Chapter 1: Discovery
The late afternoon sun shone brightly, turning the lake's surface into shimmering gold, and glinting off the windows of the villa far in the distance.
"There! That one's done!" Maria glanced over her work one more time, before passing her sketchbook to Liesl, who lay sprawled on the picnic blanket next to her, engrossed in a book. "What do you think?"
"It's adorable, Fraulein! He'll love it. " It was only a small colored-pencil sketch, but the rusty-haired boy, his cheeks puffed out apple-red with effort as he blew on a shining trumpet, was unmistakably Kurt.
"And he earned it, too, mastering that prelude the way he did," agreed Maria.
It had been an inspired idea, if she said so herself, to offer the children small drawings in return for their accomplishments. Friedrich astride his horse, a reward for conquering his fears and learning to jump, to his father's obvious delight. Louisa on point in her new toe shoes. The little sketches were much in demand. Maria was glad she'd brought her sketchbook with her from the Abbey. She still loved singing, and playing her guitar, more than anything. But she found herself taking more and more pleasure in this newer creative outlet.
"Will you do one for me?" Liesl asked.
"I will, but Marta's next. For learning to do her own braids. A mixed blessing," Maria sighed, "I do love braiding girls' hair. They need to learn to do it themselves, and yet…"
"Did you have braids when you were a girl?"
"Indeed I did! My hair fell to my waist and I was so proud of it…too proud, really."
"Why did you cut it?"
"When I became a postulant, of course. You know that, Liesl."
"Didn't you mind – cutting your beautiful hair – and everything? Don't you miss wearing lovely clothes? And parties, and dancing, and boys…"
"Well, Liesl, for one thing, I didn't grow up like you have. The first beautiful dresses I ever owned were the ones I've made for myself here. I went to live at the Abbey when I was only twelve. The sisters are all I've ever known, my family really…it's where I've always thought I belonged. Oh, I went to school with boys, yes, but I never really stopped to consider…"
Maria paused for a moment, feeling uncomfortably as though her explanation was somehow lacking. She tried again. "And of course, I've always known it was God's will for me."
"But, Fraulein, don't you want to-"
Liesl's questions were drowned out by a wave of screams and shouts that brought Maria to her feet, running toward the commotion. The other children had been off playing a game of their own invention, something involving a tennis racket, a cricket bat, an old umbrella, and balls of various sizes. The game's rules were so complex and ever-changing that, she no longer tried to keep up with them; she limited herself to making sure that the little ones were included and not in any danger. Since they had run into a nearby wooded area and away from the lake's edge, she'd felt safe letting them out of her sight. They were in a distant corner of the von Trapp estate, in an area she hadn't been to before, and so it took her a few moments to follow the sound of their voices through the woods:
"Brigitta, why did you have to go and do that?"
"It's not my fault! You should never have…
Finally, she came upon her charges standing in a clearing. And there, standing before her was some kind of structure, a rectangular enclosure, open to the air, its walls looming almost three meters in the air. The rosy brick walls had been overtaken in spots by wild vines, and in other spots the mortar had crumbled away from between the bricks. The whole affair looked decrepit and a little gloomy, a marked contrast to the rest of the estate's orderly, elegant grounds.
"What – what is that?" she asked.
"It's her garden," Louisa explained, as though Maria really ought to have known.
"Fraulein Maria." Gretl tugged at her skirt. "Brigitta hit our ball over the wall, and we haven't got another one!"
The children recommenced quarreling with each other until Maria silenced them with a sharp clap of her hands.
"Well, there's got to be a door, or a gate, isn't there? Just go on in and find the ball!"
"There is one, around the back, but it's locked," Kurt said, darkly. "The garden is strictly off limits."
Maria spied a trellis fastened to the far end of the wall. "How about we try to use that trellis like a ladder and climb over? Just long enough to retrieve your ball and then…"
Friedrich shook his head, emphatically. "No one goes in there, ever. We tried to get in there one day a few years ago, right after she… I don't think I've ever seen him that angry."
"Hm." Maria was impressed. "I thought there was no rule you children wouldn't try and break."
"Not that one," Liesl confirmed, joining them in the clearing. "The garden was – their special place - him and Mother. They used to go in there in the afternoons all the time and we were not welcome." She smiled sadly.
"Oh, if there were a brand new baby, perhaps," Louisa looked to Liesl for confirmation, "Mother might bring it along, but otherwise…
"Was I ever in there?" asked Gretl.
"Yes, you were," Liesl smiled. "You too, Marta. But only when you were very new babies."
"I remember their going in here …I think," Brigitta whispered.
There was a brief, awkward pause.
Maria had discovered that the children loved discussing their mother, the older ones needing badly to talk about her, and the younger ones hanging on their every word. She knew that it was somehow very significant that they'd begun to talk openly about their mother in her presence. But she hadn't quite figured out her role in these discussions. Playing it safe, she usually tried to look interested, interjecting the occasional "How wonderful!" or "Then what happened?" but biting her tongue to hold back the many questions she wanted to ask.
"Well, then, there's nothing to be done about it," she said, regretfully. "Let's ask your father for some more cricket balls – we don't have to go into the details about why, I think. Now, look at the time! We've got to get ready for dinner!"
The younger children ran back toward the villa, arguing how to score the lost ball, but Maria hung back for a moment, her eyes lingering on the walled garden. Yet another chapter in the mysterious story of the Captain and his late Baroness, she thought to herself. She sighed deeply. I'm probably not going to understand any of it by the time I leave at the end of the summer.
She thought back to her first, disturbing encounters with the Captain. His aloof treatment of his children, and his harsh sarcasm toward her, filled her with sympathy toward her young charges and helped her through the first difficult days when they tested her patience at every turn.
By the time he returned from Vienna, Maria had already learned that things were more complicated than they appeared. The older children told her stories of a father who had romped through the house with them, who always had time for each of them, who took pride in their accomplishments. Apparently, while the children had adjusted to their loss, their father – a national hero, knighted for bravery in battle – could not.
Of course, Frau Schmidt had explained that very first night that the Captain had banished anything that reminded him of his wife – "no laughter, no music, nothing that reminds him of her." There were no pictures of the children's mother – and that is how she was always referred to, when it was absolutely necessary to do so – anywhere in the house. Only the children's conversations – never conducted in their father's hearing – kept her memory alive.
Still, Maria thought, turning toward the villa, she was proud of how the children were progressing, and she felt just the tiniest bit smug about the role she'd played in reuniting them with their father. He snapped at the children less often, and he was making a real effort to spend time with them - taking the older ones horseback riding, teaching the younger ones to swim, frequently appearing in the schoolroom to tell them a story from his years of naval service.
With her, though, he could still be irritable, barking orders at her as though she were serving on one of his ships. Even in his best moods, he'd taken to needling her constantly, a kind of low-grade teasing that made her feel self-conscious and awkward. Not once since the day he'd returned from Vienna had she seen any sign of the man who had offered such a heartfelt apology after their argument. Maria wasn't sure how a governess was supposed to be treated, but, she told herself, the important thing is how he treats the children. I'll be leaving the villa in a couple of months anyway. They'll have a new mother, after all, isn't that the most important thing?
Maria had been meeting with the Captain in his study every Saturday morning to review the children's progress. Their first meeting had been tense: he was clearly ready to pounce on her every recommendation, making Maria feel prickly and defensive. After a few weeks, though, things had seemingly improved. Although he rarely praised her, he was no longer critical of everything she did. If Maria didn't exactly look forward to his weekly inquisition, she was no longer terrified of him.
She felt as though the Captain had finally come to respect her knowledge and skills, as though she'd passed some kind of test. Maria had held her own negotiating with him over the children's clothing, their education, their leisure time activities. He was visibly more comfortable as well; during these meetings, he no longer paced the room as though it were a parade ground, choosing to laze in the big leather chair behind his desk, his body deceptively relaxed although his questions remained sharp.
She smiled, thinking back on their last exchange the previous week, after an hour's heated discussion of everything from the great German philosophers, to Brigitta's reading habits, to the merits of religious art, to the correct form of letters to teach Gretl:
"And – Fraulein? I suppose you think I am singling you out for abuse?
"No, Captain, Sir. Well – actually, yes sir. I don't hear you barking quite so sharply at anyone else, sir."
"And do you know why that is, Fraulein?" he asked, half-smiling.
"Because I am charged with educating your precious children?"
"That too," he allowed. "But mostly, because I know you can take it. Since you felt so free to comment on my performance as a father, I think it is only fair that I be allowed to return the favor. No one else in this house talks back to me the way you do, have you noticed that?
On her way back along the lake shore, Maria paused to retrieve her sketchbook and pencils, and to fold up the blanket where she and Liesl had been lazing. The girl had left her book behind.
"Liesl," she called, "you left your book…." But the children were out of hearing by now.
Maria leafed idly through the book as she sauntered back along the lakeside. Gradually, her eyes made sense of the words on the page, and she felt her cheeks redden. Hastily, she closed the book, tucking it under her arm, and made her way back to the villa.
A/N: Thank you for reading. I don't own anything about the Sound of Music, I just love it.