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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
The novel's major plot line-the framing of Muff Potter in Dr. Robinson's murder-begins in this chapter. The chapter also indicates that St. Petersburg has a dark side.
As Tom lies in bed awaiting Huck's appearance, he is frightened by the sound of a beetle (a "death-watch") ticking in the wall. He believes the superstition that its sound-a watch's ticking- means that someone is about to die. The events that follow won't contradict this belief.
Huck arrives as promised, carrying his dead cat and sounding like a live one. They walk to a graveyard about a mile and a half outside of town.
NOTE: TWAIN'S LANGUAGE
Twain once said, "The difference between the right word and
the wrong word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning
bug." Watch how carefully Twain chooses his words especially adjectives
and verbs-as he sets his spooky scene here. The fence is "crazy."
Grass and weeds grow "rank" (excessive). Old graves are "sunken."
"Worm-eaten" boards "staggered" over the graves while
a "faint" wind "moaned." Watch for other examples
of Twain's suggestive imagery.
The "solemnity and silence" of the graveyard keep the boys quiet while they hide a few feet from Hoss Williams' fresh grave. The sound of people approaching terrifies them. For a moment Huck thinks a lantern is "devil-fire"- the burning of gases released by decaying matter. Soon they realize that they are in the presence not of devils but of three men they know: Muff Potter, a good-for-nothing; Injun Joe, a "half-breed"; and Dr. Robinson, a young physician from the town. Dr. Robinson has hired the others to dig up Hoss Williams' body so that he can experiment on it. (Because of legal restrictions, there was always a shortage of cadavers for doctors and medical students to study, and the practice of grave robbing, or body snatching, was not uncommon.)
When Hoss Williams' body has been dug up and tied to a wheelbarrow, Potter and Injun Joe demand more money. The men fight. Robinson knocks out Potter, and Injun Joe murders Robinson with Potter's knife. Tom and Huck, caught up in a real adventure and not a fantasy, leap up and flee.
The narrator lingers behind to report the murder's aftermath. Injun Joe robs Robinson's body and places the murder weapon in Potter's hand. When Potter comes to, Joe convinces him that he (Potter) murdered the doctor; Potter trots off, leaving his knife behind.
NOTE: INJUN JOE'S VENGEFULNESS
Twain goes to some length to provide Injun Joe with a motive for killing Robinson. Injun Joe feels he was mistreated five years earlier when the Robinsons refused him food and had him jailed as a vagrant. Injun Joe's vengefulness is a key to his character-one that will explain his later actions and terrify Tom and Huck into silence.