Return to Ramble House Page

Return to Other Loons Page






SYDNEY. The city of the Harbour and the Bridge. Mecca of the world down under.

City of tall, thin, temples of commerce, and little treasure houses of shops in gay, bustling arcades; of large, square blocks of luxury flats rising sheer from the pavements and the water’s edge, and comfortable homes on bush-clad slopes and by yellow sands and deep blue seas; of commodious, broad-beamed ferry boats leisurely crossing the wide harbour. City, also, of small junk shops and drab, furtive little coffee lounges and wine bars; of small, dark semi-detached houses, shabby flats and grim, decaying bed-sitting-room warrens; of narrow, noisy, overcrowded trams and buses jerking and jolting through narrow, noisy, overcrowded streets.

City of sunshine and warmth, easy money and casual, friendly gestures; and of sudden storms and thunderclouds, exorbitant prices, racketeering landlords and rapacious bed-and-breakfast harpies. City of all nationalities—providing their skins are white. Noticeably a city of beautiful women and nondescript men. And notoriously a city of the drifting and the homeless.

Sydney, queen city of the south Pacific. But a queen neither especially graceful nor beautiful. The lovely bosom of her harbour excepted, there is little of beauty in Sydney. Her face is heavy and forbidding, her hair a uniform, eye-wearying red, and there are unhealthy places on her body. Those towers of naked brick—red brick, brown brick, liver-coloured brick, and brick the colour of dirty dough. Those miles and miles of red-tiled roofs.

But at night time these are hidden. At night time Sydney undergoes a metamorphosis. The darkness softens and disguises the raw brick and the sullen stone; and the queen in her décolleteé is suddenly seductive and bewitching. The bridge, a dull grey diadem by day, becomes a shining golden coronet. The winking skysigns are fireflies in her dusky hair; the red, green, blue and yellow lights ringing the harbour a chain of jewels on her bosom. The brightly illuminated ferry boats are gems in the black velvet ribbon about her throat; the dazzling blaze of light that is the showboat Kalang on its nightly cruise, the pendant moving and gleaming on her breast.

The dockside of Woolloomooloo, and the restless melting pot of King’s Cross behind it—these make a scintillating brooch for her corsage. The sore spots on the queen’s body are covered, hidden under the cosmetic of night, and on the worn and faded patches in the royal robes the sequins glint and sparkle. The crowds of people relaxing after the day are as mosquitoes ceasing to torment; and then, relaxing with them, she begins to breathe evenly and sweetly, and the bright bracelets of her beaches lie quietly on her wrists.

Then is the queen an enchantress. Then is Sydney beautiful. Then, under the warm mantilla of the southern night, is the city regal, languorous and enticing. And, like all big cities, a little feline, a little dangerous . . .

There came, one summer evening, to the heart of the city in this guise and mood a man, a stranger. A man with a beard, and heavy black-rimmed glasses. A man with a mission.

He was a noticeable figure; but it is characteristic of Sydney that no one took any notice of him. No one looked at him twice. For three out of every ten men in the cosmopolitan city wear broad-rimmed glasses, and beards, though not common, are not unexpected. A beard on a civilian chin in Sydney is usually a badge, a gesture of defiance, a symbol sported by budding artists, writers and musicians, and those slightly pansified extroverts who come to full bloom, in the highly artificial forcing houses of the commercial broadcasting stations.

The bearded man came from King’s Cross, the so-called Bohemian quarter, the foreign colony, where, for the past week or so, he had been living close in one of those brick towers of spurious domesticity. He entered the city by way of King Street, and walked slowly down Pitt Street towards Circular Quay. It was early in the evening, but already quite dark. Night falls quickly in these latitudes. The streets had cleared; down past Martin Place, where the huge hump of the bridge loomed dark in the darker sky, there were few people about.

But at Circular Quay there was the usual mild stir and bustle. The usual collection of seemingly aimless loafers loitered in the entrances to the ferry boat jetties. The water rippled soundlessly, gleaming red, blue, silver, yellow and green from the neon signs on the quayside buildings. A little way out the show boat, a mass of almost solid light, glided away on a self-laid carpet of shimmering gold. Other smaller ovoids of light—those transports of the tranquil, the Sydney Harbour ferry boats—were coming and going without haste, without fuss. Round on Circular Quay East, tied up to No. 2 wharf, was a large passenger-carrying cargo ship. She was a French ship, the Bir Dakeim of Dunkirk. She had originally sailed from that far-off port, but she had called at other ports on the way out and had picked up one or two extra passengers. One of these passengers was the person whom the man with the beard was seeking.

He sauntered round to this wharf. The gate was closed against him, but on the other side of the railings a man was standing, waiting. He was idly smoking a cigarette and watching the gleaming water. He turned his head and studied the bearded man for a few moments. Then he asked softly “M’sieur Kalmetz?”

The other appeared surprised. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, my name is Kalmetz.” And though it was not his mother tongue he also spoke in French.

The man on the inside of the wharf gate straightened up and flicked the butt of his cigarette into the water. Behind him loomed the bow of the Bir Dakeim.

“That is the name. And the description, it answers. M’sieur Kalmetz is expecting to meet a M’sieur Arnaud?”

“Yes,” said Kalmetz shortly, wondering what business it was of this man. “Yes, I am.”

“Good. M’sieur Arnaud placed me here to receive a M’sieur Kalmetz. When this M’sieur Kalmetz arrived I was to give him a message. I was to tell him that M’sieur Arnaud is not inside the ship, but is awaiting M’sieur Kalmetz at the base of the pylon of the great bridge there. It is true,” added this polite Frenchman volubly and earnestly. “I was to give M’sieur Kalmetz that message. Me, I am but a deckhand on the Bir Dakeim, but I will oblige a passenger. M’sieur Arnaud charged me to position myself here in this place to receive a M’sieur Kalmetz, who would arrive seeking him. I was to satisfy myself that the gentleman was of a truth M’sieur Kalmetz, and then to inform him that M’sieur Arnaud would be awaiting him in the shadow of the great pylon that rises from the water’s edge on this side of the harbour, supporting that so-enormous bridge.”

“And now I have arrived,” said Kalmetz, good-humouredly “and you have given me the message. Thank you. Nothing remains.”

But the Frenchman did not appear to be in agreement with this conclusion. In a dreamily reflective voice he said: “This remains. It is to be observed that the high-minded M’sieur Arnaud did not overlook the fact that there are other ways in which a poor sailor may amuse himself in such a city than by standing lonely on a wharf, waiting . . .”

Kalmetz grinned sardonically in the colour-shot darkness. His hand went to his pocket and then to the anticipatory curved palm in the other side of the railings.

“Merci, m’sieur! M’sieur Kalmetz is also a gentleman of understanding and consideration!”

“That is not to remember the name,” retorted Kalmetz, turning away. “That is to forget it.”

“It is already forgotten,” returned the sailor airily. “Adieu, m’sieur the unknown one.”

Adieu. To God. A meaningless sentiment, lightly uttered by Frenchmen. But that night the man who called himself Kalmetz was really going to his God. For that night the queen was in her most feline mood. She smiled on him, a smile that was soft and alluring. She held him warmly against her jewelled bosom. She caressed him with one hand—and held the other poised ready to strike . . .

Kalmetz retraced his steps back past the white-painted jetty entrances and the chaotic tangle that will one day be the Circular Quay station of the electric railway, and on round to the west side of the Quay. He walked a little more quickly now. He passed the wharf sheds and the bondstores and the seamen’s hostels to where the buildings fell away suddenly under the high approach of the bridge. Here the open ground, carpeted with crisp, coarse, mown grass, sloped gently away from a bisecting concrete path to the roadway hugging the curving shore line. Here there was hardly a soul to be seen; only two or three people lounging on the benches thoughtfully provided for that purpose by the Sydney County Council. Lonely souls, these. The heartsick, the homeless and the frustrated; unwilling but fascinated slaves of the queen who cared less than nothing for them. Ignoring these silent loungers, unheeded by them, Kalmetz walked steadily down the straight strip of concrete to the huge monolith of the pylon, behind which the great double arch of the bridge springs for its leap across the harbour.

One hundred and seventy feet above his head trams, buses, electric trains and motor vehicles rolled unceasingly along the wide roadway: wheeled insects scuttling over the body of the giant, stirring it to thunderous growls of irritation. Immediately opposite, on the far side of the sister pylon, a cluster of towers and pagodas of extreme brilliance lit up the water under the bridge. The electric hair on the head of the idiotic face suspended between the nearest pair of towers alternately flared up and flattened down again. The mouth was dark. Or, rather, there was actually no mouth. There was, instead, a Molochian gape, which was the entrance to Sydney’s Luna Park.

But now that terrific face and the glare of the Park were hidden from Kalmetz, blocked out by the bulk of the pylon. Here, in the side facing the city, up against the little wooden door that opens into its tremendous, hollow, reverberating interior, a man was standing, waiting patiently. The man was invisible in the darkness, only the glowing tip and the fragrant aroma of the cigar he was smoking betraying his presence, but Kalmetz knew this was the man he sought.

“Arnaud?” he breathed.

“Kalmetz?” countered a high-pitched voice.

“I am Kalmetz.”

“Good.” Arnaud spoke in French. “One now, one supposes, in this country says the how-do-you-do. One then remarks on the weather, which, as you have doubtlessly observed, is this evening as near perfection as it is possible to achieve in this imperfect world.”

“One, then,” said Kalmetz, with an edge to his voice, “inquires why one was instructed by a deckhand on the Bir Dakeim to come to this place. I thought I was to meet you on the ship.”

“Too dangerous,” replied Arnaud instantly. “Too many idle persons about, too many lights. The Bir Dakeim arrived only this morning and is still an object of interest to those who loiter on the quayside. There we should have been observed approaching and departing. Here, in this darkness, we shall be seen by none. Here we are merely one of them.”

He stabbed his cigar in the direction of the dim, motionless shapes on the benches, scattering the ash.

“We could be overheard.”

“Extremely unlikely. But even if so, what then? Who, besides Frenchmen, in this country, speaks French? These people?” The glowing tip of the cigar described an arc of contempt for the entire population of Australia. “These people hardly speak what you and I would call English.”

“Well, then—” Kalmetz made an impatient gesture in the darkness. “Let us come to the business. Attend, Arnaud! I have much to tell you. The package has arrived, and has already been unloaded. By accident—an ‘accident’ that will be repeated in the future—it was included in a consignment of perfectly innocent goods to the equally innocent and respectable firm of Marcanti, Brown and Ewell, whose place of business is located in the street Napoleon. That is a little street not very far from where we now stand—”

“I know it,” interrupted Arnaud. There was a complacent note in the high-pitched voice. “I have been here before, my friend Kalmetz . . . The street Napoleon—a pretty touch! Was it not the great emperor himself who said of another large city, ‘What a city to sack!’ ”

“Unguarded gates are to be found in all big cities,” commented Kalmetz, unemotionally. “In the offices of this firm there is a young man, by name William Stanley Fisher. He is the shipping clerk there. This young man Fisher is in our employ also; and you will go to him and ask for the package of Egyptian tobacco for M’sieur Levant that has become entangled with the firm’s own consignment. He will understand immediately, and will hand you the package. What he will say, I do not know, but he will give you the package—”

“He will say,” chuckled Arnaud, “if I know anything of these people, ‘She’s right, mate.’ Of a surety he will employ some such vulgar and imbecile phrase.”

Kalmetz waved this aside. “Repeat those names, please.”

“Marcanti, Brown and Ewell,” said Arnaud obediently. “The street Napoleon, where labours M’sieur William Stanley Fisher. The package of Egyptian tobacco for M’sieur Levant.”

“Good. Well, then, when you have secured this package, you will take it to a night club in King’s Cross. The name of the night club is The Green Kookaburra . . . You are acquainted with King’s Cross, Arnaud?”

“Intimately. Though the name The Green Kookaburra is new to me. Me,” he added, with that chuckling note back in his voice, “I have observed the Australian kookaburras—you would call them laughing jackasses— but I have yet to see a green one.”

“It is a name . . . Remark this, Arnaud, you must not go there before ten o’clock in the evening. And there you will inquire for Big Joe.”

“Who is Big Joe?”

“He is the proprietor of the night club. I do not know his other name, I do not think it is known to many people.”

“Big Joe will serve . . . Australia, my friend Kalmetz, if you have not already observed this for yourself, is the land of imitation. The Australians admire, though they do not like, the Americans. All the way through— business, clothes, newspapers, radio—particularly the two latter, and especially their so-called radio comedians—they imitate the Americans. America is full of Big Joes, consequently Australia now has its Big Joes. The Joe of The Green Kookaburra I am to seek out. So!”

“Yes. Although he will not handle the merchandise himself, he has a certain clientele with whom you could do business, and certain contacts through whom you could widen that clientele. It should be easy.”

“It is easy,” agreed Arnaud, vigorously. “It has been arranged admirably. The whole scheme is of a simplicity magnificent. The merchandise, one understands, finds itself by accident included in consignments—from the same port, one assumes—to the all-innocent, all- unwitting firm of Messieurs Marcanti, Brown and Ewell. Their shipping clerk, who is also our agent, receives and clears the consignment, retaining the package of ‘Egyptian tobacco’ for ‘M’sieur Levant’. Arrives ‘M’sieur Levant’, and voila! No fuss, no delay, no awkwardnesses with the Customs authorities—my friend, it is superb!”

“Yes. I agree.”

“But one thing. One little detail. Egyptian tobacco— there is the dollar question . . . ”

Again Kalmetz showed some slight impatience. “That is a name for this young man Fisher—and only you will use the name. There is no detail that you can think of, Arnaud, that has not already been thought of.”

“Of course. Yes, yes, I am stupid.”

“Well, then. You have your instructions. You understand them?”


“And you know the country.”

“The country, no. But this city of Sydney I know like the back of my own hand.”

“Good. Then we shall go our separate ways. I suggest I go first. You wait some ten or fifteen minutes, and then follow. It is arranged?”

“It is arranged,” said Arnaud, in his high-pitched voice.

Kalmetz, after a momentary hesitation, held out his hand. Arnaud placed the cigar in his mouth and held out his own hand to grasp that of Kalmetz. Kalmetz’s hand lingered in the grip, playing in an odd manner with Arnaud’s fingers. Then he tore it away as if it had been burnt.

“What is this? You are not Arnaud!”

There was a second’s straining silence.

Arnaud said easily: “Chut! What foolishness is this? Of course I am Arnaud.”

“You are not Arnaud!” repeated Kalmetz harshly. “Arnaud has the little finger of his right hand missing!”

His own hand shot out again, like lightning this time. He seized the other man’s arm, and pulled him a step or two away from the base of the pylon until a gleam of light fell on his face.

“By God, I know you! You are the man—”

Kalmetz never knew what hit him. He was only aware suddenly of a strangling pain at his throat, of his breathing being cut off. He struggled fiercely, but vainly. His ears began to pound. The pounding swelled to thunder; and all the lights in the heavens above and on the earth beneath and in the waters under the earth fused and danced before his straining eyes. His voice was choked, he could utter no sound. The massive pylon seemed to heel over, and he knew he was on his back on the ground. He saw a vague shape crouching over him. He saw high overhead the black line of the bridge. His head slumped to one side and he saw, immeasurably high and far away, a twinkling golden-blue cross.

That was the last thing he saw. All earth and the whole universe shrank to the five stars of the Southern Cross. Then they faded and went out, and there was blackness streaked with fire. And then he saw nothing, knew nothing, was nothing.


Return to Ramble House Page

Return to Other Loons Page