Summary—Chapter 27: Trembling on the Trail

The next morning, after a night of troubled sleep, Tom considers the possibility that events of the previous day were a dream. He finds Huck, and Huck rids him of this idea. The two boys speculate about where hiding place “Number Two” might be, deciding that “Two” probably refers to a room number in one of the town’s two taverns. Tom visits the first tavern and learns that a lawyer occupies room number two. In the second tavern, room number two remains locked all the time. The tavern-keeper’s son claims that no one ever enters or leaves the room except at night. He claims to have noticed a light on in the room the previous night. The boys decide to find all the keys they can and try them in the room’s back door. Meanwhile, if Injun Joe appears, the boys plan to tail him to see where he goes, in case they are wrong about the room.

Summary—Chapter 28: In the Lair of Injun Joe

On Thursday, the boys make their way to the tavern. Tom slips inside, and Huck waits for him. Suddenly Tom rushes by, shouting for them to run. Neither stops until he reaches the other end of the village, where Tom recounts that he found the door unlocked and Injun Joe asleep on the floor, surrounded by whiskey bottles. The tavern is a “Temperance Tavern,” meaning that it purportedly serves no alcohol. The boys realize that the room must be off-limits because it is where the tavern secretly serves whiskey. The boys decide that Huck will watch the room every night. If Injun Joe leaves, Huck will get Tom, who will sneak in and take the treasure.

Summary—Chapter 29: Huck Saves the Widow 

The next day, the Thatchers return from Constantinople. When Tom sees Becky, he learns that her picnic is planned for the following day, so the Injun Joe predicament drops to secondary importance. The children plan to go downriver to a famous cavern, and Becky’s mother tells Becky to spend the night with one of her friends who lives near the ferry. Tom then persuades Becky to disobey her mother and go with him to the Widow Douglas’s house instead, where the kind woman will probably give them ice cream and let them spend the night.

As they take the ferry down the river, Tom worries briefly that Injun Joe may go out that night, and he may miss the action. But the promise of fun with Becky soon drives such worries from his mind. The children arrive at a “woody hollow,” play in the forest, and eat lunch. Afterward, they climb up to McDougal’s cave and spend the afternoon excitedly exploring the passages. They stagger out that evening happily covered in clay and board the ferry for home.

Huck sees the ferry arrive in town, and a short time later he sees two men pass him carrying a box. Assuming them to be Injun Joe and his companion, he decides that there is no time to fetch Tom—the two men are escaping with the gold. He follows them to the Widow Douglas’s house, where Injun Joe describes to his friend how he plans to slit the widow’s nostrils and notch her ears like a sow as revenge for an incident in which her husband, then justice of the peace, had him horsewhipped for vagrancy.

While the two villains wait for the widow’s light to go out, Huck races down the hill to the house of an old Welshman and his sons. They let him in, and when he tells them what is about to happen, they seize their guns and rush toward the widow’s house. Huck follows them for a time, hears a burst of gunfire, and then flees for his life.

Analysis—Chapters 27–29

Chapter 27, which opens with Tom’s belief that his adventures were only a dream, prepares us for the dreamlike quality of the novel’s conclusion. Before Tom and Huck find out about Injun Joe’s treasure, St. Petersburg seems a safe, sleepy town with year-round summery weather perfect for children’s make-believe and games. However, once fantasy adventures of piracy and Robin Hood turn into real encounters with outlaws, murder, and stolen treasure, Tom and Huck seem well prepared to handle the scenario precisely because of their many rehearsals. Although much of the novel concerns Tom’s gradual acclimation to the adult world, the surprising plot twist brought about by Tom and Huck’s discovery of Injun Joe’s plan seems to reaffirm their childhood activities and to suggest that these imaginative activities should not be abandoned as soon as adult responsibilities emerge.

Read more about the village as a symbol.

Twain has already poked fun at church, school, and Sunday school, so his unveiling of the Temperance movement’s hypocrisy—the “Temperance Tavern” serves alcohol in a secret room—follows naturally. Because the novel focuses on Tom’s journey toward adulthood, and because Twain views the adult world as hypocritical and pretentious, it can be argued that Twain views Tom’s maturation as an unfortunate loss of freedom and honesty. However, Twain seems to be redefining the concept of maturity. Whereas conventional understanding links maturity with adulthood, Twain distinguishes between real maturity—the kind Tom displays when he testifies against Injun Joe and saves Becky from punishment—and the false maturity of the Temperance Tavern and the Sunday school. The older townspeople may be more learned than Tom by virtue of their age, and thus more intellectually mature, but Twain makes no similar correlation between age and moral maturity.

Read more about how alcohol fits within the larger themes of the novel as they relate to the limits of acceptable behavior.

When Tom leaves Huck by himself to handle Injun Joe because he is excited by the prospect of picnicking with Becky, he behaves immaturely and gets himself into trouble. In Chapter 30, we find out that Tom and Becky haven’t actually gone to the Widow Douglas’s house; they are lost in the cave. The stage seems set for a final confrontation between Tom and Injun Joe at the Widow Douglas’s, but Huck, not Tom, is to prove the hero. Tom has been the planner all along, persuading the reluctant Huck to go along with his schemes. By staying when Tom irresponsibly leaves for the picnic, Huck finally assumes control of the Injun Joe plot and proves his superior maturity.

Read more about the cave as a symbol.