It was the morning of Fraulein Maria's birthday, and the children were beside themselves thinking they wouldn't be able to pull their plan together. The two youngest girls were finishing their gifts for her, and Louisa and the boys were hurriedly completing the school work they'd been given so they could begin to decorate the nursery with colorful paper chains. Frau Schmidt had been kind enough to "need" Maria's help that morning downstairs, so their beloved governess had no idea what the seven children were up to.
Nor did their father, and the seven daughters and sons of Georg von Trapp were more than surprised when he entered the nursery.
"Father! What are you doing in here?" Louisa asked, as all the children looked immediately toward the door. Their father rarely made an appearance in their upstairs rooms, though since Fraulein Maria's arrival his visits had become more frequent.
"Well, I finished with my work, and I thought I'd come up to say hello to my favorite children before I head into town," he said, ruffling Kurt's hair. "Frau Schmidt was on her way to tell you to wash up for lunch, but I told her I'd let you know." He looked around the large, bright schoolroom; noticing the colorful artwork adorning the walls. The twelfth governess had made such a huge difference in their lives, his life, and the happy faces looking at him seemed to agree.
"Where is Fraulein Maria? Isn't she usually with you for your morning studies?" he looked around, again, his eyes scanning the room for any indication that the lovely young woman was there. He hoped his disappointment at not finding her was not obvious.
Liesl replied. "Well, it's her birthday, and we asked Frau Schmidt to keep her busy with other tasks, so that we could make her some cards and gifts, and decorate the room. But..."
"But we need to find a way to keep her busy later, while we bake her a cake," Brigitta chimed in.
"Oh, I see," he answered, as he sat in a small chair next to Gretl, who immediately clambered onto his lap. "It's her birthday, is it? I suppose you're trying to give her a surprise party?"
"Yes, Father, but it won't be a surprise if she's here when we're busy in the kitchen," Liesl added. Her face brightened. "Father, do you think you could perhaps take Fraulein Maria with you, into town, and keep her there long enough for us to make it?"
The Captain quickly glanced around the room at the faces of his children, all looking so hopeful. He looked down at Gretl last, and when she asked, "Please, Father?" with her enormous eyes he just had to smile.
"I suppose I can; though she'd be on her own while I'm at my meeting," he pondered aloud, rubbing his chin as he thought about the enchanting young woman his children had grown to love so much. Max and Elsa were to be gone all day, and that freed Georg up to be at the mercy of his offspring.
Brigitta crossed the room, and handed him a slip of paper. "Not to worry, Father, I've made a list of school supplies we need. You can send her off to get them." She smiled knowingly at him.
He took the slip of paper from his middle daughter's hand. "Brigitta could tell you…..she notices everything" ran through his head. His smirk couldn't be contained.
"Very well, I will ask her if she'd be kind enough to go into Salzburg with me after lunch," he told them. The noise of grateful children filled the room, as he nudged Gretl off his lap and stood to leave. Something near the door caught his eye, and he turned to ask the nearest child the question it raised in his mind.
"Friedrich, where did this cross come from? I don't recall seeing it here before." But somewhere in his mind, it was familiar.
"It's Fraulein Maria's, Father. She said it's too big and heavy to wear when she's running around with us, and she's afraid it will get caught on something. She hung it there to remind us to thank the Lord each day."
"I see," the Captain replied, nodding his head. "Well, get washed up and come down for lunch. I'll see you downstairs." He couldn't resist the impulse to gently touch the cross as he left the room. As he did, an idea began forming in his mind.
Right after lunch, the Captain and Maria left for Salzburg. It had been surprisingly easy to convince her to go along, and he was surprised himself how happy he was when she said yes. They chatted amiably about the children, and he was struck by the depth and sincerity of her affection for each of them. Of course, he'd known since their argument directly upon his return from Vienna that she thought they deserved better than a bitter widower ignoring them….and here they were. He'd driven all the way to the center of Salzburg without paying the least bit of attention to the road. He had been delightfully distracted by her company, and thankfully they'd arrived safely.
"Here we are, Fraulein. I have a meeting at the bank on the corner over there. When I'm finished, shall we agree to meet at the fountain? I'm afraid I may be quite a while, and that way you can take your time shopping for the things on Brigitta's list," he said, handing her the paper.
"That sounds fine, Captain. I'll have everything billed to you?" she asked politely. As she reached for the paper, their fingers brushed ever so slightly, giving each a slight thrill unnoticed by the other. Maria smiled shyly at her employer, as he tipped his hat to her and turned toward the bank.
Well over an hour later, Georg stepped back out of the stuffy financial institution and into the bright daylight. Glancing briefly toward the fountain, he didn't notice Maria waiting. Deciding that the fates were with him, he went to run another errand before she arrived.
Afterward, he found her sitting on the edge the fountain, listening to a street violinist playing a pretty little tune that he didn't recognize. Seeing her sitting alone, eyes closed, face toward the sun, he realized for not the first time how truly lovely she was. Placing his hand on the small box in his pocket, he knew what it contained was the least he could do for the woman who was restoring his family.
"Were you surprised, Fraulein Maria?" Marta asked, forgetting to wait until after she swallowed her bite of cake before speaking.
"Of course, darling! I never imagined that you children would go to such trouble for me," Maria answered. She held the cards, poems, and bookmark-that one courtesy of Brigitta-they'd made especially for her to her heart. "I will cherish these always; I think this is my happiest birthday I can remember."
"Really, Fraulein?" Kurt exclaimed.
"Oh, yes, Kurt. After I went to live with my uncle there were no celebrations. And of course, at the abbey we receive a special prayer and greetings. But not with chocolate cake," she smiled, as she took another bite. As she looked around the table, her eyes met the Captain's, and she blushed at his attention. He smiled, and she noticed a dimple appear on his cheek, and a sly look in his eyes. He certainly is handsome when he's relaxed, she thought to herself. She felt herself flush an even deeper red, as they finally broke their shared gaze.
"Fraulein, may I see you in my study, when you're finished here?"
Maria looked up from her place between Marta and Gretl, the storybook open on her lap.
"Certainly, sir. Is everything all right?"
"Fine. I just have... something I wish to address with you. Nothing to worry over, I assure you." He kissed each of his daughters goodnight, and went downstairs, the picture of the little girls tucked next to their governess swelling his heart.
Several moments later, a small knock on the party open door interrupted his reading.
"Captain, you wished to see me?"
"Yes, please, Fraulein, come in," he stood, placing his book on the chair. "Have a seat." He gestured to the divan across from the fireplace. Maria promptly sat down, hands on her lap. It was her worried expression that gave the Captain pause.
"I'm sorry, Fraulein, I don't wish to alarm you." He sat down beside her, his hand in his jacket pocket. "I have a gift for you, and I hope you don't think it too forward or intimate. It was something I thought you might enjoy having." He pulled the small white box from his jacket, and handed it to her.
"Captain, I don't know what to say. It certainly wasn't necessary….." she opened the box to find a small, simple golden cross hanging from a slender but strong chain. "Oh, my, it's very beautiful. But…." she looked up at him, gratitude and wonder on her face.
"It's…. I noticed your cross hanging in the nursery, and Friedrich said you couldn't wear it while playing with them….it's just a small token of the gratitude of myself, and the children. I…..we owe you so very much." He felt like a young boy trying to ask if he could walk her home from school.
Maria looked up at him, her bright blue eyes shining. "Thank you very much, sir. I will treasure it." She took it from the box, and tried to attach the clasp behind her, without success.
"May I?" the Captain held his hands out to take the necklace, and Maria handed it to him then turned so he could attach the clasp at the back of her neck. His fingers brushed against her skin, and she shuddered slightly, as if a cool breeze had blown through the room. He fought the urge to run his fingers through her hair, to see if it was as soft as it appeared. Instead, he pulled his hands away and stood, picking up the book he had set down mere minutes ago.
She turned to look at him, then rose and took a step toward where he was standing. "Thank you again," she said, touching the cross with her left hand. The Captain took her right hand in his, smiling. "You are quite welcome, Fraulein. As I said, it is but a small token, compared to what you've given us." He lifted her hand and placed a chaste kiss upon it, gently letting go afterward.
Maria turned and walked to the door, when she heard the Captain call to her.
Maria smiled and blushed, then disappeared into the darkness of the hall.