They were pleasantly surprised to find that their driver for the evening was Frau Schmidt's son, Heinrich, who had volunteered when his mother told him she'd needed to find a substitute for Franz. Georg was pleased, as he'd known the young man since he was a boy and knew he would protect their privacy. Heinrich drove silently and capably to the center of Salzburg, where Georg asked him to let them out at Mirabell Palace, where he hoped to stroll the gardens before they went to dinner at an intimate cafe across the square. Georg dismissed the young man, asking him to return to the same spot a few hours later.

Georg offered Maria his arm, which she gladly took. The sun was just beginning its descent into the horizon, and the fading rays gave a lovely hue to the sky, while lending quiet shadow among the hedges and plantings along the pathways.

"It is so lovely, here, Georg. The Gardens are one of my favorite places in all of Salzburg," Maria confided.

"I had hoped so, as it happens it is one of my own favorite places to be," he informed her quietly. "I assume you know that the original palace was built as a gift from Raitenau to his lover?" He moved his arm, placing his hand on the small of her back, and pulling her close to his side. Maria felt the butterflies in her stomach awaken, and the beating of their wings created a warmth that traveled downward.

"It's quite an extravagant gift. I do hope they were happy together," Maria teased.

Georg laughed. "I assume so, they had at least a dozen children together." They continued walking for a moment, before Georg led her into a small courtyard edged with boxwood hedges and filled with rose bushes, their fragrance almost overwhelming in the fading sunlight.

"It just so happens I've had a gift made for you, Maria." His voice was quiet and choked with emotion. He pulled the box from his pocket, and dropped to one knee. "I know I already asked, but I wish you to be sure, so I ask again. Maria, will you marry me?" Georg opened the box, and Maria gasped at the sight of the ring. Tears of happiness filled her eyes.

"Oh, my darling, yes, of course! Nothing would make me happier than being your wife."

Georg took the ring, and placed it on the third finger of her right hand. As he did, he told her, "Maria, this sapphire reminds me of the color of your eyes, and each of these diamonds represents myself and the children. You are the love I never expected to find, and the center of our family now. Please, wear this as a token and reminder of the love we share."

Maria stared in disbelief, at the most beautiful ring she'd ever seen. "Georg, I...I... of course, I will wear it always. I don't know what to say, it is so lovely, and so perfect," Georg stopped any more words by placing his lips on hers, and she met his kiss with an intensity which surprised and delighted him.

When they finally parted, Georg told her, "You are lovely, and perfect for me, and I love you with all my heart, Maria."

"And I love you, Georg."

They held each other in a long embrace, as they watched the sun continue its descent. Finally, Georg kissed her forehead, and told her it was time to head for the restaurant for their dinner reservation. He took her hand in his, and they slowly left the gardens.

XxXxXxXx

Maria looked around in awe as the maitre d' escorted them to their table. Georg had made a reservation at a lovely, small restaurant with limited seating and a fixed menu of only the choicest foods selected and prepared daily by the chef. It was quiet, and intimate, with a few garden tables with a view of the river. Simply put, the perfect place to celebrate their engagement.

Georg whispered something to the man after he'd pulled out Maria's chair to seat her; she didn't catch what he said and looked at him curiously. Georg noticed, and simply told her he'd ordered a bottle of champagne. She smiled, and nodded, and looked out toward the river, where the early rising moon was reflecting on the water.

"Oh, Georg, this is just wonderful! The view is magnificent."

"I agree, wholeheartedly," he replied, and Maria blushed again when she realized he was referring to her. As she turned her eyes downward, the flicker of the candlelight caught the gemstones of the ring he'd just given her, and she tilted her hand, watching it sparkle.

"I do hope you like it, darling," he asked, with a hopeful tone.

"It's very beautiful, I never imagined I'd have anything like it," she replied, as she looked up into his eyes.

The waiter brought the champagne bottle for Georg's inspection, and when he nodded his approval, the young server popped the cork and poured the silvery bubbles into two flutes.

"Like the ring? Or like me?" he smirked, and raised an eyebrow at her. "Although, I'm sure you hardly deserve a cranky, middle aged man." He handed her a flute of champagne, and she brushed her fingers against his as she took it.

"You don't look or behave like a middle aged man, though I do admit you can be a bit cranky at times. Particularly when you're hungry," she teased.

"Then I suppose it is a good thing our first course is here," he paused, as the waiter set down their their plates.

The couple spent nearly two hours enjoying the food, wine, and each other's company. It wasn't until near the end of their meal, while holding his hand across the small table, that Maria noticed the pale indent on Georg's finger, where is previous wedding band had been.

"Georg? When did you take off your ring?"

"Earlier this evening, when I was dressing. I just... it was time. I've set it aside with some other things, in case any of the children might want them."

She smiled at him. "Thank you. I never would have asked you to do that, you know."

"I know, my darling. And that is part of the reason I love you. Your sensitivity about keeping Agathe's memory alive for our children truly means so much, to all of us." He lifted her hand to his lips, and gently kissed it.

As the waiter was passing by, Georg signaled to him for the check. Maria excused herself to the powder room to freshen up, and it was while he was sitting by himself, gazing at the river, that he heard a voice.

"Georg? Georg von Trapp! I thought it was you." He turned to see a woman who looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place her, or come up with her name. She must have noticed the blank look on his face, as she proceeded to reintroduce herself.

"I'm so sorry, of course you met so many people at the ball. Petra, Petra Sauer, and my husband Otto. We're friend of Elsa's. I'm very glad to have run into you. We had a delightful time at your home, and look forward to entertaining you very soon."

"That's very kind of you to say." Georg looked around, anxious to dismiss this most unwelcome visit., but politely shaking hands with them both.

"Where is Elsa, I'd love to say hello," Petra continued, also looking around to try a spot her friend.

"I'm sorry, but Elsa and I parted company after the ball. I assume she is back at her home in Vienna," Georg explained, as he wiggled his fingers lightly on the table.

Just then Maria returned to the table, and realizing the visitors were indeed speaking to Georg, walked around them, to stand just behind him. It was as if she were preparing for an attack, and he was her battle armor. The waiter also appeared with the check at the same moment, Georg glanced quickly at the total and handed it back to the young man with several bills, and dismissed him.

He turned his attention once again to the Sauers. "Please, allow me to introduce my fiancee, Maria Rainer. Maria, Petra and Otto Sauer. They attended the ball, as friend's of Elsa's."

"I'm pleased to make your acquaintance." Maria said quietly, not sure what else-if anything at all-she should say.

"My dear, you look quite familiar, but I can't...oh, I remember, you were the girl who introduced his children to sing that lovely little song, weren't you?" Petra had a smile on her face, but Maria felt very uncomfortable. She wasn't sure whether it was because Frau Sauer was a friend of the Baroness', or if it was the gleam in her eye that was distinctly unfriendly.

Georg answered for her. "Yes, I met Maria when she was sent to be governess for my children." He cleared his throat before continuing. "I'm sorry, but we really need to be going now. It was kind of you to stop and say hello. Enjoy the rest of the evening." With that, he took Maria's hand and led her from the restaurant.

When he was out of earshot, Petra turned to her husband. "You see? Elsa was right. He was cheating on her with that little trollop."

XxXxXxXxXx

Georg walked Maria down a flight of stairs next to the restaurant that brought them to a footpath that meandered along the river.

"Darling, I apologize for that interruption to our evening. I really have no recollection of meeting her, or her husband." He pulled her close, his arm around her shoulders, and kissed her cheek.

"There's nothing for you to apologize for, Georg. I'm the one that should apologize," she said, sadly.

"Whatever would you need to apologize for, sweetheart?" He stopped walking, and turned to face her.

"I'm afraid that everyone will react to our engagement just as that woman did. You saw the look in her eyes. I'm going to bring dishonor to your name, and to your family." Maria looked at the ground as she said this, she couldn't bear to look into Georg's face, fearing she'd see the same thing there.

"Maria, look at me." He touched a finger to her chin, and gently lifted her face so he could look deeply into her eyes. "I love you. You love me. That's all that matters. I don't care what these foolish socialites or aristocrats think. After a week or two, they'll find something else to think about. And then we will live happily ever after."

"You make it sound like one of Gretl's fairy tales." There was still a lingering sadness in her voice. Georg cupped her cheek, and caressed it with his thumb.

"There's no reason I can think of that it won't be, my love." He folded her into his embrace, and kissed her with such tenderness and sweetness, it brought tears to her eyes.

After strolling along the river, and then back up through the little streets, they returned to the fountain square for Heinrich to return with the car.