Terrified, Huck and Jim search for the skiff the men used to reach the wreck, at long last finding it. Just as they do, one of the three men pokes his head out of a door mere feet away from Huck. But the man doesn’t see him in the dark. After the man goes back with his partner into the steamboat, Huck and Jim make a break for the skiff, jump in, and cut it loose. They drift in silence.
In this suspenseful scene, it is bad luck that one of the three men aboard the boat almost discovers Huck and Jim, but good luck that he doesn’t. Fortunes change like this all the time in the novel, which points to the silliness of Huck and Jim’s superstitious beliefs that center only on bad luck.
Huck realizes it must be dreadful to be in the position the robber-murderers are in, trapped on the steamboat without any means of escape. After all, he figures that he himself might become a murderer one day, and then, he says, “how would I like it?” He thinks of ways to save the murderers from the steamboat, but the storm threatens to make any rescue impossible.
Whereas someone like Miss Watson would condemn the robbers, Huck’s moral system, not conforming to society’s, is based more on an elastic empathy. He is imaginatively free enough to truly do unto others as he would have done unto him, and is not afraid to put himself into an immoral person’s shoes.
In the darkness, Huck and Jim spot their unmanned raft and paddle towards it. Upon reaching it, Jim boards, and Huck tells him to signal with a light when he has floated two miles so that Huck, in the skiff, can meet up with him. Soon afterward, as Huck paddles toward Jim’s light, Huck sees a village on the shore. After arriving there, he lies to a watchman, telling him that “pap, and mam, and sis, and Miss Hooker” are up the river in a wrecked steamboat, in dire trouble. The watchmen refuses to help, at first, but then paddles top help once Huck lies that the watchman will be paid for rescuing them.
Huck’s lies are often self-serving, but here he lies on behalf of the robber-murderers, in order to save them. Huck lies because he thinks that if he were to tell the truth, the watchman wouldn’t help the people drowning upstream. The robbers would let their companion drown; society would let all the robbers drown. Huck would always prevent people from drowning if at all possible.
Huck feels good about going to so much trouble to save the gang in the steamboat. He thinks that the Widow would be proud of him, because “rapscallions and dead beats is the kind the widow and good people takes the most interest in.” Before long, the wreck is towed by the watchman’s ferryboat to the village. Huck, heavy-hearted, realizes that all the robbers must have died. He shoves off and, at last, rejoins Jim, on an island, where the pair “turned in and slept like dead people.”
Huck thinks that, to be truly good, one must take an interest in marginalized and misguided peoples. Note how it is after realizing that the robbers must have drowned that Huck sleeps like a dead person himself, both because he is exhausted, but also because he is, maybe subconsciously, experiencing what it is like to be dead, taking the ultimate sympathetic interest in the robbers.