Unaware of his earlier drunken rage, Pap wakes up and sends Huck out to check to see if any fish have been caught on the lines out in the river. Huck finds a canoe drifting in the river and hides it in the woods. When Pap leaves for the day, Huck finishes sawing his way out of the cabin. He puts food, cookware, and everything else of value from the cabin into the canoe. He then covers up the hole he cut in the wall and shoots a wild pig outside. Huck smashes the cabin door with an ax, cuts the pig’s throat so it bleeds onto the cabin’s dirt floor, and makes other preparations to make it seem as if robbers have broken into the cabin and killed him. Huck goes to the canoe and waits for the moon to rise, planning to paddle to Jackson’s Island out in the river. Huck falls asleep and wakes to see Pap rowing by. Once Pap has passed, Huck quietly sets out downriver. He pulls into Jackson’s Island, careful not to be seen.
The next morning, a ferryboat passes Jackson Island, carrying Pap, Judge Thatcher and his daughter Bessie (known as Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer), Tom Sawyer, Tom’s aunt Polly, some of Huck’s young friends, and “plenty more” on board, all discussing Huck’s apparent murder. They shoot cannonballs over the water and float loaves of bread with mercury inside, in hopes of finding Huck’s corpse. Huck, still hiding carefully, catches one of the loaves and eats it. He is pleased that they are using such high-quality bread to search for him, but he feels guilty that his disappearance has upset the Widow Douglas and the others who care about him.
Huck spends three peaceful, lonely days on the island, living on plentiful berries and fish and able to smoke whenever he wishes. He spends his nights counting ferryboats and stars on the tranquil river. On the fourth day, while exploring the island, Huck is delighted to find Jim, who at first thinks Huck is a ghost. Huck is pleased that he will not be alone on the island but shocked when Jim explains that he has run away. Jim says that he overheard Miss Watson discussing selling him for $800 to a slave trader who would take him to New Orleans, separating him from his family. Jim left before Miss Watson had a chance to decide whether or not to sell him. Jim and Huck discuss superstitions—in which Jim is well-versed—and Jim’s failed investments, most of which have been scams. Jim is not too disappointed by his failures, since he still has his hairy arms and chest, which, according to his superstitions, are a sign of future wealth.
In order to make a hiding place should visitors arrive on the island, Jim and Huck take the canoe and provisions into a large cave in the middle of the island. Jim predicts that it will rain, and soon a storm blows in. The two safely wait it out inside the cave. The river floods, and a washed-out house floats down the river past the island. Inside, Jim and Huck find the body of a man who has been shot in the back. Jim prevents Huck from looking at the “ghastly” face. Jim and Huck make off with some odds and ends from the houseboat. Huck has Jim hide in the bottom of the canoe so that he won’t be seen, and they make it back to the island safely.
Huck wonders about the dead man, but Jim warns that it’s bad luck to think about such things. Huck has already incurred bad luck, according to Jim, by finding and handling a snake’s shed skin. Sure enough, bad luck comes: as a joke, Huck puts a dead rattlesnake near Jim’s sleeping place, and its mate comes and bites Jim. Jim’s leg swells but gets better after several days. A while later, Huck decides to go ashore to get information. Jim agrees, but has Huck disguise himself as a girl, using one of the dresses they took from the houseboat. Huck practices his girl impersonation and then sets out for the Illinois shore. In a formerly abandoned shack, he finds a woman who looks about forty years old and appears to be a newcomer to the town. Huck is relieved because, as a newcomer, the woman will not be able to recognize him. Still, he resolves to remember that he is pretending to be a girl.
Despite Twain’s disdain for the romantic, sentimentalized novels, these chapters are a tightly constructed mix of the romantic and the practical. Huck and Jim’s meeting on the island begins the main story arc of the novel. Huck and Jim, both alienated from society in fundamental ways, find themselves sharing a pastoral, dreamlike setting: a safe, peaceful island where food is abundant. From this point in the novel forward, their fates are linked. Jim has had no more say in his own fate as an adult than Huck has had as a child. Both in peril, Huck and Jim have had to break with society. Freed from the hypocrisy and injustice of society, they find themselves in what seems a paradise, smoking a pipe, watching the river, and feasting on catfish and wild berries.
Two episodes in these chapters, however, remind Huck and Jim of the looming threat from outside and give us the sense that this fantasy on the island is unlikely to last. The first involves the house that floats down the river past the island. The man inside the house has clearly been murdered, and the house bears other marks of human vices: playing cards, whiskey bottles, and obscene graffiti. Although Huck and Jim gather some useful goods from the house, it reminds them that Jackson’s Island is not completely isolated from the outside world. The second incident involves Jim’s rattlesnake bite, a direct result of a stupid prank Huck tries to play on Jim. As in the biblical Garden of Eden, snakes lurk on this island paradise and hurt people who behave unwisely. Once again, Huck and Jim are reminded that no location is safe for them.
These two incidents also flesh out some important aspects of the relationship between Huck and Jim. In the episode with the rattlesnake, Huck acts like a child, and Jim gets hurt. In both incidents, Jim uses his knowledge to benefit both of them but also seeks to protect Huck: he refuses to let Huck see the body in the floating house, for it is the body of Huck’s father. Jim is an intelligent and caring adult who has escaped out of love for his family—and he displays this same caring aspect toward Huck here. While Huck’s motives are equally sound, he is still a child and frequently behaves like one. In a sense, Jim and Huck together make up a sort of alternative family in an alternative place, apart from the society that has only harmed them up to this point.