Tom deduces that Jim must be imprisoned in a hunt on the Phelps’ property, based on the fact that a slave (Nat) goes to that hut with human food every day. Huck is impressed with Tom’s reasoning, and thinks that he wouldn’t trade Tom Sawyer’s mind for anything. Tom and Huck begin to devise plans for helping Jim to escape.
Tom proves himself to be a rational, clever boy. Despite his powers of deduction, however, Tom will show that he is dangerously impractical when it comes to making plans, mostly because he is too reliant on ideas of style inherited from his books.
Huck suggests that he and Tom bring up the raft, steal the key to Jim’s hut, and rescue Jim in the night. Tom concedes that Huck’s plan will work, but insists that it is far too simple. He proposes a plan which Huck doesn’t explain in his book, because, he says, Tom will just change the plan all the time anyway, throwing in flair whenever he can, which is exactly what he does. Huck still can’t believe that a respectable, well-raised, ethical, intelligent, kind boy like Tom would help to steal a slave out of bondage, and he begins to tell Tom as much, but Tom hushes him and says he knows what he’s about.
Despite being clever, Tom foolishly dismisses Huck’s practical plan, which will liberate Jim soon, in favor of a fancier, more romantic plan. Tom’s plan may have style, but it requires that Jim be imprisoned for longer than is strictly necessary. In this sense, Tom is being rather selfish. Huck regresses again in his disbelief at Tom’s willingness to violate societal norms; we can’t help but wonder if Tom is doing so not for Jim’s sake but selfishly, for the adventure of rescuing Jim.
Huck and Tom survey the Phelps’ farm and think of ways to bust Jim out of the hut. Tom decides that it would be grand to dig Jim out, which will take about a week. Huck and Tom also follow Nat, who brings food to the hut where Jim is presumably kept. Nat claims that witches have been pestering him and also lets the boys take a look at the prisoner locked up there, who is, as Tom deduced, none other than Jim.
Tom’s plan is self-indulgently time-consuming. Huck is skeptical but immaturely bows to Tom’s decision out of friendship. Nat, whom the boys rope into their rescue plan, is superstitious, a fact that the boys will exploit to save Jim. Of course, they wouldn’t have to exploit Nat at all if their plan were more practical.
Jim greets Huck and Tom by name, which startles Nat. He asks how it is that Jim knows who the two are. Tom pretends as though he didn’t hear Jim say anything, and Huck and Jim play along, such that the slave is forced to believe that the witches made him hear things. Tom whispers to Jim that he and Huck are going to set him free.
Even though Tom and Huck will needlessly exploit Nat later, here it is necessary that they do so, lest Nat learn that Jim knows the boys, which might compromise the whole rescue attempt. Jim obviously thinks it necessary to trick Nat as well for the sake of his freedom.