Meet Jim, a young guy who works as a "water-clerk" at various ports in Southeast Asia. That means that he helps ships get situated with fresh drinking water and other supplies before they head out to sea.
Jim is good-looking and fairly popular, but people don't seem to know much about him. Good thing our narrator is in the know, and can give us the details.
Flashback alert: Jim grew up in a parsonage (a house that belongs to the Church) in England. Because he was a younger brother, he had no shot at inheriting his family's land, so he opted to become a sailor. Maybe he saw this gem and couldn't resist joining up.
The early part of Jim's career goes pretty well, except for one night when he misses an opportunity to help rescue some people at sea.