Jim continues to wander from job to job, "fling[ing] away [his] daily bread so as to get [his] hands free to grapple with a ghost" as "an act of prosaic heroism." He becomes well-known as an eccentric in his part of the world; although he runs away every time the Patna is mentioned, everyone knows who he is. After Jim rejects Marlow's suggestion that he go to America, Marlow decides to consult Stein, the proprietor of a large trading company with posts in "out-of-the-way places" where Jim could more easily live in peace. Stein, according to Marlow, is extremely trustworthy and wise. We learn a little about Stein's past: he escaped Germany as a young man after getting entangled with revolutionaries, then came to the East Indies with a Dutch naturalist. Stein remained in the area with a Scottish trader he had met, who bequeathed him his trading empire and introduced him to a Malay queen. Stein became an adviser to the queen's son, Mohammed Bonso, who was battling several relatives for the throne. He married Bonso's sister and had a child with her, and began to collect beetles and butterflies. Bonso was assassinated, and Stein's wife and child died from a fever. Stein tells Marlow an anecdote about a particular butterfly specimen in his collection. One morning, he was tricked into leaving his compound by an enemy of Bonso's and was ambushed along the road. After feigning death, he attacked and dispatched his attackers with bullets, but a few escaped. Suddenly, he saw a rare butterfly glide past him. Moving quickly, he captured it in his hat, holding a revolver in his other hand in case the bandits should reappear. Stein describes that day as one of the best of his life; he had defeated his enemy, possessed friendship and love, and acquired a butterfly he had long desired.
Marlow tells Stein he has come to him to discuss a "specimen." He recounts Jim's story for Stein, who immediately "diagnose[s]" Jim as "romantic." Stein elaborates on Jim's crisis of self-identity, saying that what Jim needs is to learn "how to live" in a world that he cannot always ignore. Stein says that he himself has had moments in which he has let heroic dreams slip away, and he tells Marlow that he will help him do something "practical" for Jim. Stein suggests that they send Jim to Patusan, a remote territory where he has a trading post. The place will, Marlow says, turn out to offer him "a totally new set of conditions for his imaginative faculty to work upon." Patusan seems to be a place no one visits, whose very name stands in for the hidden and unknown. Stein has used Patusan as an exile for those in need before; he tells Marlow of a Dutch-Malay woman with a troubled history married to an odious trading agent named Cornelius whom he wished to help. He made Cornelius the manager of the Patusan post, but the woman has since died, and the woman's daughter, under the guardianship of Cornelius, is the only obstacle to his replacement by Jim. Stein offers Jim the post, with the understanding that Cornelius and the girl be allowed to stay on in Patusan.
Marlow jumps forward in time, to a moment when he visits Jim in Patusan. Although it is not yet clear how, Jim has become an incredible success, and Marlow is astonished. He reminds himself that he and Stein had only sought to keep Jim out of the way, and that, on his part, he had just wanted to dispose of Jim before returning to Europe for a time. He admits that he had feared the claim that Jim now has on him because of their acquaintance. Marlow digresses for a moment to describe Patusan more fully: it is a small territory thirty miles inland up a river, which the flow of history has largely bypassed. In the seventeenth century, Dutch traders often visited in order to trade for pepper. Somehow, though, the trade stopped, and now the country is a backwater, ruled by a "Sultan [who] is an imbecile youth with two thumbs on his left hand." The de facto ruler of Patusan, however, is the Sultan's uncle, Rajah Allang, a decaying, power-mad opium fiend whom Marlow encounters when he visits Jim. Stein and Marlow offer Jim the Patusan post, which he accepts. Marlow makes him a gift of a revolver, and Stein, wishing to repay his debt to the Scottish trader who launched him, gives Jim letters of introduction and a silver ring, which he is to present to Doramin, an old comrade of Stein's. Jim returns from receiving Stein's commission full of fire, eager to impress upon Marlow the romantic aspects of the situation, particularly the idea of the ring as a token of friendship and recognition. Marlow finds himself "thoroughly sick" of Jim, who is foolish enough to "hurl defiance" at the universe. Jim hurriedly packs his possessions, including a volume of Shakespeare (which surprises Marlow) and ships for Patusan. The captain of the ship that is to carry him tells Marlow, who comes aboard to offer Jim cartridges for the revolver, that he will carry Jim only to the mouth of the river leading to Patusan, since he was fired upon by the natives the last time he tried to ascend the river. Marlow later learns that the man was publicly humiliated and imprisoned by Rajah Allang. The ship is about to depart, so Marlow takes leave of Jim, who is still ecstatic over the "magnificent chance" before him. As Marlow's boat pulls away from the ship, Jim shouts a prediction: "'You--shall--hear--of--me.'"
Stein offers a contrast to both Marlow and Jim. Like Jim, he is, or at least was as a youth, invested in ideas of the heroic, starting out as a revolutionary, then becoming a traveler, a partisan fighter, and finally a conquering capitalist. Despite some self-admitted defeats and the loss of his wife and child, he has constructed a satisfying existence for himself by taking advantage of the opportunities offered him by others (the Dutch naturalist, the Scottish trader). Like Marlow, he feels an immediate sense of identification with Jim. His approach to Jim is quite different from Marlow's, however. While Marlow considers Jim "one of us," Stein sees him, as Marlow suggests he will, as a "specimen," like one of his butterflies. Marlow, and even the members of the court of inquiry, have been considering Jim almost as a sort of mutation--an average man who for some reason displays the worst that lurks inside of all men. The court of inquiry must cast Jim out, symbolically casting the evil out of themselves. Marlow is fascinated, seeing in Jim his own dark side. Stein, however, "diagnoses" Jim as displaying one among an infinite variety of "maladies" or abnormalities. Stein determines him to be a "romantic," and accordingly sends him to the same place he has sent another damaged romantic, the Dutch-Malay woman.
Patusan is an appropriate place for Jim in more ways than one. Notice the resemblance between the words "Patna" and "Patusan"; we know before he gets there that Jim is destined to repeat in some way the incident aboard the Patna. Patusan, too, is a place where romantic, heroic idealism--the high adventure of the quest for pepper--coexists with pragmatism and harsh reality. The territory was abandoned by history, is difficult to reach, and has degenerated to the point of being ruled by a youth with congenital deformities that would seem to be the result of inbreeding. Jim is thrilled to have another chance, and his hubris is unmistakable: "You--shall--hear--of--me." Marlow and Stein's parting gifts, though, foreshadow the kind of place he will find. The revolver suggests Jim will need to rely, to some extent, on brute force, and the technological superiority of the white man. The ring suggests that Jim is entering a world of suspicion, distrust, and factions, where identity requires physical proof and a man's word is not enough. Both hint that heroic ideals may be irrelevant here.
Ironically, Stein and Marlow are burying Jim the way Chester and Robinson suggested. The only escape for Jim, it seems, is to go somewhere where no one has heard of the Patna. Yet in the echo of the name of the ship in the name of the territory, and in Marlow's repeated incursions to see Jim despite being "sick" of him and wanting to "dispose" of him, it is implied that escape will not be possible, that, no matter what he does, Jim will still be the same man who abandoned the Patna. At this point in the narrative, Marlow's most recent information is that Jim is a total success. Yet Marlow, at the end of Chapter 21, tells his audience that he still awaits "the last word" on Jim. He goes further to say, too, that it may be that the "last word" cannot be trusted, since it will be open to misinterpretation in the minds of its hearers.