As the duke and king devise another con, Jim tells the duke that it is uncomfortable to be tied up every day. In response, the duke invents a new way for Jim to stay by himself during a day without risking capture. He dresses Jim up in a costume for King Lear, a character in Shakespeare’s play King Lear, and paints Jim blue. The duke then makes a sign saying that Jim is a sick Arab. When people approach him, Jim is to jump out and carry on and howl till they leave him be.
It is maybe surprising that a man as selfish as the duke would go out of his way to help Jim feel more comfortable, but he nevertheless does so, demonstrating a kind of moral freedom uncommon in the novel. The duke tends to other’s interests as long as doing so isn’t inconsistent with pursuing his own interests.
The king, dressed in black clothes that make him look “swell and starchy,” rafts to a nearby town with Huck. As they drift in, the two run across a young country boy. The king says he’ll give the boy a lift and invites him on the raft, which the boy accepts.
The king dresses in respectable black to trick people into thinking, based on his appearance, that he is himself respectable. He exploits society’s overvaluation of appearance.
On the raft, the boy tells the king that he resembles Mr. Wilks. The king lies and says that he is a reverend, and that he is sorry if Mr. Wilks is late for something. The boy then reveals that Mr. Wilks’s brother Peter Wilks has died, and that, as he died, he wished to see his brothers from England, the living ones being Harvey and the deaf mute William. The king asks more questions about the Wilks family, and the boy obliges in answering.
By tricking the boy into trusting him with his clothes and false identity as a priest, the king exploits the boy for information to be used in a con. In contrast to the boy’s gullibility is Huck’s gentle skepticism of everyone he meets. Huck doesn’t care about appearances but about substance.
After dropping the boy off, the king tells Huck to fetch the duke. Huck knows what the king is up to (conning the Wilks family), but he retrieves the duke anyway. The king tells the duke everything the boy told him, all the while imitating an English accent. After hailing a yawl, the duke, king, Huck and Jim all travel to the town where the Wilks family lives. There the duke and king claim to be Peter Wilks’s brothers Harvey and William. The townspeople sympathize and help them, while Huck thinks their con “enough to make a [person] ashamed of the human race.”
Though Huck earlier denounces the duke and king as rapscallions, he is now mature enough to know that none of their cons compare in depravity to their defrauding of the Wilks family, where, in a time of tragedy, the two are not only emotionally exploiting grieving people, but are also stealing the possessions of two men whose brother has just died, nothing less than everything that remains of Peter’s life.