Disclaimer: I own none of the characters in this work of fiction and receive no profits from this story.
Whither Thou Goest
"Entreat me not to leave thee, for whither thou goest I will go." -Ruth 1:16
The ring was beautiful. There was really no other word for it. The simple silver band was weighted with diamonds and a single sapphire, and the bride-to-be marveled that she'd never seen anything so lovely. Georg replied that it reminded him of the sea, and it was true. She wore it proudly, placing her hand over his heart after he slipped it onto her finger and offering him a simple kiss that assured him of her affections.
She suggested a spring wedding. They decided to hold the ceremony at Nonnberg Abbey, and the date was set for the end of April. Two hundred invitations were delivered in short order. The finest linen paper was selected, and each envelope was hand-printed in delicate calligraphy. Their guests responded eagerly, though Georg suspected that they were curious about the woman who had finally led him out of his grief and into the living world.
It seemed that everything was falling together. The wine cellar was restocked after the last winter frost, ensuring that his favorite vintages would be on hand for the reception, and a cake much too rich for his liking had been ordered from Vienna. When he asked, Liesl assured him that the design for the wedding gown was lovely, but his fiancée teasingly reminded him that he was not to see it before the wedding day.
The wedding was only a month away when he stepped outside on a crisp March morning. The air was clear and cool, and a soft breeze stirred lazily through the trees. He was grateful for a moment's solitude but surprised to hear the distant murmur of voices as he walked across the grounds. The children were working on their studies, and nothing should have disturbed the silence on that particular spring day.
Curious, he followed the sound. He turned the corner of the house and suddenly spied Fraulein Maria with his youngest daughters. They were sitting beneath a tree, and the girls were talking animatedly with their favorite governess. He was delighted to find smiles and laughter on their lips, replacing the more sober countenances that had become too familiar in recent months. He lingered near the corner of the house, confident that he would not be detected, and watched as Marta absently plucked blades of grass from the ground.
"Will we get to go to the wedding, Fraulein Maria?"
"Of course you'll be at the wedding," Maria answered. "What sort of question is that, Marta?"
"It seems like it's only for the grown-ups."
"Weddings are for families," Maria replied, "and you are certainly your father's family. In fact, you'll be one of the highest guests of honor."
The title suited the child, and Georg stifled a chuckle as his little Marta held her head a bit higher.
"And what about you, Fraulein? Will you be there, too?" Gretl asked, cupping her cheek in her hand as she rolled the stem of a dandelion between her fingers.
The silence was palpable, and Georg suddenly realized that he was holding his breath.
"I don't know, darling. I haven't been invited yet," she answered diplomatically.
"But you're part of our family!" Marta exclaimed.
"Yes, even more than the Baroness, and she gets to be there," Gretl pouted.
Maria smiled in spite of herself. "Well, the Baroness is the bride. She has to be there. And didn't she ask you to call her 'Elsa'?"
The girls nodded soberly.
"I've never been to a wedding," Marta said. "Is it sort of like a birthday party?"
"Oh, much more important, Marta. You know that it takes place in church, and who lives in the church?"
"God," the girls replied in unison.
"That's right, and anything that happens in God's house happens with His blessing. That's what makes it so special. A wedding is a chance for two people to make a promise that they will love each other forever, and then God blesses the love they share together."
The romance of Maria's words was lost on her young audience, and Gretl simply wondered, "And will the Ba—Elsa wear a pretty white dress?"
"Do I get to wear a white dress?"
"No, darling, but I'm sure we'll find something lovely for you girls to wear. Perhaps in a pretty shade of pink," Maria winked.
The girls smiled at the notion of new pink frocks, but after a moment, the silence returned to the group. Georg noticed that she did not press them on their feelings, but rather she waited for their questions. Gretl leaned against the tree trunk, her little elbow digging into Maria's thigh, but Maria only drew the girl closer and complimented the chain of flowers dangling from her fingers.
"I hope you can come to the wedding," Marta finally concluded. "I want you to be a guest of honor, too."
"Do you want to come? Elsa might give you an invitation if you ask!" Gretl suggested brightly, but Georg saw the color slip from Maria's cheeks.
"I have not asked yet. I'll make sure that I do." She smiled to the girls before glancing up at the house. "Do you think the others have finished their schoolwork?"
"I hope so. I want to play a game," Marta said, rising to her feet with newfound purpose.
"Why don't you run ahead and see if they've finished, and I'll go see when lunch will be ready." There was no need to repeat the suggestion, for both of the von Trapp girls picked up their heels and ran towards the house with whoops of laughter.
He stepped out of sight before his daughters could discover him and lingered for a moment to watch Maria find peace with her thoughts. She collected Gretl's flower chains and considered the blossoms against her palm. The soft sunlight washed over her as she walked closer to the water's edge. She trembled slightly as the breeze delivered a chill from the lake, but she could not tear her gaze away from the endless blue of the horizon.
She was different when she came back from the Abbey. He'd noticed the change because it was impossible to ignore. The boisterous and clumsy girl who'd first entered his home had returned to it a quiet and pensive woman. If he was honest with himself, he knew that it started on the night of the ball when he held her in his arms and discovered in her eyes a love that he'd never before experienced. It was open and innocent, breathtaking in its force and simple in its beauty. In that moment, he believed that she loved him, and the naked trust of her gaze humbled his very soul.
His belief was shaken when he woke the following morning to discover that she'd returned to the Abbey. He was angry with himself for believing that Maria might have cared for him, but more than that, he was frightened by the magnitude of his own disappointment when he learned that it was not true. He punished himself for falling prey to his own imagination and steeled his resolve to forget the young woman entirely. Georg brushed away the children's questions about their beloved governess and destroyed her note soon after he read it. The children mourned her absence, casting a somber veil over the newfound happiness in the von Trapp household, but he tried to rally their spirits when he was not taking one of his countless outings into Salzburg. He spoiled Elsa with his attention, and by the end of the third week, he'd purchased a ring and asked her to be his bride.
He'd been able to forget Maria during the day, but he could not escape her at night. He lost too many hours of sleep imagining what might have happened if she had not hurried out of his embrace after they danced together. He imagined the smoothness of her cheek beneath his lips, the taste of her kisses and the sweetness of her affections. There were nights when he took refuge in his memories, savoring the remembered storm of her anger and the benediction of her kindnesses. He made love to her in his dreams, her breath hot on his shoulder and his name falling from her lips like a song. She was alive and real in his dreams, and there they belonged to each other.
He regretted that Elsa was not the woman who appeared in these nightly fictions, just as he lamented the fact that Agathe had finally been released from her prison behind his mind's eye. One day he would confess that he'd secretly looked forward to falling asleep each night, for only then could he discover Maria once again, but with each breaking dawn he understood nothing but a breed of guilt that danced traitorously with desire.
He fought for command of his emotions until that day when he heard a sudden commotion from the patio. He stepped outside to talk with his children, but the first thing he saw was a shock of golden hair. Maria was there, encircled by the joyful smiles of the children, and he was struck that his first thought should be that she was finally home.
Two months had passed since her sudden departure from the villa, but he was instantly aware of his need for her. She congratulated him on his engagement, smiling as she spoke, but she would not meet his gaze. He was desperate to rediscover that remembered flame of love in her eyes, but she would not grant him the opportunity to search for it.
The children ran ahead for their dinner, and after a moment's pause, Elsa followed them inside. Alone on the veranda, Georg softly asked, "Are you finally here to stay, Fraulein?"
He could not have known how that simple question tore at her heart. She fought her tears and drew a breath. "I will stay until your wedding, Captain, and of course I'll assist in making arrangements for a new governess. Then I'll return to the Abbey where I belong."
She walked away before he could reply, but he would not have had an artful response. He lingered outside in the fading sunlight, haunted by the distant laughter of his children as he mourned the loss of something that had never been his to begin with.
Maria had been true to her word. She stayed with the family through the holidays and into the welcome warmth of springtime, but she spent most of her time in the children's company. She was noticeably quiet whenever Elsa discussed the wedding, and Georg realized that the familiar melody of her singing was now only a hazy memory. He wanted to understand the science of this transformation, but he was afraid of what he might learn. He was a man of honor, and he knew that the promises he'd made to Elsa were ones that simply must be kept.
Nonetheless, the strength of his resolve could not prevent him from admiring her on this particular afternoon as she worried those delicate flowers in the palm of her hand. He knew that he ought to look away, for he was studying her in an intimate moment of vulnerability, but he was powerless to stop looking at her. She was beautiful. She lacked Elsa's elegance, and she was not as striking as Agathe, but she was undeniably beautiful. The sunlight complemented her skin, just as the flush of exercise and excitement kissed her cheeks, and the curve of her smile was like a priceless jewel. She was different, and because of that, she was lovely.
He admired her and wondered about his own heart. He felt something for her. That was certain. He desperately hoped that it was mere lust or desire. Those simple sins faded with time and cracked with age, but he feared that this was something deeper. He did not have the luxury of falling in love, and he worried that his heart had forgotten about its obligations.
"Oh, there you are, darling!"
Elsa's voice carried over the lawn like a siren, arresting the attention of both Maria and Georg. The young woman by the water looked up suddenly and discovered that the Captain was watching her as he stood next to the house. For one brief moment, he saw surprise and longing on her features before shock and sadness prevailed. She pressed her hands to her thighs and smoothed her skirt with a polite nod of her head before hurrying across the lawn to look after the children. He watched her go and realized how quickly his heart was racing.
Elsa's heels clicked against the pavement, and finally he felt her arm slip through his as she pled for his attention.
"Now what are you doing out here?"
"Just admiring the day," he replied, smiling thinly with a glance towards the water. "It's a beautiful morning."
"It is," she nodded. "I simply had to come and see what had stolen your attention. You said that you would only be away for a few moments."
He tried to remember what errand he'd left her company to complete, but she recognized the confusion in his eyes.
"You were going to ask Frau Schmidt for the florist's telephone number."
"Of course," he said, clasping her hand and turning away from the water without a second glance. "I should have it in my study."
They walked slowly into the house, talking blithely about the day's menu of activities, but Georg was startled by the empty silence that greeted them in the drawing room.
"Where do you suppose everyone has gone?"
"I don't know, my dear. Frau Schmidt was talking about lunch, and-"
He raised a finger to silence her, for he imagined that he heard the distant and curious sound of applause. Elsa let her hand slip out of his hold, and he crossed the foyer in easy strides before reaching the door to his study. The sound was louder at the threshold, and he wondered who had dared to enter the sanctity of his private office.
When he opened the door, he intended to catch the culprit by surprise, but no one seemed to notice his sudden entrance. All of the children were seated on the floor, their faces turned towards the radio, and Frau Schmidt stood anxiously in the corner with her fingers pressed to her lips. There was no announcer or speaker on the radio; it was only the sound of thunderous applause.
He searched the room for an explanation, but finally his eyes fell upon Maria. Her white-knuckled hands gripped the sides of his mahogany desk, and hot tears slipped over her cheeks. She was the one who noticed his presence in the room, and he was heartbroken by the tragic sorrow in her eyes.
"It's coming from Vienna," she explained softly. "They said that the Germans entered the city this morning."
She said something more, but he did not hear it. He heard nothing but the sounds of ecstasy pouring from the radio. His countrymen were cheering for Hitler, and the horrifying noise of their enthusiasm was deafening.
Author's Note: 1) The title, as indicated above, is from the Book of Ruth. 2) I'm settling in for the first multi-chaptered story I've written in a very long time, so I hope you'll join me for the ride. 3) You may have noticed that I took a few liberties with the film's timeline here; Maria was scheduled to work for the family through September, but the Anschluss occurred in March. Please forgive my historical elasticity, and enjoy the coming installments of this story. –C.