Without a moment’s hesitation Ned discharged the contents of his other barrel at the animals, thinking they were hogs that had escaped from some herd that had been driven across the country.
The shot did not penetrate their thick hides far enough to do anything but irritate and madden them, and the whole herd rushed towards the boys, who, frightened at their formidable appearance, jumped into the nearest tree, where they had been obliged to remain until released by us.
Once fairly out of reach of the infuriated creatures, they rather enjoyed the situation for a time; Hal feeling confident that he could, at any moment, frighten them away by the discharge of his rifle.
Finally, becoming tired of the fun, he discharged his rifle and killed his hog; but this only seemed to make the creatures more ferocious, and then, for the first time, the boys became really alarmed.
As hour after hour passed, and the hogs showed no disposition to depart, Hal began to despond, declaring that no help would reach them before they should starve. Ned, however, kept up heart, until the infuriated creatures began to devour the dead body of their comrade.
The smell of the blood and taste of the flesh maddened them to such a degree that they began a warfare among themselves, furiously striking at and cutting one another with their long, sharp tusks, killing and trampling under their feet the weaker, and then greedily devouring the dead; all the while filling the air with their sharp, shrill cries.
The boys, who had, up to this time, been hoping that assistance would come from some source, were about giving up in despair, when they witnessed the slaughter made by our revolvers and knew that succor had at last arrived.
As soon as they were able to walk, we guided them to the spot where we had left our mules, and placed them in the saddles, directing them to camp; Jerry and myself resolving to walk.
Shouldering our rifles, we started towards the bank of the river, believing it to be a shorter route than the way we had come. Although it was fast growing dark, we had no fear but that by this route we should reach camp quite as soon as the boys.
While passing through a grove of pecan trees, about a couple of miles from camp, my attention was suddenly arrested by the cry of some person, apparantly in distress.
“Hark, Jerry,” said I; “did you hear that? Some one’s in trouble—wait a minute.”
“Thunder! judge, hain’t you been in Texas long enough to know a painter’s yell when you hear it? That was a reg’lar out-and-out painter you heard. I’ve—”
Just at this moment, a prolonged, heart-rending wail trembled upon the stillness of the evening air: so piercing, yet so plaintive, was it, that it sent a shudder through my frame I have not forgotton to this day.
“That critter ain’t very far off,” exclaimed Jerry. “Mebbe we’ll git a shot at him; though they’re nasty things to hunt at night, fer yer can’t see ’em, they lay so clus onto the limbs.”