The stranger now assumed such an unpleasant air of successful admonition, that—quite involuntarily again—I stepped back upon the hearth, and threw myself into the erectest, proudest posture I could command. But I said nothing.

‘For heaven’s sake,’ he cried, with a strange mixture of alarm and intimidation—‘for heaven’s sake, get off the hearth! Know you not, that the heated air and soot are conductors;—to say nothing of those immense iron fire-dogs? Quit the spot—I conjure—I command you.’

‘Mr Jupiter Tonans, I am not accustomed to be commanded in my own house.’

‘Call me not by that pagan name. You are profane in this time of terror.’

‘Sir, will you be so good as to tell me your business? If you seek shelter from the storm, you are welcome, so long as you be civil; but if you come on business, open it forthwith. Who are you?’

‘I am a dealer in lightning-rods,’ said the stranger, softening his tone; ‘my special business is—Merciful heaven! what a crash!—Have you ever been struck—your premises, I mean? No? It’s best to be provided’—significantly rattling his metallic staff on the floor—‘by nature, there are no castles in thunderstorms; yet, say but the word, and of this cottage I can make a Gibraltar by a few waves of this wand. Hark, what Himalayas of concussions!’

‘You interrupted yourself; your special business you were about to speak of.’

‘My special business is to travel the country for orders for lightning-rods. This is my specimen rod,’ tapping his staff; ‘I have the best of references’—fumbling in his pockets. ‘In Criggan last month, I put up three- and-twenty rods on only five buildings.’

‘Let me see. Was it not at Criggan last week, about midnight on Saturday, that the steeple, the big elm and the assembly-room cupola were struck? Any of your rods there?’

‘Not on the tree and cupola, but the steeple.’

‘Of what use is your rod, then?’

‘Of life-and-death use. But my workman was heedless. In fitting the rod at top to the steeple, he allowed a part of the metal to graze the tin sheeting. Hence the accident. Not my fault, but his. Hark!’

‘Never mind. That clap burst quite loud enough to be heard without finger-pointing. Did you hear of the event at Montreal last year? A servant girl struck at her bedside with a rosary in her hand; the beads being metal. Does your beat extend into the Canadas?’

‘No. And I hear that there, iron rods only are in use. They should have mine, which are copper. Iron is easily fused. Then they draw out the rod so slender that it has not body enough to conduct the full electric current. The metal melts; the building is destroyed. My copper rods never act so. Those Canadians are fools. Some of them knob the rod at the top, which risks a deadly explosion, instead of imperceptibly carrying down the current into the earth, as this sort of rod does. Mine is the only true rod. Look at it. Only one dollar a foot.’

‘This abuse of your own calling in another might make one distrustful with respect to yourself.’

‘Hark! The thunder becomes less muttering. It is nearing us, and nearing the earth, too. Hark! One crammed crash! All the vibrations made one by nearness. Another flash. Hold.’

‘What do you do?’ I said, seeing him now instantaneously relinquishing his staff, lean intently forward towards the window, with his right fore and middle fingers on his left wrist.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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