"Well?" Max Dettweiler could hardly contain himself waiting for Elsa to reply. They had arrived at the von Trapp villa with Georg just over an hour before, and their host had gone off in search of his children.
"Well, what?" she said, a touch of exasperation in her voice. The Baroness Schraeder took a draw of her cigarette, then exhaled dramatically.
"Have you made up Georg's mind yet? Do I hear wedding bells?" Max was never one for subtlety.
"Pealing madly," Elsa replied, brushing past him to lean against the stone rail of the terrace.
"Marvelous!" Max practically cheered.
"Just not necessarily for me," she added, with just a touch of sarcasm. She had seen a change in Georg, merely by arriving at his home. What had he called it? Ah, his 'natural habitat.'
"What kind of talk is that?" Max persisted.
"That's it's none of your business. I am terribly fond of Georg, and I will not have you toying with us." She threw him a chastising glance.
Max sat up on the stone railing of the terrace. "But I'm a child, I like toys. So, tell me everything. Tell Maxie every teensy, weensy, intimate, disgusting detail!" The two friends enjoyed sharing gossip, and to Max, this was no exception.
Elsa sighed deeply. "Let's just say I have a feeling I'm here on approval." Approval she wasn't quite sure she would get, or whether she wanted it, for that matter. She cared deeply for Georg, but she had never had a desire for children, and in fact had been quite relieved when she learned early in her marriage to Hubert Schraeder that she was barren.
"I approve of that, how can you miss?" Max asked.
"Far too easily. And not your approval, Max. The children's. Georg's children. Surely you remember them?" The Baroness sighed again. While she'd known Georg had seven - seven! - children, the reality of their existence had seemed almost irrelevant to her in Vienna.
"Elsa, really, they aren't an alien life form. They're children. You were once a child, too, you know."
"Yes, and I wasn't very fond of myself then." She turned to face him. "What if they don't like me?" What if I don't like them?
"What's not to like? You're beautiful, rich, available….."
She looked at him pointedly. "Max."
"I know, I know. I don't think you need to be concerned. At the rate he goes through governesses, they'll be too busy running more of them off to worry about you."
"That isn't funny." She took another draw of her cigarette. "He's no ordinary man."
"No, he's rich." Max smiled.
"When his wife died it left him with a terrible heartache," Elsa sounded lost in thought.
"And your husband left you with a terrible fortune. You and Georg are like family to me, that's why I want to see you married. We must keep all that lovely money in the family."
She smile in spite of herself. Max always was good for raising one's spirits. "Oh, Max, you really are a beast!"
Upon hearing a shout. the two friends looked up to see Georg back outside, but heading toward the side of the terrace. Elsa could hear him yelling, and she and Max went quickly to where he was standing at the other end of the house, confronting the telegram delivery boy. The teenager delivered the telegram to Herr Dettweiler before beating a hasty retreat.
Elsa tried her best to calm him. "Georg, he's just a boy." The anger he exuded seemed far out of proportion for what had just happened.
"And I am just an Austrian." The coldness in Georg's voice and the hard set of his jaw troubled her.
"Things will happen. Make sure they don't happen to you." Max's effort to defuse the situation backfired.
"Max! Don't you ever say that again." Georg was furious.
"I have no political convictions. Can I help it if other people do?" Max offered defensively.
"You can help it." Georg said through gritted teeth. "You must help it." Max backed down and stepped away. Georg turned toward the direction the delivery boy had escaped to, lost in his own thoughts.
Elsa waited a few moments before trying to bring him back. "Hello? You're far away. Where are you?"
"In a world that's disappearing, I'm afraid." He didn't look at her.
"Is there any way I could bring you back to the world I'm in?" She used her most alluring tone, to no avail.
A sudden, raucous clamor came from the direction of the lake. Cries of "Father! Father's home!" and "There's Father!" were heard in young, high-pitched voices. Georg quickly headed to the boat landing, Elsa following behind as quickly as her pencil skirt and high heels allowed.
"Oh, Captain, you're home!" was the last thing Elsa heard before she witnessed the rowboat, loaded with children and a young woman who she assumed to be the governess, rock back and forth violently before pitching everyone on board over into the chilly water of the lake. She could barely contain the laughter bubbling up, but didn't dare let more than a single chuckle escape after Georg turned to look at her, fury in his eyes.
He shouted at the top of his lungs, "Come out of that water at once!" as he slammed open the iron gates leading to the water.
A cluster of children - how many, again? seven? Elsa pondered - clambered up onto the stone of the landing, laughing, shouting and dripping all over the stone landing.
A sweet voice called out from the water. "Oh, you must be Baroness Schraeder!" Elsa looked over to see the woman who'd been standing in the boat, now soaking wet and smiling broadly, pulling it to shore.
The metallic shrill of a boatmans' whistle cut through the din.
"Straight line!" The shout of the deep baritone voice caused the children to scramble into formation, several of them slipping on the wet stones. Elsa was shocked to her core, and noticed that the governess seemed none too pleased herself.
He walked back and forth in front of the line, pausing as he pulled a kerchief off the head of a blonde girl. Returning to stand beside Elsa, he made the introductions. "This is Baroness Schraeder." Georg directed his statement at the row of children, now standing in height order in front of them.
"And these. . . . .are my children." His disapproval was palpable.
Elsa could think of nothing to say, so relied on a rote pleasantry. "How do you do?"
Again, Georg barked orders in a tone of voice Elsa had never heard from him until moments before. "Go inside, dry off, clean up, change your clothes and report back here! At once!"
The line of children turned and ran off, still in formation, toward the villa. The young woman, now standing on the landing, began to follow along behind.
"Fräulein, you will stay here, please!" The governess froze in her tracks.
Elsa made the immediate decision to escape the coming fireworks. "I think I'd better go see what Max is up to," she muttered, as she removed herself from the scene.
Entering the villa, she found Max in the salon, drink in hand, and went to join him. He began to mix her a cocktail, and remarked on the speed with which seven wet youngsters had bounded through the door and up the stairs.
"Yes, well, it seems they know their father's bark quite well," she said, pacing nervously.
"Oh, they're good children generally. Except to their governesses, that is. They chase them away with great speed. Each one leaves more quickly than the last." Max glanced out the window. "Looks like this one will be gone by the end of the hour."
"How many did this one make?" Elsa blanched at the thought of having to actively engage with the children, other than through polite conversation.
"If I remember correctly, Georg said this was the twelfth." He chuckled. "An even dozen."
"Oh, dear." Elsa exhaled loudly, causing Max to chuckle.
"Not to worry, darling. He'll hire another soon enough. Though I believe it is becoming more difficult. This one came from Nonnberg Abbey." Max offered Elsa the drink he'd poured for her, and she accepted it gratefully.
"Nonnberg Abbey? She's a nun? But she's so…..so…...young."
"I don't think there is an age requirement, Elsa."
"But nuns are crusty, old women, with black habits and rulers to smack children's knuckles. Not pretty, young-"
Max cut her off. "Why Elsa, if I didn't know better, I'd think you sounded jealous." He sipped at his drink, quite amused at his observation.
"Don't be ridiculous. I am just concerned that, well, that people will talk," she confided.
"Talk? Talk?" Max laughed heartily. "Oh, my dear, they already talk about how awful the children are to run off every caregiver they've had."
Elsa sighed with exasperation. "You know exactly what I'm talking about, Maximilian, and don't pretend otherwise. It isn't proper for a young woman like that and a widower to -"
The conversation came to an abrupt halt as the seven von Trapp children entered the salon where the adults were. Dressed in coordinating sailor suits, Elsa was quite taken aback by their appearance. The oldest girl went to the corner and picked up a guitar before returning to the others.
"We're very pleased to meet you, Baroness Schraeder. We learned a song that we'd like to sing for you," the oldest girl said. She began by playing a chord, and the children began to sing.
Elsa braced herself for what she was sure would be an utterly off-key rendition of some nursery tune or other. She was shocked to hear a lovely, traditional song that she vaguely recalled in her memory bank, sung in flawless three-part harmony. Utterly astounded, it barely registered that Georg had entered the room joining his voice with theirs, until the children stopped singing and stared open-mouthed at their father as he sang a verse alone, his rich baritone echoing through the room.
His children recovered, and joined their voices with his for the end of the song. Elsa watched, breathless, as he walked toward them, his face etched with remorse, as he held his arms open to them helplessly. It only took a moment for the first child to run to his embrace, and the rest fell in behind, all of them seeking their father's attention.
A tiny girl walked to her, holding a nosegay, and curtseying. "Edelweiss!" she remarked, and she pulled the little one closer. "Georg, you never told me how enchanting your children are!" If this is how they behaved when their father was home, well, perhaps she could deal with them when they were visiting from boarding school.
He turned and looked at Elsa, but before he could respond his attention turned back to the door. Elsa followed his gaze, and as she heard him tell the children not to go away, watched as he took large strides toward the hall, in an effort to catch the governess on her way to the stairs.