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On this leg of their trip, things get lazy, which is fine with Huck; but they also get unprofitable, which is troublesome for the two con men. After they move far enough south to be free of any word-of-mouth that might follow them, the thieves try their hand at such things as temperance lectures, dance instruction, missionarying, mesmerizing, and doctoring.
When none of their schemes works, the two men become moody and begin talking confidentially between themselves. This bothers Huck and Jim, and for good reason, since they know the two men are capable of almost anything.
They decide that the men must be planning to rob a house or a store. This prediction shows just how naive Huck still is, in spite of all he's experienced. What the con men are planning is far worse than a robbery, but Huck isn't able even to imagine it.
They soon stop at "a shabby village named Pikesville." The king goes in first, and Huck and the duke follow several hours later. When they get to town, they find the king drunk, and the duke begins arguing with him.
Huck doesn't waste a second. This is the time for him and Jim to escape these two men. He takes off for the raft and never looks back.
Jim, however, is gone, and Huck soon learns that the king has identified him as a runaway slave and sold his interest in the $200 reward for $40.
Then he sits down and thinks where he is, how he got there, and what he should do next. Once again, as he did in Chapter 16, he evaluates his behavior according to the standards he's been taught to believe are correct, and he finds himself falling short. And once again, we know how wrong he is.
He considers writing to Miss Watson and telling her where Jim is, believing that Jim would be happier with his family and other people he knows. He decides against this because he believes that Miss Watson, and everyone else who knows Jim, would never again treat him well, now that he's tried to run away.
That leads him to thinking about how people are going to judge him for helping a slave to escape. He's not only convinced that he's done a serious wrong, he won't even let himself off for being brought up improperly, since he had the advantage of Sunday School and threw that advantage away.
Then he tries to pray, "but the words wouldn't come," and he thinks he knows why. "It was because my heart warn't right; it was because I warn't square; it was because I was playing double." He's trying to get God to forgive him, when he doesn't really feel sorry for helping Jim. And he realizes that "you can't pray a lie."
So he decides to do the right thing first, and pray later. He writes a note to Miss Watson, telling her where to find her runaway slave. Although this makes him feel "washed clean of sin" for the first time in his life, he puts the paper down and thinks some more. He's hoping to find some personal justification for what he's about to do.
He thinks about the trip and all the things that have happened between him and Jim, and he can't "seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind." Jim, he decides, is a good person, who really cares for him; and the feeling is mutual.
So he takes a deep breath and says to himself, "All right, then, I'll go to hell." And he tears up the note to Miss Watson.