Huck, Jim, and the con men drift downriver for four days, at which point the duke and king feel safe enough to resume their scams in nearby villages, but they don’t have much luck in making money and become “dreadful blue and desperate.” The two whisper in private in the wigwam, which makes Huck and Jim so nervous that they resolve to leave the company of the duke and king once and for all.
The duke and king’s moral epiphany is short-lived. Mere days after the duke gives his speech in favor of taking responsibility for oneself, he and the king, chained to their debauched lifestyle, begin scamming again. Huck and Jim worry because they know the duke and king have no qualms about harming them if push comes to shove.
The king goes up to a village to see if the people there have caught wind of The Royal Nonesuch. At noon, Huck and the duke, who’s been in a sour mood, set out to join the king, only to find him in a saloon getting cussed at and threatened. The duke begins berating the king (maybe for getting into such a bad situation, maybe to buy time in formulating an escape plan from the saloon for the two of them), at which point Huck, sensing his chance, makes his escape.
The duke, we’re later led to infer, is in a sour mood because he helped the king to sell Jim back into slavery by printing a handbill for the purpose, he presumably feels guilty for betraying Huck and Jim. But, ultimately, the duke values his interests over anyone else’s. That’s why Huck must be free of him.
As Huck runs to the raft, he shouts with joy to Jim that they are free. But Jim, Huck soon discovers, is gone. Huck can’t help it: he sits and cries. Soon restless, he takes to the road and comes across a boy who tells him that Jim has been captured and taken to Silas Phelps’ farm. Huck also learns that it was the king who turned Jim in for forty dollars, using a handbill earlier printed by the duke.
Even though Huck is at last free of the con men, he can’t enjoy his freedom knowing that Jim has been denied his. While it is disgusting that a human life should be ascribed any monetary value, Huck notices that the duke and king sold Jim out for a rather paltry sum. They made twice as much conning the religious revival as they did selling Jim.
Huck considers writing a letter to Tom Sawyer asking him to tell Miss Watson that Jim is at the Phelps’ farm so Jim can at least be with his family, but decides that Miss Watson would be cruel to Jim for running away and that Jim would be disgraced. Hopeless, Huck rebukes himself for helping Jim at all, and feels low and ornery. Huck prays, but no words come, at least not until he does what he thinks is most moral: writing a note to Miss Watson. But as Huck remembers Jim and how good Jim is, he pauses. At last, he rips up the note, and decides he’s going to help Jim to freedom, even if that means going to hell. Huck never regrets his choice.
This is maybe the most important passage in the novel in terms of Huck’s moral development, where the boy decides that he would rather subvert all societal values and do what others think bad than do what society endorses and betray the inclinations of his own heart. Huck thinks that betraying the humanity of good people like Jim is a worse fate than being condemned to hell. Of course, Huck’s decision is more Christian and loving in spirit than the alternative, and it is a testament to the way that slavery has warped Christianity in the south that Huck thinks that freeing a man from slavery will send him to hell.
As Huck makes his way to save Jim, he runs into the duke. Over the course of their conversation, the duke tells Huck that the king did indeed turn Jim in. The duke eventually tells Huck that if he and Jim promise not to turn in him or the king, he’ll tell Huck where Jim is. Huck agrees, and the duke begins to disclose Jim’s location, when, mid-word, he changes his mind and lies to Huck about where Jim is. Huck sets out at first for the false place the duke gives him, and once he’s sure the duke is no longer watching, Huck turns around and heads for the Phelps’ farm.
The duke printed the handbill he and the king used to turn Jim in long ago, suggesting that he had at least entertained the possibility of betraying Jim for profit. It is ironic, then, that after he earlier charges the king with not taking responsibility for himself, the duke blames the king and only the king for selling out Jim, even though he is obviously complicit. The duke is as hypocritical as the society he exploits and defrauds.