Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
This is it. I knew it. Liesl knew it too. We are like a stranded ship, the northern light I read about in my books lost to the veil of clouds, aimless and helpless to the sea.
Father's getting married. To the Baroness, no less. I knew that the Baroness didn't just come here to meet all of us. She came for a purpose. Those looks between them were there, and somewhere, maybe I thought it might've been that. But what my father's eyes spoke when he saw the Baroness were nothing compared to what they sang when they saw Maria's blue windows to the soul. It's like his eyes were always pointed her way, like a compass does north. I always thought there was something there, but whether it was what Liesl explained love to be or not, I couldn't know. Liesl said that Father was desperately in love with our mother, but I hardly remember what they were like together. I remember her smiles and bedtime stories, but as time goes on, her face blurs in my mind. And the memories of her telling us stories and going on picnics are slowly being replaced by picnics and stories from Maria.
And now, she's gone, too. She left during the party while we slept. I heard something at the top of the stairs when I was getting myself ready for bed, something about Max asking her to dinner. Then, she went past my door, with her fast light feet gliding down the hallways, followed by a pair of heels that went to her room, or at least somewhere near it. I thought it could be the Baroness, but there's no way she'd go to Maria, since it seems perfectly clear that she has no interest to talk to Maria at all unless something happens with us kids, like when she did the puppet show with us. She didn't seem to like Maria at all anyways.
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens.
And now we're here, outside, a week after she left, trying to not feel hopeless. We went to the abbey this afternoon. It seemed really strict and very un-Maria-like. I wonder how she would've handled this place before she came to the villa. She doesn't seem like the type to quietly walk and pray and be locked up away from the world forever. We begged Sister Margaretta to come let us talk to her. Apparently, she was in seclusion.
I really wanted to know what kind of life Maria was going to go back to, even if it hurt me sometimes to think of her ever going away. But I haven't seen that word anywhere in the books I've read about abbeys and the Church. Seclusion means being alone, away from everyone. Maria would never want to be alone. She always lit up around us kids, and around my father, it's almost like someone turned on the electric-lights inside her when she looked at him, or when they talked. But for some reason, she's been doing several things that don't line up with how she'd normally act. Why? Will I ever see her again? Will any of us ever see her again?
Brown paper packages tied up with strings,
And now we're singing, because in the absence of the stabilizing force that was Maria amidst this sea of change, all we have now is her name and her songs. Her high soprano is with us now, in our ears and in our throats, clogging up every last sound we can emit. I don't even need to look at Marta and Gretl to know they're just about ready to cry, but they're pushing themselves to believe that, just for this moment, the song in the thunderstorm could help us weather the storm in our hearts, because right now is stormy. Our father is going to marry a woman that I don't think he even loves, not the way I see him love Maria, while the lady we all care for and who loves us to bits is sitting alone in the abbey.
These are a few of my favourite things.
"Why don't I feel better?" asks Gretl, confused why the magic song doesn't do its magic. I silently wish the music spell weaver was here, just like in the fantasy books I've read. Liesl holds out her hands and Gretl slowly goes in for a hug as we continue the song, our hearts swimming in fought-back tears. I put my hand up to my jaw, remembering all the times we sang this in the mountains, all the adventures we had. What I wouldn't do to get a hug from her now.
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
I suddenly look up because the soprano voice that rang through my memories was suddenly ringing in my ears, and start to look around. If this was some kind of prank by one of my siblings, I will be the first to climb up their window with a toad. Kurt is looking around too, hopeful, his eyes glinting. So I'm not imagining it, and at least I might have a helping hand if it turns out to be some very bad prank.
And there she is.
Maria, who was supposedly in seclusion, is standing there, in a blue-green dress, guitar and carpetbag in hand, smiling at us with all the love of life we had up until last week. It only takes me a minute to start running, just behind Louisa, singing all the while as the magic of the song returns with the return of the magician. We all huddle her as we walk in the garden, and finish the song.
"Oh, children I'm so glad to see you!" she exclaims, so happy that it makes me even more confused about why she left in the first place. She asks Marta and Kurt about how they are and then turns to my youngest sister, who is demonstrating her bandaged finger.
"Gretl, what happened to your finger?" she asks. I smile, as I remember the whole story.
"It got caught!" the little girl said.
"Caught in what?" Maria asks, a little more concerned.
"Friedrich's teeth!" replies the injured five-year-old. We laugh, as Maria smiles, suddenly her worries dissipating. Our hearts collectively breathe a sigh of relief. She's back! She asks Liesl about telegrams and so forth, and then adds a peculiar line:
"Oh, Liesl, you can't use school to escape your problems. You've got to face them!"
Escaping problems... That seems like an awfully specific way to put it. Wise, but still specific. She went away to the abbey without even saying goodbye. Was she running away from something...? And then it hits me.
She doesn't know about Father.
Her return can only be temporary. I don't think the Baroness likes her enough to keep her with us. And Maria wants to become a nun, much as all of us want her to stay. Maybe that's why she ran away, 'cause she knew she'd need to leave one day? I need to tell her.
"The most important thing is that Father is going to be married." I break it to her. Her smile suddenly vanishes and her rosy cheeks turn pale. She didn't expect that. To be fair, none of us did. Maybe she knew that Father... No way. Why would she run away then? I then firmly decide: adults are way too complicated. I might give myself a headache trying to figure out why my second-bordering-on-first most favourite adult decided to go away without saying goodbye.
"Married?" she asks, her voice suddenly soft and tentative. The brightness of spring disappears from her face, as if her storm of feeling left as quickly as it came.
"Yes, to Baroness Schraeder." confirms Louisa, nodding, sadly. Her earlier smile turns into a confused and pained frown, and sadness and pain replaces the brightness that was there only moments ago. Why was she sad? She always said that she wanted us to have a mother. Wouldn't she be happy for us? Or maybe, she didn't have a good feeling about the Baroness being our mom, just like me. She quietly murmured "Oh, I see".
The thoughts and imaginings of what it would be like to have the Baroness as our mom flooded me. She would never go on picnics with us. She couldn't even handle a ballgame earlier today. I mean, maybe if she decided to not wear heels all the time, she might have a better time trying to catch the ball. Maybe, it'll just be father that decides to come with us to the mountain. A worry hits me, as I think of it: what if Father goes back to what he was before? What if, he decides that he needs to spend all his time with the Baroness, just like he used to do that in his study?
My thoughts were interrupted by Kurt's and the other's exclamations:
"Father! Fraulein Maria is back!"
"Fraulein Maria's come back from the abbey!"
I joined in the cries to my father. He is standing, unmoving at the top of the terrace, looking down at us. Or rather, staring right at Maria. I look over to Maria, and my worries redouble as I see the expression on her face. Maria's clouded face doesn't brighten, it stays a melancholy low, as she uncertainly says:
"Good evening, captain."
"Good evening," says my dad, his face unabashedly smiling. He's happy she's back, we're happy she's back, so why isn't she happy she's back anymore? Did Father do something wrong? She was so happy up until I told her Father is marrying the Baroness. Another minute passes in silence, as the Fraulein's eyes glint with sparkles of a kaleidoscope of feeling. I saw pain there, that I haven't seen before. Maria always would be happy to see him, even when she'd be ribbing him over something he said, or when she completely disagreed with him. Her eyes never looked so... conflicted before.
"Alright! Everyone inside, go and get your dinner!" calls out my Father, and I smile happily. I really thought we might go very hungry tonight, but looks like Father might've expected us to lie about the abbey. Maybe he wanted good news of Maria, too, even if he couldn't break his father role to ask us straight out. The seven of us charge into the house, but something stops me as I pass the doorway and Liesl runs past me to get dinner.
"You left without saying goodbye, even to the children." my father says to Maria, with a hint of confusion. I stand by the doorway and look on, hiding myself from view, to the side of the door. Maybe I might figure out what's bothering Maria so much. She's always there for us, maybe I might be able to cheer her up.
"It was wrong of me, forgive me." Maria said, with some sadness and regret lacing her voice. I peek into the doorway, and see my father standing at the top of the steps, looking down at Maria. I can't see his face, but I see my governess's eyes not breaking with my father's.
"Why did you?" my father asks, after a momentary pause. I see Maria's eyes sparkle. But it's not a sparkle I'm familiar with. Her eyes sparkle with something... Are they tears? Something in my heart drops for just a moment. Oh, if Father did something... I think I might do a lot of things, for Maria, to get him to apologize, if he's the reason she's sad. Something in my heart stirs and I know, that if it means she'll stay, I think I might just do anything.
"Please don't ask me. Anyway, the reason no longer exists." she replies quickly. Now, I'm really worried. Maria never hides how she feels, and she's never stopped herself from telling my father the truth, even when it displeases him. Something really bad must've happened, probably at some point at the party. What is making her act that way?
And then, she walks in. Beautiful, as graceful as any model on Liesl's magazines, Baroness Schraeder floats her way across the terrace. I don't even need to see her face to know her face has one of those picture perfect smiles plastered on it, as her head turns to face Maria.
"Fraulein Maria! You've returned! Oh, isn't it wonderful, Georg?" she says, holding onto Father's arm as she watches down on Maria. Maria's face somehow brightens into a smile, although that happiness never quite reaches her eyes.
"I wish you every happiness, and you too, captain. The children tell me you are to be married." she states, walking a few paces closer to the stairs, close enough that I can't see her face anymore, just the top of her blonde hair.
"Thank you my dear." the Baroness answers, but her voice was quieter, deeper, and somehow, less friendly than she was just a moment ago. I don't quite get why her mood changed so quickly or what happened for Maria to just suddenly want to put on a smile, but I don't like it. Maria doesn't hide when she's angry or upset. Then again, there's quite a few things she's done lately that have me confused and worried. And something tells me her smile has everything to do with the party and the Baroness. I hide behind the wall, so I'm not seen, and hear Maria walk up the stairs, quickly trying to leave.
"You are back to, uh... stay?" asks my father, suddenly unsure, breaking the momentary silence. The question we've all been asking! Father wants her to stay, just like we do. Then, why is he so hesitant to ask? He must've done something wrong, something that would make Fraulein want to leave as soon as she can. Then I hear a dress ruffle, probably Maria turning around, and quietly saying: "Only until arrangements can be made for another governess."
My stomach drops. So she is going away. And this time, for good.
No more picnics in the mountains, or guitar playing with Maria. I bite down on my tongue and hold a hand over my mouth, trying to make sure I'm not caught. Liesl might take over guitar playing - she's gotten good at it - but she's almost a grown-up. I heard some of the adults at the party saying she might be "out in society" soon, whatever that's supposed to mean. It sounds like some kind of thing that adults do that kids aren't allowed. What if we won't be able to have fun like we used to anymore?
My thoughts are interrupted as Maria walks past me. As soon as she gets past the doorway, she nearly runs back up the stairs and to her room. I swear I saw a glint of tears. She didn't notice me, but I can still feel my heart hammering in my chest. I hope I figure out what's going on. But something tells me that conversation had a lot of clues that I need to look into about what to do to make Maria happy again, and maybe, just maybe, make her stay. I quickly duck into another room just as my father and his now-fiance walk inside. I've got to tell them about this!