Jim earned his living as a "ship-chandler's water-clerk." Job description: sail out to greet ships coming in to port and guide them back to your boss's shop, a "where you can get everything to make [a ship] seaworthy and beautiful." (This position was not yet called "marketing.") Competent and popular wherever he worked, Jim nevertheless tended to up and leave for no apparent reason and move on to another port every so often. After a few pages of Jim-in-a-nutshell description, the story jumps backward from Jim's life as a water-clerk to young Jim at the beginning of his sea career, training on a ship.
The narrative begins with a sudden crisis. Jim stands frozen in the confusion (a feeling likely shared by the reader) as his ship rushes to a nearby collision to attempt a rescue. Though always the hero in his own frequent daydreams, Jim is too late to participate in this real situation. Jim listens in cold jealousy to the hero of the day ("a boy with a face like a girl's and big grey eyes") recount his own courageous tale of fishing a much larger sailor out of the sea with a boat-hook.
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Chapters 3 and 4