“A man rather feels the presence of these fellows, consul, than recognises 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.”
Mr. Fix evidently was not wanting in a tinge of self-conceit.
Little by little the scene on the quay became more animated; sailors of various nations, merchants, ship-brokers, porters, fellahs, 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.
As he passed among the busy crowd, Fix, according to habit, scrutinised the passers-by with a keen, rapid glance.
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.”