The dauphin arranges to stay in the Wilks house. Huck has supper with Joanna, the youngest Wilks sister, whom he calls “the hare-lip” because of her cleft lip, a birth defect. Joanna tests Huck’s knowledge of England, and he makes several slips, forgetting that he is supposedly from Sheffield and that the dauphin is supposed to be a Protestant minister. Finally, Joanna asks if he has made the entire thing up. Joanna’s sisters, Mary Jane and Susan, interrupt and instruct Joanna to be courteous to their guest, and she graciously apologizes. Huck feels terrible about letting such sweet women be swindled and resolves to get them their money back. He goes to the con men’s room to search for the money and hides when they enter. The duke wants to leave town that night, but the dauphin convinces him to stay until they have stolen all the family’s property. After the men leave the room, Huck finds the $6,000 in gold, takes it to his sleeping cubby, and then sneaks out late at night.
Huck hides the sack of money in Peter Wilks’s coffin as Mary Jane, crying, enters the front room where her dead father’s body lies. Huck, who doesn’t get another opportunity to remove the money safely, worries about what will happen to it. The next day, a dog barking in the cellar disrupts the funeral. The undertaker slips out and returns after a “whack” is heard from downstairs. In a voice that everyone present can hear, he whispers that the dog has caught a rat. In the next moment, though, Huck watches with horror as the undertaker seals the coffin without looking inside. Huck realizes he will never know whether the duke and the dauphin have gotten the money back. He wonders if he should write to Mary Jane after he has left town to tell her to have the coffin dug up.
Saying he will take the Wilks girls to England, the dauphin sells off the estate and the slaves, sending a slave mother to New Orleans and her two sons to Memphis. The scene at the grief-stricken family’s separation is heart-rending, and the Wilks women are upset. Huck comforts himself with the knowledge that the slave family will be reunited in a week or so when the duke and the dauphin are exposed. When the con men question Huck about the missing money, he manages to make them think the Wilks family slaves were responsible for the disappearance.
The next morning, Huck finds Mary Jane crying in her bedroom. All her joy about the trip to England has given way to distress over the separation of the slave family. Touched, Huck unthinkingly blurts out that the family will be reunited in less than two weeks. Mary Jane, overjoyed, asks Huck to explain. Huck feels uneasy, for he has little experience telling the truth while in a predicament. He tells Mary Jane the truth but asks her to wait at a friend’s house until later that night in order to give him time to get away, because the fate of another person (Jim) also hangs in the balance. Huck instructs Mary Jane to leave without seeing her “uncles,” for her innocent face would give away their secret. Huck leaves her a note with the location of the money. She promises to remember him forever and to pray for him. In retrospect, Huck tells us that he has never seen Mary Jane since but that he thinks of her often.
Shortly after Mary Jane leaves the house, Huck encounters Susan and Joanna and tells them that their sister has gone to see a sick friend. Joanna cross-examines him about this, but he manages to trick them into staying quiet about the whole thing. Later that day, a mob interrupts the auction of the family’s possessions. Among the mob are two men who claim to be the real Harvey and William Wilks.
These chapters mark several milestones in Huck’s development, as he acts on his conscience for the first time and takes concrete steps to thwart the schemes of the duke and the dauphin. Although Huck has shown an increasing maturity and sense of morality as the novel has progressed, he has been tentative in taking sides or action, frequently hedging his bets and qualifying the statements he makes. He has chosen not to challenge or expose the duke and the dauphin even though he has been aware from the start that they are frauds. Earlier, watching as the con men scam the Wilks sisters in Chapter 24, Huck tells him that the sight makes him ashamed to be part of the human race. Though this strong statement is, in itself, a step for Huck, he does not act on it until now. The first concrete action Huck takes is his retrieval of the $6,000 in gold, which he places in Wilks’s coffin.
Despite these developments, however, Huck still has several lessons to learn and still struggles with the conflicting messages he receives from society and from his personal experiences. Even though Huck rightly takes the money from the con men, he does not give it to the Wilks sisters directly, and he still cannot bring himself to expose the con men to the Wilkses. It is not until two chapters later that Huck, seeing Mary Jane crying in her bedroom, blurts out that the duke and the dauphin are frauds. Also, Huck seems relatively unfazed when he hears that the dauphin’s plan to liquidate the Wilks’s property will require the separation of a slave woman from her children. Huck confesses to Mary Jane not because he is upset about the splitting of the slave family but because he feels bad that she is upset about it. Twain implies, through Huck’s struggle with the issue, that the attitudes and assumptions that enable racism and slavery in the South are deep-seated and difficult to overcome. Although Huck has made great strides, he still struggles to make sense of the confusing world around him. His predicament is understandable: after all, a world in which both seemingly good people (Miss Watson) and clearly evil people (the duke and the dauphin) are willing to perpetrate great cruelty—separating a mother from her children—is a confusing world indeed.
Although these chapters are generally serious in tone, Twain maintains his characteristic mix of absurdity, suspense, humor, and biting cynicism throughout. The funeral scene is one of Twain’s brilliant comic set pieces, complete with screechy music, blubbering mourners, and a smarmy undertaker, all of which enable Huck to make wry observations about human nature while he sweats out the fate of the money he has hidden in the coffin. Then, the climactic appearance of an alternate set of Wilks brothers at the end of Chapter 28 sets the stage for more absurdity and confrontation. The remarkable mix of serious social commentary and entertaining suspense and humor is what Twain is perhaps best known for—and what has made