In this chapter, Verne explains the circumstances in which the above mentioned telegraphic dispatch about Phileas Fogg was sent. The steamer Mongolia, belonging to the Peninsular and Oriental Company, was due at eleven o’clock a.m. on the 9 th of October, at Suez. The Mongolia plied regularly between Brindisi and Bombay via the Suez Canal.
Two men were promenading up and down the wharves, among the crowd of natives. One was the British consul at Suez, who was in the habit of seeing, from his office window, English ships daily passing to and fro on the great canal. The other was a small built personage with a nervous, intelligent face, and bright eyes peering out from under eyebrows, which he was incessantly twitching. He was manifesting signs of impatience, nervously pacing up and down. This was Fix, one of the detectives who had been dispatched from England in search of the bank robber. It was his responsibility to note all suspicious looking people. The detective was inspired by the hope of obtaining the splendid reward, which would be the prize of success, and waited with a feverish impatience, the arrival of the steamer Mongolia. He has a conversation with the consul, while awaiting the arrival of the Mongolia, in which he explains how he proposed to find the robber. Mr. Fix evidently was not wanting in a tinge of self-conceit.
As he passed among the busy crowd, Fix, scrutinized the passers by with a keen, rapid glance. He was irritated that the Mongolia had not yet come in and was questioning the consul on the course of the ship. The consul pointed out that the bank robber might be able to successfully hide in England itself, without leaving the country. This observation furnished the detective food for thought, and meanwhile the consul went away to his office. Fix had a feeling that the robber would be on board the Mongolia.
When the ship came in, Fix carefully examined each face and figure, which made its appearance. One of the passengers came up to him and politely asked if he could point out the English consulate, at the same time showing a passport which he wished to have validated. Fix took the passport, and with a rapid glance read the description of its bearer. An involuntary motion of surprise nearly escaped him, for the description in the passport was identical with that of the bank robber, which he had received from Scotland Yard. He found out that the passport was that of the man’s master and he advised the questioner that for getting the passport validated, the master would have to make an appearance himself at the Consulate.
Verne must have had a very good knowledge of the routes of most ships and steamers. This wisdom is evident in his descriptions, of means of passage in the entire novel on the journey around the world. Mongolia was one of the fastest steamers belonging to the company, always making more than ten knots an hour between Brindisi and Suez, and nine and a half between Suez and Bombay. It is for the ship Mongolia that two men are seen waiting for at the wharf. These two are surrounded by many natives and strangers who were sojourning at this once straggling village now, thanks to the enterprise of M. Lesseps, a fast growing town.
The reader is introduced to another major character in the novel - Detective Fix. He will prove to be a major hindrance in Fogg’s plans, as we shall soon see. Many other detectives besides Fix were sent out to trace the robber who stole fifty five thousand pounds from the Bank of England.
It was Fix’s task to narrowly watch every passenger who arrived at Suez, and to follow up all who seemed to be suspicious characters, or bore a resemblance to the description of the criminal, which he had received two days before from the police headquarters at London. Fix is impatient. He is eager to catch hold of the criminal and he has a gut feeling that the robber is on the ship Mongolia. Fix is represented as a cocky man who thinks himself to be very rational, but is not so. He jumps to conclusions readily and is too hasty in assuming that the robber would have to be on this ship only. As Jules Verne himself writes - "So you say, consul," asked he for the twentieth time, "that this steamer is never behind time?"
"No, Mr. Fix," replied the consul. "She was bespoken yesterday at Port Said, and the rest of the way is of no account to such a craft. I repeat that the Mongolia has been in advance of the time required by the company’s regulations, and gained the prize awarded for excess of speed."
"Does she come directly from Brindisi?"
Directly from Brindisi; she takes on the Indian mails there, and she left there Saturday at five p.m. Have patience, Mr. Fix; she will not be late. But really, I don’t see how, from the description you have, you will be able to recognize your man, even if he is on board the Mongolia."
"A man rather feels the presence of these fellows, consul, than recognizes them. You must have a scent for them, and a scent is like a sixth sense which combines hearing, seeing, and smelling. I’ve arrested more than one of these gentlemen in my time, and, if my thief is on board, I’ll answer for it; he’ll not slip through my fingers."
"I hope so, Mr. Fix, for it was a heavy robbery." "A magnificent robbery, consul; fifty-five thousand pounds! We don’t often have such windfalls. Burglars are getting to be so contemptible nowadays! A fellow gets hung for a handful of shillings!"
"Mr. Fix," said the consul, "I like your way of talking, and hope you’ll succeed; but I fear you will find it far from easy. Don’t you see, the description which you have there has a singular resemblance to an honest man?"
"Consul," remarked the detective, dogmatically, "great robbers always resemble honest folks. Fellows who have rascally faces have only one course to take, and that is to remain honest; otherwise they would be arrested off-hand. The artistic thing is, to unmask honest countenances; it’s no light task, I admit, but a real art."
The detective betrays his overconfidence in this conversation. We realize even more his foolishness when it is compared with Fogg’s rationality.
Little by little the scene on the quay became more animated; sailors of various nations, merchants, ship brokers, and porters bustled to and fro as if the steamer were immediately expected. The weather was clear, and slightly chilly. The minarets of the town loomed above the houses in the pale rays of the sun. A jetty pier, some two thousand yards along, extended into the roadstead. A number of fishing-smacks and coasting boats, some retaining the fantastic fashion of ancient galleys, were discernible on the Red Sea. Jules Verne is excellent in lively portraits and it is a treat to read his short, yet animated descriptions.
Fix gets even more impatient when the steamer does not come in at the stipulated time. It was now half past ten.
"The steamer doesn’t come!" he exclaimed, as the port clock struck.
"She can’t be far off now," returned his companion.
"How long will she stop at Suez?"
"Four hours; long enough to get in her coal. It is thirteen hundred and ten miles from Suez to Aden, at the other end of the Red Sea, and she has to take in a fresh coal supply."
"And does she go from Suez directly to Bombay?"
"Without putting in anywhere."
"Good!" said Fix. "If the robber is on board he will no doubt get off at Suez, so as to reach the Dutch or French colonies in Asia by some other route. He ought to know that he would not be safe an hour in India, which is English soil."
"Unless," objected the consul, "he is exceptionally shrewd. An English criminal, you know, is always better concealed in London than anywhere else."
Fix can only think of the robber that he may be able to catch. He thinks - If the robber had indeed left London intending to reach the New World, he would naturally take the route via India, which was less watched and more difficult to watch than that of the Atlantic. But Fix’s reflections were soon interrupted by a succession of sharp whistles, which announced the arrival of the Mongolia. The porters rushed down the quay, and a dozen boats pushed off from the shore to go and meet the steamer. Soon her gigantic hull appeared passing along between the banks, and eleven o’clock struck as she anchored in the road. She brought an unusual number of passengers, some of who remained on deck to scan the picturesque panorama of the town, while the greater part disembarked in the boats, and landed on the quay.
Passerpartout approaches Fix to help him. He wishes to know where the consulate is. When Fix sees Fogg’s passport, he feels that he has found the robber, as the face and figure of Fogg is very much like the description of the probable robber given out by the English police. When he learns that the passport belongs to the master of the bearer, he explains that the person desirous of the visa should personally approach the consul. After inquiring about of the directions to the Consulate Passepartout leaves to deliver this message to his master Phileas Fogg. It is in Fix’s interest that Fogg come himself to the consulate, that Fix might be able to arrest him.