After having her measurements taken for new dresses by Frau Inga, who was responsible for the clothing of everyone at the villa, Maria had been given the evening to herself to settle in. As she performed her usual evening ritual of bathing, scripture reading, and prayer, she couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't some divine intervention that had led her to this position in this house. What else could it be, that that very morning she had literally bumped into the Captain and now would be waking every morning to care for his little daughter?
Marta was quite a delightful, if delicate, girl. The pile of storybooks next to the child's bed indicated that she enjoyed reading, and in Maria's experience, however limited, that usually meant an eagerness to learn. Oh, it would be quite fun working with just one student!
She knelt down beside her bed, as a flash of lightning, followed by a crack of thunder, heralded the arrival of a fierce rainstorm. The cooling breeze coming in from the window made Maria shiver. Folding her hands in prayer, she began to speak to her Lord.
"...and, the other one. What's his name? Well, God bless what'shisname." A noise at the window made her open her eyes, in time to see the eldest daughter, Liesl, sneaking across the rug, soaking wet. In a flash, Maria remembered this was the governess' room, and there was no governess. Quickly before the girl reached the door, she rushed out her prayer.
"And now, dear God, about Liesl." The girl turned and began to speak, but Maria shushed her and continued. "Help her to know that I am her friend. . .and help her tell me what she's been up to.
"Are you going to tell on me?"
"Shhh. Help me to be understanding so I may guide her footsteps. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost." Maria crossed herself and rose from her knees.
"I was out walking and somebody locked the doors early. I didn't want to wake everybody, so when I saw your window open. . . .I climbed up the trellis." Liesl looked down guiltily, and it touched Maria's heart. Clearly she needed guidance. Perhaps this, too, was why God had led her to this family. Another huge crash of thunder sounded.
After closing the window, Maria went to the wardrobe and grabbed her only spare nightgown. "Here," she said, handing it to Liesl. "Put this on, and then we can sit and have a talk."
Almost the moment that Liesl closed the door to the bathroom, the hall door flew open, and little Gretl appeared, eyes wide and body shaking with fright. A second crash sent her running straight to Maria's arms.
"Oh, Gretl, you aren't afraid of a little thunder, are you?" The stout little blond nodded her head vigorously.
"Well, come on and sit here with me." No sooner were the words out of her mouth than both Louisa and Brigitta appeared in the doorway, with little Marta in Louisa's arms.
"Look at that," Maria told Gretl. "Now we just have to wait for the boys,"
"The boys won't come, they're not scared," Gretl replied. Another crash of thunder, and before Maria could count to ten, the boys appeared, trying with all their might not to appear afraid.
"Oh, you boys aren't scared, are you?" Maria asked.
"Not at all Fraulein. Kurt and I just wanted to make sure you weren't scared," Friedrich answered.
"Oh, that's the one I forgot!" Maria exclaimed. She turned her eyes heavenward. "God bless Kurt."
While she wasn't sent to be the governess to all the children, Maria could hardly turn them away, though she was puzzled as to why their first inclination was to run to her room rather than to their father's, when she hadn't known them for more than a handful of hours. Well, if this is what they need, then I'll surely provide it, she thought.
"Well, might as well all come up here. We can sing some songs to try and ignore the storm." The postulant-turned-tutor-turned-governess began to sing a nonsense song about her favorite things, and eventually all the children joined in making suggestions, even Liesl once she reappeared, dressed in Maria's nightdress.
The singing, dancing, and laughter came to an abrupt end when the Captain entered Maria's room unannounced, nearly causing her to crash right into him for the second time that day.
"Oh, hello….." she said, as the children once more scrambled into formation.
"Fraulein, perhaps I neglected to tell you that in this house, bedtime is to be strictly observed," he instructed, his eyes never leaving his children.
"I'm sorry, sir, but the children were upset by the storm, and I-" She stopped speaking when he directed his next comment to Liesl.
"Liesl? I don't remember seeing you anywhere after dinner." It was clearly a statement and not a question. As she stumbled for a reply, Maria offered an excuse.
"Well, Liesl and I were getting better acquainted, sir, and…" a sharp look in Maria's direction stopped her word.
"Fraulein, you are here as tutor Marta, you needn't involve yourself in other matters."
Maria's blood began to boil. Clearly these children needed much more attention than they were getting. "But, Captain…"
He interrupted her. "Children." The single word was all he needed to say. The look on their faces chastened Maria, and she backed off. She didn't want to make things worse, after all.
"Off you go, children, go on back to bed. The storm is nearly over, now. Goodnight," she added, noticing Liesl's look of distress as she left her father alone with Maria.
"Sir, if I may…"
"No, Fraulein, you may not. The first order of this house is discipline, and without it everything falls apart. Is that clear?"
"Well, yes, but…"
"Fraulein, were you this much trouble at the Abbey?" He looked her straight in the eye, and though it could have been her imagination, she thought she saw him holding back a smirk.
"Oh, much more, sir," she replied, as firmly as she dared.
This time the smirk was more pronounced. "You do remember I am leaving in the morning?" She nodded. "I do hope by the time I arrive home, you will have acquired some of the discipline necessary for this position?"
"Yes, sir." Her eyes were wide, and fixed directly into his.
He sighed, keeping eye contact for a few moments longer than necessary. Those eyes that drew him in. Finally he came to his senses. "Goodnight then, Fraulein," he said as he closed the door behind him.
The next several days found Maria overwhelmed with all that she needed to learn. In addition to the seven children, the Captain, and Tante Matilda, there were numerous household staff-Inga, the butler Franz, Frau Schmidt and her bevy of housekeepers, cooks, gardeners, and stable managers. More than twenty in all! In addition to the staff, there were numerous rules to follow, nearly all of them somehow managing, in Maria's mind, to stifle the children.
A few days after the Captain's departure, Maria decided Marta could use some fresh air. It was a lovely, crisp early autumn day, and before they'd gotten to the stone path leading to the expanse of lawn beyond the terrace, the other six children were behind them, Gretl quickly coming up beside Maria to take her hand.
When Maria turned with the little girls onto the grass, the others stopped, looking uncertain. Realizing they hadn't followed, she turned.
"Would you all like to come play with us, children?"
The five older ones looked amongst each other, before Friedrich spoke in reply.
"We don't play, Fraulein. Only march about the grounds. Father doesn't like us to get our uniforms dirty," he added quickly in explanation.
Maria was surprised. "Well, we'll just have to go and change into some clothes you can play in, then." It seemed simple enough to her.
This time is was Brigitta that answered. "We don't have play clothes."
The young postulant thought for a moment. "Let's just walk, then. No marching, though!" She laughed, then began skipping across the grass, holding the little girls each by a hand.
One evening when dinner was finished, Tante Matilda invited Maria to her suite, in order that they should get to know one another better. Once the children were tucked into bed -a task Maria had taken on, relieving Liesl of the job -she knocked softly on Matilda's door.
The older woman warmly welcomed the younger, handed her a small glass of wine and offered a toast. "May you be the last to hold this job." After a moment, Maria realized that it was a compliment, and Matilda was hoping she would stay.
Matilda's suite was warm and cozy, in sharp contrast to the rest of the house, at least what Maria had seen. The sitting room was filled to the brim with upholstered chairs, cushions, and draperies, richly colored in a mix of floral patterns. It was all very elegant yet comfortable, much like the woman who stayed there.
They talked long into the night; rather, Matilda spoke and Maria listened with rapt attention about her employer and his family. The Captain had been a navy man all of his life, as his own father had been in the navy and killed in battle when the Captain, whom Matilda called by his given name of Georg, was just four years old. As a lad of Friedrich's age, he went into the naval school, where upon graduating he began a series of deployments at sea. His losses continued, though, as his brother was killed in a skirmish, and his mother died soon after of a broken heart. Georg was left with a single relative, his sister, who was an artist in Vienna.
"But he calls you Tante, as do the children, are you not related?" Maria asked.
"No, Fraulein. I'm a distant cousin to his late wife, so there is a connection to the children. I come down here several times a year, to make sure the household is being kept properly. Poor Frau Schmidt has her hands full, as in between the nursemaids, governesses and tutors she is the one on whom care of the children generally falls."
"Oh, I see," Maria answered quietly, as Matilda continued. While the Captain had been decorated for bravery with the highest honor an Austrian could receive, he'd lost his position when there was no longer a coastline for a navy to defend. This had depressed him deeply, but Agathe -for Maria had learned that was his wife's name -and their children kept him going.
"But sadly, soon after Gretl's birth, the older children brought home scarlet fever. Agathe nursed them all back to health, but poor little Marta was taken seriously ill, and even went into hospital during that time. While Marta was recovering Agathe herself was taken ill, and after several months all hope was lost and she died just before Gretl's first birthday."
Maria's head could barely process the awful tragedy that had befallen the family, let alone her heart. It was simply breaking, the poor man had lost his job, his country -and then his wife! No wonder he was so confusing to her, he was likely dreadfully confused himself.
Matilda continued on, explaining that he hadn't known what else to do, so treated the household, and his children, as though he were still in the military; adherence to schedule, and precision, order, discipline being the primary goals. If things seemed controlled, they were in control.
"That certainly explains quite a bit, thank you," Maria said softly. "But children should be children, they should play, and be silly, and get dirty."
Matilda frowned. "No, there is to be none of that. No playing, no laughing, no music. Nothing that reminds him of her."
"Even the children," Maria thought, and the thought was out of her mouth before she knew it.
"Yes, even the children. Oh, he loves them, of course, and when he returns from his trips he brings wonderful presents. But soon it all becomes too much for him and he goes off again on a business venture or to visit the Baroness." The older woman paused thoughtfully. "I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but I believe he is quite seriously thinking of marrying the woman."
Maria's face lit up. "That would be wonderful! The children would have a mother again."
"Yes," Matilda replied, her lack of enthusiasm notable. "Well, dear, that's enough for one evening. I do so enjoy your company, Maria. We shall do this again?" She rose and walked toward the door, giving Maria her cue to rise and follow.
"Yes, ma'am, I'd enjoy that very much."
"Oh, I do believe these are the prettiest dresses I've ever had!" Maria exclaimed, trying on the last of the frocks Frau Inga had made for her. "Thank you very much."
"No thanks are necessary, miss. This is what I do-provide uniforms for the staff and clothing for the children, oversee the laundress, care for the household linens. It really was no trouble at all." The short, stout woman with dark hair and sparkling brown eyes leaned in conspiratorially. "Beside, it was a nice change to make something other than sailor uniforms." Frau Inga winked at the young tutor, who had quickly taken over caring for all of the children, not just Marta.
"Speaking of uniforms, do you think you could make some play clothes for the children? They cannot run and play and do all of the things children should do when they are afraid of getting their clothes dirty."
"I'm sorry, Fraulein, I would need a direct request from the Captain for that. Besides their uniforms, they have their dress clothing, but to make play clothes. I just don't think so."
The Captain's voice flashed through Maria's memory. I am placing you in command. She smiled.
"Before he left the Captain placed me in command. Would that be enough to change your mind?" Out of the corner of her eye, Maria spied the perfect fabric, which she pulled from the shelf. There was more than enough of the old drapes to make clothes for each of the seven von Trapp children. "This will do just fine!"
Frau Inga agreed to her request, and a very pleased Maria danced out of the sewing room.