Friedrich Bhaer had never been so confused.

Ach—women! Who could have the understanding of them? They puzzled him, drove him to distraction. Or, rather, she did—Mees Marsch. She was constant clutter, chaos in his world, a wild, unexplained jarring in his calm and comfortable life.

He needed it not, this wildness, he was too old for it—but ach, he could not deny it was…pleasant.

At present, however, it was only bewildering. He had hoped to know, to at least be hopeful that she had a place in her heart for him, old Fritz…he had hoped to see her thoughts of him. But there was no understanding his Jo—why did he persist in thinking of her so!—at the moment.

It had begun well. He had seen her darting about through the wet—he had followed her, the damp and heedless Mees Marsch, and she had seemed so happy to see him…

She had helped him with the shopping, and that also had been well…

Yet now, she was suddenly tired and her eyes were on the ground, no longer even looking at him. He tried speaking, but her answers were short and distant.

Confused, he tried to make the sense of it. Perhaps it was nothing. Mees Marsch had had a long day…she was surely tired…

Surely, surely this…this feeling had not shown on his face…surely she had not seen it and been horrified…that was not it…

Prut. He worried himself unduly. She was tired and wet. That was all.

And yet…

She flung herself out, hailing a—how to say—omniboos…the flowers he had purchased crashed to the muddy ground, and he stooped to pick them up, waving the thing away.

"That is not our omniboos," he told her, his poor, weary Jo, who looked—looked—devastated, yes, that was it, devastated at her mistake.

"I beg your pardon," murmured Jo, turning her face from him, much as he tried to look at it. He wished she would not…he wanted to remember her face, in case he left and saw her not. "I didn't see the name distinctly. Never mind, I can walk, I'm used to plodding in the mud."

Her voice was trembling, and she was blinking hard—she was crying. Heaven, he knew not what to do with women who cried. Yet, it was Jo…the Jo he wanted for his own so badly…the stubborn, lovely, wild Jo who made such explosive noises sometimes.

There was wetness at her eyes, on her cheeks…he wanted nothing more than to bend and wipe it away, to kiss her shamed, damp face…to ask what her trouble was…

It was not because he was leaving. It was not. It was vanity, foolishness to think so. But he was not able to stop himself from bending to her, could not halt the words which tumbled headlong from his lips:

"Heart's dearest, why do you cry?"

He waited for the trouble. Perhaps it was her sister, her poor sister, Beth…perhaps it was the boy—what was his name?—Laurie…perhaps she just needed to cry. He would help it, whatever it was; if she could not be his wife—foolish, foolish dreams!—then he would be her helper, repay her for the wonderful things she had given him.

Jo blinked hard again and stared up at him with wet gray eyes as he waited.

"Because," she said, choking back a small sob, "you are going away."