With only trust in providence to help him free his friend, Huck finds the Phelps’s house, where Jim is supposedly being held. A pack of hounds threatens Huck, but a slave woman calls them off. The white mistress of the house, Sally, comes outside, delighted to see Huck because she is certain he is her nephew, Tom. Sally asks why he has been delayed the last several days. Taking the opportunity to conceal his identity by pretending to be her nephew, Huck explains that a cylinder head on the steamboat blew out. When Sally asks whether anyone was hurt in the explosion, Huck says no, a “nigger” was killed. Sally expresses relief that the explosion was so “lucky.”
Huck is not sure he will be able to keep up the charade as Tom. When Sally’s husband, Silas, returns, however his enthusiastic greeting reveals to Huck that Sally and Silas are the aunt and uncle of none other than Tom Sawyer, Huck’s best friend. Hearing a steamboat go up the river, Huck heads out to the docks, supposedly to get his luggage but really to inform Tom of the situation should he arrive.Read a translation of Chapter 32 →
Huck meets Tom’s wagon coming down the road. Tom is at first startled by the “ghost,” believing that Huck was murdered back in St. Petersburg, but is eventually convinced that Huck is actually alive. Tom even agrees to help Huck free Jim. Huck is shocked by Tom’s willingness to do something so wrong by society’s standards: “Tom Sawyer fell considerable in my estimation,” he tells us.
Tom follows Huck to the Phelps house a half-hour later. The isolated family is thrilled to have another guest. Tom introduces himself as William Thompson from Ohio, stopping on his way to visit his uncle nearby. The lively Tom leans over and kisses his aunt in the middle of dinner, and she nearly slaps the boy she thinks is an impolite stranger. Laughing, Tom pretends that he is his own half-brother, Sid. The two boys wait for Sally and Silas to mention the runaway slave supposedly being held on their property, but the adults say nothing. However, when one of Sally and Silas’s boys asks to see the show that is passing through town—the duke and the dauphin’s—Silas says that “the runaway” alerted him to the fact that the show was a con.
That night, Huck and Tom sneak out of the house. As they walk on the road, they see a mob of townspeople running the duke and the dauphin, tarred and feathered, out of town on a rail. Huck feels bad for the two, and his ill feelings toward them melt away. “Human beings can be awful cruel to one another,” he observes. Huck concludes that a conscience is useless because it makes you feel bad no matter what you do. Tom agrees.Read a translation of Chapter 33 →
Tom told me what his plan was, and I see in a minute it was worth fifteen of mine for style, and would make Jim just as free a man as mine would, and maybe get us all killed besides.See Important Quotations Explained
Tom remembers seeing a black man delivering food to a shed on the Phelps property earlier that evening and deduces that the shed is where Jim is being held. His perceptive observation impresses Huck, who hatches a plan to free Jim by stealing the key to the shed and making off with Jim by night. Tom belittles this plan for its simplicity and lack of showmanship. Tom then comes up with a wild plan that Huck admits is fifteen times more stylish than his own—it might even get all three of them killed. Meanwhile, Huck finds it hard to believe that respectable Tom is going to sacrifice his reputation by helping a slave escape.