The Saga of Amberlin: Chapter 3

Edited version updated on Jan. 22, 2011

Chapter 3

Herb awoke the next morning to the smell of bacon and the phrase “protect and prepare” reverberating around in his head. He wasn’t sure whether Amberlin really had changed the direction of the whirlpool the night before but he was pretty sure that his explanation to Rose, though true, hadn’t convinced her of her granddaughter’s innocence.

After all, she’d been looking for some signs of Satan appearing in Amberlin, and Herb knew if you looked long enough for something you were bound to find it sooner or later, and in Rose’s case it had been sooner.

So, as he dressed and prepared himself for the day, he was already strategizing how to fulfill his mission. “Not going to make the same mistake twice,” he muttered as he walked downstairs. It was rapidly becoming his mantra.

“Hello, my dear hearts. How are my two lovely ladies this fine morning?”

Rose glanced over at him from where she stood in front of the stove watching over the bacon. “My, aren’t you a happy fella this morning?” she asked, but in a lighthearted voice that meant she too was in a better frame of mind.

“Morning, Papa Herb,” Amberlin said from where she sat at the table, holding her arms out to him for a hug, which he happily obliged her with.

Rose brought the platter of eggs and bacons over to the table. “Toast will be ready in a minute.” If she even remembered last night’s incidence she gave no hint of it, but then that was just like her. After all, she was a Southern lady, and if there’s one thing a Southern lady knew how to be it was what Herb called “Southern nice,” and what he’d heard other people, especially transplanted Northerners, refer to as covert.

But Herb knew how to play this game. After all, he was a Southern gentleman, and had been raised playing this Southern nice game of chess. So, he waited as breakfast got under way, the blessing said over the food, and most of it had been eaten before he moved his center pawn forward.

“Do you have a busy day today, Rose?” He asked between mouthfuls of eggs and grits.

“Why you know I do, Herb. At ten o’clock I have a meeting with the Community Board to discuss plans for our next quarter, and that’s just the start of my day. Seems like the older I get the more responsibilities I’m expected to fulfill. I don’t know how Golden Acres would get along if something were to happen to me.”

“I wonder if your great-great granddaddy had any idea how much this community would grow when he donated the land?”

“Bless his heart, I doubt it, but it sure did seal my fate without him ever even knowing me,” Rose replied. It was one of her favorite complaints, that as the sole-surviving member of the Drayton family who had bestowed the land that had made the Golden Acres of Christ Community possible, she was always so busy. Herb decided it was time to move his next piece into action.

“Well, I’ve been thinking about how busy you are and all. You know I’m not much when it comes to Community matters.” Which was one of the largest understatements of the year. Rose and he had come to an agreement over two decades ago that he would put in the necessary appearances to keep the rumor mill off their back, as long as Rose gave him the room and the privacy to pursue his own interests without interruption or interference. Although like Rose, Herb had been born and raised in the Followers of Christ Assembly Church, he had moved on in his values and beliefs, though not before falling madly in love with Rose. The agreement had, no doubt, saved their marriage.

“So, I’ve been wondering how I could help out a bit, and it came to mind that you have so much to do to keep this community running…” Here goes, a bold move of his knight into the center of the board.

“I’d like to offer to help out by taking a more active role in Amberlin’s home schooling. Could you pass the grits, sweetheart?” It had been Rose who had insisted Amberlin be taught at home, insisted that it was the best way to assure she received a good, Christian education, but her reasoning hadn’t fooled Herb.  He knew underneath it all was her deep fear that Amberlin might be visited by Satan while in school, condemning the entire family to another round of malicious gossip that would almost certainly ruin them this time around, and possibly lead to expulsion from the community.

He made it a point not to stare at Rose, but instead kept his wife in the corner of his eye as she pondered his offer while also passing the grits.

“Well, that’s very thoughtful of you, Herb. I must confess Amberlin’s education has been taking a backseat of late.  I suppose I could use some help.”

“Well, I can sure understand that, Rose-dear. What with will all the other important matters you have on your mind, which is my point. You know, I’ve always thought I might have missed my calling by not becoming a teacher, and this way it might not be too late to answer God’s call.” There, he’d moved his Queen off the back line, where she could do some good, that is, if Rose didn’t counterattack.

“Papa Herb be my teacher?” Amberlin spoke up, surprising both of them.

“Why, sugar, I didn’t have any idea you were following this conversation.” Rose reached over and patted Amberlin’s hand lightly. Herb noticed the hand was still reddened from where Rose had slapped it so roughly the night before but didn’t say anything.

“Would you like your Papa Herb to be your teacher?”

“Papa Herb be my teacher,” Amberlin replied, nodding her head vigorously.

“Well, I guess that settles it,” Rose said, as Herb breathed a quiet sigh of relief. “At least on a trial basis,” Rose added.

“Sure, exactly. We’ll give it a try and see how it works out.” But Herb knew the agreement had been sealed. Rose would be too busy with her many other Community duties to monitor any trial run.

“Not going to make the same mistake twice,” he muttered for the second time this morning.

“What was that, dear?”

“Nothing,” Herb replied as he stood up. “Let me take care of the dishes. You go ahead and get ready for your meeting.”

After Rose left to dress for her day, Herb began to clean up.

“Can I help?” his granddaughter asked, as she slid off her chair.

“Sure, you can help, just be careful not to drop anything,” Herb replied, as he scrapped the last of the grits into a bowl.

“We’ll take these out to Ruffin in a few minutes. He’s a good Southern dog that never turns down a bowl of grits.” He handed Amberlin a dry dishtowel.

“You can dry the dishes, but be very careful. Wet dishes can be slippery and end up making a big mess on the floor if you drop one.”

“I’ll be careful, Papa Herb,” she said as she took the first dish from the dish rack where Herb had placed it.

“Speaking of being careful, I want to talk to you about last night,” Herb said. He paused before going on to make sure Rose wasn’t within earshot.

“I’m sorry, Papa Herb. I was a bad girl.”

Herb took another towel from where they hung on the oven door and dried his hands. Bending down to Amberlin’s height, he gently grasped her shoulders and looked her straight in her blue-green eyes. “Sweetheart, that’s what I want to talk to you about. What you did, whatever it was and however you did it, wasn’t wrong. Your grandmother made a mistake. It was late and she was tired… and scared.”

“What scared her, Papa Herb?”

“Well, Rose, like many people, become scared about things they don’t understand, and there are things about you that are beginning to happen that are a mystery, but that doesn’t make them wrong or bad.

“However, I think it would be a good idea if we didn’t frighten Rose or the others in the Community. Don’t you agree?”

Amberlin thought about this a moment, a confused look on her young face. After a moment she asked, “But what is it that frightens them?”

“Humm, that’s a good question,” Herb replied. Of course, how would Amberlin know what special powers she might have that others didn’t. “Tell you what. That will be our first lesson.  Right after breakfast, we’ll go out to the Sanctuary.”

“Where, Papa Herb?”

“Oh, that’s the name I’ve given to my office space out back, and now it’s the name you and I can call it, but only when no one else is around. We’ll go over some of the things that frighten others so you’ll know what not to do in front of them. Ok?”

Amberlin smiled, and giggled. “First lesson, coming right up in the Saint-u-airy.”