The Briar and the Rose

The Briar and the Rose

A Story by Sagittarius

My take on what happened in the old ballad "Barbara Allan."


Barbara Allan met her love, Sir John Graeme, on the afternoon of May the eighth. She had been to town buying necessities for her family, and in her arms was an unwieldy basket full of goods piled so high that she could barely see over the brim. As she trudged down the road, her arms beginning to weaken and ache, she felt a crunch under her foot. She backed away and looked down to see what she’d stepped on, finding a brown hat, it’s top bearing the dent of her shoe. She frowned and looked up. Walking briskly toward her was the most handsome youth she’d ever seen. Pale, flaxen hair cropped short to his head, tall and lean of stature, with a broad smile and dimples in his ruddy cheeks.

Barbara stood stock-still and completely silent. She couldn’t help but watch the way his eyes twinkled as a self-deprecating smile formed on his lips. She shifted her basket to rest on her hip and swiped the hair out of her eyes.

The young man knelt down to retrieve the hat and, standing, worked out the dent with long fingers. He dusted it off with a chuckle. “This old hat’s seen better days,” he said conversationally, sneaking a glance at Barbara’s face.

Barbara blushed, her cheeks growing hot. She put a self-conscious hand to her face. “I’m sorry, sir. I couldn’t see where I was going�"”

“Nonsense!” The man shook his head. “I couldn’t think of a better way to go than being stepped on by a pretty girl.” He gave her a winning smile.

Barbara could only stare at him briefly, blush even harder, and look away. “Th-thank you.”

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Barbara Allan.”

Barbara looked back at him to see his eyes twinkle as he said, “Miss Allan,” he inclined his head, “My name is John Graeme.”


On the night of Barbara Allan’s birthday, her sweetheart, Sir John Graeme, and a gaggle of Barbara’s friends gathered at the local tavern to celebrate. During the revelry, John stood and clinked a fork against the glass of his mug, calling everyone to attention.

“I’d like to make a toast,” he began grandly, gesturing widely in good humor brought upon by the drink, “to all in company tonight, the night of my sweet Barbie’s birthday.”

Everyone cheered and responded with taps of their silverware on their cups.

“To Mary,” John continued, “whose hair is so long and beautiful, that any man would want to run his fingers through it.”

Mary blushed and modestly covered her cheeks. Her hair was indeed lovely; soft and auburn in color falling gently in curls. She shook her head, trying to divert everyone’s attentions back to the man making the toast.

John gestured toward the girl next to Mary. “To Sophie whose eyes are the very color of the clearest spring flowing through the valley.”

Sophie, unlike her friend, basked in the attention and applause. She acted suitably unassuming so as to not be at the bad end of any harsh words from spiteful women.

“To Elizabeth,” said John, “truly the most kind and gentle girl in the country.”

Agreement passed through the crowd, John had not exaggerated. Elizabeth was never lack of a caring word and a helping hand. Her mother was the town midwife whose tenderness was only matched by that of her daughter.

“And Juliet, whose face is so fair, the ships of Greece would sail to Troy once more, in your honor.”

The men of the tavern expressed their concurrence wholeheartedly, to which Barbara sent a nasty glare toward her beau. She wondered when he’d get on to talking about her.

“Catherine! Oh, Catherine.” John touched a solemn hand to his heart. “You know your attributes.”

Catherine gave him a knowing grin. She was the barmaid and fully equipped with a round figure, curved and gracious in the hip and bust. Now, she was nearly coming out of her bodice.

Barbara angrily crossed her arms, waiting for her turn. However, John took a giant swig of his drink and sat heavily down in his seat beside her. He leaned over for a kiss and found only empty air, falling sideways into Barbara’s vacated chair. When he noticed his girl was gone, John could only watch Barbara storm out of the tavern.


A month after Barbara Allan and Sir John Graeme’s untimely parting, John found himself violently ill and confined to his bed. His health deteriorated so suddenly and without mercy. The doctor his family had called in from the city only shook his head at his condition, not wanting to cast a shadow in the house with dreadful news.

When poor John felt his days were coming to an end, he called for his best friend, Tom, and sent for his only love, Barbara Allan.

Tom left without hope for the Allan house. Since her birthday, Barbara had been so heartbroken and angry with John that she gave him neither a word nor a gentle glance. John hadn’t a clue what he’d done to receive such icy treatment, and fell into such a depression that many of his close friends feared for his well-being. Eventually, his mental state affected his physical self and John fell ill.

When Barbara received Tom, he regaled her with John’s condition. Barbara assented to go, disbelief apparent on her features. She followed Tom to the Graeme house and walked into John’s room.

She stood, hands on hips, utterly disgusted that John would ever come to be so desperate for her favor. “Young man, it looks like you’re dyin’.”

“He’s sick, very, very sick,” Tom told her. “Why are you being so cruel?”

“Don’t you remember at my birthday when this man toasted and honored every girl in attendance but his own love?” Barbara said, her voice shrill.

John turned his face to the wall, tears pricking at the back of his eyes. “Goodbye, my friends,” he choked, his voice barely above a whisper. “And be kind to Barbara Allan.”


Barbara Allan left in a huff, sick and tired of John’s ploys to win forgiveness. She could never forgive such a slight so soon after it had been committed. She decided she would pardon him eventually, but only after much groveling and humility.

Barbara had only gotten a mile when she heard the dead-bell toll from the church steeple. She stopped dead in her tracks, heart frozen in her chest. It couldn’t be. She turned and watched the pall-bearers carry a coffin toward her on the way to the church. She saw the grim looks on their faces and stopped them, begging to open the casket and see for certain that her mind was only tricking her, that her love couldn’t possibly be dead.

She dropped to her knees and cast the lid aside, gazing upon the cold, dead face of her only love, Sir John Graeme, never to smile that brilliant smile her way again. Tears fell unchecked from her eyes and she wailed into her hands. The bearers stood and continued their route, leaving Barbara to weep into the grass.

Since my love died for me today, she thought to herself as she stood, making her way north toward the cliffs that stood sentinel above the roiling steel-gray sea, I’ll die for him tomorrow.


The funeral for Sir John Graeme and Barbara Allan were held on the same day, and all in attendance were red-eyed and weary. Two deaths of such sweet hearts took a toll on the town. They were buried side by side against the church wall, so that perhaps in Heaven their souls would unite.

A half a century later, churchgoers noticed on the patch of land where Sir John Graeme had been buried grew a red rose as beautiful as any had ever been seen. Next to his grave, where Barbara Allan lay, grew a briar whose thorns were razor-sharp and pitiless. The old wives who knew the couple told their children that John’s heart was still ardent and forgiving though his lover had left him. Yet Barbara’s own heart had been hardened by injury and never softened at her lover’s words again.

Another fifty years went by, when all those who knew Barbara Allan and Sir John Graeme had died, the briar and the rose had crept gradually together, intertwining and crawling upward along the wall of the church toward Heaven. No one in the town could explain this rare occurrence, but they revered its loveliness. Two souls, separated by ill-timed death, will always find each other in the next life.

So is the story of sweet John Graeme, and his love, fair Barbara Allan.

© 2009 Sagittarius

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Author's Note

Something else I did for a school assignment.

My Review

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Brilliant imagery and a great metaphor for eternal love and forgiveness. It is our differences that together make us complete.
Well executed allegory
Well done.

Posted 9 Years Ago

Wow! I love this write alot. I hope this got an A+
I thought it was very well written.
I loved alll the detail and imagery you put into it.
Very well written, wonderful write.
Iloved how you summed it up at the end.

Posted 9 Years Ago

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2 Reviews
Added on December 27, 2009
Last Updated on December 27, 2009




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