man and woman, each asserting a stereotyped self. During his courtship of Belle, who was a lively, earnestly spiritual person, a believer in fairies, religious in every stitch of her dark prim bodice, William had disguised his hatred of all religion, his disgust with the whole treacly realm of female yearning after the light, and he had even squired Belle around to several Protestant congregations, to the Unitarians, the Scots Presbyterians, and the visionary Swedenborgians, with their daring First Church of the New Jerusalem. Here it was that Robert was baptized, spring of 1874, wearing a pretty white dress. (In later life Robert described his religious progression as “Presbyterian, Unitarian, Swe-denborgian, Nothing.”)
Afterward the veil fell away; William would hide his skeptical face no longer. He denounced all churches and began to drink and dally; he took on the coloration of the rapscallion journalists he was working among, becoming a member of the new Bohemian Club (established 1872), the very word “Bohemian” meaning in those days a newspaperman, a convivial fellow.

The change in William was the shock of Belle’s life. Overnight he had become a “Heathcliff,” she told a friend; he was a bully when drunk, liked to kick the furniture around, and many times, she later told Robert, she had to snatch him out of his cradle and run to the neighbors’ with him, to protect him from her rampaging husband.

 

Written: Monday July 13th, 3:55pm 2020