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Chapter Eleven
Against All Hope

WENTWORTH TURNED once more to look about the hall and his eyes fell upon the supine body of June Calvert. Was she dead, then, with that garrote about her throat? With sudden hope, Wentworth approached her in long strides, looked down on her sullenly beautiful face. If it had turned blue with strangulation, then the stagnant blood already had been dissipated. . . . He flung down on a knee and felt for the pulse, held his polished platinum cigarette case before her lips. There was no indication of life either way, and yet. . . .

Swiftly, he turned June over on her face and began resuscitation, hands pressing down on her short ribs to expel air from her lungs, releasing sharply to suck in oxygen. Artificial respiration. He was desperately anxious that she survive. If she was seriously interested in Jackson, she might well reveal the Bat Man's secrets! It was heart-breaking work, this resuscitation of an apparently lifeless woman. If she should survive, he might speed the rescue of Nita, the smashing of all the Bat Man's demon plans. But if his work was useless, precious minutes were being wasted. For over half an hour, he continued the slow rhythm of breathing. There was a frown upon his forehead and curious, straight hardness to his lips. Almost he had despaired when there was a faint sigh from June's lips and, sluggishly, reluctantly, her lungs took up their work again.

She was alive! Wentworth almost cried the words aloud. He had no stimulant to administer, but he used what means of restoration he had, bathing her temples with cold water from a tap he found. Fear widened her eyes when first she beheld him, but presently she appeared to remember the situation. She tried to look about her, hand gripping her throat. . . .

"The Bat Man kidnapped them all," Wentworth told her harshly. "The woman I love, the man you love."

June Calvert thrust herself up on stiff arms and stared about the passageway, saw the heaped bodies of dead Indians and nothing more. Wentworth helped her to her feet and she began to stumble through the deserted halls and rooms. Finally, she sagged weakly against a wall and sobbed there, shoulders jerking spasmodically.

Wentworth watched her narrowly. He must judge her mood exactly if she was to be of help to him. Weeping was the wrong note. He jeered at her.

"I didn't expect you to spend time crying," he said. "Don't you realize that every second wasted brings the man you love that much nearer to the cage of vampires?"

June lifted her dark, disheveled head and stared into Wentworth's eyes. Her shoulders still jerked, but no sound came from her lips.

"Help me," Wentworth urged, "and we will save him."

Resolution hardened on the girl's face, a faint smile twisted her full lips. "You are not interested so much in saving him, as in capturing the Bat Man."

"Not capturing him," Wentworth corrected softly, "killing him!"

June Calvert's dark eyes widened a little, but she made no comment.

"But you are wrong about my not wanting to save Jackson," Wentworth continued. "He has been my comrade in arms for years. My Hindu servant is also a captive—and the woman I love. Come, June, the Bat Man ordered your death. You can no longer have any loyalty toward him. And there is Jackson. . . ."

"Jackson," she whispered. "A soldier? What's his first name?"

 

Wentworth fought for calmness. Seconds were so precious, but if he took a wrong move with this girl. . . . He smiled a little. "Jackson won't want you to call him by it," he said. "It's Ronald."

June was immediately indignant. "Why, I think it's a lovely name. Ronald," she tried it on her lips, softly. "Ronald Jackson."

Wentworth lost patience. "You'll never have a chance to call him by it if we don't hurry," he snapped. "Don't you realize that Jackson is going to be killed . . . by the Bat Man? Even while we stand here talking, he may be. . . ."

June shuddered. The tremor shook her shoulders, jerked over her entire body. "Yes, yes!" she whispered. "But I know so little. I don't know who the Bat Man is or where his other headquarters are, except that he boasted that only he could reach his hideout in the Rocky Mountains unless he went first and prepared the way . . ."

Wentworth was silent, letting her talk now that she was started, but bitter disappointment gripped him. Despair was a cold weight in his breast.

". . . I think," June was frowning, "that he was . . . quite fond . . . of me. He had a strange diffidence and made me rather timid offers to sit beside him when he ruled the world. Oh, it's not as unlikely as you think. He intends to practically destroy the United States. . . ."

A jagged curse forced itself from between Wentworth's lips. "But why? In God's name, why?"

"He intends to demand tribute of all the nations of the world," June said slowly, "in return for a promise not to loose the bats on their peoples."

"Preposterous!" Wentworth snapped. "They wouldn't pay." Then he frowned, remembering. There had been a time when nearly all the maritime nations of the world had paid tribute to the Barbary pirates of the Mediterranean, bribed them not to attack ships flying their flag. Only the United States had refused, and had sent great battleships to uphold that refusal. And that had been less than a hundred years ago. Only the United States had refused . . .

"He thought," June went on, "that the United States would refuse to pay, so he would make an example of her to the rest of the world. I think he plans to save New York for the last. His next attack. . . ."

"You know that? Good!" Wentworth began to know hope again. "Where will that be?"

"Michigan City," June replied briefly.

Wentworth uttered a sharp exclamation. Michigan City was an amusement resort at Chicago to which the city's population flocked in tens of thousands for swimming and other amusements. And in the entire place, there were not a half-dozen buildings into which the bats could not enter. In Chicago proper, it would be different. But in Michigan City, literally thousands would die. . . .

"Come," he said sharply, and hurried down the hall. He heard June's footsteps just behind him.

"Where are you going?" she demanded.

"Michigan City!"

"But you promised to save Ronald!" the girl cried.

Wentworth nodded, never slackening his pace as he pushed out into the morning that was reddening with sunrise. June Calvert caught his arm, tried to pull him about.

"You promised!" she cried.

Wentworth stopped and faced her. "Do you know where Jackson is?" he demanded.

"No."

"Do you know where the Bat Man is?"

"N-No."

"Then, June, we have to go to the only place you know of that the Bat Man will appear, don't we?"

 

June sobbed, pressed a clenched hand to her forehead. "Yes, yes," she whispered, "but before that, Ronald may be . . . may be . . ."

Wentworth's tanned face was drained of all color. June Calvert lifted her head slowly and looked at him. "Ah," she whispered, "I forgot. The woman you love is there, too!"

Wentworth said dully, "Yes." He turned and hurried off toward the airfield where, almost an hour ago, the Bat Man had winged into the dawn. June caught his arm.

"There are no more planes," she said. "There is nothing at all here to travel in, but there's a highway about three miles to the west."

They tramped in silence through the damp woodland, crashing over underbrush, jumping brooks, fighting thickets. Finally, they burst out in the highway and stopped, staring. There were two automobiles parked on the opposite side of the road. In one of them, two policeman sat.

Wentworth walked toward them and the man behind the wheel twisted about an angry face.

"Hey, buddy," he called. "Come here and get us loose, will you? We're all tied up."

Wentworth stopped beside the car. "How'd you get tied up?" he asked curiously.

"We was chasing them guys what's turning loose bats," the man, red-faced and angry, declared. "We has them all tied up, girl with them, too. Then one of them gets loose and pulls a knife on me and we can't do nothing."

Wentworth tackled the ropes, shooting eager questions at the policemen, but as the story unfolded, his eagerness died. It was apparent now that it was Nita the men had almost stopped. Nita and Ram Singh and Stoking. All of them were in the Bat Man's power now, food for bats. Wentworth's jaw tightened. . . . The police took him and June back to town, casting many curious glances at the girl's strange scarlet dress. When they had found the dead Indians there in the woods, they would remember this meeting, because of that similarity of dress. . . . Wentworth shook his head grimly. There was no time now to explain, even though trouble would follow later.

At Flemington, he found the plane Stoking had rented. He appropriated it and sent the ship racing into the West. At dusk, the attack would be made on Michigan City. There was ample time to reach Chicago by plane. Ample time, if there were no mishaps. . . . Persistently, Wentworth's thoughts reverted to Nita. She was in this situation, prisoner of the Bat Man, because she had striven to help him. God, this was no life for a woman! Better a thousand times, if they had never met. Better if she had married this Fred Stoking, who had been her childhood sweetheart. . . .

His bitterness came back overwhelmingly. What right did he have to wreck Nita's life this way, perhaps to bring about her death? If she had never met Dick Wentworth. . . .

Wentworth was snapped from his reverie by a spluttering motor. He glanced sharply at his instruments, but nothing was wrong there and the engine was drumming steadily again. He peered over the side. Beneath him lay the wild reaches of the Alleghanies. Good God, if he were forced down here, it would take him days to reach even a mountaineer's cabin! Days more before he could reach Chicago! The Bat Man would have struck and vanished. . . . The motor coughed and missed again!

* * *

The Spider's face became hard and rigid. No use to conjecture now. The engine was failing. It was only a question of selecting a spot to crash. A bitter curse squeezed out. He leaned over the side, staring down at the jagged, forested sides of mountains below him. He realized grimly that it was not merely a question of landing in a spot from which it might be possible to reach civilization, it was even doubtful if they would survive the landing!

There was not a fifty-foot clearing anywhere in the tangle of mountains—not a roadway, nor a fire lane. The motor was missing badly now. Even though he pulled the throttle wide, the plane was losing altitude. Not rapidly, but losing none the less. He would have to make his decision quickly.

A mountain-top glided by beneath him, its trees no more than seventy-five feet under the fuselage, and the valley beyond opened. Wentworth knew a thrill of hope, for there was clearly a break in the forest down there. He swept a rapid glance over the country. No sign of smoke, or of human habitation. He laughed sharply. Would it not be better to smash against that rocky precipice that thrust out of the opposite mountain? When finally he escaped from these mountains, Nita would be dead—and Ram Singh and Jackson. . . . Every one dear to him would have died through his failure. Resolutely, he sought to close his mind to those facts. He was, he told himself, no longer a human being, but a cause. He was the Spider! He must live to defend humanity. . . .

Time after time, he had been compelled to abandon Nita to her fate while he battled new monsters of crime. For a single instant, however, his mind broke from his rigid control, and he pictured her thrown helpless into a cage of vampires, saw her white body fall under the fluttering black hordes. . . .

He screamed curses into the air, shook his fist at the skies that arched pitilessly above. By God, it should not be! It should not! The final splutter of the motor, the whir of the dying propeller snapped him out of his bitter tirade. He had been handling the plane sub-consciously, directing it toward that clearing in the valley which alone offered hope of safe landing.

Behind him, June Calvert's high voice beat on his sound-deafened ears.

"What's the matter?"

"Motor conked out," he called back to her, then leaned over the side to stare down at the clearing. It was a lake, full of black, jagged snags. The trees grew right to its shores. Once more Wentworth laughed, hardly, bitterly. It would be better if he did die—but he must strive to live. He sent the ship down in a sharp dive. . . .

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Framed