The narrative jumps ahead a month or so, creating suspense regarding actually occurred on the Patna. Jim is now being questioned about the incident, via the official Inquiry of a police court in an unnamed English port town. He experiences an intense distance between the "facts" pursued by the assessors--one with "thoughtful blue eyes" and the other "heavy, scornful"--and his actual experience. Jim believes there was a collision with a "water-logged wreck," which created a "big hole below the waterline" (26). Jim says he was fearful of a great mob panic and certain the steamer would sink like a "lump of lead," and he now attempts to justify his actions and emotions at the time of the incident. For the reader, the real story is still cloaked in narrative mystery. As Jim scans the audience from the witness box, his eyes meet those of another man--who proves to be Marlow.
The narrative cuts to Marlow on a "verandah draped in motionless foliage and crowned with flowers" (29). He now lifts the thread of the preceding narrative by remarking, "My eyes met his for the first time at that inquiry," and he points out the notoriety of the affair, how it had been the subject of much talk (30). Near the harbor office, he sees the four men involved in the incident along the quay--his "first view" of Jim.
In the hospital visiting one of his men, Marlow realizes that one of the castaways from the Patna is a patient, a man with a "drooping white moustache" (40). Tempted by the possibility of a firsthand account of the affair, Marlow inquires gently. The man asserts, "I saw her go down." He seems delusional with his visions of reptiles (pink toads) filling up the ship. Marlow concludes that the man's account is not material to the inquiry.
The narrative has jumped ahead in time and, while creating dramatic suspense, it also marks the beginning of Conrad's inventive "piecing together" of the story of Jim. As the storyline leaps from the moment of strange vibration beneath the steamship to Jim's place on the witness stand, and then as he is questioned about the occurrence, the reader wonders what happened on the ship. Did Jim prove his mettle, and what was the fate of the hundreds of Muslim passengers on board?
Despite the reader's position as inquirer, the narrator's perspective is omniscient, since the reader is told what is actually going on in Jim's mind as he offers his testimony about the facts. The disparity Jim experiences between the facts that the inquiry requires him to tell and his memory of the actual experience is crucial, and this difference is a fundamental problem that obsessively characterizes much of Conrad's work. Slim, cold facts can seldom provide more than a skeletal frame for any story or event or person. The rest of the picture is far more ambiguous and flexible, involving emotions, memory, and perception. These items can have a distorting effect on the facts, but they lend fullness to the understanding. Conrad apparently suggests that despite the risk of distortion, relaying the depth of experience is perhaps the best way to convey human truths.
The narrative experiences a profound shift in perspective from the moment Jim looks out from his witness box, and at this point Marlow appears in the reader's eye. The change happens at the moment their eyes first touch. Jim, the reader learns, has experienced a feeling of kindred spirit or of some kind of intelligent and understanding communion, as though he knows Marlow already. This moment of recognition foreshadows the close relationship that will form between them, and it reinforces the repeated statement to be made by Marlow that Jim "is one of us." The glimpse of solidarity at that moment is important to Jim, whose mental state is not unlike that of a "prisoner" or a "wayfarer lost in a wilderness." Though the reader is in suspense regarding the fate of the ship and its passengers, as well as how Jim has come to be in the witness box, the reader is led to a sense of trust in Marlow, precisely because of Jim's initial impression. From there, Marlow becomes the teller of the story, sitting at a verandah before an audience, relating how Jim's eyes first met his during the inquiry.
Marlow's perspective on Jim is both sympathetic and critical. When the novel shifts entirely into Marlow's voice, we infer that it is really Conrad's in a new guise, providing a kind of border-sphere around Jim's story.