THE George Cross awarded to a little girl who fought off a mountain lion to save the life of her eight-year-old friend fetched #10,350 at auction yesterday.

Eleven-year-old Doreen Ashburnham leapt to the defence of Anthony Farrer by grappling with the ''ravenous'' beast on Vancouver Island, Canada, in 1916.

The heroics earned Anthony and the aristocrat's daughter from Sussex the Albert Medal, later to become the George Cross.

It made Anthony the youngest ever recipient - and Doreen, only daughter of the younger son of Sir Anchitel Ashburnham, eighth Baronet, of Broomham, Sussex - the youngest female to receive a British gallantry award.

Yesterday, four years after her death in California, aged 91, her daughter, Djinn, sold the medal at Spink's in London, where it was bought by a private collector.

On September 23, 1916, the young friends were attacked by a partly blind and ravenous, 8ft long, 180-pound mountain lion as they walked along a woodland trail.

Seventy years later, Doreen, by now Mrs Ashburnham-Ruffner GC, described the ordeal: ''The cougar sprang from about 35ft and landed on my back, throwing me forward on to my face. He chewed on my shoulder and bit chunks off my butt.

''Tony attacked him with a bridle that he was carrying. They fought for 200 yards down the trail. The cougar scratched the skin off Tony's back and ripped the flesh off his scalp. His scalp was hanging off the back of his head by six hairs.''

Doreen began to fight back, beating the beast about the head with her tiny fists, jabbing it in the eyes with her fingers and then, in desperation, sticking her right arm in the cougar's mouth in a bid to stop it biting her friend. The cougar's teeth skewered her right bicep, according to a contemporary report and the animal reared on to its hind legs, towering over the girl, but was mercifully distracted and ambled off.

The pair staggered away to raise the alarm and Doreen's mother rowed across the lake in a storm to get help from a neighbour who was an ex-British Army doctor.

Anthony needed 175 stitches to his head and a long spell in hospital, while Doreen suffered blood poisoning in addition to her other wounds. The cougar was subsequently tracked, killed, and stuffed. The children's heroism was widely reported in England.

Albert Medals were given to both in 1917 - which, in Doreen's case, was exchanged for the George Cross in 1974, when she met the Queen and Queen Mother.

Sadly, Anthony, who had fully recovered from his injuries, died at the age of 22, inexplicably walking in front of soldiers during rifle practice while on manoeuvres with his regiment in Manitoba.

Doreen lived a full life, returning to England to do ''the season'' as a debutante in 1925 before going to California and becoming a member of the first woman's polo team in the United States.

She later lived in Italy and bred horses, which she rode in international competitions. In 1942 she married an American college professor called Ruffner and became a US citizen.

q A Dickin Medal - the ''animal VC'' - awarded to a collie called Peter who became a hero of the Blitz by sniffing out casualties hidden under the rubble of London's streets sold for #4600 at Spink's yesterday.