Whirling round and round, now under, now over, dog and coon rolled presently forth from the bushes, nearer to the feet of the spectators. Then Neal and Dol could get a clearer view of the strange animal. A breeze of exclamations came from them, mingling with the yelping, snarling, and clucking of the combatants.
“Good gracious! Look at the stout body and funny little legs of the fellow!”
“Doesn’t he fight like a spitfire?”
“I’m glad he’s not clawing me!”
“He’s not much like any picture of a raccoon I ever saw in a Natural History!”
“I guess he wouldn’t resemble them greatly, especially in that attitude, Dol,” said Cyrus, as soon as there was a lull in the boys’ comments.
The raccoon had now rolled on his back, and was fighting so fiercely with teeth and claws that a despairing cry broke from Uncle Eb,—
“Yah! He’s makin’ Tiger’s wool fly!”
It was then that the old guide began to deliberate about rushing forward and despatching his coonship with the butt end of his rifle. Cyrus would gladly have stopped the tussle long before, for there was too much savagery about it to suit him; but he could only have done so by stunning or killing one of the combatants.
A heart-rending howl from Tiger. The coon had caught him by his lower jaw. Uncle Eb, clutching his empty rifle like a club, was starting to the rescue, when the dog with a sudden, desperate jerk freed himself. Mad with rage and pain, he tried to seize the raccoon’s throat. But his enemy managed to elude the strangling grip, and getting on his feet, again caught Tiger, this time by the cheek, causing another agonizing yelp.
Now, however, the undaunted dog whirled round and round with such rapidity as to make Mr. Coon relax his hold, and, gathering all his strength, flung the wild animal off to a distance of several feet.
Probably the raccoon felt that he had enough of the conflict, and was doubtful about its final issue. He seized the chance for escape. While the spectators gasped with excitement, they beheld him, with his head doubled under his stomach, roll over and over like a huge gray India-rubber ball, until he reached the nearest tree, which happened to be one of the young pines that shaded the camp. Quick as lightning he climbed up its trunk, uttering a second shrill, far-reaching cry of one note.
“Listen! Listen, fellows!” cried Cyrus. “That raccoon is a ventriloquist. The cry seemed to come from somewhere far above him. I had a tame coon long ago, and I often heard him call like that. I tell you he’s a ventriloquist, and a mighty clever one too.
“The one piercing note was to warn his mate,” went on the naturalist, after a moment’s pause; “or in all probability, though we have been speaking of the animal as ‘he,’ it is really a female, for I have heard that peculiar call given more frequently by a mother to warn her cubs.”