Chapters 19–23 Summary and Analysis
Huck and Jim once again adopt the easy, peaceful rhythm of travel by river-raft. One day, however, two men run up to the riverbank and ask Huck to save them from the men and dogs they say are in pursuit. Huck allows them to come aboard and, though he hears men and dogs in the distance, they quickly leave them behind. One of the men is about seventy, the other about thirty. They are dressed very shabbily, and both carry “big, fat, ratty-looking carpet bags.” Both appear to be minor criminals who have been chased out of town for running scams. However, after a little while, the young man starts to sigh. He says that his heart has been broken and his property lost and that he carries with him a great secret. However, he quickly reveals the secret, saying that he is the rightful Duke of Bridgewater, whose lands and titles have been stolen by a usurper.
Jim and Huck try to make the Duke feel better by showing respect, using his title, and waiting on him at dinner. The older man becomes silent and reflective, then announces that he has a secret, too. He is the Dauphin of France, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Huck and Jim then begin to call him “You Majesty” and wait on him as well. Huck, however, is not taken in by these two tricksters. He sees quickly enough that the two men are merely “low-down humbugs and frauds,” but he pretends to believe them for the sake of keeping the peace.
The Duke and the Dauphin have both made their living in numerous shady ways, but the Duke is particularly fond of acting. He suggests that when they come to a sizeable town, they should hire a hall and perform scenes from Shakespeare. In the next small town they come to, the Duke sets up a temporary printing press and makes a little money. He also prints a notice describing Jim and offering a $200 reward for him so that if they are ever stopped and asked to explain Jim’s presence, they can pretend they have captured him and are going to claim the reward. Meanwhile, the Dauphin manages to collect the sum of $87.75 by impersonating a reformed pirate at a religious revival meeting. He also steals a three-gallon jug of whiskey, which he finds under a wagon. The Duke and the Dauphin then get very drunk together, leading Jim to hope that they will not be joined by any more aristocracy or royalty on this trip.
The Duke and the Dauphin rehearse the scenes from Shakespeare they are going to perform: the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, sword-fighting from Richard III, and Hamlet’s soliloquy. The Duke teaches the Dauphin the version of Hamlet’s soliloquy he has committed to memory, a farrago of phrases from Hamlet and Macbeth, which pleases the Dauphin. The Duke has playbills printed, and when they come to a small riverside town in Arkansas, they hire the courthouse for their performance, announcing the Duke and the Dauphin as the great (and long-dead) English actors David Garrick and Edmund Kean.
Huck describes the town, which is dull, muddy, and full of loafers. The loafers are much entertained by a man named Boggs, who becomes hopelessly drunk once a month and comes into town “on the waw-path” threatening someone or other. He never kills the man he says he is going to kill, and one wit remarks that he wishes Boggs would threaten him, since there is no more certain guarantee of safety. However, this time, the man he threatens, Colonel Sherburn, is irritated enough to shoot Boggs, who quickly dies. Someone says Sherburn ought to be lynched, and an angry mob soon forms, snatching down clothes-lines with which to hang the colonel.
A screaming mob swarms along the street to Colonel Sherburn’s house. They tear down the fence in front of it and rush into his garden. Sherburn comes out of the house with a gun and points it at the crowd, which immediately becomes quiet. He addresses them coolly and contemptuously, saying they are too cowardly even to lynch anyone and that there is not a real man among them....
(The entire section is 1,491 words.)