Louisa walked slowly behind her siblings, dragging her feet across the tiles as she glanced back over her shoulder towards the dining room, a sigh escaping her as a frown settled across her features.
"You should have put it back," she heard Liesl reprimand her. "You should have done what Fraulein Maria told you to."
Her frown deepening into a hard scowl, Louisa snapped back, "I was going to, but Brigitta was worried." She placed her hand absentmindedly into the pocket of her uniform to pet the small mouse as it nibbled happily on the small square of toast she had snuck away from the table, as she continued, "And so was I. Maisy was skulking around and I couldn't let her get him."
Liesl stopped on the bottom step and glared down at her younger sister, before looking back at her other siblings who were loitering on the stairs, pretending that they weren't listening to the conversation. "Go and get ready," she told them sharply. "Come on, now." She waited until they were on the upper walkway before she turned and hissed at Louisa, "You could have taken him to another part of the garden."
"I didn't think we have time, I didn't want us to be any later than we already were."
"Better that than what happened. You saw Father's face, he was furious."
"I know but-"
"No!" Liesl interrupted. "He could be in there giving Fraulein Maria her marching orders right this very moment, he won't keep a governess who he doesn't think can keep us in line."
"But she does keep us in line," Louisa protested. "And both Brigitta and I told him that it wasn't Fraulein Maria's fault."
"Oh for pity's sake Louisa! What you told him was that you disobeyed her." She shook her head, her lips pursing together as she tried not to scream her disappointment. "He's already let her away with so much, the singing, the play clothes and the fact that she has basically went against every single order he left for her when he went to Vienna. It can't be long before he finally loses patience and sends her away," Liesl finished, finally giving a voice to the fears she had held within her for the last few days.
Louisa frowned thoughtfully at her sister's words. "Why hasn't he sent her away?" She asked suddenly. "Like you said, he has let her away with a lot, an awful lot."
"I don't know, does it matter? She asked impatiently. "The important thing is that she's still here, and I for one, want her to stay."
"So do I, it's just…curious."
"Well as curious as it may be, if Fraulein Maria goes then we are in trouble."
"Pft! I can get rid of any new Governess in a flash. Father would soon realise his mistake."
Liesl rolled her eyes. "I don't think it is a new Governess that we have to be worried about."
Louisa paled. "You don't think he really will marry the Baroness, do you?"
"I think that is the only reason he would have brought her here."
"Oh…" Louisa let out what was almost akin to a growl of annoyance. "I really do wish that we hadn't made Fraulein that promise, now we might end up stuck with that wretched woman as our Stepmother." She shook her head as she told her sister vehemently, "If Father sends Fraulein Maria away then I won't keep that promise, I won't!"
"I wouldn't worry, none of us will," Liesl muttered darkly. "But that's not the most pressing matter just now."
"I'll fix it," she assured her older sister. "I will, I promise."
"See that you do," Liesl told her with one last curt nod before she turned to head up the stairs, leaving Louisa waiting by the staircase.
She did not have to wait long, less than a minute passed before Fraulein Maria walked into the entrance hall, her head tilting curiously to one side as she spotted her charge, loitering at the stairs, looking guilty. "Louisa, you should be upstairs," she chided her gently.
Louisa nodded. "I know. I just…I wanted to apologize for not doing as you asked me."
"Ah." Maria gave her a small smile. "Well your apology is accepted. Although I'm afraid that there will have to be some consequences for what happened earlier, and that goes for Brigitta as well," she added softly.
"Good." Maria sighed, and sitting down, patted the stair, indicating that Louisa should join her. She stifled a smile as a small, furry face poked its nose briefly out of her pocket before disappearing from sight again. "Oh, Louisa," she murmured, trying not to chuckle. She slowly, and carefully raised her hand to brush away a small strand of hair off the girl's forehead, mindful that Louisa was the most skittish of the children, the most likely to pull away. Much to her relief, she stayed where she was and let the small gesture pass.
"Next time, I'll do whatever you tell me to."
This time Maria did let out a small laugh. "I appreciate the sentiment," she assured her. "But I don't think any of the seven of you can make that promise. All I do ask is that you try to remember that when I give you an instruction I have given it for a reason, and that much like this morning, there may be consequences if you decide not carry it though."
"I think I can do that."
"I'm very glad to hear it. Now," Maria made an attempt at her a fierce look, which merely caused Louisa to smile. "To your punishment." The girl's face fell again as her governess continued, "I have given it much thought. Your Father and I had agreed that you older children deserved to stay up slightly later than you have been, but for the next week, both you and Brigitta will continue to go up at the same time as you have always done."
"Oh." Louisa looked disappointed by the news but managed to force out, "I suppose that is fair."
"Good, then we are both agreed. Now, you go and get ready while I go and speak to Brigitta."
"Yes, Fraulein Maria." Louisa got to her feet before adding sheepishly, "There is just one more thing."
"Ah yes, the mouse. He seems quite contented, so you may keep him safe until we go on our walk." She glanced down at the lump in Louisa's pocket as she commented dryly, "I only hope that he has not become too attached, it would not do for him to approach other people in the hope of food. Still," she gave a small shrug, I suppose we can cross that bridge should we come to it."
"No, Fraulein Maria, that wasn't it. I just wanted to check, I mean to ask…" She swallowed nervously. "I mean, Father wasn't too terribly cross with you, was he?"
Maria looked surprised at the question. "With me?" She echoed. "No, although he was rather vexed by the interruption to his breakfast." She laughed and patted Louisa's arm, the Captain had seemed more annoyed by his children's secrecy than by their behaviour if truth be told. She thought briefly of the glimmer in his eyes as he teased her over breakfast and felt her stomach twist in a way she couldn't describe and felt almost short of breath. "No, no he wasn't cross," she clarified softly. "Now, go and get ready while I speak to Brigitta."
Louisa fell slightly short of her Governess's steps as she rushed up the stairs, the younger girl's face falling into a curious expression. There was something niggling at her, but darned if she knew what it was.
Georg checked his pocket watch once again, tutting slightly as he looked at the time. He had not expected Elsa to take so long getting ready, after all she had looked perfectly presentable at breakfast. He heard Max's familiar chuckle behind him, and he turned to see him leaning against the pillar. Georg arched an eyebrow. "Something amusing you, Max?"
"Just your expression. It would appear you have underestimated the length of Elsa's preparations." He tilted his head towards the staircase as he added mildly, "Although one does wonder what exactly she is doing up there."
"Hmmm, I do not remember Agathe ever taking so much time," Georg commented. Registering the look of surprise that crossed Max's features, he asked, "What is it now?"
"It's just…" Max looked slightly pained and cleared his throat. "That is the first time you have mentioned Agathe since…" he tailed off, unwilling to voice the last word.
Georg stared at his friend, taken aback by his reticence to continue, he had not realised how apparent his grief had been, how truly it had warped his life and the people in it. "I cannot pretend she didn't exist, that what happened," he swallowed heavily, "did not happen. She was…is the children's mother and I owe it to her memory not to wallow. I'm beginning to see that I had done so for far too long."
Max gave a nod. "Very wise of you, and pragmatic given the current circumstances and your plan for the future." He did not dare to ask what had caused such a u-turn in his friend's opinion. He did however have a feeling it had less to do with Elsa and more to do with a young postulant, but he could not bring himself to comment.
"And we know how much you care for the pragmatic," Georg teased.
His friend gave a careless shrug. "While I admit it is not my favoured approach, it can have its merits."
Georg rolled his eyes, his attention diverted by the sight of Louisa and Brigitta making their way down the stairs with rather determined expressions. As they stopped in front of him, he asked, "And where, may I ask, is your friend?"
"I've made a small den for him upstairs until we leave," Louisa told him. "He seems happy and I don't think he will make another run for it."
Ignoring Max's snort of amusement, Georg continued, "So if you are not on your way to let him free, where exactly are you heading?"
"To speak to you," Brigitta replied, her voice wavering slightly.
Looking between his two daughters, he prompted them, "Very well then, let's hear it."
They looked at each other and Brigitta nudged her sister hissing, "You say it."
Louisa glared at her but nodded before saying, "We apologised to Fraulein Maria, but we want to do something nice for her as well."
"Very thoughtful. Perhaps you can pick her some flowers on your walk," Georg suggested, unsure what exactly it was they expected from him.
"We had a much better idea," Louisa informed him, quickly dismissing his idea. "You see, Fraulein Maria's dress was ruined when she fell into the lake, and Brigitta and I have some of our pocket money saved up." She looked at her sister, who was fumbling in her pocket and pulling out a small mass of coins, held them out to her father. "After all," Louisa shuddered as she drew in a deep breath, "We don't want her to wear that ugly dress she brought with her again."
"It is hideous," Brigitta added sagely. "And we thought that since you were going into town you could buy some fabric for a new dress, a nice dress," she clarified firmly.
Georg folded his daughter's palm back over as he replied, "It is a nice idea, but if Fraulein Maria needs a replacement dress for her duties as your Governess, then it is only right that as her employer I get it for her."
"But we want-"
He hushed Louisa's protest. "You know as well as I do that Fraulein Maria would not be pleased if she discovered you had spent money you have saved on her."
"But she deserves something nice," Brigitta argued.
"I'm not disagreeing with you," he sighed tiredly, "but I do not wish to hear any more on the subject."
Louisa was interrupted by the woman in question's voice emanating from the upper hallway. "There you two are. I hope you're both ready."
Brigitta hastily pushed the coins back into her pocket, calling up, "Almost, Fraulein Maria"
"Well hurry up, or we'll never get back in time for lunch," Maria laughed as she rushed down the stairs, stopping abruptly when she spotted that the two girls weren't alone. "Oh, Captain! I didn't realise you were there."
Georg raised an eyebrow at that, he had been standing in plain view and yet as usual the woman had been too caught up to take in the full extent of her surroundings. "I shall try not to lurk in future, Fraulein," he remarked ironically. He tapped both Louisa and Brigitta on their shoulders, instructing them, "You heard your Fraulein, off you both go and get ready." They both scowled as they realised that their plan had been thwarted, but did as they had been instructed and skulked away to get ready. Turning his attention to Fraulein Maria, he continued, "I believe you have spoken to them both already about this morning's events."
"I have," she confirmed.
"Good. Do you need my involvement at all?"
Maria shook her head cheerfully, "No, it went as well as possible, both of them were already quite contrite."
A small frown crossed Georg's face as he tried and failed to picture a contrite Louisa. He believed that at the rate things were changing in his house he would not be too surprised if he stepped outside to be confronted with flying pigs. "Yes, they do seem to realise that. Well, I do hope you enjoy your walk, Fraulein."
"I'm sure we will," she smiled gently. She suddenly offered him a folded sheet of paper. "I thought you might require these today. They're the children's measurements," she clarified.
"Ah yes, you're quite right, I will need them."
Silence fell between them, and Maria ducked her head. "Well…I hope you and the Baroness enjoy your day."
"Thank you." As she turned to leave, another thought occurred to him and he called her back. "Ah, Fraulein, one more thing. You mentioned that the children's clothing was ruined this morning due to your sojourn in the lake, and I simply wondered if you required anything replaced?"
She gave him her customary sunny smile as she replied, "I'm not entirely sure my dress will recover, but I do have others."
"May I ask how many?"
"And does include the one you brought with you?"
"Of course." She gave a small laugh. "After all it is perfectly serviceable."
"I believe that may be a matter of opinion," he murmured under his breath. "You are certain?" he queried again.
"Absolutely. After all, how many dresses can a Governess need?" Hearing an excited squeal from the nursery, she added quickly, "I better get back upstairs, gather the children together."
She didn't wait for his response and Georg watched as she rushed back up the stairs, muttering as she went, "When you're looking after seven active children, I imagine a fair few."
Max watched the exchange with interest, he had a feeling that Elsa might regret her decision to spend so long getting ready, he reflected. It now looked as though Elsa was going to discover today that she was shopping for more than just the children. The next few days could be prove to be fairly entertaining indeed