Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn had found a box of gold in a robber’s cave. After Judge Thatcher had taken the money and invested it for the boys, each had the huge allowance of a dollar a day. The Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson, had taken Huck home with them to try to reform him. At first, Huck could not stand living in a tidy house where smoking and swearing were forbidden. Worse, he had to go to school and learn how to read. He did, however, manage to drag himself to school almost every day, except for the times when he sneaked off for a smoke in the woods or to go fishing on the Mississippi River.
Huck rushed to Judge Thatcher and persuaded him to take the fortune for himself. The judge was puzzled, but he signed some papers, and Huck was satisfied that he no longer had any money for his father to take from him. His life with his father would have been pleasant if it had not been for the beatings. One day, he sneaked away. Huck wanted everyone to believe he was dead. He climbed into a canoe and went to Jackson’s Island to hide until all the excitement had blown over. After three days of freedom, Huck wandered to another part of the island, and there he discovered Jim, Miss Watson’s black slave, who told Huck that he had run off because he had overheard Miss Watson planning to sell him down south for eight hundred dollars. Huck swore he would not report Jim. The two stayed on the island many days, Jim giving Huck an education in primitive superstition.
Knowing that Jackson’s Island would soon be searched, Huck hurried back to Jim, and the two headed down the Mississippi on a raft. One night, as they were drifting down the river on their raft, a large steamboat loomed before them, and Huck and Jim, knowing that the raft would be smashed under the hull of the ship, jumped into the water. Huck swam safely to shore, but Jim disappeared. Huck found a home with a friendly family named Grangerford. The Grangerfords treated Huck kindly. One day, the slave asked him to come to the woods to see some snakes. Following the boy, Huck came across Jim, who had been hiding in the woods waiting for an opportunity to send for Huck. Jim had repaired the broken raft. That night, one of the Grangerford daughters eloped with a young Shepherdson, and the feud broke out once more. Huck and Jim ran away after the shooting and set off down the river. Shortly afterward, Jim and Huck met two men who pretended they were European royalty and made all sorts of nonsensical demands on Huck and Jim. Huck was not taken in, but he reasoned that it would do no harm to humor the two men to prevent quarreling. The Duke and the King were clever schemers.
In one of the small river towns, they staged a fake show, which lasted long enough to net them a few hundred dollars. Then they ran off before the angered townspeople could catch them. Employing an ingenious series of lies, subterfuges, and maneuverings, Huck exposed the Duke and King. Huck fled back to Jim, and the two escaped on their raft. Just as Jim and Huck thought they were on their way and well rid of their former companions, the Duke and King came rowing down the river toward them. The whole party set out again, with the Duke and the King planning to continue their schemes to hoodwink people in the towns along the river. In one town, the King turned Jim in for a reward, and he was sold. Finally, Huck decided that he would help Jim to escape. Learning that Silas Phelps was holding Jim, he headed for the Phelps farm. At the first opportunity, Huck told Tom about Jim’s capture. To Huck’s surprise, Tom offered to help him set Jim free. Huck could not believe that Tom would be a slave stealer, but he kept his feelings to himself. Huck had intended merely to wait until there was a dark night. The scheme resulted in a chase, however, in which Tom was shot in the leg. After Jim was recaptured, Tom was brought back to Aunt Sally’s house to recover from his wound. There, he revealed the fact that Miss Watson had died, giving Jim his freedom in her will. Huck was greatly relieved to learn that Tom was not really a slave stealer after all. When Tom’s Aunt Polly arrived unexpectedly, she quickly set straight the identities of the two boys. Jim was given his freedom, and Tom gave him forty dollars. Tom told Huck that his money was still safely in the hands of Judge Thatcher, and when Huck moaned that his father would likely be back to claim it again, Jim told Huck that his father was dead; Jim had seen him lying in a derelict house they had seen floating in the river. Huck was ready to start out again because Aunt Sally said she thought she might adopt him and try to civilize him. Huck thought that he could not go through such a trial again after having tried to be civilized once before under the care of Widow Douglas.