Author's Notes: This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of backstory snippets about the VonTrapps. The most important thing to note is that I base my stories off of the original Broadway script more than the movie. So if you read anything that makes you think "but it wasn't like that in the movie!" that's probably because it was in the original script instead. Mostly I use that version because I prefer the handling of the Liesl/Rolf relationship - but that isn't relevant to this story. What is relevant is the fact that, because I am not going by the movie, I do not always follow the movie version of the children. Instead I sort of combine all the different versions of VonTrapps I know (movie/orginal Broadway/revival etc.). So, while Friedrich tends to be more like Nicholas Hammond, Brigitta is closer to Tracy Alison Walsh, who played her in the 1998 revival. And Marta is blond. But Christopher Plummer will always be the Captain to me. Anyhow, I hope that little deviations from the movie won't detract from your enjoyment of the story. :)
Disclaimer: characters, original story, script and content are copyright to Rogers and Hammerstein, Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse and 20th Century Fox, not me.
She was the Oldest
Liesl had been twelve years old for one whole week but she wasn't sure that anyone knew it. Father had forgotten entirely, walking by Liesl on the morning of her birthday without even acknowledging her presence. She though that maybe Mother had remembered but Liesl's birthday had been a bad day for her mother that year, with doctors running in and out of the house and the household staff whispering things like "won't be long now," and "lucky if she makes it through the night."
Her brothers and sisters had remembered eventually, but not until it was already a day late so that they spent half the day apologizing and the other half shooting Liesl guilty, embarrassed looks. Only Brigitta, who knew all the important family dates by heart, had known it was Liesl's birthday on the actually day of. She had come into Liesl's room wished her a timid "happy birthday" and handed her oldest sister a worn copy of The Wizard of Oz tied with an old hair ribbon.
"Father didn't have time to take us out to get you presents." Brigitta had explained, looking embarrassed on behalf of the Captain, "So I picked one of my own books. It's one of my favourites." She hesitated, "Do you like it?"
Liesl, who was looking at the book's scuffed leather cover and faded, gold-stamped title and trying very hard not to cry said, "It's the best gift I've ever had." And she'd meant it.
So, Liesl had turned twelve with only her six-year-old sister for company. She didn't really mind though; there were other, more important things to worry about. And twelve wasn't such a special age anyhow.
Now, a week to the day later, Liesl herself had bigger things on her mind than whether or not her father would ever notice that she was a year older. There was a strange energy in the house that day, as though everyone on the property was holding their breath. The other children had noticed it too. They were all huddled in the nursery, an unnaturally quiet and subdued group, hardly speaking, just sitting together and taking comfort in each other's presence.
"Liesl, what's going on?" Louisa asked quietly. The children had taken to assuming that, because she was oldest, Liesl knew exactly what was happening in the household at all times.
"I'm not sure." Liesl admitted. She sat apart from her siblings, afraid that any indication that Liesl too was in need of comfort would worry them more than they already were. Liesl had to be strong for her brothers and sisters. She was the oldest after all.
Friedrich, who had one-year-old Gretl on his lap, hesitated almost visibly before saying, "Do you think Mother's gotten worse?"
This was exactly what Liesl thought but, seeing the wide-eyed, desperate expression on everyone's faces she said, "No. She probably just has a headache and that's why everyone's so quiet."
"My stomach hurts." Kurt said.
"Well, have you eaten anything since breakfast?" Liesl asked, getting to her feet, "I could go ask Frau Schmidt to make you something."
Kurt shook his head, "I don't think it's that kind of hurt."
Looking at his small, pointed face, uncharacteristically downcast and solemn, Liesl almost sobbed out loud. She bit down hard on the second knuckle of her index finger to ward off tears and sat back down. "No, I don't suppose it is."
They sat like that without moving for the next two hours. Liesl got up once or twice to change Gretl's diaper and to feed her. Otherwise, the nursery was silent. Eventually, Liesl became aware that it was getting late. Marta was already sound asleep, curled in a ball beside Louisa, and both Brigitta and Kurt were starting to nod off, their heads drooping onto each other's shoulders.
"Alright everyone, time for bed." Liesl said, standing up, "Louisa, are you going to sleep in our room tonight?"
Louisa and Liesl shared a bedroom down the hall, while Gretl, Marta and Brigitta had the room closest to where their parents slept. Currently their parents' room was where the ailing Agathe VonTrapp spent all of her time. Louisa had taken to sleeping with Brigitta so that she could be closer to her mother.
"I think…" Louisa hesitated, wondering whether Liesl was asking because she wanted company or because she didn't, "I think I'll stay with Brigitta."
Liesl nodded and stooped to pick up Marta, who stirred slightly and whimpered in her sleep but did not wake up. Liesl lead the girls to their room, tucking Marta into her little cot, then retrieving Gretl from Louisa's arms and placing the baby gently in her crib. By the time she'd finished, Louisa and Brigitta were already in bed, asleep, curled together like a pair of spoons.
Liesl smiled at them, pulled the quilt up around their chins and turned off the light. "Goodnight." She whispered into the shadows.
After checking on the boys, Liesl went back to her own room. She did not go to sleep, didn't even get into her nightgown. Instead, Liesl pulled The Wizard of Oz from its spot on her end table and sat on her bed, clutching her only birthday present to her chest and trying not to think about anything.
She didn't know what time it was when her father came into the room. Liesl had somehow managed to doze off, still hugging her book like a favourite stuffed toy. The sound of the door opening brought her fully awake.
"Father?" Liesl sat bolt upright, looking at the Captain without a trace of bleariness. He was pale and drawn and exhausted looking and so full of sorrow and helplessness that it frightened her, "What's the matter?"
"Your mother wants to see you." Her father said.
A feeling of utmost dread settled in the pit of Liesl's stomach as she wordlessly followed her father to the room at the end of the hall. The Captain opened the door to the room. When Liesl hesitated, he gave her a gentle nudge and said, "Go on."
Liesl had not seen her mother for weeks and she was not prepared for the sight that greeted her when she entered the room. "Hello Darling."
"Mother?" Liesl said, afraid to move closer to the bed. Agathe VonTrapp, formerly the most beautiful woman in Nonnberg (and probably the world, so Liesl thought) lay amongst the blankets and pillows looking like a fragile, delicate doll, a shell of her former self. Her normally rosy cheeks were sunken and grey, the skin stretched taught across the bones of her skull. Coppery hair, completely reduced from its former luster, hung lank around that skeletal face. The dim light from the bedside table threw everything into a ghastly, yellow-tinted relief. Only the eyes, hazel-green, full of love and kindness, told Liesl that this was her beloved mother and even those normally clear depths were fogged with suffering.
"Liesl, sweetheart, I've missed you so much." Agathe said. Her voice was the same too, sweet and girlish, though a little weaker than usual.
Immediately forgetting her trepidation, forgetting that she was supposed to be strong, Liesl burst into tears and ran to her mother's side, burying her face into the side of Agathe's neck, "I've missed you too Mother, so much. It's so awful without you."
"Shhh, I know Darling. I am sorry." Agathe stroked her daughter's hair, letting her cry for a minute or two, "There now." She said, once Liesl's sobs began to subside, "Stand back and let me look at you."
Sniffling, Liesl obliged, smoothing wrinkles out of her clothes, "I fell asleep with my dress on."
Agathe smiled, "That's alright. My you've grown. You're practically a young woman now. Did you have a good birthday?"
So she had remembered, Liesl thought. Of course she had. Not wanting to upset her mother, Liesl lied, "Yes, it was very nice."
"I'm glad." Agathe said. She studied Liesl carefully, as though trying to memorize every line of her daughter's form. "Look at you. So grown up, so beautiful."
Liesl, who was in fact, at a rather awkward stage and mostly felt gangly and unattractive, laughed, "No I'm not."
"Yes you are. You're the most beautiful twelve-year-old girl in Nonnberg; I'd stake the house on it." Agathe said, beaming. Growing serious she said, "Come sit here beside me."
Liesl did as she was asked, smiling happily, not noticing the change in her mother's demeanor. There was a protracted moment of silence then Agathe said, "Liesl, I need you to promise me something."
"Promise me that you'll look after your brothers and sisters."
Liesl nodded, "I will. I have been already, but I think they'll be happier once you can be there again."
Agathe did not respond to this but instead said, "And promise that, no matter what, the seven of you will stay strong together and look out for each other."
"But…" Liesl's smile dropped away.
"Promise me." Agathe repeated.
"I promise!" Liesl shook her head, confused and scared of the look on her mother's face, "I really do, but why?"
Agathe took her daughter's hand, "Liesl, I am very sick."
"I know that." Liesl said, leaping to her feet, her eyes starting to well up again, "But you're going to get better!"
"No Liesl, I don't think so."
"But you HAVE to!" Liesl wailed, beginning to cry anew, tears streaming down her face to soak into the collar of her dress, "You have to get better, you can't leave us!"
Agathe looked as though she wanted to cry as well but did not, "Oh my Darling, I wish I had a choice." Liesl threw herself onto her knees at the side of the bed, clinging to her mother's hand and sobbing as though her heart was breaking, "I'm so sorry."
"I don't want you to go." Liesl choked out, practically strangling on her tears.
"I know you don't." Agathe's voice broke over the words, "But you have to be brave now. Show everyone what a strong young lady you are."
"It's so hard!"
"I know." Agathe tilted Liesl's tear-streaked face up to look at her, "But I believe in you."
Liesl wiped her face with the back of one hand, "The others will want to see you. I should go…"
"No Liesl, I saw them yesterday." Agathe said. "It was bright and sunny and I didn't look so frightful. I want them to remember me like that, because most of them will forget how I was before."
"I'll never forget." Liesl said, her voice wavering, 'Not ever."
"I know." Agathe said again. She reached out and pushed Liesl's hair back from her face, "It's time for you to go."
Liesl's eyes widened, "I don't want to; I'm not ready yet."
Agathe pulled Liesl into her arms, "You'll never be ready Darling, that's how these things are. It's just time."
"I don't want to say goodbye."
"Then don't, just say goodnight."
Liesl nodded slowly and stood up, still hanging on to her mother's hand. "Goodnight Mother. Sleep..." She swallowed hard but did not start to cry again. "Sleep well. I love you."
Agathe smiled and squeezed Liesl's hand. "And I love you. More than anything else on Earth. Goodnight Love." She kissed Liesl's palm once, then let her go.
Before she could lose courage, Liesl started out of the room. She had her hand on the door when her mother called her again. Liesl turned around.
"Liesl." Agathe said. She looked so small lying there all alone. "Look after your father too."
"I will. I promise." Liesl smiled at her mother one last time, then turned and left the room.
The Captain was standing in the hallway waiting for her, but Liesl didn't notice him at first. She shut the door and drew a long, shuddering breath.
"Liesl?" She spun around, startled. Her father looked at her, clearly concerned and Liesl realized that he must have heard everything. "Are you alright?"
Liesl wanted to say no, to let him take her in his arms and rock her like he had when she'd been small. Instead, she squared her shoulders and told herself to be strong, "Yes Father, I'm fine."
The Captain touched her face gently with the back of one hand, "Off to bed then."
Liesl went back to her room and dressed for bed. She brushed her teeth, washed her face and combed out her hair, just like she always did, trying not to think that her mother lay dying just down the hall.
It couldn't have been long before she was awaked. Certainly it felt to Liesl as though she'd only just fallen asleep. Liesl sat up in bed, disoriented at first, wondering what had woken her. Then she heard the commotion outside her bedroom door.
Liesl knew that something had happened. Even as she padded to the door and tentatively peeked into the hallway, a dreadful realization was settling over the twelve-year-old girl. Liesl stepped out of the safety of her bedroom and looked towards the room at the end of the hall.
The door to her parents' bedroom was open and people – nurses and the doctor, Liesl supposed – were bustling in and out of the room. Frau Schmidt came up the stairs and went into the room, returning a moment later to dash back down to the lower level of the house. No one spoke. That was what struck Liesl most: the fact that there were so many people running around but no one word spoken. The silence was deafening.
Not knowing what to do, Liesl hovered a few steps from her bedroom door and waited. After a minute or two, her father emerged from the end room. He looked like a man who didn't quite know where he was. Finally, the Captain spotted Liesl standing at the opposite end of the long hall, looking small and anxious in her white and blue nightgown.
Captain VonTrapp did not go to his daughter. Their eyes met across the space between then, her gaze asking the question no one would speak out loud. Liesl saw her father give a tiny, almost imperceptible shake of his head and she knew it was over.
Liesl backed slowly into her room and shut the door with a muted click. By the time she made it back to her bed, Liesl was sobbing, horrible, body-racking sobs that shook her small frame from head to toe and made her feelas thoughher soul was trying to escape her chest.
There was a timid little knock on the door. Liesl removed her face from where she'd buried it in her pillow and wiped her eyes hard with the back of both hands. She knew who was knocking, and Liesl was determined that they would not see her cry. Taking a deep breath, checking herself in the mirror for any evidence of tears, Liesl went to the door and opened it.
Louisa, Brigitta and Marta stood there, Marta clinging to Louisa's hand and looking more sleepy than distressed. The older two, however, wore twin looks of desperation, their eyes pleading with Liesl to tell them that nothing was wrong. Liesl didn't know how she was supposed to tell them that their mother was gone, though she suspected that part of them already knew. While Liesl stood contemplating what to do next, the door to her brothers' room opened and Kurt and Friedrich poked anxious faces into the hallway.
Liesl drew in a breath, nodded to herself and said, "Everyone go sit on my bed. I have to tell you something."
Some time later, Captain VonTrapp went to check on his children. He found only Gretl, who had slept through the whole ordeal, in her proper place. Knowing exactly where to find the other six, the Captain went to the room shared by his eldest girls.
The sight that greeted him somehow managed to surprise a smile onto his face even though the Captain had been sure that hewould never smile again. All six children were gathered on Liesl's bed and all of them were sound asleep. Kurt and Friedrich were sprawled at the foot of the bed, Kurt's legs draped over Friedrich's stomach, his head resting in the small of Louisa's back. Louisa was curled on her side, her knees drawn up to her chest. Brigitta was similarly positioned, her body bent so that Louisa's head rested against her hip bone.
And at the head of them all was Liesl, already so much older than twelve. Marta was nestled into Liesl's lap, one hand clamped around the neckline of her older sister's nightgown. Liesl had her back to the headboard and one cheek resting against the top of Marta's blond head.
The Captain went to the bed and tucked the quilt around his sleeping children as best he could, careful not to disturb them. Then, moving slowly so as to avoid waking anyone, he leaned over and kissed Liesl on the forehead.
"Goodnight Father," Liesl murmured, shifting slightly, but not quite waking up.
"Goodnight Liesl." The Captain said, "My fine, brave girl." But she was back into deep slumber and did not hear.