Chapter Twenty-Sixth.
 
    "Oh, Lord! methought what pain it was to drown!"
                                    --SHAKESPEARE.

Cousin Ronald was a great favorite with his young relatives. Harold and Herbert had long since voted him quite equal, if not superior to Captain Brice as a story-teller; his narratives were fully as interesting, and beside always contained a moral or some useful information.

There were tales of the sea, wild tales of the Highlands and of the Scottish Border; stories of William Wallace, of the Bruce and the Black Douglass, in all of which the children greatly delighted.

Mr. Lilburn's ventriloquial powers were used for their amusement also, and altogether they found him a very entertaining companion.

Rosie holding a shell to her ear one day, was sent into ecstasies of delight, by hearing low, sweet strains of music, apparently coming from the inside of it.

At another time, as she stooped to pick up a dead crab while wandering along the beach, she started back in dismay at hearing it scream out in a shrill, tiny voice, "Don't touch me! I'll pinch you, if you do."

The merry laugh of the boys told her that it was "only Cousin Ronald," but she let the crab alone, keeping at a respectful distance from its claws.

This was on the evening spoken of in our last chapter, and while her mamma and Aunt Lucy were chatting together in the veranda, waiting for the call to tea.

It sounded presently, and Cousin Ronald and the children started on a run for the house, trying who could get there first.

Harold showed himself the fleetest of foot, Herbert and Frank Daly were close at his heels, while Mr. Lilburn, with Rosie in one hand and little Walter in the other, came puffing and blowing not far behind.

"Won't you take us another walk, cousin?" asked Rosie when they came out again after the meal.

"Yes," he said, "this is a very pleasant time to be down on the beach. Come lads," to Harold and Herbert, "will you go along?"

They were only too glad to accept the invitation, and the four sauntered leisurely down to the water's edge, where they strolled along watching the incoming tide.

"I love the sea," said Rosie. "I wish we could take it home with us."

"We have a lake and must be content with that," said Herbert, picking up a stone and sending it far out, to fall with a splash in among the restless waves; "we can't have everything in one place."

"Did you ever see a mermaid, Rosie?" asked Mr. Lilburn.

"No, sir; what is it?"

"They're said to live in the sea, and to be half fish and half woman."

"Ugh! that's dreadful! I wouldn't like to be half of a fish. But I wish I could see one. Are there any in our sea here, Cousin Ronald?"

"They're said to have very long hair," he went on, not noticing her query, "and to come out of the water and sit on the rocks, sometimes, while they comb it out with their fingers and sing."

"Sing! Oh, I'd like to hear 'em! I wish one would come and sit on that big rock 'way out there."

"Look sharp now and see if there is one there. Hark! don't you hear her sing?"

Rosie and the boys stood still, listening intently, and in another moment strains of music seemed to come to them from over the water, from the direction of the rock.

"Oh, I do! I do!" screamed Rosie, in delight. "O, boys can you hear her, too? can you see her?"

"I hear singing," said Harold, smiling, "but I think the rock is bare."

"I hear the music too," remarked Herbert, "but I suppose Cousin Ronald makes it. A mermaid's only a fabled creature."

"Fabled? what's that?"

"Only pretend."

"Ah now, what a pity!"

At that instant a piercing scream seemed to come from the sea out beyond the surf, some yards higher up the coast. "Help! help! I'll drown, I'll drown!"

Instantly Harold was off like a shot, in the direction of the sound, tearing off his coat as he went, while Herbert screaming "somebody's drowning! The life boat! the life boat!" rushed away toward the hotel.

"Lads! lads!" cried Mr. Lilburn, putting himself to his utmost speed to overtake Harold in time to prevent him from plunging into the sea, "are ye mad? are ye daft? There's nobody there, lads; 'twas only Cousin Ronald at his old tricks again."

As he caught up to Harold, the boy's coat and vest lay on the ground, and he was down beside them, tugging at his boots and shouting "Hold on! I'm coming," while a great wave came rolling in and dashed over him, wetting him from head to foot.

"No, ye're not!" cried Mr. Lilburn, laying a tight grasp upon his arm; "there's nobody there; and if there was, what could a bit, frail laddie like you do to rescue him? You'd only be dragged under yourself."

"Nobody there? oh, I'm so glad!" cried Harold with a hearty laugh, as he jumped up, snatched his clothes from the ground and sprang hastily back just in time to escape the next wave. "But you gave us a real scare this time, Cousin Ronald."

"You gave me one," said Mr. Lilburn, joining in the laugh. "I thought you'd be in the sea and may be out of reach of help before I could catch up to you. You took no time to deliberate."

"Deliberate when somebody was drowning? There wouldn't have been a second to lose."

"You'd just have thrown your own life away, lad, if there had been anybody there. Don't you know it's an extremely hazardous thing for a man to attempt to rescue a drowning person? They're so apt to catch, and grip you in a way to deprive you of the power to help yourself and to drag you under with them.

"I honor you for your courage, but I wish, my boy, you'd promise me never to do the like again; at least not till you're grown up and have some strength."

"And leave a fellow-creature to perish!" cried the boy almost indignantly. "O cousin, could you ask me to be so selfish?"

"Not selfish, lad; only prudent. If you want to rescue a drowning man, throw him a rope, or reach him the end of a pole, or do anything else you can without putting yourself within reach of his hands."

Rosie, left behind by all her companions, looked this way and that in fright and perplexity, then ran after Herbert; as that was the direction to take her to her father and mother.

Mr. Travilla and Eddie had started toward the beach to join the others and were the first to hear Herbert's cry.

"Oh, it was Cousin Ronald," said the latter; "nobody goes in bathing at this hour."

"Probably," said his father, "yet--ah, there's the life boat out now and moving toward the spot."

With that they all ran in the same direction and came up to Mr. Lilburn and Harold just as the boy had resumed his coat and the gentleman concluded his exhortation.

They all saw at once that Eddie had been correct in his conjecture.

"Hallo! where's your drowning man?" he called. "Or, was it a woman?"

"Ask Cousin Ronald," said Harold laughing, "he's best acquainted with the person."

"A hoax was it?" asked Mr. Travilla. "Well, I'm glad things are no worse. Run home my son, and change your clothes; you're quite wet."

"I fear I owe you an apology, sir," said Mr. Lilburn; "but the fact is I'd a great desire to try the mettle of the lads, and I believe they're brave fellows, both, and not lacking in that very useful and commendable quality called presence of mind."

"Thank you, sir," Mr. Travilla said, turning upon his boys a glance of fatherly pride that sent a thrill of joy to their young hearts.