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From Early English Romances: Done Into Modern English by Edith Rickert: Romances of Friendship, Chatto and Windus: London, Duffield & Co.: London, 1908; pp. 49-67, 174-175.
[SIR AMADAS1 was a knight of great bounty who so squandered his possessions in gifts to those round about him that at last he fell heavily into debt.] Thereupon he sat down with his steward to cast his accounts.
“My lord,” said the steward, “ye owe more than you can raise from your lands these seven years. First, ye must pray those who can to wait longer; and then must you dismiss your court, keeping but one man where now ye have ten, however dear they be to you.”
But said Amadas: “I might save long and spend nothing ere my debts were quit! And if I dwell here in my native place where I am so well known, I shall be held in great scorn, and all men will curse me for being so free of their goods that I have had in hand. If I were to boast and threaten, and get nothing by it, by the Rood, that were a bad end! Nay, I will not do so; I will follow mine own 50 counsel, and work another way. A hidden sorrow is easier to bear than one perceived; therefore, good steward, by thy love for me, let no man know of my distress; but let us hide it between ourselves. For seven years I will pledge my lands, or till the debts be all quit; and I will go forth out of the country until I have gold and silver to spend. But ere I wend, I will entertain more royally than ever; therefore make preparations. I will give rich gifts to squires and knights, and will deal out alms to the poor, for if men knew that I were in trouble, some would be fain of that, and it would not help my case. Never was born a man so courteous that he might escape without scorning when each has told his tale.”
So he gave rich gifts, steeds, hawks and hounds, to squire and knight; and presently made him ready to ride forth in the world. And when he took his leave, he had in his coffers no more than barely forty pounds.
As he rode on his journey, he came to a chapel of stone and wood between a forest and a city, and saw therein a great light. He dismounted, and bade one of his men go find out the meaning of this, and bring him word.
The knave did as his master commanded, but so foul a stench was in the chapel that he might not endure it. He drew his hood over his face, and going to the door, looked in through a glass window, to learn was marvel was there; and he saw a bier with candles burning about it and a woman sitting by, right sorrowful. But he could not stay 51 there longer, so returned to his master and told what he had seen.
“Sir, I have been at yonder chapel, and have seen a marvel that makes my heart as heavy as lead! There stands a bier with candles, and a lone woman sits by it in heavy sorrow. But so evil is the stench, that not for the palfrey on which I ride would I stay there longer! I trow I have caught my death!”
Then Sir Amadas commanded his squire to go and bring him tidings of that woman. And as he looked in through the window, he found it all as the knave had said, and had great pity; but the evil stench drove him too away, and he returned, saying: “Good my lord, now by your leave, take it not ill; but ye may not have tidings by me. There stands the bier with the candles and nothing more; and the woman sighs piteously and wrings her hands, crying on Heaven’s King how long must she be here, and saying: ‘Dear God, how may this be, that I should have such sorrow as to watch him rotting on his bier!’ Yet she swears that she will not leave him alone, so dear was he to her, until she drops dead on the stones.”
Then Sir Amadas put spurs to his palfrey and rode up to the chapel door and there alighted; and although the smell was even as they had said, he would not leave for that, but went in, saying: “Dame, God be with you!”
And she saluted him fair: “Sir, ye are most welcome!”52
“Dame, why sit you here alone with this corse tonight?”
“Needs must I sit by him sir — God wot none other would but I! — for he was my wedded husband.”
“Peter!” quoth Sir Amadas. “That likes me full ill! Ye are in a plight to perish also, sitting by him on his bier. What manner of man was he in his life?”
“Sir, a merchant of this city, who owned rich rents. He had every year three hundred pounds of ready money, and yet he lies here for debt.”
“By the Rood, dame, tell me how he spent his goods that thusgate2 it is all away.”
“Sir, by giving rich gifts to knights, squires, and officers, great lords that were his peers.3 He made royal feasts, and every day fed poor folk for God’s sake. And yet he wrought as a fool, for whoever came to his gate and asked i’ God’s name, was not denied as long as he had any goods left. At Yule-tide he clad more men than did ever noble knight, and spared not meats. The boards in his hall stood never bare4 but aye richly covered. And when I told him he did not well, he held my words lightly and said that God had sent it every deal, until we had borrowed so much that for very shame we might not tell all that we owed. And then came Death — woe’s me! — and 53 parted me from my dear lord, and left me all the care. When our neighbours knew that he lay sick, they came thronging in great affright to seek their debts, and they drove away horses, cattle, swine and sheep, all that was my husband’s and mine, and left the place bare. My dowry I sold too, and paid them every penny, and still they asked much more. And when I had turned over all that I could get, he still owed thirty pounds to a merchant of this city who had been away in a far country. This man came, when my husband was dead, and knowing my helpless state, fierce as a boar forbade that the corse be buried,5 and swore that the hounds of the field should tear his flesh and gnaw his bones. And this is the cause of my woe! For sixteen weeks have I sat by him on his bier, with candles burning night and day; and, so God Almighty help me, shall I do until Death come and take me!”
Then Sir Amadas asked her the name of that merchant who had brought her to this, and she told him. He said further: “God that is a help to all in trouble, comfort you, dame — and so He will! Have good night.”
As he mounted his palfrey, he could scarce forbear to weep for repentance of his own deeds, and said to himself: “Yonder man that lies in the chapel might well be akin to me, for right so have I done!”
Then he told his sumpter-man6 the merchant’s name, and said: “By God that bought me dear, I will sup with 54 him to-night! Go look that our meal be ready soon with rich meats, not sparing spices.”
So the man rode into the town, and speered7 the way to the merchant’s house, and there took lodging for his master, and prepared a supper of fine meats.
When Sir Amadas, riding sorrowfully along, arrived there, it was already supper-time. He dismounted and went into chamber where torches burned brightly, and changed his garments. Then he bade his squire go ask the merchant and his wife to sup with him that night; and the squire went upon his errand, and finding the merchant in hall, prayed him as best he could.
Said the merchant: “By Jesus, Son of Mary, I will come at thy lord’s bidding!”
So the boards were set up, the cloth was laid, and the supper spread forth; and the merchant sat on the dais with Sir Amadas, who made him welcome, although his thoughts were muckle on the dead man that lay on his bier. Presently he said: “To-night as I came along the road, I saw a sight that I remember still, which makes my heart full sore! In a chapel by the wayside lay a corse on a bier, and a woman sat thereby in great trouble.”
“Yea,” quoth the merchant, “God grant him sorry grace, and all such wasters as he that strip men wonder bare! There he lies, and of my thirty pounds shall I see never a penny the more!”55
“Forgive the dead,” cried Sir Amadas, “as God forgives; and turn your mind to better thoughts, and you shall be rewarded! Think how God hath ordained you a better estate than ever he had, and let his bones be buried.”
“Nay, sir, by Jesu, Mary’s son, his body shall never be laid in the earth until I have my silver; and when she is dead as well, then shall dogs gnaw the bones of both these wasters!”
When Sir Amadas heard what he had sworn, he said to his squire: “Lay forth thirty pounds on the board, belive!”8
The squire thought this wrong, but he must needs obey, and so the merchant was paid, Then the knight called for wine and bade him be merry, and asked presently: “Owed he any more?”
“Blessing on you, sir, it was so much only!”
“Then, as far as ten pounds will go, I will see that he hath his right. I shall make read and sing for him, and bring him to Christian burial in the sight of all his neighbours. Pray all the religious men of this city to dine with me to-morrow, and make ready their meat.”
At dawn, on the following day, all the bells of the city were set a-ringing for the debtor’s soul, and a great procession of religious men and rich burgesses went forth to the burial. And Sir Amadas garred9 thirty priests to chant, and at every Mass he offered a ring.56
Then the merchant went to a pillar, and many a man drew near to wit what he would say, and he said: “Sirs, here hath lain a corse on its bier, ye wot well wherefore. But a fully royal knight has come and given me ready pay for all the goods the dead man owed me, and has taken from his coffers ten pounds for his interment, besides the rich rings he has given to-day; and in the name of the dead, he invites you all to dine with him.”
They followed then at the merchant’s bidding, and were served with delicious meat and drink. Sir Amadas would not sit down with them, but served the poor folk, who lay near his heart.
And when they had eaten in the hall, his squire brought forth his palfrey saddled, and he took leave of them all with good cheer. But he wist never where he should rest that night, for he had no money wherewith to pay. What wonder that his thoughts were sad, now that all his goods were spent! But he showed that he was gentle of birth when he said farewell to the chief man there and presently went his way.
And when he had so departed, or ever he had passed the gate, each man was saying what he thought. Some held him for a fool who lightly spent what he had lightly won, and some said he was born in good time who could thus have a penny for the asking; but none of them knew aught of his estate. And so may men often judge one another, and wot full little of what they are talking.57
Six miles from the city they came where a cross parted the way a-two; and Sir Amadas, turning to his squire, his sumpter-man, and his groom, said: “Good sirs, lay it not to heart, but ye must now take your leave, for no man shall follow me except I can feed and clothe him.” And at this the hardest-hearted there made mourning, upon hearing him speak so. Again he said; “Be merry, for ye are worthy men, and ye shall everywhere find good masters. God may yet help me and send me grace to prosper, and ye may yet see all care overgone, and be dearly welcome back, both ye and many more.” He said further: “And of the horses ye ride, the worst is worth ten pounds; but by St. John, each of you, squire, yeoman, and knave, shall own the horse he sits upon, with saddle, bridle and other gear, be it never so good. God keep you honest men, and Christ defend you!” Thus with weeping they parted and went their several ways.
When his men were gone, the knight turned his steed and rode forth on his journey. His way lay under a forest, and presently he dismounted and sat down in bitter grief, remembering his high castles, his broad lands and towns, now all passed out of his possession, and himself banished from his home for poortion;10 and he repented him of his former deeds. “For,” said he, “folk set no store by a man that hath little goods. Once I had three hundred pounds’ worth of rents, and wasted it all light-heartedly, 58 being but a fool! As long as I had a household, I was held for a great lord and much set by; but now wise men may dwell at home, while fools walk abroad. God wot that is my case! Jesus, as Thou didst die on the Rood, and shed Thy precious blood for me, and didst win all this world, let me come never where I shall be known as a knight, unless I may avow it; and grant me grace to send for all those that now wander wildsomely for me, and all that have ever done me good; or else, O Lord, let me die at once, for then were it well with me! Alas, I am now scorned as a fool, and for want of wit have made foes of my friends, and have ruined myself through mine own benevolence. Yet if thou didst succour me, I should again spend gladly on those that are in want!”
Now as he rode on through the forest, he deemed no man had heard him for he saw none in sight; but there came one riding by on a milk-white steed, arrayed as a knight in white armour, and so suddenly that Sir Amadas was affrayed. Yet sad as he was, he did not forget his courtesy, but greeted the stranger fair.
Quoth the White Knight: “What man are ye that go mourning in this guise, with such simple11 cheer?”
And when Sir Amadas would have denied this, “Nay,” said the other, “hush! I have been here this long while. Ye should not lament so, for God may make a man to fall and rise again; His help is aye near! Goods are but a 59 loan, and whiles a man has something and whiles not; ye have many a fellow12 in like estate. Think on the precious blood of Christ shed for you and for all mankind. A man that gives of a kind heart alike to good and evil, will come out somehow. A man that has always been free of his gifts will ever meet with one ready to help him; so repent not what ye have done. He that created sun and moon is able to pay you all. I trow ye would love dearly him that could bring you out of your woes? Here beside dwells a great king, who has a fair young daughter that he loves most of all things; and no man is to wed her but such as can win her at the joust. Now ye are one of the seemliest knights I saw ever under arms, and ye shall go there as gay as any man on earth. Ye shall have none in your fellowship, but ye shall win many lords to your side for your great gift-giving — look that ye spare none! Say your men that came with you have been drowned in the wild waters of the sea; and be free of your largess until ye have a noble company, and I shall requite every one. Be liberal of wage, for if ye give ten thousand gifts, I shall pay your costs. There shall ye win great fame in frith and forest, town and tower; and ye shall wed that lady. Then shall I come again to you, when ye are at home among your friends; and I make with you now this foreward, that ye shall share with me at that time all ye have won.”
Then bespake Sir Amadas: “An ye have, by God’s 60 grace, power for to comfort me now, ye shall find me true and leal, and ever, lord, will I deal justly between you and me.”
“Farewell, Sir Amadas,” quoth the knight. “Ye shall work by God’s grace, and He will be with you!”
“Have good day,” answered Sir Amadas. “Ye shall find me as true as a man may be.”
Presently then he went down to the sea-shore, and found there so many broken ships as it was marvel to see, and folk driven ashore, knights in miniver,13 grey horses and white, and all manner of wealth cast up by the waters, chests and coffers full of precious gold, and no man alive to bear anything away. He clad him straightway in a robe of gold web as rich as any might be; and the steed on which he mounted was surely the best that ever man had for jousting.
All this befell under a high tower, wherein the king and his daughter were watching. Said the king: “Lo, yonder is a royal knight!” Then he sent a message by his own squire and three knights, bidding them: “Go look what yon may be, and tell me who it is, and say that all his goods shall be kept wholly in his own hands. Go ye together to meet him, and say he is welcome if he be come in peace.”
The messengers walked along the sea-side, and took Sir Amadas by his white hand, and asked his tidings, and said: “Our king has sent us here to wit if you will tell us of your 61 coming; and he vows that your goods shall be yours utterly, and whatsoever ye will do with his men, ye have but to command them and they shall be your servants full ready.”
And Sir Amadas replied: “I am a prince of high degree, and had intended to arrive in state, with wine and flowers, horses, armour, and a goodly array of knights; but stiff storms have driven me hither, and dashed my noble ship to pieces — ye may see the truth for yourselves. To spend I have still enough and plenty; but all the men that came with me are lost.”
They led him to the castle gate, and told the whole adventure to the king, who said to him: “Welcome, my friend! Be of good cheer, and thank God’s grace for deliverance from such a storm! It was a happy issue that ye got safe ashore! Never have I met a man who won my love as quickly as ye have done already.!”
Then the king made a proclamation, calling upon folk, knight, squire, yeoman, and knave, each in his degree, to take service with Sir Amadas, whose men were drowned. He would give them as much as they had ever had with any other lord — yea, and more. As soon as gentlemen heard that cry, they flocked to him, so that when the jousting was proclaimed in honour of the king’s daughter, no other knight had half such a company. There he won great fame, together with frith and field, tower and town, castle and strong city, and more than an hundred steeds, half of 62 which he gave to the king, and the other half he kept for the White Knight, his companion.
When the jousting was ended, they went home to disarm themselves; and often and again the king said: “Gramercy, gentle knight!” And his sweet daughter unlaced the knight’s armour, and they went presently to meat. But as soon as each had sight of the other, such a love seized them as never departed all their lives after.
Now when they had feasted, the king took Sir Amadas by his white hand, saying: “Sir, my daughter is mine only heir, and she shall be your prize. An ye be a man to wed a wife, I vouch her safe to you. Take her, and while I live ye shall have the half of my kingdom, and after, all.”
“Gramercy!” quoth Sir Amadas, and thanked the king for his favour and his good gifts.
Soon after they rode to the church for the wedding. Of gold and silver many a pound, and other gifts were scattered as they passed by the way; and afterwards, all the lords and their slender, noble dames gathered in the hall for the feast. Thus came his weal after his woe — God grant that ours do likewise! The royal banquet lasted a fortnight, and during that time many shafts were shaken.14
A year and a half they lived together in great joy, and a fair child was born to them. But now listen to the marvel that chanced when, one day before meat, his fellow came to the castle gate, clad all in gay gear, as it were an angel, in 63 white and on a milk-white steed, and said anon to the porter: “Go my errand to thy lord at once. And if he ask whence I come, or from what country, say that my armour is white, and that we have been together before; and he will not deny it.”
Then the porter went into the hall and accosted his lord, whom he met there: “Lord, here is come the fairest knight that ever I saw since I was born. Milk-white is his steed and all his other gear. He says that ye have been together, and I hope ye will have seen him. He is come here alone.”
“Is he here, mine own true friend? He is most heartily welcome, as indeed he ought to be! I bid you all, my men, to serve him hand and foot, right as ye would do me.”
Then Sir Amadas went to meet him, and so also his fair lady, who knew well her duty, and ever honoured those whom her lord loved. May all such women be blessed!
Who should stable his steed? For knight, squire, yeoman, or knave he had none. Sir Amadas himself would have taken the horse, and led the guest into the hall; but nay, he would not.
“To tell the truth,” said he, “I will not eat or drink or rest, by the God that bought me dear! But if indeed I have saved thee, deal what thou hast a-two, and give me my part, and I will away.”
“For the love of God,” quoth Sir Amadas, let such 64 words be! They grieve my heart sorely! Not even in a fortnight can we divide and dispose our rich lands, for they lie wide apart. But let us dwell together here like brethren, as though all were thine own; and we will not share otherwise, but all shall be at thy disposal — God forbid else!”
He said: “Brook well thy broad lands, thy towered castles, and thy towns; of them keep I none. Hold also thy woods and clear waters, thy wild deer, thy friths and forests, thy rings with precious stones, thy silver and red gold — they stand me in no stead, I swear by St. John! But by my faith, without more ado, half thy wife and half thy child shall be mine!”
“Alas!” cried Sir Amadas, “that ever I won this woman or any worldly goods! For His sake that died on the Tree, do with me whatsoever thou wilt, take all that I have, but spare her life!”
The knight well understood, but swore: “By God that bought me dear, of all thy other worldly goods I will take nothing; but think on the covenant thou didst make with me in the woods, when thou wert in need, how fairly thou didst promise me then.”
“I know it was so,” said Sir Amadas, “but methinks it were great sin to slay my lady!”
Now she understood the word that passed between them, and grieved never the more, but came at once and said: “For His love that died on the Tree, see that you 65 hold what ye promised him, by God and St. Drightine!”15 And she spake further: “The covenant was good and true; and if God will that it be so, take and part us both in twain. Ye won me, and I am yours. God forbid that ye took wife only that I should make you to be false and lose your good name in the land!”
Still she stood, that dear lady, nor changed colour nor wept; but bade only: “Fetch me hither my young son and lay him on my heart.”
“Now,” quoth the White Knight to his fellow, “which lovest thou more?”
“My dear wife!” he answered.
“If thou lovest her the more, thyself shall cut in twain her white sides.”
When Sir Amadas perceived that this must be, he went well nigh mad with grief; and all those who stood in the hall before their lord swooned with horror.
Then was brought in the board16 on which she must be slain. She kissed her lord many a time, that sweet lady, and meekly laid her down, and drew her kerchief over her eyes.
“Jesu in Trinity!” cried Sir Amadas, in bitter woe. “All shall be done according to Thy will; and so I hope it may be.”
Therewith he was lifting his sword on high, in the intent to strike his lady, when the other knight cried: 66 “Hold! Take her up, and also the child, and peace be with thee! I could not blame thee for grieving to slay so fair a lady to save thy honour! I was full glad when thou didst give all thy possessions to bury my bones, when I lay in the chapel as hounds’ meat; and I prayed to God to heal thee of thy woe, who didst make thyself poor to save my credit in the land. And now, farewell, mine own true friend, my dwelling is here no longer. Love thy child and thy wife, who without murmur would have had thee fulfil thy foreward!”
Like dew in the sun he melted away, no man knew whither; and they all stood there agaze.
Then Sir Amadas and his wife returned hearty thanks to God, as they had good reason to do; and after, they passed their lives in joy and bliss until their ending-day.
There are full few ladies in the land would serve their lords so far — some would say nay! But whoso honours God and Mary, however great his ill, shall yet be helped and shown the ready way to heaven.
After a while, Sir Amadas sent messengers to all the lands, far and near, in his own country, and redeemed all that had ever been his, frith and forest, town and field. And he sent, moreover, for his steward, and all those that had been with him, and gave them gold and fee; and they dwelled with him until their lives’ end.
Soon after this the king died, and Sir Amadas became 67 lord of tower and town, with all the barons of the realm for his vassals; and he was crowned with a diadem of shining gold.
FINIS DE SIR AMADAS
1 See note.
2 In this manner.
3 Here the word seems to mean betters rather than equals.
4 See note.
5 See note.
6 Driver of a pack-horse.
7 Asked. Scotch.
13 Grey fur. Squirrel?
14 There were many joustings.
15 See note.
16 See note.
Two MSS. of this are known, the Auchinleck, edited by Weber; the Ireland, by Robson in his Three Early English Metrical Romances (Sir Amadas), Camden Society, 1842. Both lack a few lines at the beginning, the sense of which is readily gathered. No French original is known, though the thirteenth century French Amadas and Ydoine (ed. Hippeau) contains a bare hint of the situation (cf. Introduction, p. xv.) which may have been developed more fully elsewhere, along the lines followed by the English poem.
p. 52. Boards . . . never bare. So Chaucer says of his Franklin:
p. 53. Forbade that the corse be buried. Cf. Massinger, The Fatal Dowry. Weber in his edition refers to a law among the ancient Egyptians that permitted bodies to be pledged as security for money borrowed. Robson in his edition (p. xxvi.) quotes authorities to show that the Canon Law once authorized the arrest of a debtor’s dead body; and also that it was acted upon for a long time. See also Miss Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent, first part.
p. 65. St. Drightine. The O. E. word for lord, used generally for Christ. The passage reads as if the minstrel did not know the name and took it to be that of some special saint.
p. 53. The preparations for the sacrifice 175 read like a faint reflection from the story, beloved in the Middle Ages, of Abraham and Isaac.