It took a remarkably short amount of time to finish their shopping. Unlike his older daughters, the Captain did not have much patience with either browsing or with other shoppers, Maria learnt as they reached the end of a packed Getreidegasse. Indeed, her employer seemed to have adopted a very militaristic mentality for the afternoon, apparently viewing the many other patrons of Salzburg as targets to be either eliminated or avoided. Despite the chaos surrounding him - or perhaps because of it - he seemed determined to 'accomplish their objective', as he had put it, as quickly as possible. She nearly lost him on more than one occasion as he wove his way in and out of crowds of shoppers, though fortunately he was a good head taller than many of them.
Maria was pleasantly surprised to find that the shop he led them to was just as small and quaint as the ballet shop. It was a rather claustrophobic little place with all four walls packed with books and stacks of them piled up on the floor, but quite charming in its own unique way. The shopkeeper was similarly eccentric - dressed in an eclectic selection of oddly patterned clothes, rather portly around the middle, and with a monocle pressed firmly against one eye, he complemented the appearance of his shop rather well, Maria decided.
They did not spend terribly long inside. The Captain already had a good idea of what he wanted, and the shopkeeper had a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of his domain, somehow being able to pick the requested titles out of the clutter within minutes. They left with a lovely stack of books in their possession, an illustrated copy of Rudyard Kipling's 'The Jungle Book' being Maria's favourite.
"I'm sure Brigitta will love those, Captain," she said happily as they stepped back into the blinding brilliance of the outside world, a contrast from the rather dark and musty atmosphere inside the shop.
"O-ho! I'd imagine she will have them read within a week," he replied smiling, "She's rather like I was at that age."
He began to lead the way back to the car.
"You used to read a lot, Captain?"
"I still do, Fraulein," he corrected her as they passed in front of Maria's favourite fountain, "When I have the time…. In fact speaking of that…" he slowed to a stop, rummaging around in the book bag, "…. Here…" he drew one out and held it towards her, "Perhaps it will not engage you quite as much our dear Jane Eyre, but I thought you might like it anyway…"
She took the book in surprise, turning it over to read the title - Moby Dick - and a beautifully illustrated copy of it at that.
"It's one of my favourites, Fraulein," he went on as she looked up, "The wandering sailor Ishmael…" he trailed off into a shrug.
"I…" she was suddenly lost for words, "That's very generous of you Captain I… thank you."
He waved his hand carelessly, turning around as though embarrassed as she struggled to put into words how very touched she was by the gesture. She smiled down at the book again, running her hand over the cover.
"I'll treasure it," she replied honestly, looking up again. Their eyes met for a moment.
"Oh, it's nothing Fraulein…" he went on a second later, breaking her gaze a little awkwardly, "…. Ah, look!"
He stooped down and picked up a coin from the ground, apparently thankful for the distraction.
She regarded him in surprise as he rubbed it against his trouser leg, polishing it slightly before holding it out towards the fountain.
"Make a wish, Fraulein…!"
She hardly had time to organise her thoughts into anything resembling a coherent wish before he had flicked the coin upwards. In fact, as she watched it arc its way smoothly through the air, all she could think about was the man who had thrown it and the lovely afternoon they had shared together. The coin splashed into the water before she had a chance to consider anything else that she might want.
"Home then, Fraulein?"
She smiled across at him as he gestured towards the other side of the square to where the car was parked.
He returned the smile, and clutching her new book protectively against her chest, she began to lead the way. Home. It was the first time she had ever really applied the word to the Von Trapp villa, she realised, and she could not help but think that it had a rather nice sound to it.
They arrived back at the villa to see that fate had once again intervened. Scarcely had Georg pulled the car to a halt outside the front door before Frau Schmidt and Franz appeared, both dressed for travelling, and the housekeeper brandishing a key.
"Oh, Captain," she greeted them looking suddenly concerned, "We thought that you were out for afternoon!"
"Yes, well we managed to do our shopping very efficiently," he explained, lifting the bag of books and the box containing the ballet shoes from the back of the car.
'And very enjoyably,' he added to himself, smiling as he thought back over the afternoon.
"I was just about to lock up," the housekeeper went on, "… it's my niece's christening this afternoon and Franz offered to drive me," she answered his frown, "You remember I told you last week, Captain…?"
"Ah, of course," he pretended to recall such a request though he was not at all sure that he had ever really listened to what she was asking.
"… and I have just given the other Frauleins permission to accompany cook into town," she continued, "So I'm afraid that you are quite without any staff, Captain!"
She looked worried.
"Oh never mind that," he waved his hand, secretly bemused that once again he would have only Maria for company, "I'm sure we will manage just fine for a couple of hours…"
Frau Schmidt smiled at him, thinking, he was sure, how different his reaction would have been a few months ago when he likely would have flown into a rage at the poor organisation of his household.
Times had changed however and instead he merely patted his housekeeper warmly on the arm and bequeathed her to send his best wishes to her sister.
It was not without a slight pang of regret that he watched them leave however. It had been difficult enough to manage his thoughts during the drive home with Maria - though she had chattered away to him incessantly - and about things which he might well have found very interesting - he had found himself becoming thoroughly distracted with all manner of disgraceful thoughts. He was wonderfully glad, he had considered ironically, that the Fraulein did indeed possess no telepathic powers, for suffice it to say there were many times in the course of the journey when he had desired nothing more than to pull the car over to the side of the road, take her in his arms and kiss her until she knew precisely what a sea Captain looked like out of uniform and he exactly what a nun might hide underneath her habit.
It was absolutely appalling. Shameful. Totally and completely disgraceful, and if he were any decent sort of man then he would immediately have begged his leave from her upon entering the house and taken his dangerous thoughts away with him. Indeed, that was exactly what he had intended to do, even more so when he discovered that there was in fact no one else in the villa at all - that they had every bit of the house, every room, every corridor… and every opportunity, all to themselves - but somehow he instead found himself turning around to face her as she crossed the foyer, and asking:
"Would you like a drink, Fraulein?"
She agreed and they walked to the kitchen together in a rather tense silence, she apparently having mistaken his disposition for disinterest in her chosen topics of conversation.
They entered the kitchen to find it unsurprisingly deserted.
"What would you like, Fraulein?" he asked her, motioning for her to sit on one of the counter-top stools, "Iced tea, coffee…" he busied himself opening the doors of random cupboards, not really looking at their contents but not completely trusting himself to look at her instead, "… lemonade… tea… some abominable herbal concoction of Frau Schmidt's…" he turned around as she laughed, brandishing a potent-smelling sachet of mixed leaves and smiling mischievously back at her, "… whisky, vodka… gin…?" he winked.
"Just a tea would be nice, Captain," she looked rather red-faced again, "But I can-"
She began to swing her legs off the stool but he waved his hand at her indignantly.
"No, no… with all of my household staff inexcusably absent," she smiled, recognising the humour in his tone, "I think the responsibility falls to me to act as host."
She shrugged, for once finding no retort and he turned his attention away again.
She laughed as he opened several cupboard doors, and he frowned, realising that for all his pomposity, he actually had no idea where anything was kept.
"Above the counter, Captain," she helpfully provided, "Third from the left."
He frowned again.
"Thank you, Fraulein," he answered briskly, retrieving two cups from the indicated cupboard and setting some water to boil, "Believe it or not I have spent quite a considerable amount of time in the galley myself."
He pivoted around to face her and once again caught her looking at him in a way he was quite certain the sisters of Nonnberg would not approve of.
Heavens above, had she been put on this earth just to torture him, he wondered. Postulants and governesses just should not be like her, he decided - there should be a law against it. Or perhaps, he considered a second later, women like her just should not become postulants.
Was she even aware of how she looked at him, he asked himself further. Did she have any idea of the heights of insanity which she could drive him to?
Most likely not, he decided, and certainly she would not be happy if she were to find out. No, she was a living-breathing temptation and apparently completely oblivious – which of course only made him desire her all the more. And certainly it was not just because he found her physically attractive, he mused, pursing his lips and spinning around again - the easy manner which they had fallen into that afternoon had made for some of the most enjoyable hours that he could remember since… well, since similar occasions with Agathe, he supposed.
The thought was rather worrying.
And whatever she might be thinking about him, he considered sarcastically as he drained the tea leaves, he was absolutely certain that he was doing a far better job of fundraising than Baroness Ebberfeld would manage at her garden soiree.
"What would you like with that, Fraulein?" he forced his mind back to the tea, "Lemon? Milk? Sugar?"
A passionate interlude on the kitchen counter-top?
"Milk please. And three sugars."
"Three?" he echoed, turning back to face her in surprise.
"Umm-hmm. I'm afraid I have a sweet tooth."
He smiled, obligingly spooning three heaps of sugar into the cup.
"You like it plain, Captain?" she asked as he brought his own black tea over and sat beside her. A decent distance away though, he was careful to ensure.
He nodded, "Yes, I don't have that particular vice of yours," he answered taking a sip. He hoped that the boiling water might burn some sense back into him.
"So where are you up to in Jane Eyre then, Fraulein?"
"Mr Rochester is to marry Blanche Ingram," she answered immediately, "Only I hope that he does not, for I don't believe that he loves her."
It was such a simple innocent statement, and yet one which contained rather a lot of truth. A little too much, Georg decided as he took another sip, his mind wandering to Elsa.
"Then why would he marry her, Fraulein?" the words were out of his mouth before he had planned to say them at all.
She considered carefully, "Well, Jane says she is very beautiful…" she answered slowly, "And perhaps he thinks that Adele needs her," he nodded, acutely aware of the lack-lustre tone of her reply, "She is a lady after all, whereas Jane is not-"
"She is still a lady, Fraulein," he interrupted, wondering whether he was talking about the book at all.
"But not one of high society, Captain," she retorted.
"And is that important?"
"You tell me," she answered quickly, "I'm sure you're far more likely to know that than I am."
He winced slightly, draining the rest of the tea from the cup, "It should not be, Fraulein," he tried to answer as honestly as he could, "But sometimes I'm afraid it is."
"I think he will realise that he loves her, though," she replied.
"Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre," she frowned up at him and he shook his head quickly, forcing his mind away from the disturbing parallels in his own life.
"Ah well, maybe," he went on hastily, trying to cover the slip-up, "You will have to read on to find out I suppose."
The conversation lapsed into silence until suddenly the banging of a door from somewhere else in the villa startled them.
Georg frowned in alarm, about to jump to his feet until he heard the sudden rabble of his sons and daughters.
"It appears that the children are back from the circus," he smiled again, suddenly relishing the precious last minutes of time he would have alone with her.
"Oh I hope they have had a good time," she answered, standing.
"You are not too disappointed not to have gone along?"
"Oh not at all, Captain," she replied, smiling again. He expected for a moment that she might play him some line, as Elsa surely would have done, about how much she had enjoyed his company that afternoon, but once again Fraulein Maria proved how refreshingly different and wonderfully unique she was.
"I cannot abide clowns."
That's the end for this short story – just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who read this, and especially for the reviews - they mean a lot to me, and it was lovely to receive such a warm reception for my first story.