At nine o’clock the bell rang out its usual warning, and before the clock struck the next hour, the inhabitants of Hillsdale had courted the repose of their pillows.
He was a man
Whom no one could have passed without remark,
Active and nervous was his gait; his limbs
And his whole figure breathed intelligence.
Time had compressed the freshness of his cheek
Into a narrow circle of deep red,
But had not tamed his eye; that under brows,
Shaggy and grey, had meanings which it brought
From years of youth.
There were certain seasons of the year when the malady of the Solitary assumed a more serious character than at others. From what circumstance this proceeded was unknown. It might arise from an association of ideas, connected in some manner with the events of his life, the particulars of which, although curious persons had, at various times, endeavored to draw them from him, he had never revealed more plainly than in the conversations with Ohquamehud and the doctor. The imagination was left to wander, therefore, among whatever speculations respecting him it chose to indulge in, and, accordingly, there was no hypothesis that could be started, however absurd, that did not find advocates.
By some, he was supposed to be a murderer, whom remorse had driven from the haunts of men, and who was endeavoring to expiate his crimes by self-denial and suffering; others, asserted that he was the Wandering Jew, though his long residence at the island militated a little with the idea: however, that was balanced by his marked reverence for the New Testament, and frequent references to the coming of the Son of Man; while others insisted he was a pirate, who had buried treasure on the lonely island, and there watched over its security. This last opinion was received with especial favor by the gaping vulgar, and further confirmed by the fact that the Solitary never asked alms or was destitute of money, of which, indeed, he gave away to those whom he considered poorer than himself. But whatever was the truth, or however anxious the good people of Hillsdale might be to discover the secret, no one ventured to meddle with him, though more than one old woman had hinted that it was a shame he should be allowed to run about with so long a beard, and a resolute fellow even once suggested the expediency of arresting him on suspicion. As, however, his life was perfectly harmless, and he had never been, nor seemed likely to become, a burden to the town, nor had committed any act of violence, such counsels were considered too harsh, especially as the attempt to execute them might involve the town in expense and other unpleasant consequences. Besides, it was known he had strong friends in influential families, who would not permit him to be wronged or quietly see the least of his rights invaded. The curiosity of the place, therefore, was obliged to content itself with surmises, and to wait until some more favorable period for its gratification.