The Royal Nonesuch plays to a capacity audience. The dauphin, who appears onstage wearing nothing aside from body paint and some “wild” accoutrements, has the audience howling with laughter. But the crowd nearly attacks the duke and the dauphin when they end the show after only a brief performance. The people in the crowd, embarrassed at having been ripped off, decide to protect their honor by making certain that everyone in the town gets ripped off. After the performance, they tell everyone else in town that the play was wonderful. The second night, therefore, also brings a capacity crowd.
As the duke has anticipated, the crowd on the third night consists of the two previous nights’ audiences coming to get their revenge. Huck and the duke make a getaway to the raft before the show starts. They have earned $465 over the three-night run. Jim is shocked that the royals are such “rapscallions.” Huck explains that history shows nobles to be rapscallions who constantly lie, steal, and decapitate, but his history knowledge is factually very questionable.
Huck does not see the point in telling Jim that the duke and the dauphin are fakes. Jim spends his night watches “moaning and mourning” for his wife and two children. Though “it don’t seem natural,” Huck concludes that Jim loves his family as much as white men love theirs. Jim is torn apart when he hears a thud in the distance that reminds him of the time he beat his daughter Lizabeth for not doing what he told her to do. When he was beating her, Jim didn’t realize that Lizabeth couldn’t hear his instructions because a bout with scarlet fever had left her deaf.Read a translation of Chapter 23 →
As the duke and the dauphin tie up the raft to work over another town, Jim complains about having to wait, frightened, in the boat, tied up as a runaway slave in order to avoid suspicion, while the others are gone. In response, the duke disguises Jim in a calico stage robe and blue face paint and posts a sign on him that reads, “Sick Arab—but harmless when not out of his head.” The dauphin, dressed up in his newly bought clothes, decides he wants to make a big entrance into the next town, so he and Huck board a steamboat docked several miles above the town.
The dauphin encounters a talkative young man who tells him about a recently deceased local man, Peter Wilks. Wilks had recently sent for his two brothers from Sheffield, England—Harvey, whom Peter had not seen since they were boys, and William, who is deaf and mute. Wilks left much of his property to these brothers when he died, but it seems uncertain whether they will ever arrive. The dauphin wheedles the young traveler, who is en route to South America, to provide him with details concerning the Wilks family.
Arriving in Wilks’s hometown, the duke and the dauphin ask for Wilks and feign anguish when told of his death. The dauphin even makes strange hand gestures to the duke, feigning sign language. The scene is enough to make Huck “ashamed of the human race.”