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Tera, the Tigress by Ellen Velvin

The day had been exceptionally hot, but a light breeze sprang up towards dusk and softly rustled the dry, dusky, jungle grass, making it bend and shimmer in graceful, undulating waves. The rustling resembled the swaying of corn, and as the breeze increased it became more and more pronounced. One part of the long grass rustled more than the other; it did not stop even when the breeze had passed over it on its way to other grasses.

The rustling grew louder, and, instead of the gentle, swaying motion caused by the breeze, the grass suddenly parted and bent in opposite directions, and from the middle there softly stepped out a full grown tiger. For a few seconds he stood perfectly still. His four, velvet paws were planted firmly on the ground; his pliable tail was waving slowly to and fro, and his bright yellow eyes glanced quickly and sharply in all directions. He was a splendid fellow and quite young. His light, tawny-yellow body was exquisitely marked with dark, velvety stripes—some double, some single—but each stripe even and regular. His legs, down to his soft velvety-looking paws, were marked in the same way, and his long tail had rings of the same dark color all the way down. The under parts of his body, his throat and chest, and the long hair which grew in little tufts on either side of his face were of soft, creamy-white. His large, round head, with its small, upstanding ears, was marked much in the same way; while his fine whiskers gave him the appearance of a huge cat, and so in a way he was, for he belonged to the cat tribe and had all the instincts of the race.

It was beginning to grow dusk, but Tranta was early to-night. This was the reason that his eyes had a somewhat peculiar look just then, for he did not care very much for light. It made the pupils of his eyes contract from their usual vertical slits into small, round spots, and when this was the case he could not see very well.

As Tranta stood there, every sense on the alert, there was another rustle close by, but of this he took no notice. The grass waved as before, and no human eye would have been able to discover anything but grass, but in another moment a second striped, tawny body came forth, somewhat smaller than Tranta, but marked in the same way, and moving with the same lithe, noiseless steps. This was Tera—Tranta's wife— and she was one of the fiercest tigresses for miles round.

Not far off, hidden cunningly in the jungle grass, were four fine cubs, who looked like big, playful kittens. This was the first time Tera had left them, and she was unusually cautious and careful.

Tranta stopped listening as soon as his wife appeared, and began to move softly and stealthily off; his furry body scarcely showing against the jungle grass and making no sound whatever. The truth was Tranta had an idea that the beaters were out, and he was looking for a couple of nice korinda [Footnote: The korinda is a bushy shrub with large, drooping branches, covered with thick leaves. Tigers so habitually use this bush that hunters invariably look out for it when tiger hunting.—Author] bushes, where he and his wife could hide for the time being; but on account of the cubs he did not want them to be too far away from or too close to his lair, and Tera followed him at a little distance in an undecided mood, for she was troubled. Her first thought was for her little ones, and with the cunning of the tiger she wished to lead the beaters away from her cubs. So it was that, with stealthy, but hesitating steps, she followed Tranta, who had come out earlier than usual, in order to provide against to-morrow's danger. But on the way to find the korinda bush, something happened that turned Tranta's attention.

It was not entirely on the beater's account that Tranta wanted a korinda bush; a korinda is an ideal place in which to lie in wait for a young bullock, and, when the bullock comes, it is easy to spring out, strike him down, and drink his warm blood. And Tranta was getting hungry. He was also very thirsty, and, as he began to smell water, he decided to go and have a good drink before hunting further.

Pushing his way through the thick undergrowth, he suddenly came to a little stream, and there, just by the water, bending their beautiful heads to drink, with their small, graceful feet planted firmly on the bank, stood two beautiful, spotted deer.

Now, two of the special dainties that a tiger loves are spotted deer and peacocks; but he prefers the spotted deer. It is dainty and delicious food, and difficult to get on account of the deer's timidity. Tranta's yellow eyes gleamed, and, as lie was not in a very good position to spring just then, he decided to wait until the deer should more a little closer. So he drew in his breath and flattened his fur to make himself as small as possible, and the jungle grass behind him, by blending so wonderfully with his coat, helped to hide his presence.

But the deer seemed suspicious, and lifted their graceful heads in a quick, nervous manner, glancing timidly around with their large, gentle eyes, and sniffing doubtfully. At that moment a third deer appeared close to Tranta, and the temptation was too great. With one swift spring Tranta landed on the deer's back, his teeth in its throat. It was a merciful death, for Tranta never let go until the deer ceased to struggle, and then he promptly proceeded to make a good meal.

He looked round for Tera, but Tera had made the most of her opportunities and had killed one of the other deer, and so had a meal of her own. As soon as she had eaten as much as she wanted, she tore off great pieces of venison, and, taking them up in her mouth, trotted back to her lair. She had forgotten all about the korinda bush by this time, and thought only of her cubs. She was just beginning to train them, and to consider that they needed a little stronger food now than she could give them, and a nice bit of venison was the very thing to begin on. She took no notice of her husband at all, but, in her silent, stealthy way, crept back to her lair and put the dainty temptingly in front of her little ones.

The young cubs, up to this time, had been very kitten-like in their behavior, purring and frolicking about, and only emitting occasional little growls when thrown about or disturbed by one another. But, at the sight of the fresh meat, the wild blood showed itself, and, with simultaneous springs, four little tawny bodies alighted on the venison, tearing it and growling in true tiger fashion.

Tera looked on proudly. She was delighted to see this display, for it showed that they inherited the family spirit, and she encouraged them in it. She caught hold of a piece of the meat herself and growled and snarled, lifting her upper lip and displaying her strong, yellow fangs, in order to show them the way in which to behave.

The little ones learned their lesson quickly. By the time they had finished the pieces of venison they were about as savage specimens of the cat tribe as could be found anywhere. Not only did they gnaw and tear, and growl, but they used their small claws, which were just beginning to grow. Contracting their feet, until the claws, which were like little sickles, curved slowly inward, they slashed the venison until it looked as though it had been cut with so many knives.

Tera was more pleased than ever to see them use their feet in this fashion—for a tiger's chief weapons are in its feet, and it can tear a man, horse or bullock to pieces in a very short time with these powerful weapons.

After they had finished their meal the cubs lay down, licking the spots of fresh blood which were left on their noses and paws, and giving funny little growls at the reminiscences of the feast.

But Tera was uneasy about the beaters, and, having had her evening meal, she did not go out again that night. She was restless and unsettled, and kept a sharp lookout until the early morning. Then she fell into a sound sleep, lying with her forepaws tucked comfortably under her and her head resting on them. But in the midst of this restful sleep Tera suddenly sprang up, her tail waving threateningly, her whiskers twitching, and her keen eyes fierce and defiant.

Just outside the lair Tera could see a group of natives banging, screaming, yelling and beating pans, accompanied by a horrible drumming sound which nearly deafened her. The cubs, frightened and bewildered, crouched round their mother and nestled closely to her.

Had it not been for her cubs, Tera would have gone out in spite of all, for the noise was terrifying and bewildering, and she scarcely knew where she was or what she was doing. But she had her little ones to think of, and, at that moment, would rather have died than have left them.

Her fur bristled up with rage, and she prepared to fight to the death. She knew exactly what was happening; knew perfectly well that the cruel hunters were behind the beaters, and that they were only waiting for her to come out so that they could use those horrible things full of fire.

And so, fortunately for her, she stayed where she was, and thus not only saved her own life, but probably the lives of her little ones.

The beaters, concluding there were no tigers about, moved off, and, as soon as their voices died away in the distance, Tera—after caressing her cubs—lay down and gave them their morning meal, keeping a sharp lookout, meanwhile, with uplifted head, nervous ears, and eyes that gleamed like amber.

Meanwhile, Tranta, who had found a particularly nice korinda bush, and crept into it, considered himself safe. He knew the beaters were coming; he had heard them when they were doing their best to lure Tera forth, so he crouched still closer in his hiding-place.

As the noise stopped he knew, with his tiger instinct, that they would soon find him out, and they appeared sooner than he expected. Then the howls, screams and banging made the worst and most terrifying noise he had ever heard in a tiger hunt. He was pretty sure of himself. He had had some narrow escapes before this, but so far had always managed to get out safely. So, in spite of the noise, he kept perfectly still.

But these beaters were very daring. They not only came close to the korinda bush, but they actually parted the branches, and the noise became so terrible and deafening that at last Tranta grew bewildered, and sprang out, scarcely knowing what he was doing, and not caring much, either.

He wished now that he had stayed in the jungle. Certainly the hunters could have seen him, but he might have crept off in some way. But now he had no time to think, for, as he sprang out, there was a sharp "Bang," followed by a "Ping! ping! ping!" and Tranta suddenly felt a sharp pain in his leg.

The pain was so great that he was obliged to go on three legs and hold up the fourth, which hung in a limp manner and hurt him dreadfully. The fright and shock maddened him, and he turned and faced the hunters defiantly, snarling in his fiercest way and showing his huge mouth and cruel teeth. But, as he turned, there was another "Ping! ping!"—a flash of fire almost in his eyes, and Tranta reeled.

The next instant he recovered himself, and, not liking the fire, turned round and made swiftly for the river. The beaters and hunters followed, and did their best to turn him from the water, but they were not quick enough. In spite of having only three legs to use, Tranta, with a few swift springs, got to the water first, and there he had the best of it.

He was a beautiful swimmer, and, even with a wounded leg, could swim well enough to get away from his enemies.

A short distance from the shore a small ship was lying at anchor, and Tranta cunningly made straight for it. The two natives who were in charge of it promptly went over one side as Tranta climbed up the other, and, although a few shots were fired after him as he clambered on board, they went wide of the mark, and Tranta lay down on the small deck and licked his wounded leg.[Footnote: A fact.—Author.] He stayed there all that day, and neither the beaters nor the hunters dare go near him. But at night he crept over the side of the ship and swam to shore, and, as he scrambled out of the water, a well-directed shot killed him. He was a fine specimen of a tiger, and, as his leg had only been broken, his skin was unharmed, and later occupied a place of honor in a palace.

Tera wondered what had become of Tranta, but, as she was very sleepy and tired, the day passed on, and his absence caused her no uneasiness. She was a little surprised that he did not appear in the evening, but finally wandered out by herself, and was fortunate enough to come across a fine bullock. She did not take any of it to her little ones this time. She knew perfectly well that too much meat would not be good for them, so gave them their usual evening meal of nice warm milk.

Tera was a little uneasy all through that night, as Tranta did not return, but she took it very calmly. She had been growing indifferent to him lately, and the cares of her growing family were taking up all her attention.

As the days went on and Tranta did not appear, Tera forgot all about her husband, and devoted all her time and attention to her cubs.

She waited another week or two, and then, after studying their size and strength, she concluded that it was quite time to teach them how to hunt and kill for themselves. So, to the cubs' great joy, they were allowed that same evening to accompany their mother on a hunting expedition.

Tera was a good mother, and took great pains in teaching them how to walk, where to walk, and when to walk; how to draw in their fur in times of danger; how to hide themselves in the long, jungle grass until it was difficult to tell which was grass and which was tiger; taught them, in fact, all the accomplishments necessary to make them good Bengal tigers. Their own instincts told them the rest, and they proved very apt pupils.

Softly and silently Terra's supple body wended through the tangled undergrowth of the jungle, followed by the four cubs, who growled, whimpered and gamboled about like so many kittens.

At last the cubs began to get tired. It was just when they were thinking of refusing to go any farther that Tera told them—in tiger language—that here was the end of their journey. Crouching softly with her head on her paws, her fierce, yellow eyes fixed on some moving objects in front of her, and her lips and whiskers moving excitedly, Tera told them to look.

They had come to the end of the jungle now, and facing them was an open field. In the field were seven or eight young calves—the very things on which to teach young tigers how to kill. Telling her little ones to watch her, Tera, with one mighty bound, sprang at the nearest calf, bringing him to the ground with the force of the blow. She alighted full on the back of the calf, and her long teeth fastened themselves in its poor, quivering throat.

It was soon over, and, almost before the calf was dead, the four cubs, fired by the sight of blood and their mother's example, sprang, with cruel ferocity on the carcass, and tore and dragged it to pieces.

[Illustration: "TERA SPRANG AT THE NEAREST CALF, BRINGING HIM TO THE
GROUND."]

But Tera had not brought them there simply to eat. Her part was to teach them to kill, so, administering a sharp pat to each, she made them leave the body of the calf and attempt a little killing for themselves.

At first the cubs grumbled and growled, and even scolded their mother in their anger, but, in a very short time, they grew just as excited over the killing process as they had been over the eating, and, although one calf would have been enough to last them for days, they never rested until every one of the little animals was dead, for the killing had aroused all their savage instincts.

Tera looked on proudly, but at last insisted on their returning home. With her strong teeth and sickle-like claws she tore off pieces of meat, and each little cub, seizing a piece savagely in his mouth, trotted after its mother, who led the way straight back to their lair.

After this, however, Tera had rather an anxious time, for, once having taught the cubs to wander forth, she could not keep them at home, and, as she had thoughtfully made her lair near a farm, the cubs amused themselves night after night by killing as many animals as they could find.

Wantonly destructive, the cubs gave way to their ferocious and bloodthirsty nature, and, as they grew stronger, they would sometimes kill three or four cows at a time—calves, pigs, anything, in fact, that came in their way.

Whether it was the meat diet or the freedom, Tera could never make out, but, certain it was, that very soon, instead of consulting their mother and depending on her for everything, the cubs grew fierce and savage, and snarled whenever she came near them.

Being able now to supply themselves with food, they no longer cared for the food their mother provided, and one night, when Tera had put up with it for some time, she quietly slipped off and left them to look out for themselves.

She forgot her children as easily as she had forgotten her husband, and in a very short time was comfortable and happy by herself.

Having no ties or cares, she wandered farther afield, and finally made her home in another jungle. It was, she concluded, a much better jungle than the other; but the very first day she took up her quarters in it there was a great disturbance.

From her hiding-place Tera peeped forth, and saw three or four huge elephants moving slowly towards her. The elephants were carrying curious things on their backs—something like boxes, and in these boxes were men with guns.

Now, Tera would always attack an elephant if it was alone. But she certainly did not like the idea of attacking three or four of them. So intent was she on watching the elephants slowly moving towards her, with their huge forms swaying heavily along, that it was with a sudden shock that she realized that something was behind her.

Turning her head with a swift movement—that only a tiger can make— she saw two other elephants, and at the same instant there was a blaze and a cloud of smoke. With a wild roar, Tera sprang full at the nearest elephant; her four paws, with their cruel claws, sank deeply into his skin, while her great, yellow head almost faced the head of a man.

There was a moment's pause, and another blaze of fire, and then Tera, in spite of convulsive efforts, felt her grasp on the elephant loosening. Dazzled and bewildered, she suddenly found herself at the elephant's feet. In a hazy manner she was conscious that something was touching her. Beyond this she knew nothing, for her muscular body was losing its strength, her yellow eyes were growing dim and misty, and her life blood was staining the jungle grass a deep crimson. For a few moments she lay perfectly still, and then, with a long-drawn, shuddering gasp, threw back her handsome head and died.

It was a cruel death, perhaps, yet it was merciful, for it was far better to die like that than to grow old, or sick, and be torn to death by one of her own kind, or left to starve in the jungle.

And, curiously enough, her skin eventually went to the very same palace where Tranta's had been sent some time before.