The real Harvey Wilks, in an authentic English accent, explains the reasons he and his brother, William, were delayed: their luggage was misdirected, and his mute brother broke his arm, leaving him unable to communicate by signs. Doctor Robinson again declares the duke and the dauphin to be frauds and has the crowd bring the real and the fraudulent Wilks brothers to a tavern for examination. The frauds draw suspicion when they fail to produce the $6,000 from the Wilks inheritance.
A lawyer friend of the deceased then asks the duke, the dauphin, and the real Harvey to sign a piece of paper. When the lawyer compares the writing samples to letters he has from the real Harvey, the frauds are exposed. The dauphin, however, refuses to give up and claims that the duke is playing a joke on everyone by disguising his handwriting. Because the real William serves as scribe for the real Harvey and cannot write due to his broken arm, the crowd cannot prove that the real Wilkses are indeed who they say they are. To put an end to the situation, the real Harvey declares he knows of a tattoo on his brother’s chest, asking the undertaker who dressed the body to back him up. But after the dauphin and Harvey each offer a different version of the tattoo’s appearance, the undertaker surprises everyone by telling the crowd he saw no tattoo.
The mob cries out for the blood of all four men, but the lawyer instead sends them out to exhume the body and check for the tattoo themselves. The mob carries the four Wilks claimants and Huck with them. The mob is in an uproar when the $6,000 in gold is discovered in the coffin. In the excitement, Huck escapes. Passing the Wilks house, he notices a light in the upstairs window and thinks of Mary Jane. Huck steals a canoe and makes his way to the raft, and he and Jim shove off once again. Huck dances for joy on the raft. His heart sinks, however, when the duke and the dauphin approach in a boat.
The dauphin nearly strangles Huck out of anger at his desertion, but the duke stops him. The con men explain that they escaped after the gold was found. The duke and the dauphin each believe that the other hid the gold in the coffin to retrieve it later, without the other knowing. They nearly come to blows but eventually make up and go to sleep.
It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.
The foursome travels downstream on the raft for several days without stopping, trying to outdistance any rumors of the scams of the duke and the dauphin. The con men try several schemes on various towns, without success. Then, the two start to have secret discussions, worrying Jim and Huck, who resolve to ditch them at the first opportunity. Finally, the duke, the dauphin, and Huck go ashore in one town to feel out the situation. The con men get into a fight at a tavern, and Huck takes the chance to escape. Back at the raft, however, there is no sign of Jim. A boy explains that a man recognized Jim as a runaway from a handbill that offered $200 for Jim’s capture in New Orleans—the same fraudulent handbill that the duke had printed earlier. The boy says that the man who captured Jim had to leave suddenly and sold his interest in the captured runaway for forty dollars to a farmer named Silas Phelps.
Based on the boy’s description, Huck realizes that it was the dauphin himself who captured and quickly sold Jim. Huck decides to write to Tom Sawyer to tell Miss Watson where Jim is. But Huck soon realizes that Miss Watson would sell Jim anyway. Furthermore, as soon as Huck’s part in the story got out, he would be ashamed of having helped a slave, a black man, escape. Overwhelmed by his predicament, Huck suddenly realizes that this quandary must be God’s punishment for the sin of helping Jim. Huck tries to pray for forgiveness but finds he cannot because his heart is not in it. Huck writes the letter to Miss Watson. Before he starts to pray, though, he thinks of the time he spent with Jim on the river, of Jim’s kind heart, and of their friendship. Huck trembles. After a minute, he decides, “All right then, I’ll go to hell!” and resolves to “steal Jim out of slavery.”
Huck puts on his store-bought clothes and goes to see Silas Phelps, the man who is holding Jim. While on his search, Huck encounters the duke putting up posters for The Royal Nonesuch. When the duke questions him, Huck concocts a story about how he wandered the town but found neither Jim nor the raft. The duke initially slips and reveals where Jim really is (on the Phelps farm) but then changes his story and says he sold Jim to a man forty miles away. The duke encourages Huck to head out on the three-day, forty-mile trip.
In the aftermath of the Wilks episode, the duke and the dauphin lose the last vestiges of their inept, bumbling charm and become purely menacing and dangerous figures. Although the standoff over the Wilks estate ultimately is resolved without any physical or financial harm to anyone, the depth of greed and sliminess the con men display is astonishing. Then, just when it appears the duke and the dauphin can sink no lower, the catastrophe that Twain has foreshadowed for the last few chapters materializes when Huck discovers that Jim is missing. Just as it has throughout
Jim’s capture significantly matures Huck, for it convinces him to break with the con men for good and leads him to a second moment of moral reckoning. Huck searches the social and religious belief systems that white society has taught him for a way out of his predicament about turning Jim in. In the end, Huck is unable to pray because he cannot truly believe in these systems, for he cares too much about Jim to deny Jim’s existence and humanity. Huck’s thoughts of his friendship with Jim lead him to listen to his own conscience, and, echoing his sentiments from Chapter 1, Huck resolves to act justly by helping Jim and “go to hell” if necessary. Once again, Huck turns received notions upside down, as he figures that even hell would be better than the society in which he lives. Huck then sets out on his first truly adult endeavor—setting off to free Jim at whatever moral or physical cost to himself. It is vital to note that Huck undertakes this action with the belief that it might send him to hell. Though he does not articulate this truth to himself, he trades his fate for Jim’s and thereby accepts the life of a black man as equal to his own.