The Defence of Guenevere, by William Morris

Concerning Geffray Teste Noire

And if you meet the Canon of Chimay,

As going to Ortaise you well may do,

Greet him from John of Castel Neuf, and say

All that I tell you, for all this is true.

This Geffray Teste Noire was a Gascon thief,

Who, under shadow of the English name,

Pilled all such towns and countries as were lief

To King Charles and St. Denis; thought it blame

If anything escaped him; so my lord,

The Duke of Berry, sent Sir John Bonne Lance,

And other knights, good players with the sword,

To check this thief, and give the land a chance.

Therefore we set our bastides round the tower

That Geffray held, the strong thief! like a king,

High perch’d upon the rock of Ventadour,

Hopelessly strong by Christ! It was mid spring,

When first I joined the little army there

With ten good spears; Auvergne is hot, each day

We sweated armed before the barrier;

Good feats of arms were done there often. Eh?

Your brother was slain there? I mind me now,

A right good man-at-arms, God pardon him!

I think ’twas Geffray smote him on the brow

With some spiked axe, and while he totter’d, dim

About the eyes, the spear of Alleyne Roux

Slipped through his camaille and his throat; well, well!

Alleyne is paid now; your name Alleyne too?

Mary! how strange! but this tale I would tell:

For spite of all our bastides, damned Blackhead

Would ride abroad whene’er he chose to ride,

We could not stop him; many a burgher bled

Dear gold all round his girdle; far and wide

The villaynes dwelt in utter misery

‘Twixt us and thief Sir Geffray; hauled this way

By Sir Bonne Lance at one time; he gone by,

Down comes this Teste Noire on another day.

And therefore they dig up the stone, grind corn,

Hew wood, draw water, yea, they lived, in short,

As I said just now, utterly forlorn,

Till this our knave and blackhead was out-fought.

So Bonne Lance fretted, thinking of some trap

Day after day, till on a time he said:

John of Newcastle, if we have good hap,

We catch our thief in two days. How? I said.

Why, Sir, today he rideth out again,

Hoping to take well certain sumpter mules

From Carcassonne, going with little train,

Because, forsooth, he thinketh us mere fools;

But if we set an ambush in some wood,

He is but dead: so, Sir, take thirty spears

To Verville forest, if it seem you good.

Then felt I like the horse in Job, who hears

The dancing trumpet sound, and we went forth;

And my red lion on the spear-head flapped,

As faster than the cool wind we rode north,

Towards the wood of Verville; thus it happed.

We rode a soft pace on that day, while spies

Got news about Sir Geffray: the red wine

Under the road-side bush was clear; the flies,

The dragon-flies I mind me most, did shine

In brighter arms than ever I put on;

So: Geffray, said our spies, would pass that way

Next day at sundown: then he must be won;

And so we enter’d Verville wood next day,

In the afternoon; through it the highway runs,

‘Twixt copses of green hazel, very thick,

And underneath, with glimmering of suns,

The primroses are happy; the dews lick

The soft green moss: ‘Put cloths about your arms,

Lest they should glitter; surely they will go

In a long thin line, watchful for alarms,

With all their carriages of booty; so,

Lay down my pennon in the grass: Lord God.

What have we lying here? will they be cold,

I wonder, being so bare, above the sod,

Instead of under? This was a knight too, fold

Lying on fold of ancient rusted mail;

No plate at all, gold rowels to the spurs,

And see the quiet gleam of turquoise pale

Along the ceinture; but the long time blurs

Even the tinder of his coat to nought,

Except these scraps of leather; see how white

The skull is, loose within the coif! He fought

A good fight, maybe, ere he was slain quite.

No armour on the legs too; strange in faith!

A little skeleton for a knight, though: ah!

This one is bigger, truly without scathe

His enemies escaped not! ribs driven out far;

That must have reach’d the heart, I doubt: how now,

What say you, Aldovrand, a woman? why?’

Under the coif a gold wreath on the brow,

Yea, see the hair not gone to powder, lie,

Golden, no doubt, once: yea, and very small,

This for a knight; but for a dame, my lord,

These loose-hung bones seem shapely still, and tall.

Didst ever see a woman’s bones, my Lord?

Often, God help me! I remember when

I was a simple boy, fifteen years old,

The Jacquerie froze up the blood of men

With their fell deeds, not fit now to be told.

God help again! we enter’d Beauvais town,

Slaying them fast, whereto I help’d, mere boy

As I was then; we gentles cut them down,

These burners and defilers, with great joy.

Reason for that, too, in the great church there

These fiends had lit a fire, that soon went out,

The church at Beauvais being so great and fair:

My father, who was by me, gave a shout

Between a beast’s howl and a woman’s scream,

Then, panting, chuckled to me: ‘John, look! look!

Count the dames’ skeletons!’ From some bad dream

Like a man just awaked, my father shook;

And I, being faint with smelling the burnt bones,

And very hot with fighting down the street,

And sick of such a life, fell down, with groans

My head went weakly nodding to my feet.

— An arrow had gone through her tender throat,

And her right wrist was broken; then I saw

The reason why she had on that war-coat,

Their story came out clear without a flaw;

For when he knew that they were being waylaid,

He threw it over her, yea, hood and all;

Whereby he was much hack’d, while they were stay’d

By those their murderers; many an one did fall

Beneath his arm, no doubt, so that he clear’d

Their circle, bore his death-wound out of it;

But as they rode, some archer least afear’d

Drew a strong bow, and thereby she was hit.

Still as he rode he knew not she was dead,

Thought her but fainted from her broken wrist,

He bound with his great leathern belt: she bled?

Who knows! he bled too, neither was there miss’d

The beating of her heart, his heart beat well

For both of them, till here, within this wood,

He died scarce sorry; easy this to tell;

After these years the flowers forget their blood.

How could it be? never before that day,

However much a soldier I might be,

Could I look on a skeleton and say

I care not for it, shudder not: now see,

Over those bones I sat and pored for hours,

And thought, and dream’d, and still I scarce could see

The small white bones that lay upon the flowers,

But evermore I saw the lady; she

With her dear gentle walking leading in,

By a chain of silver twined about her wrists,

Her loving knight, mounted and arm’d to win

Great honour for her, fighting in the lists.

O most pale face, that brings such joy and sorrow

Into men’s hearts (yea, too, so piercing sharp

That joy is, that it marcheth nigh to sorrow

For ever, like an overwinded harp).

Your face must hurt me always: pray you now,

Doth it not hurt you too? seemeth some pain

To hold you always, pain to hold your brow

So smooth, unwrinkled ever; yea again,

Your long eyes where the lids seem like to drop,

Would you not, lady, were they shut fast, feel

Far merrier? there so high they will not stop,

They are most sly to glide forth and to steal

Into my heart; I kiss their soft lids there,

And in green gardens scarce can stop my lips

From wandering on your face, but that your hair

Falls down and tangles me, back my face slips.

Or say your mouth, I saw you drink red wine

Once at a feast; how slowly it sank in,

As though you fear’d that some wild fate might twine

Within that cup, and slay you for a sin.

And when you talk your lips do arch and move

In such wise that a language new I know

Besides their sound; they quiver, too, with love

When you are standing silent; know this, too,

I saw you kissing once, like a curved sword

That bites with all its edge, did your lips lie,

Curled gently, slowly, long time could afford

For caught-up breathings: like a dying sigh

They gather’d up their lines and went away,

And still kept twitching with a sort of smile,

As likely to be weeping presently;

Your hands too, how I watch’d them all the while!

Cry out St. Peter now, quoth Aldovrand;

I cried, St. Peter! broke out from the wood

With all my spears; we met them hand to hand,

And shortly slew them; natheless, by the rood,

We caught not Blackhead then, or any day;

Months after that he died at last in bed,

From a wound pick’d up at a barrier-fray;

That same year’s end a steel bolt in the head,

And much bad living killed Teste Noire at last;

John Froissart knoweth he is dead by now,

No doubt, but knoweth not this tale just past;

Perchance then you can tell him what I show.

In my new castle, down beside the Eure,

There is a little chapel of squared stone,

Painted inside and out; in green nook pure

There did I lay them, every wearied bone;

And over it they lay, with stone-white hands

Clasped fast together, hair made bright with gold;

This Jaques Picard, known through many lands,

Wrought cunningly; he’s dead now: I am old.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/morris/william/defence-of-guenevere/chapter7.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07