Despite the arrival of the two men who claim to be Harvey and William Wilks, the duke and king persist in their fraudulence. After the king cracks a joke at the real Harvey’s expense, most of the townspeople present laugh, but there a few who don’t. One of these is Doctor Robinson; another is a lawyer named Levi Bell, who calls the king a liar. Doctor Robinson suggests that the two sets of men claiming to be Harvey and William be affronted with each other at a tavern so that their real identities can be determined.
At last, when the townspeople’s affection-based trust in the duke and king is called into question by the arrival of the real Harvey and William, the people society wouldn’t listen to earlier, people of reason like Doctor Robinson and Levi Bell, are given the attention that their arguments merit. The townspeople are forced into rationality the hard way.
At the tavern, Doctor Robinson asks the king to produce the bag of gold so that it can be kept safely till the townspeople determine who is who. The king says that the Wilks’ slaves stole the gold, but nobody really believes him. The king then tells his story, followed by the old man claiming to be Harvey Wilks, and Huck thinks it’s obvious that the king’s is a liar and the old man a truth-teller. Huck, in giving his story, is interrupted by the doctor, who tells him that it is clear he is a bad liar and shouldn’t strain himself.
It is ironic that when the king tells what he believes to be the truth about where the gold is, the townspeople don’t believe him, but that when he tells what he knows to be a lie, which Huck himself thinks very transparent, the townspeople less readily gainsay him, suggesting how easily mislead society is in its search for the truth. Also, Huck has been a rather proficient liar till now; it seems his strain to lie is due to moral qualms or having to lie about something regarding which he has no knowledge.
Levi Bell begins to speak with the king, and eventually tricks him, the duke, and the other old man claiming to be Harvey Wilks to write something down. Bell then produces from his pocket a letter from Harvey, to find that none of the handwriting given him matches that of the letters. The old man explains that his brother William copies his letter, and Levi concedes that his plan to expose the frauds has succeeded only partially: he knows that the duke and king are frauds, but he is unsure about the other two men.
The duke meets his match in Levi Bell, who tricks the veteran trickster into exposing his own lies. It is strange, though, that the townspeople don’t act on the results of Mr. Bell’s test. Whereas it would be reasonable at this point to jail the duke and king, the townspeople seem not to have followed Mr. Bell’s logic at all, and allow the duke and king a chance to escape later. Society does not act logically.
The real Harvey Wilks asks the king to reveal what is tattooed onto Peter Wilks’s chest. Whitening, the king at last says that it is a pale, blue arrow. The old man says that that’s false, that his tattoo is really of the letters “P.B.W.” But the men who buried Peter Wilks say they saw no such mark. The townspeople become convinced that all four men claiming to be Peter’s brothers are frauds, and, enraged, decide to dig up Peter’s body to see if he has any tattoo at all.
The king’s guess as to Peter Wilks’s tattoo is, so audacious, may be what saves him and the duke from immediate incarceration. Again, it is ironic that the townspeople don’t believe the real Harvey Wilks, and they are so irrationally flammable as to denounce even him as a fraud. Their search for truth is farcical at best.
After disinterring Peter’s corpse, the townspeople discover the bag of gold that Huck hid in Peter’s coffin. The man who is holding Huck by the arm to prevent him from running away lets go of the boy to get a look at the bag, and Huck immediately makes a run for it. He meets Jim by the river, and the two begin to drift away. Suddenly, though, Huck hears a familiar sound, the humming of a skiff. It is the duke and king. Huck sinks to the floor of the raft and almost cries that the two con men are not yet out of his and Jim’s lives.
Even though Huck is helping the Wilkses expose the duke and king, he is wise enough to know that the townspeople are stupidly unpredictable, so, instead of taking his chances with the mob, he makes a bold bid for freedom. But that freedom is limited by the arrival of the duke and king, whose self-interestedness has come to metaphorically imprison Huck and Jim in a life of fraud and close scrapes.