Andrew Bedient, at the age of seventeen, in a single afternoon,—indeed, in one moment of a single afternoon,—performed an action which brought him financial abundance for his mature years. Although this narrative less concerns the boy Bedient than the man as he approaches twice seventeen, the action is worthy of account, beyond the riches that it brought, because it seems to draw him into somewhat clearer vision from the shadows of a very strange boyhood.
April, 1895, the Truxton, of which Andrew was cook, found herself becalmed in the China Sea, midway between Manila and Hong Kong, her nose to the North. She was a smart clipper of sixty tons burden, with a slightly uptilted stern, and as clever a line forward as a pleasure yacht. She was English, comparatively new, and, properly used by the weather, was as swift and sprightly of service as an affectionate woman. Her master was Captain Carreras, a tubby little man of forty-five, bald, modest, and known among the shipping as “a perfect lady.” He wore a skull-cap out of port; and as constantly, except during meals, carried one of a set of rarely-colored meerschaum-bowls, to which were attachable, bamboo-stems, amber-tipped and of various lengths.
The little Captain was fastidious in dress, wearing soft shirts of white silk, fine duck trousers and scented silk handkerchiefs, which he carried in his left hand with the meerschaum-bowl. The Carreras perfume, mingled with fresh tobacco, was never burdensome, and unlike any other. The silk handkerchief was as much a feature of the Captain’s appearance as the skull-cap. To it was due the really remarkable polish of the perfect clays so regularly cushioned in his palm. Always for dinner, the Captain’s toilet was fresh throughout. Invariably, too, he brought with him an unfolded handkerchief upon which he placed, at the farther end of the table when the weather was fair (and in the socket of the fruit-bowl when the weather-frames were on), a ready-filled pipe. This he took to hand when coffee was brought.
His voice was seldom raised. He found great difficulty in expressing himself, except upon affairs of the ship; yet, queerly enough, there were times when he seemed deeply eager to say the things which came of his endless silences. As unlikely a man as you would find in the Pacific, or any other merchant-service, was this Carreras; a gentleman, if a very bashful one; a deeply-read and kindly man, although it was quite as difficult for him to extend a generous action, directly to be found out,—and his mind was continually furnishing inclinations of this sort,—as it was to express his thoughts. Either brought on a nervous tension which left him shaken and drained. The right woman would have adored Captain Carreras, and doubtless would have called forth from his breast a love of heroic dimension; but she would have been forced to do the winning; to speak and take the initiative in all but the giving of happiness. Temperate for a bachelor, clean throughout, charmingly innocent of the world, and a splendid seaman. To one of fine sensibilities, there was something about the person of Captain Carreras of softly glowing warmth, and rarely tender.