Jeff's tourist camp looked like a sure flop till Marian's heart got the jump on her head— then love and business both took an upswing
W. H. TEMPLE
JEFF DENNISON, ex-college halfback, ex-café-society bachelor, and for two weeks owner of Dennison’s Tourist Camp, sagged against a tree.
A car had turned off the highway and entered his driveway. Jeff had his first customer! Or did he? Jeff leaned forward, closed one eye and squinted warily at the car. He had put cash and optimism into the tourist camp. At the moment his cash was reduced to fourteen dollars and sixty-three cents and his optimism wouldn’t have filled a pig bank.
A girl stepped to the ground. She was blond and wore a tailored grey suit with white cuffs and collar. Her lips were tightly closed and she stood in the driveway surveying the cabins with the air of a tax assessor.
Jeff gawked at her. “Marian!” he said. “Honey!” “Good morning, Jeff,” she said composedly.
“My darling,” Jeff said, leaping forward. “You were worried about me. You sat in my father’s office and your heart went pit-a-pat because I was far away being a pioneer. You had to come to me.”
He reached out to clasp her in his arms and she sidestepped him gracefully. She said crisply, “I’m en route to Indian Beach on vacation. Your father asked me to stop off and wire him a report on your asinine cabin business.” “I presume the old fat head is referring to Dennison’s Tourist Camp,” Jeff said with dignity. “Come inside.”
He led her up the steps of a main building with six cabins on either side of it. There were white tables scattered about a dining room and a kitchen was visible in the rear. Jeff pulled up chairs and they sat down. He took Marian’s hand and said, “Do you realize this is the first time we’ve seen each other without the paper-box business between us?”
Marian took back her hand. “I am leaving at once.”
Jeff leaned back and sighed. “Was there ever a moment when those lovely eyes of your’s weren’t studying dollar signs, when those lips uttered something other than business figures. I gave up the paper-box business because I thought you’d admire me for making good on my own and outside the family connection. This is romance.” Marian removed a pad and pencil from her handbag and poised them on one silken knee. “How many customers have you liad?” she asked.
“Look at the apple trees out there,” Jeff said. “If you peek through that kitchen window you can glimpse the sun shining on Indian river. Even the air is softer and lovelier—”
“How many customers?” Marian asked.
Jeff glared out at the highway. “In round numbers, you mean?”
“Your father wanted the exact number.”
A tinge of red crept into Jeff’s face. “Well,” he said, “I guess you’re my first prospect. But I expect a boom any minute.”
“You haven’t had any business?”
Out on the highway a car flashed into sight, then disappeared again as Jeff stared hungrily after it. “A guy slowed down once,” he said wistfully. “I don’t get business because this place used to be a joint before I took it over. The regulars remember it and keep going and the new tourists see the place is deserted and figure we have measles. Do we have to talk business? What are you? Just another good-looking dame with a plaster of Paris heart? Have you ever been kissed?”
“None of your business,” Marian said. “Certainly.” Jeff kissed her. He jerked back as her right hand shaved the tip of his nose. “Anyway,” he said hopefully, “you’re not mad. You’ve got a sparkle in your eyes that you never got from looking at a balance sheet.”
“I guess you’re a glamour boy,” Marian said. “But I’m a working girl. Your father’s a hard employer and I’ve held my job five years. I take a lot because twenty-five a week
is real to me. It buys groceries and clothes and pays rent. You don’t make sense to me, Jeff, because you had all the advantages I never had and you tossed them away.” ‘‘That’s your mind talking,” Jeff said. “How does your heart feel about it?”
She looked down at the floor. “I’m going to spend my vacation with George Braid. He does business with your father. He wants me to marry him.”
“I’ve heard of him,” Jeff said. “Solid citizen. How is he under a moon?”
Marian replaced her pad and pencil and stood up. “I shan’t see you again unless you return home. If you do so soon your father might take you back.”
She walked down toward her car. Jeff, trailing after her, thought ironically that he had hoped she would see something noble in his running a business on his own. But he was going bankrupt and that was not so noble.
Her car made a grinding noise as though there were sand in the machinery. It happened three times and Marian got out and kicked a fender. She said, “Damn, that’s the fourth time.”
Jeff hurried up to her. “I will take care of you,” he said. “You can stay here forever.”
“Could you fix it?” Marian asked. “George could fix it.”
Jeff raised the hood and gazed thoughtfully at the motor. “The nearest garage is seven miles south,” he said finally.
Marian opened her handbag and frowned into it.
“I will loan you any sum up to fourteen dollars and sixty-three cents,” Jeff said.
“Is that all you have?” With sudden determination she pulled three suitcases from the car. “I’m going to hitch a ride.” she said. “I’ve never been to Indian Beach and I mean to get there. George can drive me up for the car some day.”
JEFF CARRIED her suitcases across the road. He went back to the tourist camp and stood in the driveway watching her thumb the cars. The third one stopped and Jeff ran across the ioad.
“Hey,” the driver said. “I only got room for the young lady.”
“I’m just a bellhop,” Jeff said. He put the bags in the car and studied the driver. He was a young man and Jeff thought he looked sinister.
Marian got in the car. Jeff waved to her, then walked around to the driver’s side. The car started and suddenly Jeff leaped on the running board and pulled the emergency brake.
“This man’s eyes are too close together.” he said. “He’s the criminal type. I won’t let you ride with him.”
The car door opened. The driver said, “A wise guy.” He was swinging a flashlight in one hand. Jeff balanced himself on his toes, his left foot forward. He drew back his right fist and put his shoulder into the punch. His fist went like an arrow for the man’s jaw.
Something struck the side of his head. He heard a shrill scream and then the back of his head hit the highway. The sky overhead went yellow, and then black. After awhile Jeff’s eyelids fluttered. He had a terrible headache. His body was on the highway but his head was in Marian’s lap. The car was gone.
“\ou’re alive,” Marian said, sounding surprised.
Jeff said, “You’d better not move me.” He grinned and lay back in her lap. She pulled away from him and his head bounced on the highway.
They sat there in the middle of the road, and there was a squeal of brakes and a car stopped in front of them. A man said peevishly, “What the devil goes on?”
“I led with my right,” Jeff said, getting up. “Would you like to spend the night at Dennison’s Tourist Camp?”
“I would not,” said the man.
“That’s what I thought,” Jeff said. “Pardon me for bringing up the subject.”
He carried Marian’s suitcases back across the road. He said, “I suspect that some underground organization is spreading sinister propaganda about my tourist camp.” Jeff led her down to cabin number one. He opened the door and put the suitcases inside. Marian stared at the maple furniture, the candlewick spreads on the twin beds, the gay linoleum on the floor, the chintz covered occasional chair and the tile bathroom.
“We could spend our honeymoon here,” Jeff said. “It would be economical as well as entertaining.”
“Have you a telephone?” Marian asked.
Jeff led her back to the main building. He sat on the outside steps until she came out five minutes later. “I called George,” she said. “He’s driving up for me and he’ll get here sometime this afternoon.”
“Maybe you’ll fall in love with me before then,” Jeff said. “I detect the symptoms. Your eyes sparkled when I kissed you. You came to my aid when that guy slugged me. You better listen to your heart, Marian.”
“Jeff,” she said, “I don’t want to be in love with you. When you got out of collegç and started working in the
office I didn’t get any work done. You upset everything. I want my life to be normal.”
“I always knew there was something insidious about the paper-box business,” Jeff said. “If you’re so nuts about work you can help me here. The customers are going to come sooner or later. All I need is one tourist. Then I ’ll have a living advertisement. I went into this business because I got tired of the people I met in night clubs. Always looking for excitement and always bored. I used to stop at tourist camps and I liked to sit on the steps and talk politics with the kind of people that stop in tourist camps. It was fun. I thought 1 could make a tourist camp a profitable and pleasant business. But a guy needs a wife.” He looked hopefully at Marian.
She said, “If you don’t mind, Jeff, I’m going to use one of your cabins. I’d like to freshen up a bit.”
She went into number one. Jeff wandered around the grounds and moodily picked and ate an apple. He stared at the cars going by and wondered if putting up a detour sign in the road would get customers into his tourist camp. Or maybe he could dynamite a section of the highway. A tourist camp, he thought, was a nice place for a man to hang his hat. But no place was so nice when you were alone.
Marian finally emerged from the cabin gleaming like a new bar of soap. She had put on a white blouse and a pair of blue slacks, and the rear view was as entrancing as the front. Jeff sighed, and led her into the main building for lunch. He didn’t supply regular meals but he had to keep something on hand for hungry tourists. He made a platter of sandwiches and coffee and carried them out to a table.
They were just finishing their coffee when a coupe crunched over the gravel of the driveway. Jeff started up, wide-eyed. “Do you see what I see?”
“That’s George,” Marian said.
Jeff sat down again. Marian hurried outside. She met a chunky, solid looking man and Jeff hated him earnestly. They came inside and Marian introduced the two men. Braid nodded briefly and said, “Your bags packed, Marian?”
Jeff looked at Marian, the soft curve of her cheek, and the silkiness of her hair. He’d never see her again. He’d sit in his tourist camp waiting for customers that never came and after awhile he would be reduced to living on apples.
He said desperately, “It’ll be getting dark soon, Mr. Braid. Perhaps you’d like to spend the night.”
Braid said, “We’ll drive right back and leave Marian’s car here. On her way back I’ll bring her this far.”
JEFF DECIDED abruptly that Braid was going to stay overnight. Maybe he would have to rope him to the bed but Braid was going to be his first customer.
“Lots of curves on this road,” he said. “Tough night driving.”
“I know the road like a book,” Braid said.
“It’s the people who know the road best,” Jeff said grimly, “who have the accidents at night. They become careless and their broken bodies are pulled from the twisted steel that was once a shining automobile. I knew a guy who cracked up one night. They had to cut him out of the car with an acetylene torch. A guy named Haggerty. He knew the road like a book.”
“Dennison,” Braid said, “I don’t want one of your cabins.”
“What’s wrong with them?” Jeff demanded hotly.
“I just don’t want one. Do I make myself clear?”
Jeff nodded. “I begin to sense a faint reluctance,” he said. “I should have slipped you a Mickey Finn.”
Braid went to the door. “Well, Marian?”
She hesitated a moment, her eyes, faintly troubled, resting on Jeff. He met her glance and then said, “One moment. I have an interest in Marian. I am sort of a brother to her, damn it. I want to know something about this place of your’s at the beach.”
“My aunt lives with me if it’s any of your business.” “How about your aunt’s morals?”
Braid glared at him. He took out his wallet and tossed a picture on the table. “My aunt,” he said icily.
Jeff looked at the snapshot of a small, white-haired old lady and nodded sadly. “She teaches Sunday school and knits afghans,” he said. “You win.’
They went down the steps, Jeff trailing in the rear. Marian looked back at him, then tugged at Braid’s arm. “George,” she said, “couldn’t you fix my car now and then I could follow you down to the beach?”
Braid hesitated, and looked from her to Jeff. “If I do that,” he said, “you won’t have to stop here on your way back.”
He went to the car, stepped on the starter, and listened to the sand in the machinery. “This car died a couple of years ago,” he said, “and you’d do best to run it off the road and leave it there.” He lifted the hood and stared at the motor. “I think it’s the armature,” he said, “and perhaps I can fix it temporarily. Then we’ll sell this piece of junk for what it’s worth and you can return home by train. If you’re going back.”
He peeled off his coat and went to work. Jeff and Marian sat on the running board and stared out at the highway.
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The traffic was getting heavier. It would shortly be dark and the tourists would be looking for a place to stay.
“Where do they stop, Jeff?” Marian asked.
“The town up the line,” Jeff said, “has a couple of hotels and several tourist camps. Most of them aren’t much good.
I chose this location for that reason. A lot of tourists like to get about this far and then stop so they’ll reach Indian Beach in the daytime. But I guess they think I’m running a glue factory.”
Jeff stared gloomily at the sun sinking behind the pines. He reached for Marian’s hand, and then gave up the idea. Even if he could break down her resistance he was still going bankrupt. Marian sighed and said, “It is a beautiful spot, isn’t it, Jeff? So peaceful.”
“That’s the trouble with it.” Conversation languished. Jeff whistled mournfully and finally Braid said, “Step on the starter, will you, Marian?”
She got inside the car. The engine rasped into life and Braid said, “Don’t let it stop.”
Jeff brought the luggage out to the car. Braid got in his coupe and said, “Follow me. Be careful crossing the highway.”
Jeff stood back from the two cars. He watched Braid’s car moving and then Marian’s car edged out on the road. The back wheels had just touched the highway when Marian poked her head out of the car and called to Jeff. He didn’t hear her. His gaze was concentrated on a car coming south. It was some distance away but the driver had cut out of the righthand lane and was coming fast down the middle of the road.
“Look out,” Jeff yelled.
Marian disappeared inside the car. The machine sputtered and stalled. Jeff could see Marian trying to steer the car off the road. He stood, horrified, watching the oncoming car, the driver sitting on the brakes. Tires shrieked in protest, the car slowed down and then energetically thumped Marian’s car. The two machines slewed around with an ear-splitting sound of crumpling steel, and wobbled tipsily. Then they settled down, still upright, forming a blockade across the highway. Marian’s car resembled a sagging mattress. Jeff put his hands over his eyes. Then he ran desperately toward the wreck.
CARS WERE stopping on both sides of the wreck. A man ran up to Jeff and grabbed his shoulder. “Anybody killed. Mister?”
Jeff threw him off. Other people mysteriously apjieared in front of him. He clawed desperately at them, trying to get by. The air was filled with the persistent, irritated hooting of automobile horns. Jeff fought through the crowd toward Marian’s car. He jerked at the door handle and the door refused to open. He couldn’t see through the glass and someone tapped him on the shoulder and said, “What happened, buddy?”
“Will you stop it?” Jeff roared. “There’s a girl in this car. She may be badly hurt. She may be—”
He went white. The car door opened apparently by itself. Marian stepped hesitantly out. She wiggled each arm and leg experimentally and then grinned up at Jeff. She had a swelling bruise on her forehead. “I wasn’t thinking of business then,” she said. “Wasn’t I a silly goop?” Jeff’s jaw dropped wide. He stared at her. “Darling,” he said, “you’re alive. You’re—”
He was pushed aside. George Braid, who could fix things, said crisply, “I’ll take take of her, Dennison. You get that fellow who hit her.”
Marian started to say something but Braid lifted her in his arms and began breaking a path through the crowd. Jeff
looked at her with her arms around Braid’s neck and then went grimly across the highway. The horns were still honking and people were milling around.
The man who had driven the other car was short, fat, and perspiring. Jeff went up to him and looked tough. He said, “What the hell you mean driving down the middle of the road? Lemme see your license.”
The fat man turned pale. “Honest, Mister,” he said, “I got a license. I can tell you right where it is. It’s home in my other pants. I changed my pants, you know how it is. It could happen to anybody. I’m willing to make a reasonable settlement.”
“Clear the road,” Jeff said. “The other car wasn’t worth anything. But get it out of my sight. I hate automobiles.”
Jeff turned away from the fat man. He would see how Marian was and then he would walk into town. He would make the rounds of the roadhouses find the former owner of the tourist camp and sell the place back to him. He pushed people out of his way and went past the stalled line of cars. He saw Braid ahead of him and Marian’s legs were kicking in the air. He heard Marian say, “Put me down.”
Jeff ran forward. He shouted, “Put her down,” and reluctantly Braid stopiied and Marian swayed on the highway. Her hair was mussed and the bruise on her forehead was the size of a hickory nut. “Jeff,” she said shakily and held out one hand to him.
“My car is just ahead of us,” Braid said, “but you’d better not walk alone. Lean on my arm.”
“George,” Marian said, not looking at him, “I’m staying here.”
“You’re hysterical,” Braid said. “It’s nothing to worry about. Probably a minor concussion.”
“It’s love,” Marian said. “That’s why I had the accident, Jeff, because I knew I couldn’t leave you. I was trying to turn around—”
“Darling,” Jeff said. He started forward and Braid thrust him away. “Don’t be absurd,” Braid said. “It’s hysteria—”
Jeff pushed him out of the way. “It’s love,” he said.
Braid glared at them. He had to raise his voice to make himself heard above the din of the car horns. “He’s broke,” Braid shouted. “He’s going bankrupt. What are you going to live on? You’ll starve—”
“It’s not important,” Marian said. “Except that it would be nice to have a long life together.”
Braid wagged a forefinger in front of her. “I’ll wait in my car just three minutes,” he bellowed.
He walked off and Jeff backed away a step. “Darling,” he said hesitantly, “maybe he’s right. Maybe you don’t really love me. Maybe it’s just a slight fracture of the skull.”
“Of the heart,” said Marian. “Don’t you want me, Jeff?”
“Want you?” he said incredulously. “It’s just that we’re busted. There aren’t any customers. We have a capital of fourteen dollars and sixty-three cents. I used to kid myself that I was going to get some business but I never will. I love you, darling, but—”
HE KNEW she hadn’t heard him. The car horns wailed to a crescendo and Jeff turned to shake his fist at the cars, then posed like a statue.
“Look,” he shouted hoarsely.
There were nine cars lined up in his tourist camp. They were parked in a row in front of the main building. He stared at them and saw what had happened. The cars couldn’t go around the wreck but they could go into his driveway and, as he watched, two more cars crunched across the gravel.
Marian was already running toward
them and Jeff followed her into the driveway. A woman got out of a car with an Iowa license. She said, “I’d like to look at a cabin.”
“Follow me, please,” Marian said.
Jeff stared after her, then went to the next car in line. He began filling up the cabins on the south side of the main building. Marian was working the north end. Automatically Jeff took the customers down to the cabins. After they were filled, cars kept coming in and Jeff had to turn them away. The highway was clear now but still the cars kept stopping. Jeff saw Marian at the other end of the tourist camp and he ran down to her.
“Darling,” he said. “We’re in love and we haven’t even kissed each other since you told me.”
He bent over her and tires crunched in the driveway. Jeff pulled her beneath a tree. "Quiet,” he whispered. “Don’t make a sound.”
A man’s voice called and Jeff put a finger over Marian’s lips. The tourist swung the car to the right and the headlights illuminated the tree like a stage. Jeff blinked into the glare. “No room,” he said. “We’re filled.”
The car backed away and he and Marian were in darkness again. It was broken only by the cabin windows, twelve yellow rectangles in the night.
“At last,” Jeff said. “This is it. The big moment.”
Marian’s lips were slightly parted, her face raised close to his. Jeff stooped to kiss her and suddenly a car horn blatted. Marian jumped and the purple swelling on her forehead connected sharply with Jeff’s chin.
“Ouch,” she said.
“The big baboon,” Jeff growled. “What does he think this is?”
“A successful tourist camp, darling,” Marian said. “Kiss me and run.”