From the side of the hill, Jim has caught sight of a dark, shaggy figure. He’s now cut off on both sides, and Silver suddenly seems less terrifying than this unknown figure. Little by little, the man approaches, and then at once falls to his knees and clasps his hands in front of Jim.
Caught between two equally frightening figures, Jim finds the unknown to be even more terrifying than the known. But the stranger’s gesture of supplication helps to reassure Jim of his harmlessness.
The man says he’s named Ben Gunn, and hasn’t spoken to a “Christian” in three years. He is ragged, clothed in tatters. He says he’s been marooned—a common punishment, Jim knows, for pirates—and has since lived on goats, berries, and oysters. He begs Jim for a piece of cheese, which he’s been dreaming about. Jim promises it if he can ever get back aboard.
“Maroon” is the term for abandoning someone, on an island, for instance, while the rest of the ship continues on its way. Ben Gunn looks wild, but it’s clear that he hasn’t forgotten many elements of his former life that he once treasured.
Ben Gunn tells Jim that he had a pious mother, though you couldn’t tell it from his appearance, and from his stay on the island he’s learned once again to be pious and believe in Providence. Now, with Jim’s arrival, he swears to be good. He also whispers to Jim that he’s rich, and that he’ll reward Jim for finding him. He asks if Jim is on Flint’s ship: Jim decides to tell the truth and says he’s not, but some of Flint’s crew are aboard—including a man with one leg. At this Ben gasps, but he tells Jim to trust him.
It appears that Ben Gunn is a kind of reformed pirate, a change explained in this passage by his newfound religious faith. The suggestion about Gunn’s wealth passes, for now, unnoticed (or perhaps taken for insane). And like Billy Bones, Gunn too finds Silver terrifying—but now, months later, Jim is finally equipped to understand why.
Ben tells Jim that he was in Flint’s ship when the treasure was buried by him and six seamen. Flint paddled back from shore to the ship, and had murdered all six. Then, three years ago, Ben Gunn was in another ship when they saw Treasure Island: for twelve days the crew looked for the treasure, but never found it—finally, the crew abandoned him, telling him to find Flint’s money for himself. Now, Gunn asks Jim to tell the squire that Gunn is more a real gentleman than a “gentleman of fortune,” and that most of the time he spent on the island was taken up with an important, confidential matter (though Jim can’t understand what he’s talking about).
Ben Gunn begins to explain his history and situation to Jim. It seems that the hunt for Flint’s treasure is not a new one: Gunn too knew about it, and like both the pirates and their enemies, was equally committed to discovering it. Now, though, Gunn seems most eager to convince Jim that he shouldn’t face punishment back in England for his former acts. But it seems Gunn still has a few secrets to divulge, even if Jim can’t quite understand their implications.
Jim asks how he’ll get back aboard: Gunn says he’s built a small boat himself and keeps it under the white rock. Suddenly they hear the sound of a cannon, and Jim races towards the anchoring spot, crying out that the fighting has begun.
While Jim has grown afraid of Silver and the other mutineer pirates, he still wants to be in the thick of the battle, more so than he is interested in learning Gunn’s secrets.