The parents also liked that the Chaney School had been around for a long time. In fund-raisers and at alumni functions, the headmistress, Harriet Tichenor, a stout and jolly lady, always mentioned that the school had a proud heritage. It had been established in 1912. This would bring nods of appreciation. Almost ninety years ago! Founded back when Wellesley was a simple country town! People liked that.
Chaney did have a proud heritage, but it avoided boastful displays. On the contrary, Chaney observed a remarkable and commendable discretion, even reticence, as to the details of the whole heritage thing, mentioning that the school had indeed been founded in 1912 by Louise S. Chaney, a spinster educator, and leaving it at that. Miss Chaney, as she was known, had bought the old Fielding Mansion overlooking the Charles River that year, and four years later graduated the first class of sixteen students. But her father, Lounsford Chaney III, had more to do with the real establishment of the place. It was from his will that Miss Chaney had inherited a special bequest of $2 million. Lounsford had made these millions, and many more besides, as chairman of the Trans-Atlantic Mineral Corporation, which profited handsomely in the years before World War I by the systematic rapine of the mineral wealth of Liberia. Through his shrewd backing of local warlords, Lounsford achieved substantial savings in labor costs (the company subcontracted the actual mining to the warlords, who in turn used slaves). This effective management tool gave the company a competitive advantage, which it exploited to loot the country of much of its aluminum, copper, lead, and gold. After the war, Trans-Atlantic Mineral closed the mines, thanked the slave drivers for their good work, and left behind a wasteland pocked with slag heaps and leaching pools of chromium and arsenic. But by that time Lounsford had a fortune in excess of $14 million.
Although the school featured an African Appreciation Week and welcomed players of African drums and carvers of African masks, and although two months of the fifth-grade curriculum were devoted to the deplorable legacy of apartheid in southern Africa, the swashbuckling African business career of Chaney père was not a focus of study.
It was going to be a while before Fritz got to the alcove. Only there might he safely discharge his own Precious Cargo from the Navigators restraint harnesses, check the backpacks and water bottles, wave jauntily and cheerily to the other good parents, and leave. Nothingwell, nothing except Lindawas less forgiving than the car-pool lane. There were no shortcuts. It would have been unthinkable simply to evacuate the Precious Cargo before reaching the alcove. This would be to commit poor parenting, and at the Chaney School, poor parenting was scandalous. (A child might be hit by an SUV, though none of them seemed to be moving. Still, it might happen.) So Fritz idled, crept forward, idled, and pumped hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.
This stifling Monday morning had already been more than a match for Fritz. It gave him renewed appreciation for his wife. Linda could rise at four-thirty, run four miles on her contact-free gyrotreader, spend a half hour in the bathroom, rouse the kids, rouse the nanny, rouse Fritz, preside over the choices of clothing and healthful cereal, inspect the backpacks, oversee the correct brushing and flossing of teeth, find the shoes, and bellow "Move out!" right on schedule. Linda LeBrecque was the George S. Patton of morning.
But Linda hadnt been around for this particular reveille, and neither was her usual NCO. The new nanny had vanished almost the moment she appearedwithin forty-eight hours of her arrival last week, in fact. Poor Nina had been sent back to Ecuador, Linda commenting vaguely that "it just wasnt going to work out." Fritz found his wifes insight impressive, if somewhat opaque, for Nina had barely emerged from the taxi and hadnt done any child care or housework yet. The only data available as of the time Nina was cashiered was that she had a tidy little figure and a certain way of walking that Fritz kind of noticed. From the moment he was able to appreciate that salient point, Fritz suspected that poor Nina was toast.
Excerpted from Present Value by Sabin Willett Copyright© 2003 by Sabin Willett. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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