Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Ducie of the Dale

Illustrated by Edward Poynter


Fair Ducie with her reaping-hook
Went homeward through the vale,
Where shaws are steep and waters deep,
High up in Harwood Dale.

The rooks were cawing overhead;
The beck ran loud below;
The hills were red with hazy light;
The sun was large and low:

She had not walk’d a mile or more,
A mile, but barely twain,
When she was ware of some one there
Came riding up the lane.

“Now who are you,” the stranger said,
“You lissome lass and blithe?
And is it in John Ashton’s fields
To-day ye whet the scythe?”

He look’d upon her bonny face
Or ere he spake; and yet
He saw not that her lips were closed,
And both her eyes were wet!

“Kind sir, you’re tied to come frae far,
Or you would know the tale;
John Ashton’s dead this very day,”
Said Ducie of the Dale;

“We ken not where the body lies,
Nor how he came to die;
But he was slain, the neighbours say,
Through some foul jealousy.”

“Now God defend your father’s house,
The homestead and the farm!
But who could be John Ashton’s foes?
And who should do him harm?

“For, as I rode by Hackness woods
And sweet Saint Helen’s cell,
The sawmill folks they told me there
He was both wick and well.”

“I wish he was!” the maiden said;
“To bring him back to me
I’d creep by night round Helen’s cell
Upon my bended knee:

“For, sir, he was my master dear,
My sweetheart true and all;
And while he lived, to me and mine
No evil could befal.

“It chanced upon the Lammas tide
(I mind the day so well
Because for him we all of us
Were reaping, down the dell),

“While I was throng with binding work,
And stooping at the sheaves,
He puts a posy in my hair
Of poppies and of leaves,

“And ‘See,’ he says, ‘upon your head
How close they stick, the flowers!
So my heart will, through good or ill,
For ever stick to yours.’

’Tis but a twelvemonth’s time since then—
And now, to think he’s gone!
But I’ll awand we’ll know the hand
That did it, ’ere we’ve done!”

Now was it fear, or fret of spur,
Or sudden strain of nerve,
That shook the rider in his seat,
And made his good horse swerve?

But, if ’twere pity, if twere pain,
His voice was thick and low,
And ’Tis no news,” he said “to hear
You loved John Ashton so!

“I knew you, and I came to see—
But since he’s dead, with you
I’ll go at once to seek the corpse;
And haply find it, too!”

Ducie of the Dale - Edward Poynter.png

Full simple was the lassie’s heart,
For all her angry tears:
She would have fear’d her lover’s death;
She had no other fears:

She laid her reaping-hook aside,
And stoop’d beneath the boughs,
And follow’d with undoubting foot
Among the hazel knowes.

A shaggy fell was just beyond;
The village lights were far;
And all was dusk, and all was still,
Beneath the evening star:

Her mother was a mile away:
No ear on earth to know
What sounds might scare the hooting owl
Or hush the beck below.—

That night a stranger horseman rode
Full fiercely down the glen:
And he may ride, or he may rest,
Or he may come again,

But never more shall Ducie reap
The harvests of the vale:
Her maiden sleep is sound and deep
At foot of Harwood Dale.