The night was still and silent as the couple made their was across the lawn to the back of the house. The way from the gazebo to the terrace, which could be made in a matter of moments if necessary, was taking much longer. Every few steps Georg stopped to kiss his new fiancee, and Maria was happy to oblige. The couple reached the door, which to Georg's relief was still unlocked. Normally, Franz would have locked and checked all of the doors to the villa before retiring for the evening. Clearly the evening's festivities had disturbed his routine.

They entered the house, their steps echoing throughout the hall. After walking up to the landing, Maria turned to say goodnight to Georg, and he surprised her by walking with her up the steps to the wing where her room was, along with those of the other staff.

"Georg, you don't need to walk with me," she whispered. "I'll be fine."

"You may be fine, but I'm not quite ready to leave you, my love," he murmured in reply. She simply smiled, and rested her head on his shoulder.

Maria hadn't realized until that moment how tired her body was; her brain was still buzzing with excitement. She tried to stifle a yawn that crept up on her, but it was no use. Georg noticed.

"I can only imagine how exhausted you are, Maria. After everything that happened tonight, on top of a full day with the children before that, it's a wonder you aren't asleep on your feet already." They reached the door to her room, and he reached to turn the knob for her. "Why don't you sleep in in the morning? I can spend time with the children, while you get some rest."

"That's very sweet of you, but aren't you just as tired?"

He started to deny it, then she smiled as he yawned as well. "I guess there's no point in telling you I'm not tired, now, is there?" Georg thought for a moment. "What if I leave a note for Frau Schmidt, requesting that she make sure the children get their schoolwork done in the morning, while we sleep in."

Maria raised an eyebrow at him.

"Separately, of course," he said, as he winked at her. A warm wave of affection moved through her. "Then we can take them up to your mountain for a picnic lunch."

She smiled. "That sounds wonderful. When would you like to talk to them, about...us?" A few worried thoughts crossed her mind, and clouded her face. "Georg, what if they don't like the idea?"

Georg reached out and pulled her close to him, and she rested her cheek on his chest.

"I can't imagine they'll be anything but thrilled, Maria. They love you so much already." He kissed her head, then continued. "What if we have a little fun with them first?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, what if we don't tell them, or don't say anything? We'll let them try and figure it out for themselves."

"I suppose there would be no harm in that. But promise, if they don't seem pleased, we'll talk to them right away?"

"Promise. But they will be pleased. Almost as pleased as their father, I assure you." Georg kissed her once more, as they held each other tightly. With great difficulty, they separated, and he began the walk to his own rooms.

Maria stopped him once more. "Georg? There's one more thing I need to tell you."

"Yes?"

"I love you."

XxXxXxXx

Frau Schmidt,

Due to the lateness of the hour concluding last evening's festivites, I will be sleeping in. I also have given Maria the morning off.

I would ask you to please wake the children, and after breakfast, make sure they do their schoolwork. I have faith that Liesl will be able to assign work to the youngest ones before beginning her own. Tell them that if they complete their tasks, we will take a picnic lunch up to the mountain.

GvT

The housekeeper found the note as soon as she walked into the dining room. She read it several times, thinking that something struck her as odd about it, but she was unable to pinpoint just exactly what that was. After completing her own pre-breakfast duties, she went up to wake the children.

After softly knocking on Liesl's door, Frau Schmidt opened the door and peeked inside. Liesl was still in her bed, but was already awake.

"I'm sorry, dear, I don't mean to disturb you. Your father left a note that I should wake you all, and get you ready for breakfast." She walked to a window to open the curtains and allow the fresh summer breeze into the room.

Liesl sat up, a curious look on her face. "Where is Fraulein Maria?"

"His note also said that he'd given her the morning off, and was himself sleeping in, because of how late the evening ended. If everyone gets their schoolwork finished, he'll be taking you for a picnic up on the mountain." Frau Schmidt finished opening the second window, and walked toward the door.

"I'll go and wake the little girls and help them, if you would please wake your brothers?"

"Of course. Thank you." Liesl puzzled for a moment over what the housekeeper had said. A picnic? With Father? That likely meant the Baroness Schraeder would be joining them. She sighed and climbed out of her bed, straightening the covers and heading to wash up.

The housekeeper went to the room where Gretl and Marta slept. She'd spent many days and nights in here, when the family was between governesses. The girls had been quite taken with Fraulein Maria right from the start, and Frau Schmidt was of a like mind: their young governess had truly been a God-send. Now there was laughter, and music, and love in the house once more, and Fraulein Maria was the reason.

"Marta, Gretl-time to wake up, little sleepyheads. Breakfast will be on the table in just a few minutes so let's get up and dressed right away." The housekeeper went to Marta first, smoothing the hair from her brow.

Gretl stirred in her bed, and as Frau Schmidt went to rouse her, she heard a tiny, sleepy voice. "Fraulein?"

"No, darling, it is Frau Schmidt. Let's wake up now, and get ready for the day."

Marta sat up, and looked at her in much the same way Liesl had. "Where's Fraulein Maria?"

Gretl then sat up, alarmed. "Fraulein Maria? Where is she?"

"Oh, girls, your father simply gave her the morning off; there's no need to worry." The older woman smiled at them. She thought it so sweet, the way these two, especially, had become so attached to their governess. From the first, it was obvious the young postulant was a fresh presence at the villa; a whirlwind that swept in and cleared away the sadness that had permeated the place ever since the children's mother had died. Fraulein Maria had changed everything and everyone in her path. Even the Captain, Frau Schmidt thought with a smile. Suddenly, it occurred to her what was unusual about his note. He hadn't used Fraulein, simply called her "Maria". She smiled to herself again, pondering the reason.

"What are we going to do without her, Frau Schmidt?"

"Your father left instructions for me to make sure you eat breakfast, and then you'll do the schoolwork Liesl will give you. Afterward, I believe he is planning to take you on a picnic."

"A picnic? With Father?" the two littlest von Trapps giggled and danced through the room. "Father's never come with us before!"

Their excitement made it a bit more difficult for the housekeeper to get them dressed for the day, and all of the other children were ready to go to the dining room for breakfast by the time she'd finished their hair.

It was strange for the children to once again be at the table with no adults present. Fraulein Maria had been a steady presence those several weeks while their father had been in Vienna, and now there were as many a four adults at the table, if Baroness Schraeder and Uncle Max joined them. Though, mostly the Baroness did not take meals with the children; she would skip breakfast in favor of her "beauty sleep", by lunchtime she was off to Salzburg on a shopping trip or visiting friends. If she did dine with them, it was at dinner, and the children would be endlessly frustrated by her constantly turning any conversation with their father back to herself, her friends, her parties.

Liesl took charge, as she was used to doing. "After we eat, we'll go upstairs and finish all of the schoolwork we have left. I'm sure we all have enough to keep us busy this morning."

Louisa looked at her older sister out of the corner of her eye. "Don't you think this is strange, none of the adults being down here with us?"

Brigitta chimed in. "Why would Father give Fraulein Maria the morning off? Didn't she come upstairs when we did? She had dinner with us, she wasn't going to stay at the party."

"Well, let's never mind that. Once we finish upstairs, perhaps we can help pack lunch for the picnic." Liesl suggested.

"Do you think the Baroness will come with us, Liesl?" Marta asked, sounding a bit worried. The most sensitive of the siblings, Marta often tried to steer clear of the Baroness Schraeder, whose forceful personality intimidated the little girl.

"No way," Louisa answered for her sister. "She doesn't even like sitting out on the terrace, she won't want to come up to Fraulein Maria's mountain." She thought a moment, then made an observation of her own. "I'm sure Fraulein Maria will come along instead. I don't think Father even knows the way."

With that, they all burst into laughter, then hastily finished eating before heading for the nursery.