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I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it.All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible.
There was a loud, scandalized cry of “Go away, child! ” and an old woman with a switch in her hand came round the corner of a hut, violently shooing away a crowd of naked children.
Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and exclaiming; evidently there was something that the children ought not to have seen.
Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant.
I had almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we heard yells a little distance away.
It had already destroyed somebody’s bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted violences upon it.
The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting for me in the quarter where the elephant had been seen.The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth.This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long.As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so.When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better.Its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and was now twelve hours’ journey away, and in the morning the elephant had suddenly reappeared in the town.The Burmese population had no weapons and were quite helpless against it.Early one morning the sub-inspector at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone and said that an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was happening and I got on to a pony and started out.I took my rifle, an old .44 Winchester and much too small to kill an elephant, but I thought the noise might be useful in terrorem.In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters.The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos — all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East.