Maria stood staring at the closed door, steaming about the Captain's refusal to provide material so his children could have some play clothes. Or even to let his children play, for Heaven's sake. She threw herself in to the chair next to the window, singing to herself in an effort to feel better. She unfastened the curtain from the hook that held it open during the daytime hours, and had a sudden burst of inspiration. The material was quite thick, and clean. Would it do?

She jumped up and ran across the room to the other window, unfastening those drapes as well, and wrapping them around herself. Ha! The children would have play clothes after all, whether their father approved or not. After all, he was off to Vienna in the morning, he'd never even know. Maria simply needed to take the children's measurements and she'd start in right away. Smiling, she slipped beneath to cool, crisp white linen sheets and fell quickly to sleep.

The next morning she awoke before her alarm, got herself ready for the day, and then rinsed out Liesl's dress from the night before, hanging it to dry. She'd been correct, and the stains had come right out. Maria then went to rouse the children for breakfast. First the boys, who both groaned and pulled the covers up over their heads in protest. "Rise and shine, men! We have lots of things to take care of today." Maria opened the drapes, pulled a pillow of each of their heads, and told Friedrich and Kurt to get dressed and come to breakfast.

She left them and next went to Liesl's room. She knocked softly before opening the door, wishing to give the young lady some sense of privacy. Liesl was already up and dressed, and was brushing her hair while sitting at a dressing table that was empty save for a few hair accessories. Maria assumed that the Captain would never allow the teen to have any sort of cosmetics or jewelry. Goodness, he was still treating her as a five year old regarding bedtime, let alone any other sort of acknowledgment to her growing maturity. Well, we'll just have to see about fixing that.

"Good morning, Liesl. I had no idea you were an early riser." Maria smiled at her, and Liesl grinned back.

"I'm used to it, Fraulein. I have to help the little girls get ready, as they can't really do up their buttons or braid their hair on their own." There was at the same time a strength and a wistfulness in her voice. "I've spent the last three years taking care of them, especially when we're between governesses."

Maria's heart broke for her at the thought. "Oh, Liesl, you've been such a wonderful role model for them. As long as I'm here, they won't be your responsibility. Of course, I welcome any and all help you'd like to give me!" Maria laughed, and Liesl grinned. "Your dress is hanging up to dry. The stains all came out, just as I'd thought."

"I'm sorry I put you in a position to, well, avoid telling Father what I'd done. I know he'd have been terribly angry. He just, well, he just doesn't understand..." Liesl's voice trailed off, leaving Maria to fill in.

"...what it's like to have a first love? I'm sure he does, Liesl. I imagine it's just difficult for him to accept that his daughter is growing up." And even harder to do it without their mother, she thought.

"I don't think he notices I'm growing up. He still treats me just like Gretl." the young woman sighed deeply. "I...I'm truly sorry for yesterday. And I'm sorry also about the frog in your pocket." Maria looked surprised, so Liesl explained. "I didn't put it there, but I knew Friedrich and Louisa were planning it, so I helped distract you." She looked sheepishly down at the floor, embarrassed to meet Maria's gaze.

"No apology is necessary, Liesl. You children have all been through a very tough time, and having so very many governesses surely didn't make it any easier." She gently touched Liesl's arm, and continued. "Now, would you like to help me wake the younger girls, or would you like to take a few moments to yourself before we get started on the day?"

"Really? Do you mind if I stay here to read? I've nearly finished the book Father has required, and if I do I can start one of my choice this afternoon."

"I don't mind at all, that's why I gave you the option. I'll have one of your sisters come and get you when we're all ready to go down to breakfast." Maria smiled again, and pulled the door shut behind her. She felt sure that she and Liesl would become good friends. The teenager seemed absolutely delightful, and simply starving for a woman she could talk to.

Maria went across the hall to the room where Louisa and Brigitta slept, and could already hear a commotion inside. Opening the door, she saw them each pulling one end of the same skirt.

"This one is MINE, Brig, LET GO!" In one fell swoop, Brigitta saw Maria and let go of the skirt, causing Louisa to fall backward and land, hard, on her bottom. "OUCH! What'd you do that for?" she screeched, then followed Brigitta's line of vision to their new governess.

"Girls, what seems to be the problem?" Maria spoke sternly, but with a soft voice that held no anger or irritation. Both girls looked at her, and then each other, with fire in their eyes. Sensing a stalemate, Maria took the skirt from Louisa, held it up, and calmly asked, "Now, which one of you does this actually belong to?" Louisa stood up, and now able to see the difference in the heights of the girls, Maria inquired, "Louisa, do you really think this skirt is long enough for you?"

Louisa took the skirt and held it up in front of herself, where it was determined that the skirt barely came to her knees. She handed it to Brigitta, none to happily, and pursed her lips. She watched as Maria bent down and grabbed a pile of white fabric from beneath the bed. "Could this one, perhaps, be yours?"

"I suppose." Louisa accepted the garment Maria held out to her, stepped into it, and fastened the waist button. Addressing both of them, she said, "Well, all's well that ends well. Let's not start the day fighting, girls, hm?" Louisa and Brigitta both agreed, and Maria told them to fix their hair before going down to breakfast.

Maria went to the last room, which housed the littlest girls. She knocked and opened the door. Both of them were still sleeping, Marta's arms wrapped around the small, dark-haired doll; Gretl with a small plush lamb tucked under her chin, her thumb in her mouth. She really is still just a baby, Maria thought, with tears blurring her vision. Never mind that, we've got things to do today, she thought. Perching on the edge of the bed, she gently stroked Gretl's cheek, whispering into her ear. "Time to get up, sweet girl." Gretl opened her eyes, and when she saw Maria smiled brightly. "Good morning, Fraulein Maria!"

"Good morning! Now, you'll get up and get dressed while I wake Marta?"

"Yes!" The little girl jumped up and ran to get dressed. When Maria reached Marta's bed, the little girl had already opened her eyes and was smiling up at her. "Good morning, Fraulein Maria," she said in her soft, sweet voice. Marta was by far the shyest of the children, but Maria felt sure she'd be able to draw her out.

"Come along, then, sleepyhead! Let's get dressed. I'll start braiding Gretl's hair, and then I'll do yours."

"But where is Liesl, Fraulein?" Marta asked. "She usually helps us in the morning."

"I've told your sister that she can take a little time for herself this morning. Anyway, she'll be helping with your lessons today, while I get started on some clothes."

"Clothes? What kind of clothes, Fraulein? We have our uniforms." Louisa asked, having overheard Maria as she and Brigitta, both dressed and ready, came into the room.

"Well, your father had material sent for me to make a few dresses to wear while I'm your governess, and I'll be making all of you some playclothes." Maria fastened the braids she'd woven with Gretl's hair, tied a ribbon at the end of each, and moved on to Marta.

"Playclothes? But Father never lets us play, Fraulein." Brigitta looked uncertain.

"Well, Brigitta, I've been thinking that if you all complete your studies before lunchtime each day, then in the afternoons we'll be able to go out on walks, or play games, or even for a picnic. If we do everything your father asks, then we can have some fun afterward."

The four girls exchanged looks between them, not daring to believe what they'd just heard.

"Really and truly, Fraulein Maria?" exclaimed Gretl. "I've never been on a picnic!"

"Well, that will just have to be one of the first things we do, then!" Maria tied the last bow onto Marta's braid. "Louisa, please tell Liesl we're all ready to go to breakfast. Brigitta, could you run and tell the boys?"

Both girls eagerly ran off to do as Maria had asked, and the children and the twelfth governess made their way to the dining room for their morning meal.