A Kestrel for a Knave

'I started training Kes after I'd had her about a fortnight, when she was hard penned, that means her tail feathers and wing feathers had gone hard at their bases. You have to use a torch at night and keep inspecting 'em. It's easy if you're quiet, you just go up to her as she's roosting, and spread her tail and wings. If t'feathers are blue near t'bottom o' t'shaft, that means there's blood in 'em an' they're still soft, so they're not ready yet. When they're white and hard then they're ready, an' you can start training her then.'

'Kes wa' as fat as a pig though at first. All young hawks are when you first start to train 'em, and you can't do much wi' 'em 'til you've got their weight down. You've to be ever so careful though, you don't just starve 'em, you weigh 'em before every meal and gradually cut their food down, 'til you go in one time an' she's keen, an' that's when you start getting somewhere. I could tell wi' Kes, she jumped straight on my glove as I held it towards her. So while she wa' feeding I got hold of her jesses an'...'

'Her what?

'Jesses'.

'Jesses. How do you spell that?'

Mr Farthing stood up and stepped back to the board.

'Er, J-E-S-S-E-S'.

As Billy enunciated each letter, Mr Farthing linked them together on the blackboard.

'Jesses. And what are Jesses, Billy?'

'They're little leather straps that you fasten round its legs as soon as you get it. She wears these all t'time, and you get hold of 'em when she sits on your glove. You push your swivel through.'

'Whoa! Whoa!'

Mr Farthing held up his hands as though Billy was galloping towards him.

'You'd better come out here and give us a demonstration. We're not all experts you know.'

Billy stood up and walked out, taking up position at the side of Mr Farthing's desk. Mr Farthing reared his chair on to its back legs, swivelled it sideways on one leg, then lowered it on to all fours facing Billy.

'Right, off you go.'

Background

A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines was first published in 1968. Troubled teenager Billy Casper lives in a Yorkshire mining town. His life holds little interest or meaning for him until he finds a kestrel hawk. Billy teaches himself falconry and begins to work with Kes. Through this relationship he begins to learn about trust, responsibility and love.

Billy's teacher has persuaded Billy to share what he has learned about falconry. Billy has never before shown much interest in class so his teacher is surprised at his specialist knowledge and vocabulary.

Taken from: A Kestrel for a Knave
Author / Creator: Barry Hines
Publisher: Penguin Books
Date: 1969
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: X.908/18345