By the next morning, the storm had cleared and the day promised to be beautiful, warm, and full of sunshine. After returning all the extra bedding from Maria's floor to the rooms where it belonged, Maria and the children took their breakfast in the dining room as usual. A quick vote on what the afternoon's activity should be proved to be unanimous in favor of a picnic lunch up on Maria's mountain. Frau Schmidt promised to have the cook pack plenty of food in the basket, and the children practically ran up the stairs, to complete their lessons in record time.
"Frau Schmidt, have you heard anything from the Captain? I don't mean to pry, but I thought it odd he hasn't called to check on the children, or even to wish Marta a happy birthday," Maria inquired thoughtfully.
"Oh, he called once; I believe it was the day you first took the children on a picnic. I assured him all was well, and that the children were behaving well for you," the housekeeper replied. "Believe me, it is likely a relief for him. Usually he receives a call from me, that the latest governess has left the position and he needs to return." She smiled warmly at the younger woman, and placed her hand on Maria's arm. "Trust me, you are doing a marvelous job, and the Captain will see that when he returns."
"Do you have any idea when that might be? I've been teaching the children a song to sing for the Baroness when they meet her, and I want to make sure they are ready." Maria didn't notice the look of surprise on Frau Schmidt's face that was quickly replaced by a knowing smile.
"Not yet, he usually calls a few days before, to let us know when he plans to return. As soon as I hear from him, I'll be sure to let you know."
"Thank you, Frau Schmidt. We'll be down for the picnic basket soon."
The children did their schoolwork especially quickly, and soon the seven young von Trapps and their governess were once again enjoying a lovely summer afternoon on what they'd come to know as Maria's mountain. The boys played ball, Brigitta took her usual position under a nearby tree with a book, and Maria and the other girls wandered about, picking flowers. Later while the little girls dozed on the blanket, Maria continued helping Liesl learn play the song they were preparing for the baroness on her guitar.
The group arrived back at the villa just before the evening meal time, and Maria sent the children upstairs to wash up and change their clothes. She took the picnic basket and blanket back toward the kitchen, where she met Frau Schmidt.
"Oh, Fraulein, I'm so glad you're back. The Captain called just a few minutes ago, it seems he will be arriving home tomorrow afternoon, with his guests, around this time."
"How wonderful! The children will be so excited to see him after such a long trip."
"I'm sure they will, dear. Now, he has requested that they be dressed in their uniforms for their first meeting with the Baroness. I fear you'll have to help me press them, as the laundress has already gone for the day and won't be here tomorrow."
"Not to worry, Frau Schmidt, I'll see that it is taken care of. If you'll excuse me, I'll go and clean up before we eat."
"Thank you, Fraulein. I'll tell cook you have all arrived so that the final meal preparations can be made."
Later that evening, after having tucked the children all into bed, Maria gathered the childrens' freshly washed and dried uniforms and set about pressing them. She wasn't truly eager to dress the children in them-they hadn't worn them since the first set of playclothes had been finished-but she certainly wanted to have them ready as the captain had requested. Maria knew how important this first meeting among them must be, especially for him. He must love the baroness very much if he was considering marrying her. Her heart sank a bit when she remembered Frau Schmidt's comment that the woman didn't like children very much. But surely she will come to love these seven children as I have, especially if she loves their father. They are such marvelous children, so full of love to give. Maria briefly wondered what would attract her to a man with seven children if she didn't like them. Then she smiled to herself as his very handsome face came to mind. He was without doubt the most handsome man Maria had ever seen, and his commanding presence was quite powerful in drawing one's attention.
As she carefully smoothed the wrinkles from the fabric of Gretl's skirt, Maria's thoughts continued to ponder their father. He certainly gave one pause, so serious and stern with his children. But he must have another side, if he loved his wife so much that he closed himself off after she passed on. She loved hearing the stories the children had told her of how he'd been such a loving presence for them before they'd lost their mother. Maria's fondest wish was that she could make him see how much more wonderful life could be if he'd let them back into his heart. She began to pray, asking the Father in heaven to prepare the Captain's heart for his children, and for the Baroness as well, and for herself, that she would be able to guide the family toward becoming whole again.
That night, Maria fell asleep with the hope that when the Captain returned and saw his children, he'd realize what a gift they were.
In the morning, Maria placed all their newly pressed uniforms in the childrens' rooms. Once the morning's work was finished, the group decided that this would be their only chance to take out the rowboat on the lake. They'd been down to the water's edge several times to check out the small skiff, and Maria had asked Gus to take a look at it to see if it was still in sailing shape. It was, and he'd located the oars for her as well.
After practicing their song for the Baroness again, and having a light lunch, they made their way to the boat. It was quickly decided that Friedrich would be the one to man the oars, and Kurt and Louisa would be the navigators. Maria and Liesl kept watch over the littlest girls, who were very excited to be out on the water and kept trying to lean over the edge to dip their fingers in the cool liquid.
The lake seemed much larger when in the midst of it in a small rowboat, and Maria didn't want Friedrich to tire out too much before rowing home.
"Louisa, look for a place along the shore where we can stop for a little while; we can get out and explore before we head back."
A few moments later, Louisa called out, "Friedrich, row in! There's a spot where we can pull the boat up and we can climb out." After a small argument over what one meant by 'port' and 'starboard'-which Maria was at a loss to help-she simply told Friedrich to row to his left. The little boat ground to halt on the bottom of the lakeshore, Louisa and Kurt hopped out to tie a rope to a tree stump, and the children tumbled out onto the grass at the edge of the lake. There was much to investigate in the shallows, and Maria quickly turned their observations into impromptu and fun science lessons.
Only a few feet away from the shore, across a road was a small stand of trees. Louisa begged Maria to let them climb, and she challenged Friedich to a contest. When the siblings couldn't agree to 'highest' or 'fastest', Maria settled the matter by daring them to climb and pretend they were the monkeys in a book Marta and Gretl were currently intrigued with. None of them seemed to notice the car that drove quickly down the road, leaving behind a large cloud of dust.
After the tree climbing, the children played tag and blind mans' bluff in the field behind the trees. Estimating the time by the position of the sun, Maria told the children it was time to head back. By her calculations, they should have time to row back, wash up, and get dressed into their uniforms with time to spare before Captain von Trapp and his guests would arrive.
With Maria in the prow, the children rowed the skiff toward the house. When they were just feet from the landing, the children quickly spotted their father, and almost as one, stood up to wave. The boat rocked precariously as the weight within it shifted. Shouts of "Father! Father, you're home!" were all that could be heard from the little boat.
Turning to see what the children were so happy about, Maria saw the captain standing at the gate to the landing. "Oh! Oh, Captain! You're home!"she exclaimed as she quickly stood up, and dramatically clasped her hands together. This final insult to the weight distribution within the skiff sent it too far to the side, and the seven children and their governess splashed out into the chilly lake water. The children popped up out of the water almost immediately, Louisa carrying Gretl. Every last one of them was laughing, as if it were the funniest thing to ever happen to them. Not one noticed that their father was furious and could barely contain his anger.
"Come out of that water at once!"
The Captain flung open the gate as his grinning children waded ashore. Maria, her short hair plastered to her head, dragged the boat behind her as she walked in to shore.
"Oh! You must be Baroness Schraeder!" she called brightly.
The Baroness struggled to contain her laughter upon seeing the expression on the Captain's face.
Soaking wet, the children climbed onto the terrace, everyone talking at once, milling about in complete chaos. The Captain pulled his whistle from his pocket and with a single blast, silenced the children's chatter. They sloshed and slid to their places in line and stood at attention.
"Straight line!" The Captain paced back and forth in front of his children. He paused at Louisa, pulling the green flowered scarf from her head. She jumped slightly at his action, and Maria gave her a look of sympathy. The look was not unnoticed by her employer.
The captain inhaled sharply, barely able to contain the fury within him. He attempted a smile. "This is Baroness Schraeder..." His smile faded at the sight of his raggedy children., soaking wet and in a mess of garments such as he'd never seen. He turned to the Baroness "... and these, are my children."
The Baroness, using her best society voice, said only, "How do you do?"
"All right. Go inside, dry off, clean up, change your clothes, report back here! Immediately!"
The children scrambled toward the house, the older ones taking care not to slip on the wet stone. He noticed Fraulein Maria frown with disgust as she began to follow them.
"Fraulein, you will stay here, please!"
Maria froze in her tracks.