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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTER 29: Huck Saves the Widow
Tom is cheerful on Friday morning, for Becky is back in town from her vacation. He is so happy to see her that he almost forgets about Injun Joe and the treasure. Becky, also happy to be back, convinces her mother to hold the much delayed picnic on Saturday. Invitations are sent, and the children are all excited.
The children gather at the Thatchers’ house on Saturday morning. A ferryboat is hired to take them to the picnic, which is to be chaperoned by several young adults. Since they may return after dark, Becky’s mother tells her to spend the night with Suzy Harper, who lives close to the ferry landing. Tom invites Becky to have ice cream with him at the Widow Douglas’ house before going to the Harpers.
The ferry drops anchor about three miles from town, near a woody hollow. The children have a wonderful time playing and feasting. Someone suggests that they should go and explore McDougal’s Cave; everyone agrees. They depart for the adventure, armed with candles. Once inside the dark cave, they light the candles and break up into small groups to explore the many passageways. While exploring, the children lose track of time; when they emerge, it is almost dark. They hurry to the ferry for the short trip back to town.
While the other children are at the picnic, Huck, who has not been invited, is keeping watch at the tavern door. Just when he is about to leave for the night, two men emerge through the alley door. Huck notices that one of the men is carrying something under his arm. Huck assumes the package to be the treasure and decides to follow the men, who soon stop at Widow Douglas’ house. Huck overhears Injun Joe cursing the widow and swearing revenge against her since he has been treated badly by the late Mr. Douglas, who was Justice of Peace. He has come to the house to "split her nostrils." When he notices that there is still a light on inside, he decides to wait and make sure the widow does not have company. The reader assumes that perhaps Tom and Becky are there having ice cream.
Huck decides he must immediately get help to save the widow, who has so often been kind to him. Not thinking about how people normally react to him, he runs towards the quarry and reaches the Welshman’s house. Huck quickly narrates what he has overheard to the Welshman, without revealing the identities of the two men, and fearfully begs him not to tell anyone who has given the Welshman his information. The Welshman and his sons quickly take their guns and depart. Huck watches and listens from behind a boulder. When Huck hears shots, he does not wait to see what is happening. He quickly flees.
The long postponed picnic is arranged and the children are delighted, especially Tom. He persuades Becky to go with him to Widow Douglas’ house after the picnic. When she hesitates, he convinces her that her mother would not come to know unless she herself told her. Tom’s attitude is "what one does not know, does not hurt," and Tom often withholds information from Aunt Polly.
The children go to the picnic by ferry and have a wonderful time playing. After the picnic feast, they all decide to go and explore the nearby cave, which is described in detail. It is dark, cold, and gloomy with many small passageways that twist and turn. The children light their candles, break into small groups, and go exploring. They are having so much fun that they do not emerge until it is almost dark outside. Twain has carefully arranged his facts -- the dark, twisting cave and the lateness of the hour when the children emerge -- in order to set the scene for the next action. It is also important to notice how Twain has particularly planned for Becky not to return home after the picnic. She has been instructed by her mother to spend the night with the Harpers. Because of this plan and miscommunication, Becky and Tom are not missed until the next day at church time.
While the other children are on the picnic, Huck, as promised earlier, is keeping watch on door number 2. He is almost on the point of giving up around 11:00 o’clock when he sees two men emerge. He follows them, for he thinks that they are carrying the treasure. To his astonishment, they stop near Widow Douglas’ house. Huck overhears Joe plotting to harm Widow Douglas because her late husband has treated him badly, "worse than a Nigger." When Huck realizes Injun Joe’s intentions, he runs to get help from the Welsh family and pleads with them not to reveal the source of their information. The Welshmen grab their guns and run to the widow’s house.
It is important to notice how quickly, wisely, and bravely Huck acts in this chapter. When Tom is around, Huck usually does not think for himself, but follows the suggestions made by Tom, who always assumes the leadership role. Since Tom is away at the picnic, Huck must think and act on his own. When he sees the two men emerge from room 2, he knows he must follow them, in spite of his great fear. He quietly and carefully tracks their every move. When Huck overhears Injun Joe’s plan to harm the Widow Douglas, he again acts wisely and quickly. He hurriedly runs to the Welshman’s house, which is close by, and convinces him that he must immediately come to save the widow. He does not, however, reveal Injun Joe’s identity.
It is also important to notice how Twain once again depicts Injun Joe as a totally despicable character. The innocent Widow Douglas, an extremely kind lady, has never done a thing to harm Injun Joe; however, her late husband, in his capacity of Justice of the Peace, once whipped Joe. Now the Injun wants revenge and plans to split the widow’s nose. The partner does not want to hurt her, but Joe threatens to kill him if he does not help with the planned revenge. Twain obviously wants his readers to be fully disgusted with the character of Joe so that at the end of the book there will be no sympathy for his death.
Also in this chapter, Twain once again has one of the boys "on the outside looking in." While he is hiding, Huck overhears Injun Joe talking about his revenge of the widow. It is not the first time that the author has used such a device. Early in the novel, Tom and Huck watch the murder of Doc Robinson from their hiding place. When Tom secretly returns from Jackson’s Island, he hides in his house and overhears Aunt Polly talking about the funeral plans for the missing boys. Tom and Huck hide in the haunted house and watch Injun Joe dig up the treasure and hear him talk about revenge. Twain effectively uses this tool of overhearing and spying to develop the plot.
Finally, in this chapter, Twain once again points out the class distinctions found in St. Petersburg and other small Southern towns of the nineteenth century. The lowest level on the social scale belongs to the Blacks, who are almost always slaves; slightly above the Negroes are the Native Americans; the Whites are at the top of the social order. Huck, though he lives on the fringe of established society, is tolerated by the people because he is white.