Cornered, in distress, as in Angry bystanders chased the thief into an alley and held him at bay until the police arrived. This idiom originally came from hunting, where it describes an animal that has been driven back and now faces pursuing hounds. Its use for other situations dates from the late 1500s.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.