Laurie Horowitz

The Family Fortune

For my father, Benedict Horowitz,

who would have been so proud

All the privilege, I claim for my own

sex…is that of loving longest, when

existence or when hope is gone.

—Jane Austen, Persuasion

…and their prejudices reminded him of

sign-posts warning off trespassers who

have long since ceased to intrude.

—Edith Wharton, The Custom of the Country

And this is good old Boston,

The home of the bean and the cod,

Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots

And the Cabots talk only to God.

—John Collins Bossidy

Chapter 1

In which we are introduced to Miss Fortune

I once knew a girl named Hope Bliss. How her parents didn’t realize that they were putting a curse on her, I’ll never know. I myself am a Fortune, from a long line of Fortunes, and though I am simply Jane, I live under the cloud of being Miss Fortune, though I prefer Ms.

At thirty-eight I still lived at home. I told myself I had good reasons for that, or at least excuses. My sister Miranda lived there, too, and she was almost forty, even older than I was. Ours was not an ordinary house. It was a stately town house in Louisburg Square, a prestigious and historic location on Beacon Hill. The only people who could afford to live there were the nouveaux riches and people like us.

Who were we, the Fortunes of Louisburg Square? We were the old-money aristocracy. During the time of the robber barons, the Fortune family was in textiles, but most of our money came later, from an array of fancy mustards. We had been, you could say, the condiment kings of the East. We had, however, sold the company to Basic Foods before I was born.

I had known boys who came out of the womb in dinner jackets and girls who could preside over high tea before they could speak in full sentences, but really, what was the relevance of that in the new millennium?

We old-money Bostonians were an anachronism, the Lost Tribe of the Wealthy, wandering through the desert of modern life, cut off from the world, never realizing that our days were numbered. We were a generation of dilettantes, trying our hands at cooking, weaving, pottery, always with a dwindling trust fund to back us up. Our creativity, our determination, and our will to succeed had been diluted by comfort. We existed on the complacent understanding that we never had to strive for anything. Our ancestors had been captains of industry, but some of us had never even held a job. Deep down, we knew we were becoming obsolete. Maybe that’s why we, the old guard, kept such a tenacious grip on our way of life.

Louisburg Square is one of the stops on the many walking tours of Boston. The town houses in the square encircle a shared and gated park. The park is charming in all seasons—snow-laden or bright with blossoms. Our square is, in its way, quintessential Boston with its bricks, bay windows, and cobblestones.

Though our house could have accommodated the entire string section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the only people, besides my sister and I, who lived there were my father, Theodore Henry Adams Fortune III, whom everyone called Teddy, and Astrid Fonseca, our housekeeper and cook.

My younger sister, Winnie, was married and lived in a neighboring town with her husband, Charlie, and their two boys, but Miranda and I had never left. We were modern spinsters, remaining at home long after any self-respecting woman would have moved out.

Our mother died right after I graduated from college, and that’s the time you are supposed to make plans for the next stage of your life. Whether it’s graduate school, work, or simply a studio apartment in a questionable part of town, the big choices are upon you.

Somehow I never got around to making them.

Not long after my mother died, I fell in love with a man named Max Wellman. He asked me to move to California with him, but my mother’s best friend, Priscilla, talked me out of it. She said that I’d ruin his life, which, looking back, doesn’t say too much about what she thought of me at the time. Maybe she just wanted to keep me at home. Priscilla doesn’t like change and I’m sure my mother’s death was all the change she could tolerate.

After my mother died, Priscilla swept in to help our family get back on its feet. Who knows, maybe Priscilla was trying to cushion her own loss when she bought that apartment right around the corner on Mount Vernon Street. She and my mother had been best friends since they were children. Priscilla, who had been divorced for many years, made our family her own.

My father’s most endearing quality is his awareness of his own limitations, so without my mother to guide him, he relied on Priscilla for all sorts of things—mainly her judgment. Many people in our set thought Priscilla would marry my father after a respectable time. I knew better. Pris thought Teddy vain and foolish, though when my mother was alive, Pris put a good face on it. Later, she told me that my mother had been able to disguise many of my father’s failings. That’s what marriages are for, Priscilla said, to shield your partner from the world’s bad opinion. I hoped that marriage was more than that. Priscilla said that if she had to listen to Teddy crack his knuckles—one of his few unattractive habits—for the rest of her life, she’d find a way to jump from the Hancock Tower.

“I swear to you,” Priscilla said, “your mother died of boredom.” No, I thought. It was definitely the cancer. “They looked like a perfect match, your mother and father. They each came from old Boston families. There was absolutely no opposition to their marriage even though, by today’s standards, they were young. And your father was even more handsome then than he is now. And he was so charming. How could she know that the charm was the sum and total of it? Jane, I would never want that to happen to you.”

I don’t blame Priscilla, not really. I was twenty-three and could have made my own decision. I just wasn’t strong enough to fight the opposition, which included not only Teddy but also Max’s grandmother in Boca Raton.

So I lost my first love and first love never comes again. That’s what they say, the they of stories and fairy tales. Second love didn’t come, either, which, I suppose, precluded third and fourth.

It wasn’t so bad. I filled a niche in my family. I was the sensible one, the ponderous one, the one who did the extra laundry our housekeeper, Astrid, couldn’t keep up with. I was the one who cooked on Astrid’s day off.

And though I wasn’t crazy about it—neither the niche nor the family—I was comfortable with it, and there’s something to be said for that.

Sometimes I looked out my third-floor window and saw the tourists there—in their sneakers and sweat suits holding guidebooks and cameras and staring up into our windows.

What were they thinking when they peered up at us like that? Maybe they thought that behind our bay windows we lived charmed lives. And depending on your idea of what a charmed life is, maybe we did.

Chapter 2

Jane stays home on a Saturday night

It was a Saturday night in August and it was not unusual for me to be sitting at home with a book on my lap. At some point in the evening I had fallen asleep in front of the empty fireplace.

I woke to the sound of my sister Miranda dropping her keys in the front hall.

“I’m exhausted and drunk,” she said.

“You were the life of the party,” Teddy said.

“It was the dress. It was expensive, even for me—but worth every penny.” When she left the house that evening she was wearing a midnight blue sheath that accentuated her narrow hips. The color would have made her look cadaverous had she not drenched her porcelain skin with expensive self-tanners. She used makeup liberally and was no stranger to artifice. Miranda, though she was flat as a pancake, always allowed her nonexistent breasts to precede her into a room. She had such a regal way of walking that she could actually convince you that her figure was something more than that of a prepubescent boy.

Teddy and Miranda wouldn’t be caught dead at home on a Saturday night. Through the Fortune Family Foundation, I wrote the checks that sent them to charity balls and parties, but I rarely went myself. These charitable contributions were expected of us. Not only that, we were, as part of the Boston establishment, expected to make an appearance. I didn’t have much interest in going to parties, not that Teddy and Miranda ever invited me. We usually bought only two tickets. Before my mother died, she had accompanied Teddy to these events, but Miranda took my mother’s place when it came to her public duties.

Maybe an outsider would think it strange that Miranda and Teddy did everything together, but it wasn’t really. These events were often attended not just by couples but by family groups—Mr. Endicott and his two daughters, Bill Cushing and his sister Alice. It wasn’t so unusual for a father and daughter to go together, especially if the wife was gone. Teddy and Miranda liked going to parties together because it gave them a freedom they wouldn’t have if they took actual dates. A woman was perfectly respectable, yet at the same time unfettered, when escorted by her father. And Miranda was a convenient shield for Teddy. Since my mother died, he’d been pursued by most of the single women in the Social Register. Both Miranda and Teddy wanted to play, but neither of them wanted to be forced to commit to a relationship that would last longer than two hours.