“You two are acting strangely,” said the constable. “I’ve got my duty to attend to.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 23, 1933.

“Look!” shouted Jimmie Frise. We were coasting along a lovely country highway, and ahead of us, suspended across the road at the outskirts of a pleasant little town, was a huge white banner bearing the word:


Jim slowed the car to the side of the road and stopped, just this side of the big sign.

“Let us sit here and contemplate it,” said Jimmie. “Think of it! Welcome! What a beautiful thought!”

“It’s quite common,” I said. “We have the word welcome in big red lights on the city hall in Toronto.”

Jimmie did not seem to hear me.

“Here we are,” said Jim, “wayfarers in this vale of tears. Penniless, homeless, friendless. And we come along a highway and over a hill and, lo, before us lies a pleasant town with two spires rising above the autumn foliage and the roofs of warm houses, and blazoned across the breast of the town, in letters three feet high, is the word welcome!”

“It’s just a manner of speech,” I said. “It’s a conventional gesture, like a shoe shine.”

But Jim was lost in the arms of philosophy.

“What lovely people must dwell in this town!” mused Jimmie, leaning back behind the wheel. “With all the world gone cynical, here we have before us a town that is filled with tenderness and thoughtfulness. Before you can come among them, they reach out to meet you and throw their arms about your neck and cry welcome in a loud voice. It is almost scriptural. It is like out of a book by James Branch Cabell or Lord Dunsany. I tell you, this means the age of materialism has passed. We are at the dawn of the millennium!”

“Nerts,” I said. “Let’s get on and drive right through this town. We’ve got a hundred miles to go.”

“We can’t,” said Jimmie, “we cannot drive through this town. We must drive gently into this town. We must pause and speak with all and sundry. Who knows but the dawn of a new age is heralded by this splendid banner hanging above our heads? The age of materialism is passing. The age of greed and selfishness, the age of every man for himself, when, as the poet Masefield says, wretched man doth crawl for a little space upon the earth for his brother’s blood, was bound to collapse. And right here, before us, we may find the people who are the messengers of the new day.”

“We may,” I admitted, “but I think you’d better let me drive through this town.”

Jim reached for the starter, and he had that look on him which means trouble.

It was a nice little town. I won’t mention its name, because what happened in it would never happen in any other town. We will call it, if you like, Autumnville, because the maples were redding, the zinnias and asters and salvia were all that were left along the cottage fronts, and all through the main street the town had that pleasant air of autumn, that sunburnt air. And up all the side streets, where the white cottages were and the old red brick houses with colored glass above and around the front doors, little fires of leaves were burning quietly.

A Setting For the New Age

“What a heavenly setting for the dawn of a new age,” said Jimmie, slowing down right in the centre of Autumnville, with the bank on one corner, a general store with horse collars hanging in front on another, a hotel with all its blinds drawn and brick church on the others.

“We’ll park for a few minutes,” said Jimmie, turning in to angle park by the bank.

“Here!” shouted a voice.

It was the constable in blue uniform.

“You can’t park there,” said the constable. “Can’t you read?”

“Where is the sign?” I demanded sneeringly.

“Painted right on the pavement,” declared the town constable. “In any town, a white line like that means you can park outside of it.”

“Sorry,” said Jimmie, gently. “We come from Toronto, where signs don’t mean anything.”

“Pull over there a piece,” ordered the cop.

“Let’s go on,” I said. “This town is just the same as any other.”

“Just a minute,” said Jimmie, gearing noisily around and working the car into another opening in front of an ice cream parlor.

As we got out of the car, a lady came running out of the ice cream parlor.

“How do you suppose,” she cried, “that I’m going to get out of there with the back of your car jammed right against mine?”

Jim silently re-entered his car and backed it out and drove it half-way down the block, where he nosed it into a place in front of the furniture store.

He was a long time coming back to meet me, and when he arrived he said there was to be a funeral to-morrow, and the furniture man was just making sure Jim wasn’t going to park for long, as the casket had to be taken out this afternoon.

We walked slowly up one side of the street, crossed the road and walked down the other. A few people were coming in and out of the stores, and a merchant in an apron, with a broom, was sweeping the sidewalk as we came past. He went right on sweeping as we went by, and a cloud of dust and cigarette butts swirled around Jim’s legs.

“Pardon me,” said Jim, “I am sorry if I get in your way.”

The merchant looked up and saw us for the first time.

“What do you want me to do?” he asked. “Stop work for everybody that walks by?”

“Pardon me,” said Jim.

And we could feel the merchant staring at our backs.

Nobody gave us a glance. We stood looking in store windows. We offered to help a lady with her parcels, but she clutched her parcels anxiously and gave us the shoulder.

In one window we saw some dandy shirts, in coarse blue cotton with zipper necks.

“Just the thing for rabbit hunting,” said Jim. “You never see goods like that in Toronto windows. I wonder how much they are.”

We went into the store which was filled with long low counters or bins laden with merchandise, and there was a strong smell of cloth in the place. A man in spectacles advanced on us.

“What would you like?” he asked, suspiciously.

“Those blue shirts in the window,” said Jim. “How much are they?”

From over his spectacles the man looked us up and down gravely.

“A dollar,” he said, adding quickly, “and fifty-nine.”

“Could we see them?” Jim asked.

“I’ll bring one up,” said the merchant. We followed him. He got a shirt off a pile of them and after examining it, handed it over.

“The ticket,” Jim said, “says a dollar.”

“I had a girl here,” said the merchant, “and she marked everything wrong. These are a dollar fifty-nine.”

“Thanks, I guess it’s a little high,” said Jim, handing back the blue shirt.

“Make it a dollar and a quarter,” said the merchant.

“A little high,” said Jim, starting away.

“Take it for a dollar,” said the merchant, over his spectacles.

“Thanks,” said Jim. “I thought they’d be about eighty cents.

“Take it for eighty cents,” said the merchant, starting to fold it up.

But Jim walked resolutely to the door.

“It’s just the same as any other town,” I said to Jim out on the pavement. “Let’s get going.”

But Jimmie wandered on, eagerly scanning the faces of people who passed. We came to the garage where three men in overalls were sitting in front on the ground with their knees up. Jim paused in front of them.

“Well, boys,” he said, cheerfully.

“Well, what?” asked one of the boys.

“Oh, nothing. I was just saying hello,” said Jim.

“All right, hello,” said the one.

The other two squinted up at us under the peaks of their old caps.

“You have a sign outside the town saying welcome,” said Jim. “We just stopped off to get a little welcome, and so far we haven’t seen much. I kinda thought around a garage, you know. Like the old livery stable.”

“That sign,” said one of the other garagemen, “is another example of how they throw money around in this town. Just another five bucks added to the taxes. Do you know how much they paid for that sign? Five bucks. That’s the price of a tire. Or a complete overhaul of ignition.”

“We got to have a new council this coming year,” said the third man, definitely. “Yes, sir. A new council.”

“Who put the sign up?” asked Jimmie.

“It would be old Brown,” said the first garageman. “He’d be as responsible as anybody for it. He is always trying to outdo the next town.”

“Who is Mr. Brown?”

“He runs the chopping mill,” said garageman senior. “And he owns houses in town. You might find him over in the feed store there.”

We walked across to the sunny side of the street and asked for Mr. Brown.

“Who wants me?” demanded a gruff voice from behind a dusty partition.

“A couple of wayfarers in this vale of tears,” I enunciated clearly. But Jim broke in: “I’d like to see you about that sign out on the highway,” said Jim. “I’m an artist.”

Mr. Brown did not come from behind the partition. We could hear a newspaper being rattled angrily.

“What about it?” demanded the voice. “Could you do one any cheaper than five bucks?”

“I could do a better one,” said Jim.

“And would you supply your own canvas and cords, and would you hang it, and would you agree to accept only half your pay until we saw the colors wouldn’t run by the fifteenth of October?” demanded the voice, punctuating each question with a rattle of the paper.

“I’d make you a sign for nothing,” said Jim.

Dead silence.

“Thanks,” said the voice. “But that sign will do us for five years, I figure. On your way, Mr. Artist. This is my busy day!”

“I didn’t say what I would put on the sign,” said Jimmie.

“And who asked you?” came the voice from behind the partition.

“Now,” said Jim, taking my arm, “you will never know.”

And we went out into the sunlight.

It was shortly after that that we noticed the town constable following us. When we halted to look in a window, he halted. He talked with the merchants who came to the doors to speak to him. They all stood in the doorways. As we passed the bank, we saw bank clerks looking at us over the top of the frosted glass. Knots of people gathered at store doors and the corners.

“Jim,” I said, “we are being observed.”

“Maybe a public welcome is being arranged for us,” said Jim, stopping and staring boldly at all the people near and far. Every eye was on us. The constable was now in committee with the lady whose parcels we tried to help with, the merchant who tried to sell us the blue shirt for eighty cents, and the three garage men. Mr. Brown emerged from the feed store and stamped across to join the meeting. He was a stout, bald-headed man with a red face and fat hands swinging violently as he walked.

“Let’s go,” I said to Jimmie.

“Let’s wait,” he replied. “This may be a civic welcome.”

Up the street there was a heated conversation.

The constable adjusted his tunic, set his hat on the front of his head, and came with military stride toward us.

“What do you men want around here?” he demanded loudly, so that the welcome committee could hear him. He will be all right now, even if a new council does get in.

“We are looking for the welcome you advertise on the edge of the town,” said Jimmie.

“We don’t like your actions,” said the constable. “You are acting suspicious.”

“Who says so?” asked Jimmie.

“Several citizens have complained to me,” said the constable. “You are up to no good. What is your business?”

“Suppose we had no business, what would you say?” asked Jimmie.

“I’d tell you to move on, and if you didn’t, I’d run you in. We don’t want any bums in this town.”

“Suppose I bought a couple of soft drinks in the ice cream parlor, would that entitle me to stay in town?” asked Jim loudly. The lady who ran the ice cream parlor was standing inside her screen door, listening.

“You two are acting strangely,” said the constable. “I’ve got my duty to attend to. These are difficult times.”

“Very well, we won’t buy a couple of soft drinks,” said Jimmie distinctly. The lady at the screen door almost came out.

“Then I say, move on,” said the constable, pulling down the front of his tunic and putting his cap on the back of his head where it rightfully belongs.

We got into the car. Jim backed her noisily out and by not advancing his spark, he contrived a few violent backfires as a farewell to Autumnville.

By not advancing his spark, he contrived a few violent backfires as a farewell to Autumnville.

Outside the town, Jim drove to the side of the highway and parked. He is an all-round artist and can letter as well as anybody. On a piece of white paper he lettered:

“Guests of Autumnville.”

And that evening, as we drove home, we slowed down in Autumnville to let everybody see the sign.

But nobody saw it.

“By George,” said Jim, as we drove into the city. “I forgot my family is out to a show to-night.”

“Come on over to my place,” I said, “and we can get them to scrape us up some supper out of the ice box.”

We drove into my drive and the house was dark. I had no key. I rang and rattled.

Jim stood on the veranda, watching me.

“Let’s sit down here, anyway,” said he. “On this mat. You sit on the far side and I’ll sit here.”

On my front door mat is the word “Welcome.”

August 3, 1940 – “You two are acting strangely,” said the constable. “I’ve got my duty to attend to.”

Editor’s Notes: James Branch Cabell and Lord Dunsany were contemporary authors, known for their work in fantasy. John Masefield was the British Poet Laureate at the time.

$1.59 in 1933 would be $34.30 in 2022. 80 cents would be $17.25.

Not “not advancing his spark” to cause a car to backfire is the result of poorly adjusted ignition timing. When you fire the spark, your intake valve is still open. So, when that happens, if your intake valve is still open and you fire the spark, that flame is going to travel back and ignite this entire air fuel mixture and travel right back through the carburetor. I’m not sure how that could be forced on a car in the 1930s.

This story was repeated on August 3, 1940 under the title “Manner of Speech”.