She handed him a piece of candy and smiled. "Better not tell any of the other children where you got this. I've only got a few."
He nodded. "I won't." He popped the candy in his mouth, and his eyes widened in delight. "This...is really...good," he said, trying to master the taffy and his words all at once.
"Well, you run along and chew it slow. It'll last a long time if you just keep chewing on it."
He gave another nod and turned to head in the opposite direction. Cassie noted the way he'd thrown back his shoulders. There was a strut to his walk that suggested he was king of the roost. Taffy had a way of making a boy feel like a king.
She laughed. It was a good way to finish off a Friday. She headed down the boardwalk toward home. Fridays used to be a lot more interesting when Papa was alive. Not long before his death, he earned the right to take Saturdays off. Sometimes he might have to cover for someone, but most of the time he was able to be home Saturday and Sunday, which meant Friday night was something of a celebration.
Cassie always tried to have one of his favorite meals ready and waiting. How she missed their pleasant evenings and discussions of all that he'd seen during the week. She loved Papa's stories of driving the train back and forth from San Marcial to El Paso and Albuquerque on the Horny Toad line. It was nicknamed that because of all the horned toads that made their way onto the rails. A lot of them got killed by the trains, but most seemed to sense the danger and stayed back when the big steam engines came roaring through. Her father had told her about seeing so many horned toads that the ground beyond the tracks seemed to move like water. She had always wished she could see that.
She sighed. Now Papa was gone. It had been only five months. The raid of Pancho Villa on Columbus, New Mexico, had coincided with her father's train derailment, and most folks at the Santa Fe Railway believed Villa's men had something to do with the destruction of the rails that caused the accident. Papa and his young fireman, Archie Sullivan, had both been killed, and the town mourned right along with Cassie. Wesley Barton—Bart to his friends—was beloved by the townspeople. Many of the men volunteered to ride out against Villa and his revolutionaries, who were causing problems all along the border.
Thankfully, the army had pledged to stop the insurgent. Black Jack Pershing, the general in command, assured New Mexicans that he would capture and deal with Villa. So far that hadn't happened, and folks were worried at the growing number of incidents being attributed to Villa. Especially after it was said that Pershing sent a telegram to Washington that read, Villa is everywhere, but Villa is nowhere.
"Why, Cassie Barton, are you so lost in your thoughts that you aren't even going to say hello?"
Cassie glanced up and found Myrtle Tyler, her pastor's wife, staring at her. "Oh, Myrtle, I am sorry. I'm afraid I was lost in thoughts of my father and all the problems along the border."
Myrtle patted her arm. "That's quite all right, my dear. I didn't truly take offense." She smiled and glanced into the basket. "I see you've been busy."
"Yes, I've been shopping and delivering mended clothes." Cassie smiled at the older woman. "How about you? It's rumored you have busied yourself baking twelve dozen cookies for the church picnic."
"It's no rumor. If I never make another cookie, it would suit me just fine, but I know how those things get devoured."
"That's what we get for having so many men working in our town."
"Single men," Myrtle amended. "Cassie, you need to find a husband. At thirty-two, you're a very attractive woman and can still bear children. Now that your father is gone, you need a man to protect and provide for you."
"I know. This isn't the first time I've heard you tell this tale. Nor are you the only one encouraging it."
"Well, goodness, it's true. Your younger sister is married with children. You should be as well."
"I remained single to take care of Papa," Cassie reminded her.
"But he's gone," Myrtle said, softening her tone. "And we miss him greatly, but he wouldn't want you to be alone. Why don't you let me talk to John and see if we can figure out who might be a good match?" She chuckled. "As if you didn't know my choice. Brandon DuBarko was like a son to your father. I think the two of you would be fine together."
"Except that he's never shown the slightest indication that he's interested in me that way," Cassie replied. Myrtle opened her mouth to speak, but Cassie continued. "You can do as you like, but just remember that it doesn't mean things will work out. This is 1916, and folks marry for love. If I can't love a fella, I can't marry him. Even if I do love him but he doesn't love me, I won't marry him."
Myrtle chuckled and gave a nod. "I'm as much a romantic as can be. I completely agree that marriage should be between two people who mutually love and respect each other. What's life without love?"