To say that a massive cloud of melancholy had settled over the Von Trapp villa – more specifically, the members of the Von Trapp family – was the understatement of the decade.
The sudden departure of Maria Rainer two weeks ago seemed to have taken away all of the sunlight, the joy, the music, and the happiness that she had brought with her. Of course, the relationship between the Captain and his children was nothing like it had been before the summer, but that was the only good thing that could be said about how they all were now.
The seven children missed their beloved Fraulein more than words could ever describe. Only when she was gone did they realize just how much she had come to mean in all of their lives, through all of the roles she had been: governess, protector, music teacher, playmate, confidante, best friend…and mother.
It was this last role, specifically, that the children had truly discovered this day, two weeks after the grand and glorious party. On this day, the children had finally succeeded in seeing Maria, who had come out of what the nuns called 'seclusion' at last. Since she had left, the seven of them would go to the Abbey nearly every other day, hoping to see their beloved Fraulein; and, finally, they had succeeded.
It was this meeting with their former governess that all of the children were discussing now. They had shut themselves up in the older girls' room, where they always went whenever they had a private conference: this room was less girly than Gretl and Marta's room, and wasn't nearly as messy as the boys' room.
"We shouldn't have told her…" murmured Louisa, shaking her head as she paced within the room.
"Why?" asked Gretl, confused. She had always been taught to tell the truth, and they had only told Fraulein Maria the truth when she had asked her questions.
"She tried to hide it," said Brigitta, "but I could tell the news was devastating to her."
"What else could we really say?" asked Kurt, who sat beside Marta on Louisa's bed. "She asked how Father and the Baroness are; it's only logical that we would tell her that they became officially engaged since she left."
"Even so," said Friedrich, who was leaning against the wall near Brigitta's bed with his arms crossed and a troubled look on his face. "Her reaction certainly confirmed your theory, Brigitta. At least, in my own mind, it did."
"Mine, too," said Louisa, who had finally let herself sit down beside Brigitta, her fingers restlessly drumming against each other. "I saw the tears fill her eyes before she blinked them back resolutely and changed the topic so fast."
"And I don't think anybody could deny the despair in her voice when she repeated the word 'married,' and then said, 'Oh, I see…'" said Liesl, her hand on her cheek, and a tear in her own eye.
"So…Fraulein Maria…is in love with Father?" asked Marta, her eyes wide. She had heard her older siblings discuss this theory before, but remembering her Fraulein's reaction to the news put it all together in her mind.
Brigitta nodded. Naturally, she had been the first to discover this fact. "And Father is in love with her, too."
"Really?" asked little Gretl; being the youngest, all of this was the most difficult for her to follow. "But Father became engaged to the Baroness. How can he marry her if he is in love with Fraulein Maria?"
Liesl smiled sadly at her smallest sister, and pulled her onto her lap for a tight hug. "You'll understand these things when you're older, sweetheart."
"But Father won't even let us talk about her with him anymore!" said Marta tearfully. "He acts like he hates her."
Kurt put his arm around his favorite sister. "I think he's upset she left too, Marta."
"Yes," agreed Liesl. "He pushed away the memory of Mother after she died, and now he's doing the same with Fraulein Maria. It hurts too much to think of what he's loved the most and lost at the same time."
"And if he truly hated her now," said Kurt, "he would have stopped us going to the Abbey all of those times. I mean, I know we never told him where we were going…but it's pretty obvious he would figure it out. Father notices everything."
Friedrich sighed, and shook his head. "Perhaps he's just marrying the Baroness…because he doesn't want to be alone."
"He had his mind on marrying her long before Fraulein Maria came," said Louisa, picking at the hem of her dress. "Though what he sees in her is beyond me."
"That's not fair, Louisa," said Liesl fairly – though she tended to agree with her sister on this point. "She has always been nice to us, and…well…" She could think of no other argument.
"All she talks about now is wedding plans, ever since Father announced their engagement!" exclaimed Brigitta, getting up and taking Louisa's place in pacing. "Flowers this, caterers that, and since when has she ever included any of us in that conversation? Even Father is getting annoyed with it! Well, he should, considering he's betraying his own heart and breaking Fraulein Maria's."
"Brigitta, be fair," scolded Liesl – even though, yet again, she tended to agree with her sister on this point. But she felt, as the oldest, it was her responsibility to be fair and see both sides of the metaphorical coin. "Leaving aside the fact that Father long planned to marry her, remember that Fraulein Maria is a postulant. That is the life she has chosen for herself, both before she ever came here…and now after."
"They're lying to themselves and each other," said Brigitta adamantly, pausing in her pacing to face her oldest sister.
"Brigitta, I agree with you, I do," said Liesl, reaching her wit's end. "There is nothing I would like more than to have Fraulein Maria back here, with us and with Father, as our mother and Father's wife, for they do love each other and, I believe, are great for each other. But they are both adults, have made their choices, and are now sticking with them." Liesl sighed and ran a hand through her hair, while holding Gretl a bit tighter. "This would all be so much easier if Fraulein Maria were here or, even better, if she weren't going to be a nun. Chasing the Baroness off with pranks would not be a problem, but how can we tell Fraulein Maria to turn away from her faith and desire to serve God?"
The children had reached a dead end, and they fell into frustrated, defeated silence. In the past, whenever they'd had an obstacle in their path – such as an unwanted governess – they'd always manage to overcome it. But now, pranks would do them no good. The only person that could help them, who had brought back their Father's love once and could make their home happy again now, was now gone.
What it all boiled down to was this: none of them had any idea what to do.
Meanwhile, in his most private room – his sanctuary, as he liked to call his private library – Georg was in a very similar mood to the one his children were in. There was no more frustrating of a feeling as when one faces a dilemma, and has no idea how to solve it.
When Georg had lost Agathe four years ago, he had logically come to the conclusion that there could be no worse feeling than this, that he could never fall any deeper than that. But he was very seriously considering taking that back; now he felt like everything was falling apart. So many emotions – negative emotions – had been coursing through his veins for the past two weeks.
First, there was anger. He couldn't deny it to himself, so he wouldn't: he was angry at Maria for, not only leaving early, but the way she left. She did not ask, she did not warn in any way; she had just packed her things and left the house during the party like a ghost, leaving only a small note behind, saying only that she missed her life at the Abbey too much. That note had felt like a slap in the face for two reasons: one, Georg knew it was not completely true – something truly important must have happened for her to take off like that; two, he knew it was not the goodbye that the children or he deserved. Of course the children deserved a better goodbye than that, with how close they had become and how much they truly loved her. And he knew that he deserved better, too, for they had become good friends since the rowboat incidents. He could not count the times that they would fall into easy, long, and sometimes deep conversations with each other, sometimes when watching the children, and sometimes when they would run into each other on the grounds in the mornings and evenings. So he felt his anger was justified, but it was his anger that caused him to refuse to hear Maria's name mentioned in his presence.
This led to the second emotion: guilt. Of course he felt guilty for adding to his children's pain. He knew he would have to try to explain it to them or at least apologize soon. But, in the meantime, as a way of apologizing, Georg turned a blind eye to the frequent trips to the abbey that his children made. He would be truly heartless if he prevented them from seeing her; he only wished that he could see her, too. Another thing that Georg felt guilty about was just that: he wanted to see her, wanted her back at the villa, back in his life, when he knew he had absolutely no right to. Two big reasons for that: she was a postulant meaning to be a nun, and he was now engaged to Elsa.
The third emotion that he felt was doubt, most especially over his decision to marry Elsa. A nagging voice in the back of his mind constantly reminded him of two facts: he did not love Elsa, and what had finally spurned his proposal was the anger that he felt at Maria. That was a red flag right there, and anything but a good start. On top of everything else, Georg had always known that he did not, and never could, love her. He'd been honest with her when he said that she had helped bring some meaning back into his life, but nothing more than that. The memory of his grandfather haunted him at night, who had been so in love with his grandmother and always told Georg that to marry without love was nothing short of sacrilegious. Georg knew that he was not being fair to Elsa by marrying her without love, and with no possibility of loving her. But Elsa seemed more than happy to dive herself into wedding details (to the point where he wanted to scream) than to look beneath the surface. Also…he was tired of being alone, of sleeping alone, of going through life without a steadfast companion by his side.
Georg knew exactly who he wanted that to be, but that was impossible now. He had found something that hurt even more than losing Agathe: knowing you could never be with the woman you loved.
Yes, love was the fourth emotion that he felt very profoundly. While this was far from a negative emotion in general, it seemed like one to him now; when one believes their love is both unrequited and impossible, they would do anything to banish that love from their hearts. This was why his anger, guilt and doubt were as strong as they were. Nearly every night, Georg dreamed of the last moment they had shared in the courtyard…that magical dance…the first and only time he had been able to hold her…That had been the moment when he had truly come to terms with the feelings that had been growing in him from the very beginning; he couldn't deny it anymore. But before he could even process it all, she had disappeared. Every time he thought about ways he could win her love, one fact blocked him indefinitely every time: she was a postulant, soon to be a nun. How would it be right to argue her out of that? End of story.
Besides leaving him angry and heartbroken, her departure had left her with this fifth emotion: confusion. What on Earth could have caused her to leave like that? It must have been something big, something important, something meaningful to her; he knew she would not leave the children like that for anything less. The only possibility he could think of was their dance, that moment when they had stopped and looked into each other's eyes. At the time, he had felt sure he had seen something akin to what he felt in those beautiful blue orbs; now, in his angry and heartbroken state, he felt sure he had just imagined it. Probably he had frightened her away by the intensity of his gaze upon her. Wonderful. Something else that I can feel guilty for.
Finally, a profound emotion he felt was worry, for many things. Every day, Georg read the papers and listened to the news on the radio about Hitler, the Third Reich, and the hold they were tightening around Austria. The Anschluss was so close, not only was it a matter of when not if, Georg expected it to happen any time now. It being so close, Georg now felt profound worry for the security of his family. His opinions of Hitler and the party were well known, and both had a strong reputation for eliminating their enemies indefinitely. When the Anschluss became official, Georg knew that anything outspoken against them would put himself and those he loved in immediate and terrible danger.
Georg knew that he had to get his family out…but how?
His troubled musings were interrupted by the shrill ring of his telephone. He was not expecting any calls, so Georg picked up the receiver and said, "Hello?"
"Georg, thank God you're there, it's Hans."
The urgency of his voice, and the background noise that told Georg he was calling from a payphone, immediately made him alert and nervous. "Hans, what's wrong?"
"It's been confirmed: the Anschluss will be made official tomorrow."
Georg gave the deepest and most heartbreaking sigh he'd ever given. He'd known this would happen for some time, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt any less. The country he had fought for, left his family so many times for, would have laid down his life for, that so many of his men had sacrificed their lives for, was gone. "I wish I could thank you for telling me, Hans…"
"I know, Georg, I know," said Hans, who had served as a surgeon with the navy along with Georg and could understand his grief completely. "But there is worse news. Today, I overheard Zeller speaking to some of his Nazi cronies about you. Tonight, they plan to call you and ask you to a late dinner to talk to you. I didn't hear any details, but I've got a bad feeling, Georg, from the way they were talking. To ensure that you come, they will send a car for you. I heard Zeller say they would give you an argument that would be 'impossible to refuse.' Georg, this is bad. Most likely, they will blackmail you to enlist in their navy, but…Georg, their tones and hints gave me a very bad feeling. I had to warn you."
Georg listened to Hans talk with rapt attention. He trusted Hans completely; not only had they served together in the navy so many years ago, but Hans shared the same convictions that he did. Because a lot of his patients were Nazi sympathizers and prominent members of the party, he served as something of a spy, helping those he knew who had the same convictions as he did. The fact that Hans was telling him this was enough to prove to anybody where his loyalties lay.
Taking a deep breath when the words really sunk in, Georg finally said, "Thank you, Hans, for the warning."
"Whatever you do, Georg, don't give them any sign that you expected this," said Hans with authority. "I'm sorry, Georg; they are coming tonight." Then he hung up.
When Georg hung up his own phone, he slammed it down. His eyes were wide open as a profound sense of terrible foreboding washed over him. Hans was right; whatever this is, this was bad. What if he was forced to leave right away, the next morning, or worse, tonight? What if he wouldn't even be able to say goodbye to his children?
As the foreboding washed over him, his mind became crystal clear. Whatever would happen, he knew that his time in this villa was now greatly limited. Which meant that the time for useless brooding and wrong choices was over. Now, he had to make things right where he could, while he still could.
The one chime that came from his grandfather clock told him he had only four to six hours before he would be summoned. No matter – he knew what to do now.
Without hesitation, Georg picked up his phone again and dialed a number. A few rings, during which he tapped his fingers restlessly on his desk, and then he heard a barely familiar voice.
"Nonberg Abbey, this is the Reverend Mother…"
"Reverend Mother, this is Captain Von Trapp," he said.