The woman lets Huck into the shack but eyes him suspiciously. Huck introduces himself as “Sarah Williams” from Hookerville. The woman chatters about a variety of subjects and eventually gets to the topic of Huck’s murder. She reveals that Pap was a suspect and that some townspeople nearly lynched him. Then, people began to suspect Jim because he ran away the same day Huck was killed. Soon, however, suspicions again turned against Pap, after he squandered on alcohol the money that the judge gave him to find Jim. Pap left town before he could be lynched, and now there is a $200 reward being offered for him. Meanwhile, there is a $300 bounty out for Jim. The woman has noticed smoke over Jackson’s Island and has told her husband to look for Jim there. He plans to go there tonight with another man and a gun.
The woman looks at Huck suspiciously and asks his name. He replies, “Mary Williams.” When the woman asks about the change, he tries to cover himself by saying his full name is “Sarah Mary Williams.” She has him try to kill a rat by throwing a lump of lead at it, and he nearly hits the rat, increasing her suspicions. Finally, she asks him to reveal his real male identity, saying she understands that he is a runaway apprentice and claiming she will not turn him in to the authorities. Huck says his name is George Peters and describes himself as an apprentice to a mean farmer. She lets him go after quizzing him on several farm subjects to make sure he is telling the truth. She tells Huck to send for her, Mrs. Judith Loftus, if he has trouble.
Back at the island, Huck builds a decoy campfire far from the cave and then returns to the cave to tell Jim they must leave. They hurriedly pack their things and slowly ride out on a raft they found when the river flooded.
Huck and Jim build a wigwam on the raft and spend a number of days drifting downriver, traveling by night and hiding by day to avoid being seen. On their fifth night out, they pass the great lights of St. Louis. The two of them “live pretty high,” buying, stealing, or hunting food as they need it. They feel somewhat remorseful about the stealing, however, so they decide to give up a few items as a sort of moral sacrifice.
One stormy night, they come upon a wrecked steamboat. Against Jim’s objections, Huck goes onto the wreck to loot it and have an “adventure,” the way Tom Sawyer would. On the wreck, Huck overhears two robbers threatening to kill a third so that he won’t “tell.” One of the two robbers manages to convince the other to let their victim be drowned with the wreck. The robbers leave. Huck finds Jim and says they have to cut the robbers’ boat loose to prevent them from escaping. Jim responds by telling Huck that their own raft has broken loose and floated away.
Huck and Jim head for the robbers’ boat. The robbers put some stolen items in their boat but leave in order to take some more money from their victim inside the steamboat. Jim and Huck jump into the robbers’ boat and head off as quietly as possible. When they are a few hundred yards away, Huck feels bad for the robbers left stranded on the wreck because, after all, he himself might end up a murderer someday. Huck and Jim find their raft and then stop so that Huck can go ashore to get help.
Once on land, Huck finds a ferry watchman and tells him his family is stranded on the
Mrs. Loftus is one of the more sincere people Huck encounters throughout the course of the novel, but her attitude toward Jim makes her goodness somewhat problematic. Mrs. Loftus is clearly a clever woman, as we see in the tests she spontaneously designs to unmask Huck. Despite her charity toward Huck, however, Mrs. Loftus and her husband are only too happy to profit from capturing Jim, and her husband plans to bring a gun to hunt Jim like an animal. Mrs. Loftus makes a clear distinction between Huck, who tells her he has run away from a mean farmer, and Jim, who has done essentially the same thing by running away from an owner who is considering selling him.
Whereas Mrs. Loftus and the rest of white society differentiate between an abused runaway slave and an abused runaway boy, Huck does not. Huck and Jim’s raft becomes a sort of haven of brotherhood and equality, as both find refuge and peace from a society that has treated them poorly. The two even engage in a bit of moral philosophizing about stealing. Though their resolution to give up stealing a few items to render their other stealing less sinful seems childish, it nevertheless represents an attempt to reconcile practical and moral concerns.
The pattern of Huck’s childishness getting both himself and Jim into trouble continues in these chapters, as Huck follows his boyish, Tom Sawyer–like impulses and nearly has a run-in with the robbers on the wrecked steamboat. There is no good reason why Huck and Jim should tie up to the wrecked ship, particularly at night and in a storm, but Huck is unable to resist. The two are lucky to escape, and the incident proves to be another reminder that even on the river they are not safe from the problems that plagued them at home—violence, cruelty, and powerlessness at the hands of any white adult. Huck’s attempts to reconcile the situation show that he is learning, despite his initial immaturity. When Huck acts like Tom Sawyer, trouble follows, but when he acts like himself—when he seeks to interpret and react to experience in a practical manner—things generally turn out fine.
The fact that Jim sees the foolishness of many of Huck’s endeavors but never restrains Huck reminds us of Jim’s extremely tenuous position as an escaped slave. In a number of instances in the novel, Jim protests when Huck formulates a foolish plan, but eventually gives in to the boy. Twain never explicitly explains Jim’s reasoning, but the implication is always there that Jim’s caution stems from his constant fear of being caught and returned to his former owner. After all, Huck, though a child, is a free, white child who could turn in Jim at any time and collect a large reward for doing so. Although this idea seems never to cross Huck’s mind, it lurks beneath the surface of Jim and Huck’s interactions and reminds us of the constant fear Jim lives with as an escaped slave.