"Fraulein, you will stay here, please!"

Maria froze in her tracks at the sound of his voice. At the very same moment, Elsa muttered something about Max and walked, quickly, toward the house. Georg noticed she gave the slightest glance at Maria as she passed her, but she continued on without stopping.

Maria stood, rooted to where she'd stopped, in a brown dress and a beige blouse that in their soaking wet condition, clung wickedly to her body. The blouse, nearly sheer now, barely covered her at all, he could see her skin right through it. Georg no longer needed to imagine what had been under the ugly convent dress, or her baggy nightgown. It was on display, right in front of him. Without warning, she turned to face him, and his breath hitched upon seeing the cleft of her cleavage through the material.

Quickly he gathered his thoughts. "Now, Fraulein, I want a truthful answer from you." He looked her in the eye, praying as he did that she wouldn't see his desire for her burning within.

"Yes, Captain?", her voice was strong, yet oddly quiet.

"Is it possible, or could I have just imagined it... have my children by any chance been climbing trees today?" He couldn't look away from her, so instead he set his jaw and steeled his eyes, walling himself off with his anger.

"Yes, Captain." She met his gaze, her eyes blazing, contrasting with the steadiness in her voice.

"I see." Barely containing his fury, Georg held up the scarf he'd torn from Louisa's head, still dripping with lake water. "And where, may I ask, did they get these, um, these, uh ...?"

"Play clothes." Maria fixed her gaze on him, challenging him.

"Oh, is that what you call them?"

"I made them. From the drapes that used to hang in my bedroom." There was that impertinent streak again, Georg thought. It was at once irritating and irresistible.

"Drapes!" he exclaimed.

"They still had plenty of wear left. The children have been everywhere in them." At this last remark, Georg couldn't tell if she was baiting him on purpose or not.

"Do you mean to tell me that my children have been roaming about Salzburg dressed up in nothing but some old drapes?!" He punctuated his question by throwing the dripping scarf to the ground.

"Mm-hmm. And having a marvelous time!" She smiled at him defiantly. Now he knew she was indeed baiting him on purpose.

"They have uniforms!" He spoke sharply to her, turning away.

"Straitjackets, if you'll forgive me." She nearly spit the words at him, her anger with him becoming palpable.

"I will not forgive you for that." Georg was now barely able to control himself. He began pacing, trying to keep away from her, the dress still stuck to her body in all the right/wrong places. His physical reaction to her was beginning to distract him from the need to put her in her proper place.

"Children cannot do all the things they're supposed to do if they have to worry about spoiling their precious clothes all the ..."

Georg interrupted her. "I haven't heard them complain yet."

"Well, they wouldn't dare! They love you too much. They fear you too much." She stood, challenging him, daring him to respond.

He stared at her. "I don't wish you to discuss my children in this manner." He was clearly uncomfortable now, and turned away from her again, pacing again.

"Well, you've got to hear from someone. You're never home long enough to know them!"

"I said I don't want to hear any more from you about my children!"

"I know you don't! But you've got to! Now, take Liesl..."

"You will not say one word about Liesl, Fraulein ..." He waved his hand, sweeping the words away as if he could unhear them by doing so.

"She's not a child anymore! One of these days you're going to wake up and find she's a woman. You won't even know her. And Friedrich. He's a boy but he wants to be a man like you and there's no one to show him how."

"Don't you dare tell me about my son!"

"Brigitta could tell you about him if you'd let her get close to you. She notices everything."

"Fraulein ..." He was now desperate for her to stop. How dare she speak to him this way, criticize what he'd done to protect them, and him, from any more heartache.

"And Kurt pretends he's tough not to show how hurt he is when you brush him aside..."

"That will do." Georg snapped at her, wishing his own words would stop hers from being said.

" ... the way you do all of them. Louisa I don't know about..."

"I said, that will do!" Stop, stop, stop.

" ... but someone has to find out about her and the little ones just want to be loved. Oh, please, Captain, love them, love them all!" Her voice now broke, as if she were going to cry. It took everything he had not to take her in his arms. Whether he wanted to shake her or kiss her, he wasn't sure. Perhaps both.

"I don't care to hear anything further from you about my children!" He stormed toward the house. He had to get away, get far enough away that he could no longer hear her words or see the look in her eyes, both of which were tormenting him beyond what he thought he could bear.

"I am not finished yet, Captain!" Maria's fury was now at full bore.

"Oh, yes, you are, Captain!" For a split second, he wondered why Maria looked at him, her blue eyes wide in surprise. He then realized what he'd said, and quickly corrected himself.

"Fraulein." As he said it, he closed his eyes, but not before seeing her expression change. She'd gotten the better of him, and they both knew it. He had no choice now, he could not maintain control over his own household if she remained. Or himself.

"Now, you will pack your things this minute and return to the abbey..." he stopped, and turned toward the soft sound of voices in the distance.

"What's that?" Georg was puzzled by what he thought was...

"It's singing." Maria answered simply.

Would she exasperate him always? "Yes, I realize it's singing, but who is singing?"

"The children."

"The children?" His voice suddenly soft, the captain looked toward the house in disbelief.

"I taught them something to sing for the Baroness."

Georg said nothing, and barely heard her response as he strode toward the house.

He hurried inside, leaving the doors wide open as he did. He followed the sweet voices to the salon, where he stopped and looked at the scene playing before him. The children were grouped by height, Leisl behind them playing softly on a guitar, the smallest girls in front. Now he could hear not just the melody, but the words they were singing:

... with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears
My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds
that rise from the lake to the trees (to the trees)

My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies
from a church on a breeze
To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls over
stones on its way (on it's way)

Georg realized he knew the song, from his own childhood. Almost involuntarily, he moved into the room as he began to sing with them, with the seven children he loved so dearly, and had neglected so terribly in the time of their greatest need for him.

To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray
I go to the hills when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I've heard before

My heart will be blessed with the sound of music
And I'll sing once more

The Captain smiled faintly and took a few hesitant steps toward his children. Immediately, Brigitta ran to him, hugging him tightly, as if to never let him go. The rest of the children surrounded him, eager for his attention and his touch. Georg hugged the little ones, touched Liesl's cheek, ruffled Kurt's hair. They all start to laugh.

Gretl left his grip to bend toward the floor, and then walked over toward Elsa, who was seated on the divan behind them. She handed the Baroness a nosegay of edelweiss, and then curtsied.

"Edelweiss!" Georg turned to see the Elsa hug Gretl. "You never told me how enchanting your children are."

Georg shook his head in response. He didn't have it in him to admit, out loud and to her, that he hadn't known it himself. As he turned back to the other children, he saw Maria standing in the shadows, just outside the salon.

He whispered to the children, "Don't go away!", then swiftly made his way out of the room, seeing Maria walking quickly away. He reached the hall just as she started up the staircase.

"Fraulein..." He saw her hesitate, then stop before turning to face him.

"I ... behaved badly. I apologize."

Maria looked at him kindly. "No, I'm, I'm far too outspoken. It's one of my worst faults."

"You were right. I don't know my children." He suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable by admitting this, and didn't quite know what else to say.

"There's still time, Captain. They want so much to be close to you." Maria looked at him so plaintively, so sweetly, he wanted to be close to her...

"And you've brought ... music back into the house. I'd forgotten..."

Maria again started up the stairs. Georg was not yet ready to let her go.


Maria stopped and turned to look at him once more.

"I want you to stay."

She stared at him. The captain smiled, chastened. "I, uh, ask you to stay."

"If I can be of any help, Captain." Georg locked on her gaze in amazement. He was lost in her eyes and almost couldn't find his voice.

"You have already. More than you know."