With some trepidation, Maria walked up to the formidable front door and rang the bell. After a long moment, the door opened, a very stern looking older man standing just inside.

"Yes? May I help you?" His face was unreadable.

"Good afternoon, Captain," she said, offering him her hand, which he reluctantly shook. "I'm here from the Abbey." Maria noticed a confusion settle on his brow. "I'm the new tutor," she explained.

The man rolled his eyes heavenward. "And I'm the old butler. Come in, Fraulein, the Captain has been expecting you." He took her bags, closed the door behind them, and led her down a short set of stairs to a grand hallway, with many doors leading to other rooms along the walls. "You will stay here, please," he added, as he left the hall down a short corridor.

Maria looked around the enormous space. She'd never been to any private residence so grand before, and it was almost too much to take in. Parquet floor, large white columns, richly patterned rugs. Paintings with golden frames, furniture with gold trim, chairs with gold velvet upholstery. As she wandered, she spied a set of double doors, noticing they were closed while all the other rooms were open. Intrigued, her curiosity got the better of her, and she tried to peek through the gap without success, so carefully opened a door to peek inside.

What she saw was exceeded in man-made beauty only by the sanctuary at Nonnberg. Walls of gilt and mirrors from floor to ceiling, a parquet floor in an intricate trellis pattern of dark and light wood, huge chandeliers hidden by dust covers. At the other end of the room were doors mostly made of glass, which opened up to a courtyard surrounded by evergreen hedges. She couldn't help herself, and quietly entered the space.

She could see now that the walls also held painted panels with beautiful works of art between the mirrored ones. One corner held many chairs also covered to protect them from dust, and behind them a grand piano, covered and appearing to have been silenced long ago. What a grand space! Maria couldn't help but pretend she was a glorious lady, being invited to dance in this lovely ballroom, bowing and coyly fanning herself to an invisible suitor.

BANG!

The young woman jumped at the sound and turned to find the doors wide open, held that way by the tall, formidable shape of a man. Gathering her wits as best she could, she dashed to the doors, peeking at him from beneath the old fireman's hat she'd been given from the poor closet. For a fleeting moment she thought…

He moved aside to let her pass, then closed the doors as he spoke.

"In the future, Fraulien, you will remember that there are certain rooms in this house that shall not be disturbed."

"Yes, Captain."

Their eyes met, and Maria froze. It was indeed the man she'd literally bumped into that morning after sliding down the banister. Oh Lord, why?

He recognized her by her eyes, instantly. Wide and innocent and lively, their vivid blue luring him in now just as they had that morning at the school. Clearing his throat, he spoke again.

"Good afternoon, Fraulein…" he left a pregnant pause, hoping she'd fill it. She did.

"Maria," she offered.

"Fraulein Maria, thank you for coming. Ah, hat off, please?"

A bit self-consciously, she removed the wide-brimmed, brown leather hat. His face displayed an expression she was unable to discern.

"Turn," he requested, not quite demanding but compelling, and as Maria did as he asked she realized that the old-fashioned black crepe dress, which was too long and too wide, was even more unattractive than she'd thought.

The Captain made an unpleasant clucking sound. "It's the dress. You'll need to change before you meet the children."

"Oh, well, I haven't another. When we enter the abbey our worldly clothes are given to the poor…"

"What about this one?"

"The poor didn't want this one." If one could both sneer and smirk at the same time, that was his expression. "I can make my own clothes, though there wasn't any time," she added.

"Hmm, we'll take care of that. Now, I'd like you to meet the children."

"Of course, sir," Maria consented, and was startled once again when he pulled out a whistle and began trilling it, loudly. Immediately, the pounding of feet, the slamming of doors, and muffled laughter could be heard on the floor above.

She watched as the children-six of them, she counted twice-got into formation in size order and marched in tandem and in matching sailor uniforms, down the stairs where they lined up in front of their father. Maria noted a space between two of the girls, one with dark hair and eyes, and a blonde with blue eyes that had to be the one too young for school.

Maria looked on in both admiration for the children's composure and horror at the idea of whistling for them like pet dogs, as they stepped forward in turn to introduce themselves at the sound of their specific whistle tone. Liesl, Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta. The youngest girl stepped forward and back into line, forgetting to state her name, her mouth set firmly as she glared at her father.

The Captain cleared his throat again. "And Gretl." The little one relaxed, but continued glaring at him. Maria wondered what he could possibly have done to incur the wrath of such a little girl, and had to suppress a laugh.

"I place the highest emphasis on discipline, orderliness and decorum." He handed Maria a second whistle on a chain. "Here, I am placing you in command. The children will help you learn their signals. I won't have shouting on the grounds."

She reluctantly reached for the silver implement. "I'm sorry, sir, but I couldn't possibly…" Noticing again the space in the line, Maria asked, "Which one is my student, Captain?"

At her words, his eyes darkened with what she instinctively recognized as loss. "You haven't met her yet, I'll take you to her in a moment." He turned his attention from her.

"Children, dinner will be served in less than an hour. You will complete your homework before you dress." Having been dismissed, they turned as a group and began climbing back up the stairs. The Captain indicated to Maria that she, too, should head upstairs. He walked with her, side by side, as he explained.

"Marta was very ill with scarlet fever several years ago, more so than her siblings. She was left with a weakened heart, and is far more susceptible to illness now. Unfortunately, she contracted the flu a couple of weeks ago and the long day at school is simply too much for her." He stopped at the end of a long corridor and opened a door. Maria followed him inside.

"Marta, this is your new teacher, Fraulein Maria. She will be here to help you keep up with your schoolwork, until you are well enough to go back."

The little girl looked up at Maria, smiling shyly. "Hello, Fraulein Maria. It is very nice to meet you."

Maria's heart was instantly captured by the small, dark-haired girl tucked into the bed. "And I'm very pleased to meet you, Marta."

She watched as the Captain leaned over his little daughter, stroking the top of her head and placing a kiss on her forehead. "I'll have Frau Schmidt bring your dinner up shortly, sweetheart." The tenderness in his voice and his eyes was in such contrast to the man she'd met downstairs, Maria wasn't sure what to think.

The Captain turned to address her. "If you follow me, I'll show you to your quarters. We have no governess at the present time, so you'll be in the family wing, near the children." He walked to the door where, once again, he waited to allow her to pass first.

"Well, Fraulein, what did you think of my children?" he asked, surprising her with the question.

"Oh, they do seem lovely, Captain, and very well-behaved."

He chuckled, "Not always", and she was struck once more by the contrast between this man and the martinet she'd met downstairs.

"I must explain, Fraulein, there have been twenty-six tutors, governesses and nursemaids here in the four years since…" his voice trailed off. "The last was here for only two hours. I do hope that that doesn't, ah, dissuade you."

"No, Captain, I have my orders to stay until after the Christmas holidays," she admitted, not letting on her curiosity as to the reason the last didn't last half a day.

They walked past three other doors before he stopped and opened the fourth. Maria followed him into a very large, bright space; blue silk coverings on the bed, a lovely reading chair near a large bay window to take advantage of the daylight. A large wardrobe and a writing desk completed the furnishings, all in a lovely mid-brown wood. Another door opened to her own, private washroom with a large bathtub.

"You are free to get settled in your room, if you find it to your liking. Dinner will be served shortly." The Captain moved to leave and close the door.

"I'm sure this will be fine, Captain, thank you," Maria called after him. Indeed, this was one of the nicest rooms she'd ever seen, and she was to call it her own, at least for the next several months. It was now only the beginning of October, and she had been pledged to the family until at least the end of the calendar year.

Spying her carpet bag and guitar already in the room, Maria briefly wondered how it got there before realizing that the house was likely full of servants. She, being a tutor, would be placed in higher regard than other household staff, and would benefit from their labors. The realization made her a bit uncomfortable.

It didn't take long for her to unpack her meager belongings-a nightgown and robe, slippers, several changes of undergarments, some hygiene items. a bible, catechism, and rosary. The clothing was placed in the wardrobe, personal items in the drawer next to the sink in the washroom, and the religious items on the table beneath the window. Maria indulged herself in the view from the window-the grounds of the villa directly beneath, a lake just beyond that, and the towering mountains, including her beloved Untersberg, looming above it all. She smiled to herself, thinking that she could certainly manage to enjoy her time here, away from the abbey, if she simply set her mind to do so.

XxXxX

The dinner bell called everyone to the dining room, and by the time Maria arrived everyone in the household was already seated. She recognized the Captain and the children, but not the elegant woman seated at the foot of the table. There were two empty seats on either side of the lady; Maria presumed one to be for Marta, and the other for herself. Choosing the seat alongside the youngest-Gretl- she made her way across the room and sat down.

Almost immediately, she felt a tug on her sleeve. She looked down at the little girl, now dressed in a pale pink frock, and watched as Gretl picked up the napkin on her lap, and placed it back down again. Maria looked at her, confused, and Gretl quietly touched the napkin under Maria's own place setting. The butler, whose name Maria learned was Franz, served the first course of soup.

As the Captain was about to take his first taste, Maria interrupted. "Excuse me, sir, but haven't we forgotten to thank the Lord?"

He was obviously flustered, but set down his spoon and folded his hands, and everyone else followed suit. Maria bowed her head.

"For what we are about to receive, let us be truly thankful. Amen." A quiet chorus followed. Maria watched as Gretl picked up her spoon, and Maria chose her own utensil from the collection alongside her plate. The little girl nodded, and they both began to eat. They followed this routine for each course throughout the meal, and in between Maria learned that the elegant lady was known to the children as Tante Matilda. She wasn't yet sure of the position she held in the household, but she seemed kind.

Near the end of the meal, Franz entered the room with a piece of paper on a silver tray. As the Captain took the telegram and read it, Liesl asked by whom it had been delivered.

"Why, the young man Rolf," Franz replied, and Liesl nonchalantly rose to refill her water glass. While she was still standing at the sideboard, she asked if she could be excused from the table.

The Captain muttered a response, which Maria wasn't sure what it was but Liesl clearly took as a yes and she hurried from the room just before her father spoke.

"Tante Matilda, children-I'll be leaving in the morning for Vienna." Groans from the children sounded around the table. "Not again, Father", "Why must you go", 'But, Father" … They were silenced by the Captain simply holding up his hand.

Little Gretl piped up. "How long will you be gone this time, Father?" Ah, Maria thought, perhaps that is why she scowls at him so.

"I'm not sure, Gretl, not sure," he curtly answered.

"Are you going to see the Baroness? Why can't we go?" Maria wasn't sure which of the children asked, as she hadn't yet learned their voices.

The Captain sighed. "You will see the Baroness when she is ready to come for a visit. You lot are a lot to handle. But when I return I will be bringing Uncle Max."

The cheers around the table brightened Maria's heart a bit, as the children clearly loved whomever it was that would be arriving with their father. Having been excused from the evening meal, the five remaining children scampered away, Maria following behind them.