After the duke and king board the raft, the king shakes Huck by the collar and asks if he was trying to give the con men the slip. Huck says he was afraid of being hanged and ran at the first chance he got. The king threatens to drown Huck, but the duke intervenes and tells the king that he would have done the same thing had he been in Huck’s shoes.
Over the course of the novel, the king has morphed into another Pap in Huck’s life, debauched and, now, murderous. He is a petty, stupid tyrant, whose power over Huck is restrained only by the duke, who is himself hardly a moral authority.
The king cusses the town and everybody in it, but the duke turns on him again and says that he should be cussing himself for almost getting the two locked up in the penitentiary. The duke is only grateful that the bag of money was discovered in Peter Wilks’s coffin, which provided an opportunity for him and the king to escape.
It is the duke who rightly identifies the price of freedom here as the need to take responsibility for oneself, which the king refuses to do. Also, society clearly has backwards priorities: they allow the duke and king to escape because they were excited by seeing gold to which they have no claim.
It is the very reference to the bag of gold that triggers an argument between the duke and king over how the money got into Peter’s coffin in the first place, each blaming the other for wanting to hide the money so he could later have it all to himself. The king, overwhelmed and exhausted, blubberingly confesses that he hid the money in the coffin. The duke shames him for letting the slaves take the blame. Then the two men take solace in drinking, till they’re drunk, mellow, thick as thieves again, and literally sleeping in one another’s arms. As the two sleep, Huck tells Jim everything that’s happened.
It is hard to say why the king takes responsibility for something he didn’t do, hiding the gold, except that maybe he is so morally exhausted that he wants to take responsibility for something, anything. The duke rather nobly condemns the king for letting the slaves take responsibility for his actions. But just as the duke and king seem to grow out of their wicked ways, they get drunk and conspiratorial again. Like Pap, the two con men will always be morally stained.