Kif: An Unvarnished History

Kif: An Unvarnished History

by Josephine Tey

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The boy stepped into the chill dark of the winter morning and closed the
door quietly behind him. Quietly because the wife of Farmer Vass was apt
to be unreasonable if she were wakened betimes. It lacked an hour till
dawn and there was neither earth nor sky, hedge nor horizon. Only the
all-enveloping dark, immediate, almost tangible--the blackness that hems
us in with ourselves and annihilates philosophy. And it was bitterly
cold. The boy clutched at his coat collar as the thin sterile air struck
at his bare throat. His hobnailed boots echoed irrelevantly--a dreary
sound--as he made his stumbling way over the cobbles of the yard and
fumbled for the lantern that hung at the stable door. His sleep-sodden
brain which had brought him thus far mechanically was waking to its daily
passion of revolt.

God! what a life! What a bloody dam-fool life! A day that began with
fumbling in the dark and ended fumbling in another dark, and in between a
long procession of monotonous jobs, impersonal and void of interest. A
life of fastening buckles, he thought venomously, as his rapidly
stiffening fingers refused their office. Buckle-fastening! When life was
so short and there was so much of the world. Even those high new-born
pearly dawns of summer that lifted his heart with their wonder were but
urgent invitations to set out and see. He wanted passionately wanted--a
life where things happened; where the unexpected swung at you with a
terrifying beauty and events were not, since every hour brought its
event. The phlegm, the appalling foreverness of the fields and hills
roused in him a desperate consciousness of his own evanescence, and a
rebellion that any part of his short and so precious time should be given
to their thankless service. And what was there beyond his work to make it
worth while? To sit in winter at the farmhouse kitchen fire while Johnny,
the other hired man, scraped on his fiddle and Mary the 'girl' flirted
ineptly with a surfaceman from the railway or a shepherd from the hill?
Or to go once in three weeks or a month to a dance at the nearest
schoolhouse--an affair of polkas and boots? Or on summer evenings and
Sundays to join the gathering at the bridge-head and exchange gossip and
smutty stories, to make one of the self-elected tribunal which sat in sly
judgment on the manners and morals of the countryside, utterly content
with themselves and their lot? Even when he capped their stories and
earned their appreciative laughter and their admiring 'Ay, boy, you're
the one!' he had waves of angry disgust, not at the subject of his
triumph, but at the spiritual poverty of his audience.

The only events at Tarn were the New Year and an occasional calving. And
last autumn the little Jersey had got bogged in the low grazing; an
affair which had caused one day at least to be vivid with the meeting of
emergency which is life, and which, like lightning at night, had left the
succeeding moments darker. Beyond the occasional kissing of a girl at a
dance the only thrill of positive pleasure that he knew was provided by
the threepenny 'shockers' which he bought with his scanty pocket-money
when in Ferry on carting-business and absorbed in bed at night to the
accompaniment of Johnny's snores. It was usually a battle between the
swift sleep that falls on the open-air worker and his thirst for colour
and movement. That his need for at least vicarious adventure was great
was witnessed to by the repeated trouble with Mrs Vass over the
unwarrantable burning of candles. Johnny, not being cast in martyr's
mould, had no hesitation in absolving himself at the price of his
companion's secret, with the result that candles were rationed
thenceforth. If it had not been for the kindheartedness of the
flirtatious Mary--to whom a male thing in trouble, even if it were only a
long-legged sulky-mouthed boy, was quite unthinkable--his one escape from
a too drab reality might have been seriously hindered. But Mary's
generous supply of candle-ends--and Mary had royal ideas as to what
constituted ends--saved the situation.

At this moment she came to the kitchen door and called into the darkness
'Kif! Are you there, Kif?' her voice subdued in deference to the
unawakened household. The boy, who had seen the light appear fifteen
minutes before in the blank house and had been hoping for the summons,
came clumping to the open door that emitted a friendly stuffiness to the
frozen yard and followed her into the kitchen, where the fire had
graduated from the first stage of merely spectacular flame to a glowing
heat, and a steaming bowl of tea stood on the table.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013748804
Publisher: WDS Publishing
Publication date: 01/15/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 738,090
File size: 241 KB

About the Author

Elizabeth MacKintosh (1896-1952), best known as Josephine Tey, is one of the most respected and influential authors in the mystery genre and regarded by many one of the best mystery novelists ever. Her novel, The Daughter of Time, was selected by the British Crime Writers’ Association as the greatest mystery novel of all time and The Franchise Affair, starring her most famous character, Inspector Alan Grant, was 11th on the same list of 100 books. She also used the pen name, Gordon Daviot, primarily to publish plays.

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