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Authors: Barry Hines

A Kestrel for a Knave

BOOK: A Kestrel for a Knave
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A Kestrel for a Knave

Barry Hines was born in the mining village of Hoyland Common, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire. He was educated at Ecclesfield Grammar School, where his main achievement was to be selected to play for the England Grammar schools’ football team. On leaving school, he worked as an apprentice mining surveyor and played football for Barnsley (mainly in the A team), before entering Loughborough Training College to study Physical Education. He taught for several years in London and South Yorkshire before becoming a full-time writer.

He is the author of nine novels, including
A Kestrel for a Knave
The Blinder
Looks and Smiles
The Heart of It
Elvis Over England
. Both
A Kestrel for a Knave
) and
Looks and Smiles
have been filmed, the latter winning the Prize for Contemporary Cinema at the Cannes Film Festival. He has also written many scripts for television, including
, which won the BAFTA award and the Broadcasting Press Guild Award for the best single drama.

Barry Hines is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an Honorary Fellow of Sheffield Hallam University.


Barry Hines

with a new Afterword



Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books India (P) Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India
Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, Cnr Rosedale and Airborne Roads, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published by Michael Joseph 1968

Published in Penguin Books 1969
Reprinted with Afterword 1999
Reprinted in Penguin Classics 2000

Copyright © Barry Hines, 1968, 1999

All rights reserved

The moral right of the author has been asserted

Expect in the United States of America,this book is sold subject
to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent,
re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s
prior consent in any from of binding or cover other than that in
which it is published and without a similar condition including this
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

EISBN: 978–0–141–90383–5


‘An Eagle for an Emperor, a Gyrfalcon for a King; a Peregrine for a Prince, a Saker for a Knight, a Merlin for a Lady; a Goshawk for a Yeoman, a Sparrowhawk for a Priest, a Musket for a Holy water Clerk, a Kestrel for a Knave.’

Selected from the Boke of St Albans

and a Harleian manuscript

no curtains up. The window was a hard edged block the colour of the night sky. Inside the bedroom the darkness was of a gritty texture. The wardrobe and bed were blurred shapes in the darkness. Silence.

Billy moved over, towards the outside of the bed. Jud moved with him, leaving one half of the bed empty. He snorted and rubbed his nose. Billy whimpered. They settled. Wind whipped the window and swept along the wall outside.

Billy turned over. Jud followed him and cough – coughed into his neck. Billy pulled the blankets up round his ears and wiped his neck with them. Most of the bed was now empty, and the unoccupied space quickly cooled. Silence. Then the alarm rang. The noise brought Billy upright, feeling for it in the darkness, eyes shut tight. Jud groaned and hutched back across the cold sheet. He reached down the side of the bed and knocked the clock over, grabbed for it, and knocked it further away.

‘Come here, you bloody thing.’

He stretched down and grabbed it with both hands. The glass lay curved in one palm, while the fingers of his other hand fumbled amongst the knobs and levers at the back. He found the lever and the noise stopped. Then he coiled
back into bed and left the clock lying on its back.

‘The bloody thing.’

He stayed in his own half of the bed, groaning and turning over every few minutes. Billy lay with his back to him, listening. Then he turned his cheek slightly from the pillow.



‘Tha’d better get up.’

No answer.

‘Alarm’s gone off tha knows.’

‘Think I don’t know?’

He pulled the blankets tighter and drilled his head into the pillow. They both lay still.



‘Tha’ll be late.’

‘O, shut it.’

‘Clock’s not fast tha knows.’

‘I said

He swung his fist under the blankets and thumped Billy in the kidneys.

‘Gi’o’er! That hurts!’

‘Well shut it then.’

‘I’ll tell my mam on thi.’

Jud swung again. Billy scuffled away into the cold at the edge of the bed, sobbing. Jud got out, sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, then stood up and felt his way across the room to the light switch. Billy worked his way back to the centre and disappeared under the blankets.

‘Set t’alarm for me, Jud. For seven.’

‘Set it thi sen.’

‘Go on, thar up.’

Jud parted Billy’s sweater and shirt, and used the sweater for a vest. Billy snuggled down in Jud’s place, making the springs creak. Jud looked at the humped blankets, then walked across and pulled them back, stripping the bed completely.

‘Hands off cocks; on socks.’

For an instant Billy lay curled up, his hands wafered between his thighs. Then he sat up and crawled to the bottom of the bed to retrieve the blankets.

‘You rotten sod, just because tha’s to get up.’

‘Another few weeks lad, an’ tha’ll be getting up wi’ me.’

He walked out on to the landing. Billy propped himself up on one elbow.

‘Switch t’light out, then!’

Jud went downstairs. Billy sat on the edge of the bed and re-set the alarm, then ran across the lino and switched the light off. When he got back into bed most of the warmth had gone. He shivered and scuffled around the sheet, seeking a warm place.

It was still dark outside when he got up and went downstairs. The living-room curtains were drawn, and when he switched the light on it was gloomy and cold without the help of the fire. He placed the clock on the mantelpiece, then picked up his mother’s sweater from the settee and pulled it on over his shirt.

The alarm rang as he was emptying the ashes in the dustbin. Dust clouded up into his face as he dropped the lid back on and ran inside, but the noise stopped before he could reach it. He knelt down in front of the empty grate and scrunched sheets of newspaper into loose balls, arranging
them in the grate like a bouquet of hydrangea flowers. Then he picked up the hatchet, stood a nog of wood on the hearth and struck it down the centre. The blade bit and held. He lifted the hatchet with the nog attached and smashed it down, splitting the nog in half and chipping the tile with the blade. He split the halves into quarters, down through eighths to sixteenths, then arranged these sticks over the paper like the struts of a wigwam. He completed the construction with lumps of coal, building them into a loose shell, so that sticks and paper showed through the chinks. The paper caught with the first match, and the flames spread quickly underneath, making the chinks smoke and the sticks crack. He waited for the first burst of flames up the back of the construction, then stood up and walked into the kitchen, and opened the pantry door. There were a packet of dried peas and a half bottle of vinegar on the shelves. The bread bin was empty. Just inside the doorway, the disc of the electricity meter circled slowly in its glass case. The red arrow appeared, and disappeared. Billy closed the door and opened the outside door. On the step stood two empty milk bottles. He thumped the jamb with the side of his fist.

‘It’s t’ same every morning. I’m going to start hiding some at nights.’

He started to turn inside, then stopped, and looked out again. The garage door was open. He ran across the concrete strip and used the light from the kitchen to look inside.

‘Well, of all the rotten tricks!’

He kicked a can of oil the length of the garage and ran back into the house. The coal had caught fire, and the yellow flames were now emitting a slight warmth. Billy pulled his pumps on without unfastening the laces and grabbed his windcheater. The zip was broken and the
material draped out behind him as he vaulted the front wall and raced up the avenue.

The sky was a grey wash; pale grey over the fields behind the estate, but darkening overhead, to charcoal away over the City. The street lamps were still on and a few lighted windows glowed the colours of their curtains. Billy passed two miners returning silently from the night shift. A man in overalls cycled by, treading the pedals slowly. The four of them converged, and parted, pursuing their various destinations at various speeds.

Billy reached the recreation ground. The gate was locked, so he stepped back and sprang on to the interlaced wire fence, scaled it and placed one foot on top ready for the descent. The whole section between the concrete posts shuddered beneath his weight. He rode it, with one hand and one foot on top, the other arm fighting for balance; but the more he fought, the more it shook, until finally it shook him off, over the other side into the long grass. He stood up. His pumps and jeans were saturated, and there was dog shit on one hand. He wiped it in the grass, smelled his fingers, then ran across the football pitch. Behind the top goal, the rows of children’s swings had all been wrapped round their horizontal supporting bars. He found a dog-hole in the fence at the other side of the pitch and crept through on to the City Road. A double-decker bus passed, followed closely by two cars. Their engines faded and no other vehicles approached. The road lamps went out, and for a few moments the only sound in the dark morning was the squelch of Billy’s pumps as he crossed the road.

A bell tinkled as he entered the shop. Mr Porter glanced up, then continued to arrange newspapers into overlapping rows on the counter.

‘I thought you weren’t coming.’

‘Why, I’m not late, am I?’

Porter pulled a watch out of his waistcoat pocket and held it in his palm like a stopwatch. He considered it, then tucked it away. Billy picked up the canvas bag from the front of the counter and ducked under the strap as he slipped it over his head and shoulder. The bag sagged at his hip. He straightened a twist in the strap, then lifted the flap and looked inside at the wad of newspapers and magazines.

‘I nearly wa’ though.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Late. Our Jud went to t’pit on my bike.’

Porter stopped sorting and looked across the counter.

‘What you going to do, then?’

‘Walk it.’

‘Walk it! And how long do you think that’s going to take you?’

‘It’ll not take me long.’

‘Some folks like to read their papers t’day they come out, you know.’

‘It’s not my fault. I didn’t ask him to take it, did I?’

‘No, and I didn’t ask for any cheek from you! Do you hear?’

Billy heard.

‘’Cos there’s a waiting list a mile long for your job, you know. Grand lads an’ all, some of ’em. Lads from up Firs Hill and round there.’

Billy shuffled his feet and glanced down into the bag, as though one of the grand lads might be waiting in there.

‘It’ll not take me that much longer. I’ve done it before.’

Porter shook his head and squared off a pile of magazines by tapping their four edges on the counter. Billy
sidled across to the convector heater and stood before it, feet apart, hands behind his back. Porter looked up at him and Billy let his hands fall to his sides.

BOOK: A Kestrel for a Knave
6.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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