LOOKING UP AN ANCESTOR

But Mr. Osborne was not as quick to give his consent as Roy predicted.
As the boy and his father rode home that evening, Mr. Osborne found
many reasons why he did not wish his son to go to Utah to “take a
chance of dying of thirst on some desert, or of being scalped by
Indians,” as he expressed it. He did not urge very strongly the risk to
Roy in skimming over mountains, plains and canyons in an aeroplane. Mr.
Osborne being the maker of the airship and having business faith in it,
he had to confine his arguments to other reasons.

“The principal reason you’re afraid,” urged Roy, with a laugh, “is that
you’ve never been west of Pittsburg. You don’t know any more about Utah
than–than–”

“Than you do,” interrupted his father. “Just you wait until you tell
your mother.”

The Osbornes lived on the far side of Newark in an attractive suburban
house with a yard big enough to include a large flower garden. It was
early evening when Mr. Osborne and Roy reached home, and Mrs. Osborne
was busy cutting flowers. Roy, waving his straw hat, sprang across the
lawn to open up the question at once.

“Mother,” he exclaimed impulsively, “I’ve got a chance to get a good
job operating the new aeroplane.”

“So soon?” replied Mrs. Osborne, with a smile. “I supposed you’d have
to have a lot of experience before you could do that.”

“Oh, I can do it–now–I know enough. I ain’t afraid of that. But the
job’s a long way from here. I’ve got to go to Utah.”

“Utah!” exclaimed his mother, wrinkling her brows. “Why that’s away out
west. It’s further than Chicago, isn’t it?”

“A thousand miles,” responded Roy on a guess, and with a smile.

“Yes, certainly,” added Mrs. Osborne. “I know. Just beyond the Rocky
Mountains. Utah–Salt Lake City. It’s where the Mormons live.”

“Right,” exclaimed Roy, laughing. “Do you care if I go?–I want to very
much.”

“That’s where my Uncle Willard Banks went.”

Roy, who had taken the basket of flowers from his mother’s arm, stopped
short.

“I didn’t know that,” he began. “I didn’t know you had an uncle out
there. Is he alive?”

His mother shook her head.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I don’t even remember him. He was my
father’s only brother, and when father came east from Illinois–before
he married–my Uncle Willard went west. He was a Mormon,” Mrs. Osborne
added. “Or, I think he was.”

“And he went out to Utah to live with the Mormons?” asked Roy, with
increasing interest, forgetting for the moment, his real mission with
his mother.

“I don’t remember just why he went,” explained his mother. “I don’t
believe I’ve thought of him for years. He sent father his picture. He
used to write to father, too. He must be dead now.”

“Perhaps I can find him,” suggested Roy, coming back to the subject.

Mrs. Osborne looked at him a few moments and then walked ahead to the
front porch where Mr. Osborne, at ease in a large swinging seat, was
apparently awaiting his wife and son. As Roy and his mother reached the
porch, Mrs. Osborne exclaimed:

“What does your father say?”

“He says I’ll starve to death or die of thirst or be scalped by the
Indians.”

“Mercy me,” exclaimed Mrs. Osborne, sinking into a porch chair. “Are
there wild Indians out there yet? I thought the last of the Indians
were in the Wild West shows?”

Roy and his father laughed.

“See?” exclaimed Mr. Osborne. “Your mother don’t want you to go either.”

Mrs. Osborne looked up in surprise.

“I hadn’t said so,” she exclaimed, with a smile. “I want to hear all
about it, first.”

Roy told her everything. She sat and listened with all a mother’s
interest. When he had finished, she turned to her husband.

“What do you think, George?”

Mr. Osborne shook his head negatively.

“Why?” asked his wife.

“It’s too risky–” began Mr. Osborne.

“You mean the aeroplane?” interrupted Mrs. Osborne.

“No,” replied her husband slowly. “Of course, there are safer things
than manipulating a flying machine, but I guess the kid could manage
that.”

“What other risk do you mean?” persisted Roy’s mother.

“Do you want him to go into the wildest country in America? Why, this
man Cook told Mr. Atkinson that there are canyons a mile deep, alkali
deserts that’d turn water into steam, only no water ever touches ’em,
and Indians that haven’t even seen a white man. Do you think that’s the
place to send a child?”

Roy drew himself up. His mother patted his brown muscular hand as it
rested on the arm of her chair, and looked up at the boy and smiled.

“Are you afraid?” she asked with a laugh.

“It’s father,” answered Roy. “He’s the one that’s scared.”

Mrs. Osborne’s face turned sober.

“I suppose you’ll think it strange, George, but those things don’t
alarm me–as much as some other risks.”

“They don’t?” exclaimed Mr. Osborne, slapping his knee. “Well, I can’t
imagine anything worse.”

“I can,” said Mrs. Osborne in a low voice. Then she added:

“When Dick took his examination for Annapolis, it seemed to me as if
he were going away never to come back. Now that he is a lieutenant in
the navy and in the West Indies, I know that between bursting guns
at target practice, exploding boilers, accidents in manoeuvres or the
yellow fever, he runs more risk every day than Roy is likely to find in
the west.”

“I hadn’t just thought of it that way,” answered Mr. Osborne, a little
crestfallen.

“And then Phil completed his course in electricity and went into Mr.
Edison’s shops. I’d rather have him lost in a desert than working among
those chemicals and electric generators.”

Roy looked at his father with a half smile.

“Then you are willing for me to go?” he exclaimed, putting his arm
affectionately around his mother’s shoulders.

“That’s for your father to say, finally,” Mrs. Osborne answered after a
few moments’ silence. “But I shan’t interfere. This seems to be a time
when results that are worth while only come with great efforts or great
risks. If it is a good chance, my fears mustn’t keep you back.”

That settled it. Before supper was over, Mr. Osborne gave in. It was
agreed that Roy was to accept the offer.

The boy was off at once for the city to secure some guide book or
history relating to Utah. That night, despite the heat, long after
his parents had retired, the jubilant youngster sat propped up in bed,
drinking in facts and statistics relating to the land he was to visit.

Like all boys, Roy had had his dream of wild Indians, of cowboy life,
of horses and the endless plains. But as he grew older, the intense
practicality of life in the busy city had, in great part, driven these
fancies from his mind. Now he discovered that the longing for the
mysteries of the far west had not gone out of his heart.

From his father Roy had learned that he would probably go to the little
town of Dolores in southwestern Colorado, the nearest railroad point to
his destination in Utah. Dolores was in the mountains and, on a map he
had secured, Roy traced his route into the valleys and out across the
deserts toward Bluff, a hundred miles or more further west.

It was all desert, to be sure, but the very barrenness of the map
thrilled the boy. The canyons, the isolated mountains, the desolate
plains, fascinated the eager lad. He was not courting danger–he was
too practical for that–but to be thrown into a region where he must
depend upon his own ingenuity was joy supreme for Roy.

“I never even hoped for anything so great,” said the boy sleepily to
himself, “but, now that I have the chance, I’ll make the most of it.
I may have to come back to Newark in a few months and settle down to
common things, but I’ll make all I can of my opportunity. I’m not
aching to fight Indians, and I’m not anxious to get lost in the desert,
but I would like to get close enough to the wilderness to know what it
means. I’m tired of machinery and coal smoke and trolley gongs.”

It is doubtful if Roy would have been so enthusiastic if he had known
the adventures he was to fall into so soon. He got close enough to both
Indians and the waterless wastes to understand just what they meant.

“I wonder,” he mused as he dropped off to sleep, “if I’ll meet my
mother’s uncle–what’s his name?”

And, hazily trying to think of his Utah relative, the Mormon Willard
Banks, Roy fell asleep. Strangely enough, in that sleep, among dreams
of bottomless canyons and white arid plains, whereon spectral Indians
danced like thistledown, another figure appeared always to the sleeping
lad–a featureless face with immense flowing whiskers and wearing an
enormous black hat. The constant figure beckoned Roy on in his dreams
like a ghost–the spirit of his great uncle, Willard Banks, long since
lost to his family in the far away land of Brigham Young.

Roy’s brain was so full of all the wonders to come that, when he
awoke in the morning, he was dazed for a few moments. His dreams had
run together until he seemed almost feverish. While he was trying to
straighten them out, his mother stole into his room.

“Mother,” exclaimed the boy, with a laugh, “do you reckon your Mormon
uncle is alive now?”

“Banks is his name,” said his mother reprovingly, “Mr. Willard Banks.
Why?”

“Well, I got him in my head. He’s got whiskers a yard long, and a hat
big as a tub. I dreamt about him all night.”

“He was older than father by five or six years,” answered Mrs. Osborne,
thinking. “And if father were alive, he would be eighty-two years old.
No,” she added, shaking her head, “my Uncle Willard is probably dead.”

Roy sprang out of bed and made ready for his morning plunge. His mother
was already ransacking his dresser for clothes needing repairs.

“What do you mean by having your great uncle in your head?” she asked
suddenly.

“I don’t know,” answered Roy catching up his bath robe. “Only, I’ve
been dreamin’ of him all night. I guess I read too much about Utah last
night. I had a regular nightmare. And all the time this big whiskered,
big hatted man went in and out through every other dream. I’d like to
know more about him.”

Roy suddenly laughed outright. The “Genealogy of the Banks Family!”
Neither had thought of that. Even before Roy was dressed, Mrs. Osborne
had hurried downstairs, secured the almost forgotten volume of family
history, and together, sitting on the edge of the bed, mother and son
turned to the page devoted to their Mormon relative. This is what they
read:

“Willard R. Banks, farmer and cattle dealer, Parowan, Iron
County, Utah. Born December 20, 1822, in Muskingum County,
Ohio. Removed to Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1848. Married Martha
Brower October 5, 1849. Became a disciple of Joseph Smith,
the Mormon prophet, and, in 1852, made a missionary trip to
Scotland and Wales. In 1853 was one of the regents of the
University of Deseret in Salt Lake City. Member of a committee
to prepare a separate language for Mormons in hope of creating
an independent literature. Assisted in constructing the Deseret
Alphabet of thirty-two characters. In 1862, an elder of the
Mormon Church and later banished by Brigham Young with others
on unknown charges. Lived for several years at Parowan, Utah.
Thought to be dead.”