“It looks like it's going to be another beautiful day,” Maria exclaimed, as she looked out the window of the room she shared with two other postulants at Nonnberg Abbey.
The previous day had been so lovely that she just had to go to her mountains, after hearing them call her name. It had got her into trouble – again – but Maria was so used to getting into trouble that it had become second nature to her.
She turned around to see who had called her. “Did someone say my name?”
“You do realise that you are not allowed to whistle, right?” one of her roommates whispered.
“Yes. I know, ChloŽ,” Maria replied, frowning. “I don't understand why,though.”
“Girls shouldn't whistle at all,” said another postulant. “ It isn’t very…ladylike. And they also don’t frown and shrug like that – it isn’t very ladylike either.”
Maria said nothing as she rolled her eyes and shrugged, moving away from the window. She was going to be a nun. It did not mean that she would ever be a lady. Indeed, that was something that Isobel would never understand, coming from a wealthy Viennese family. Maria knew that she would never be as refined and well-mannered as the ladies she sometimes saw attending mass at the Nonnberg Chapel. As if to verbalise her thinking, she began to sing at the top of her voice.
“Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee,
E'en though it be a cross
That raiseth me
Still my song shall be…”
Ssssshhh,Maria!” ChloŽ admonished her.
“Though like the wanderer,
The sun gone down,
Darkness be over me,
My rest a stone,
Yet in my dreams I’d be,
Nearer, my God, to thee.”
“You will get us in trouble again,” ChloŽ finished.
“Oh, don’t talk nonsense,” Maria sneered. “When have I ever gotten you into trouble before, ChloŽ?”
“Um…how about yesterday…and the day before yesterday. And if I remember correctly, the day before that one as well,” ChloŽ reminded her.
“Speaking of yesterday,” ChloŽ began. “Did you see that man who came to see the Reverend Mother?”
“Yes, I did, when I was out for a walk. Who was he?” asked Isobel. “He looked awfully familiar…Maybe he's one of my father's friends from Vienna.”
“I don’t know,” said ChloŽ. “Did you see him, Maria?”
“Who?” Maria asked, thinking for a moment. “ Oh, you mean the strange man who was here yesterday…I think…I might have seen him…I don’t really remember.”
“What do you mean, you don’t remember?” asked ChloŽ.
“Well – ehm – uh – I may have accidentally – bumped into him, when I snuck back into the Abbey.” was Maria's confession.
“Maria, you didn’t!” exclaimed Isobel, dumbfounded, while ChloŽ giggled.
“I vaguely remember the tall man smelling of very expensive cologne,” Maria told them. “ At least, that is how I think very expensive cologne should smell like, because I did not sneeze at all. You know I usually can’t stop sneezing when…”
“Maria!” the girls exclaimed, in unison.
“Oohhh,” Maria muttered impatiently. “I am not even sure if it is the same man you're talking about.”
“Oh, yes. It could only be him. It's not everyday that the Reverend Mother receives anyone from the outside world.” said Isobel.
“So you did see him, Maria!” said ChloŽ.
“Why?” Maria asked. “What’s so special about him?”
“He’s distinctive,” ChloŽ said.
“Dashing,” added Isobel.
Maria frowned. Were these the same girls who had chastised her, only a few minutes ago, for whistling and singing? Now they are the ones with flushed cheeks because some gentleman had been inside the convent.
Well, in Isobel’s case, it might not be so odd. The poor girl had made no secret that becoming a nun had not been her choice, but rather, she had been pushed into it to uphold an old family tradition. The other day, when Maria had spoken to her about it, she admitted that she hoped to convince her parents to allow her to return to Vienna before she took her final vows. Maria advised her to talk to the Reverend Mother about it, for she would not allow any girl to take her final vows if it was not what she really wanted. However, Isobel feared her family's reaction more than anything else, and was too afraid of even the idea of telling them how she really felt.
ChloŽ, on the other hand, was an entirely different story. There were times when Maria secretly envied her. She had never seen anyone so devoted, so made to become a nun. The girl lived according to all of Nonnberg's rules, even those that Maria found impossible to obey.
“Maria, don’t look at me like that,” said Isobel. “Just because we are going to be nuns, doesn’t mean we don’t have eyes in our heads.”
“What?” Maria's frown deepened.
“It simply means…” Isobel began to mock her.
“Oh, I know very well what it means.” Maria was irritated.
“Of course, she does,” replied ChloŽ. “Remember when Sister Norma caught her staring at that picture of Michelangelo’s David?”
“How could I forget?” Maria said, forlornly. “She made me rip the page off…and swallow it.” She gulped. “I never understood why she didn’t like that picture. It's a real work of art, isn’t it? It depicts a biblical figure, not a pagan god
“Never mind how beautiful the sculpture is. He is…he is…well, you know…unclothed.” ChloŽ said, whispering the last word.
Maria gave her an impatient look. “So? There are naked statues everywhere you go in this city.” Maria paused, then frowned at them. “Why? Are you saying that the mysterious gentleman looks like David?”
Both girls looked up at her and gasped.
“I see,” Maria said, trying to sound as if she knew the reason for their silence. Did he really look like the famous statue? And if he did, she should have taken a better look at him when she bumped into him. Why didn’t she? She had been in such a hurry, and she was much too late for vespers. To make matters worse, and to add to her shame, she nearly knocked the poor gentleman down.
Isobel’s words interrupted her brief reverie. “The man was much too real, and much too old, to look anything like David.”
“May I remind you, Isobel, that it was you two girls who mentioned David in the first place. Not me.” With a mischievous smile on her face, Maria was not finished teasing her friends. “What about the pair of statues in the Mirabell Gardens?” She mimicked the pose of the well-known statues.
“Maria, why is it that every handsome man you can think of is a naked statue?” ChloŽ blurted out, laughing.
“What, in heaven's name, are you girls talking about?”
The trio slowly turned around, only to be faced with a very angry-looking Sister Norma. A deathly silence filled the room.
“I’m waiting for an answer,” the nun insisted, looking at each of the girls in turn, until her gaze settled on ChloŽ – the perfect target. The girl was usually shy and the first one to break down. “ChloŽ?”
“Oh, well – eh – we – we…”
“Yes?” insisted Sister Norma.
Maria quickly came to her friends aid, and the word was out before she knew what she had said. “Aphrodite!” She spoke the word so loudly, that the Mistress of Postulants nearly jumped.
Her scowl turned immediately to her. “Maria, will you care to enlighten me?”
“Well…” Maria bit her lower lip, looking up, saying a silent prayer. She hardly understood the stern expression on the nuns face. They hadn’t done anything wrong. After all, they were only talking about marble statues. “We were…we were…”
“I am waiting!” said Sister Norma.
Maria's prayers were answered when she suddenly remembered reading about Aphrodite in a book once. “We were discussing Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. There is a fountain…Did you know that? Aphrodite’s fountain. When you drink from the fountain, legend has it, you…you…” Sister Norma raised her eyebrows, waiting for her to continue. “You will become young again, and men will fall in... love with…you.” She finished with a nervous look in her eyes, knowing that she had just shot herself in the foot, while Isobel and ChloŽ just hung their heads.
“I’m sure I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about,” the nun said, narrowing her eyes. “Never mind that now. I am here because of a very urgent matter. But don’t think that you have gotten away with this one, Maria. I expect to see you in my study, that is, after the Reverend Mother is done with you.”
The three girls gasped.
Maria's eyes flew open. “After…the Reverend Mother?”
“She wants to see you,” Sister Norma said. “Now!”
Maria was suddenly paralysed. Her feet felt like they were glued to the floor. Have I gone too far this time? She wondered. She had left the Abbey as soon as the sun came up yesterday morning to go to the mountains, and she stayed until sunset. Now, she could only hope, once more, for the Mother Abbess’s kind understanding and forgiveness.
The Reverend Mother raised her eyes from the letter in her hands, which she had been re-reading for the third time. The letter was from Captain Von Trapp, requesting a governess for his children. He had been to visit her yesterday to discuss the requirements of the new governess personally, and Reverend Mother knew exactly who to send.
She prayed for guidance and hope that she was making the right decision, by choosing to send Maria to him.
She met the kind face of the Mistress of Novices, and wondered if Sister Anne had ever been angry, as her face was just so ethereal. “I’m sorry, Sister Anne. I was a million miles away. Please, forgive me.”
“You really have come to care about Maria since she first arrived on our doorstep, haven’t you?” said Sister Anne, knowingly.
“It’s been twenty years since I accepted God's mission to be Nonnberg's leader, and if anyone told me all those years ago that I would worry so much about my lambs…” she sighed and shook her head. “Do you think I’m making the right decision?”
Sister Anne shook her head. “I can’t answer that. It's God's will. He knows what’s best.” She paused. “But I’ve always believed in her. She has a great capacity to love. She must just find out how God wants her to spend her love.”
“Is she here already?” asked the Reverend Mother.
Sister Anne nodded. “She is waiting outside.” The weight of the Reverend Mother’s decision was clearly visible to her. She hoped that whatever her superior had to say to the young postulant, it would be God's will for the young girl’s path in life.
“Please, send her in, “was the gentle command of the Reverend Mother.
After Sister Anne had left, the Reverend Mother could not stop thinking about the young girl. She was far from being an ordinary girl, that much was certain, but the superior could not help but wonder, if she was prepared for the task she was about to be given.
Maria never had to handle so much responsibility before, but then, she had been completely on her own since she was a child. Most importantly, if she is successful in her mission, would she be more prepared to take her vows and become a nun? The only consolation the Reverend Mother had, was that sending her away would provide them both with the answers to all those questions. But whether those answers led Maria to the life she was born to live, was a horse of a different colour.
She heard Sister Anne's gentle voice on the other side of the door. “You may go in now, Maria.”
Maria slowly stepped into the semi-darkened study, and shut the door quietly behind her. She looked unusually composed and calm. Was this the same girl who had climbed a tree and over the wall just the day before? The black wimple hid her usually disheveled strawberry-blond hair, and only her fringe could be seen. He eyes seemed too big for her face, and they looked at her cautiously, but without any trace of fear. Her face was slightly flushed, as if she had run from wherever she was when she had been called.
“Come here, my child,” the Reverend Mother encouraged, with her usual gentle voice. Maria hurried over to her superior, knelt down and quickly kissed her hand. “Please. Sit down,” she gently commanded her lost sheep.
However, if the Reverend Mother thought for a moment that Maria would do as she was told for once, she was mistaken. No sooner had the girl sat down in the chair opposite her superior, that she began to talk. “Oh, Reverend Mother, I’m so sorry,” she began. “It was such a lovely day yesterday, and I just had to be a part of it. The Untersberg was calling my name, and you know I can’t say no when my mountain calls me.”
“Maria, I haven’t summoned you here for apologies,” Reverend Mother said.
Maria frowned. “You haven’t?”
The Reverend Mother took a deep breath. “I received a letter the other day.”
“What letter?” Maria interrupted.
“Maria, please let me finish,” said the Reverend Mother, fixing her with a stern look, and Maria did not like where this conversation was going.
“Forgive me, Mother,” she replied.
“Captain Von Trapp wrote me a letter, requesting a governess to take care of his seven children.”
“Is there a problem, Maria?” asked the Reverend Mother.
Maria took a deep, calming breath. “No, Mother,” she replied. “Go on.”
“He’s a retired officer of the Imperial Navy. A fine man and a brave one. One of Austria's greatest men, in fact. His poor wife died several years ago, leaving him alone with the children.” Maria remained silent. “He wants someone who is reliable, and who will be able to take care of the children.”
“That’s nice, Reverend Mother, but what has it got to do with me?”
“I believe you can, Maria.”
Maria's mind seemed to have frozen in time. She was being sent away! Not only that, but she was being sent to work for a captain! Could he be the man who was at Nonnberg yesterday? The man she had nearly knocked off his feet?
“A sea Captain?”
“Is there a problem, Maria?” The older woman looked up from her writing.
“No. I mean…oh, Reverend Mother, I’m a mountain girl. I don’t know anything about ships. I don’t know how to…I have never even seen the sea,” Maria confessed. “And now you want me to work for a sea captain? What if I suffer from seasickness?”
“Maria, you will not be out on the open sea. You will be at his home.” The woman couldn’t help but smile at the young girl's fears.
“Maybe…maybe he is very mean…I mean, very stern,” said Maria.
“His home isn’t one of his warships, Maria,” Reverend Mother assured her. “Now, I believe he’s had a most difficult time managing to keep a governess there.”
“Uh, why difficult, Reverend Mother?”
“The Lord will show you in His own good time,” replied the superior. “I’ll tell Captain Von Trapp that he can expect you tomorrow.”
“All your clothes have already been given to the poor, but I'm sure this one will fit,” said Sister Anne, as she entered the postulants room, carrying an ugly-looking grey bundle.
“Who is the Captain?” ChloŽ asked.
“I’m sure my parents must know him,” said Isobel, while they helped Maria change from her habit, and into the dress that Sister Anne had brought. “The name sounds familiar.”
“Maybe he swears and chews tabacco,” ChloŽ uttered.
“Probably. That might be the reason why no one can stand to be at his house for long,” Maria mumbled. “I have no idea why the Reverend Mother thinks I can be different.”
“Because she believes in you,” Sister Anne told her. “I have never seen the Reverend Mother believe in anyone the way she believes in you.”
“I don’t understand why, though,” Maria said, straightening her hair. “I’ve caused so much trouble. I’ve never done anything right in my life. I’ve never been good enough for anyone…”
Sister Anne turned Maria around to face her. “Now, you listen to me. You’ve been a great asset to the Abbey, despite all your faults, and we're all going to miss you terribly. I think, even Sister Norma, in her own way, will miss you…I guess, you must have done something good.”
“Maybe he was the gentleman who came to the Abbey the other day!” exclaimed Isobel.
“I don’t think it was him,” Maria said, turning to face them, after Sister Anne helped her pull the grey dress over her head. “He did not look at all like a sea captain.”
Sister Anne intervened. “Now girls, stop this nonsense. He’s a poor, grieving widower with seven children.” She took a step back to look at Maria. “Well, it's not as turned out as I’d like but it will have to do. Still, it's pretty.”
Maria looked down at herself, forlornly. The grey dress was quite a sight, and it was a little too big for her. A burlap jacket, and a wide-brimmed leather hat, completed her dowdy attire. Poor Sister Anne – she had been living in Nonnberg for decades. No wonder her sense of fashion was so…altered. Chloe and Isobel also seemed to think the dress was ugly, as they just giggled.
“Oh God…” Maria exclaimed, only to notice Sister Anne's shocked expression. She continued, trying to hide her blasphemy. “…please guide me to the life I am supposed to lead.” Those were the only words that came to mind.
“Are you ready, Maria?” Sister Anne asked.
Was she? Would she ever be ready to face life outside these walls, most of all, sea captain's and seven children?
Sister Anne sensed her distress. “Don’t worry, Maria. Remember what the Reverend Mother always says – When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” Maria said that last part with Sister Anne, forcing a smile. “Just be…yourself, and the rest will fall into place in their own time.”
Maria frowned slightly – after all, she had always been told not to be herself.
“God bless you, Maria,” said Sister Anne, with a beaming smile, touching her face.
“Thank you,” Maria murmured.
“Hurry Isobel, we'll be late for benediction,” ChloŽ said, and then turned to Maria. “I think its goodbye, for now.”
“Oh, I’ll be back,” Maria replied, as if to reasure, not only her friends, but herself as well.
“Come visit us soon, please,” said Isobel.
“Oh, wild horses couldn’t keep me away.” Maria smiled. Picking up her guitar and carpet bag, she open the door, and then, turning around, she whispered,” goodbye.” And then, she closed the door behind the three people who were the closest thing to a family she ever had.
Read Part One...
Read Part Three...
Read Part Four...
Read Part Five...