126 IN THE AMERICAN DESERT
For some time the fight raged — silently on the part of the cougar, noisily on that of the peccaries, for even the little ones ran round and tried to think they were lending a helping hand; but the peccary had no chance from the beginning, and before long was lying dead on her side, with the cougar lapping her blood.
But strange noises were now heard coming neai'er and nearer through the brushwood. The cougar rose quickly to his feet, and tossing the dead peccary over his shoulder, he made off in the opposite direction to that from which the sounds came.
It was too late; for at the same moment a herd of twenty or thirty peccaries, who had been summoned by the cries of the dying one, rushed across the open, and cut off the retreat of the cougar. In an instant he was surrounded, and flinging down the body of the peccary, he sprang upon the nearest living one, felling it with a blow from one of his paws ; at the same moment he himself was seized from behind and pulled down.
It did not seem possible that one animal, however fierce, could keep so many foes at bay; but two or three times he shook them off and sprang into the air, only to be caught and dragged back by some watchful peccary. At last, he gathered up all his strength, and with a desperate leap cleared the circle, and made straight for the tree where the two men were sitting, and before they could even cock their rifles, he was crouching on a branch above them, and glaring at them with his fierce eyes.
If ever anybody might be said to be ' between the devil and the deep sea,' it was Eolfe and Frank at this moment; for if the cougar was above them, below were the peccaries puffing and snorting, and tearing at the bark of the tree.
However, in a few seconds Eolfe collected his senses, and came to the conclusion that the enemy above was more to be dreaded than the enemy below. For peccaries cannot climb trees, but cougars can and do quite easily !