Mammy Two-Coats

A Story by Eleanor Farjeon

from Kaleidoscope

It was one of those winter days that began cold and ended freezing. They also began dark and ended dark. Night did not seem to have really ended when Anthony started on his long walk to school, his little coat buttoned up to his chin; and day had begun to end before, standing at the school door, he looked to see if his Mother were driving up the road.

Yes, she was coming; he neednít do any part of the long journey on his feet. None of the other boys had such a long journey as he; most of those now streaming through the school door lived in town, and had only a few streets to stamp through with their cold feet. Anthony was glad on this bitter night that he would be home as quick as Dapple could trot him there. His Mother climbed down from the dog-cart.

"Whereís your coat, Tony? Oh, in your hand. Get it on quickly, darling, youíll take cold."
"Itís all right, Mother," said Anthony carelessly, in front of the other boys. They were so quick to call anybody a molly-coddle. He began to pull on his coat, and his mother tugged it well over his shoulders, and pushed down the sleeves of his jacket inside the armpits. He wished she wouldnít, before the other fellows. Just as though he was a little boy, who had to have things done for him.
"There!" said she. "And now put on this, dear," and she fetched a second coat out of the cart. It was the first time this had happened. One of the boys began to snigger, and Anthony got red.
"I donít want that, Mother," he muttered.
"Yes, dear, you do. Youíve no idea how cold it is driving tonight. I want you to put it on. Iím sure weíll have snow tomorrow."

He hung back, but it was no use. Before them all she dragged the second coat over the first. It made him feel thick and uncomfortable, but that wasnít why he hated it; what he couldnít bear was the sniggering of the boys who saw him molly-coddled by his Mother against the cold. She didnít seem to notice the sniggering as she stuffed his sleeves down, and wound his muffler round his neck, till he felt and looked like a little bundle. But aas he clambered up into the cart, and she tucked the rug round his thin little legs, he heard them begin to say things: "Mammyís boy! Mammy Two-Coatsí boy! Old Mammy Two-Coats!"

His Mother stopped still for a moment, and gave the boys a look, and they were silent. Then she clicked with her tongue, and Dapple trotted off smartly. He couldnít trot too smartly for Anthony, sitting snug and miserable against his Motherís side. He had been covered with shame, and he couldnít forgive her for doing it. He would rather have frozen to death on that drive home, yes, forozen to death. He knew what it would be like at school tomorrow. She didnít. Oh, how could she do it? She ought to have known.

He wouldnít speak to her when they got home. She helped him down, and in the warm hall would have helped him off with his coats, but he twitched himself out of her hands, and got the hateful coats off for himself. He sulked through supper, and afterwards, till bedtime. His Father was reading, and didnís seem to notice anything; and his Mother did not remonstrate, or do anything to call particular attention to him. Now and then she said a kind word or two, offered to play a game with him, or asked him to fetch something for her. He fetched what she wanted, reluctantly, but he wouldnít play a game. He wouldnít forgive her like that. He wouldnít ever forgive her. He went to bed without kissing her good night.

After he was in bed he heard her come in. He pretended to be asleep. She came and stood by the bed, and said, "Tony, dear." He didnít answer. "Good night, Tony." No, he wouldnít answer. "Poor Tony," she whispered, and kissed his cheek, and went out of the room.

He lay awake for a long time, miserable, cross, ashamed. Tomorrow was to come.

It came, dark and cold. The expected snow had not yet fallen. Anthony hurried through his breakfast, and got out of the house hurriedly with his satchel in a moment when his Mother had left the room to speak to ďLla. He sped down the lane, putting on is satchel as he went. He was afraid his Mother would suggest driving him to school this morning, or insist on his walking in two coats. Not he! never again! He would not walk there even in one coat. He had left it behind him on purpose, and his muffler, and his mittens. He would turn up at school careless of his chest and hands. Heíd show them!

But alas! what did they care for his exposed throat and his numb red fingers? As soon as he got to School, it began: "Mammy Two-Coatsíboy! Mammy Two-Coatsíboy!"

Everybody in the school knew that his Mother had dressed him in two coats to go home in last night. Anthony knew that he had received on of those stigmas which become school traditions. It would stick for ever. She had ruined his boyhood.

The day passed. At the earliest possible moment Anthony left the school. It should not happen twice, yet he could not hope she would not come for him today. It was even darker than the night before, and she would have discovered his coat and muffler and mittens in the hall.

Anthony slipped round to the back of the school and got out into a different road from the one she would take. He would leave the city by back streets, and get into the open country, and go over the field paths where a dog-cart could not drive. It would be twice as long, and difficult talking at this time of year, and he would miss the Bun-shop, but never mind. It should not happen twice.

And when she got to school and didnít find him, sheíd be frightened. And serve his Mother right.

Triumphant and revengeful, Anthony panted his way out of the streets and into the roads. One little stretch of the road he had to run along before he could strike over the stile into the fields. But he surmounted that danger safely. His Mother was no where in sight, and he met nobody who would tell her. It was now very dark. By the time he had climbed the first stile and was crossing the field, the snow began to fall.

At first it fell slowly in large scattered flakes that melted softly on his cheeks. But before long it quickened, and soon became a flurry. The air was thick with it, and it stang him, and forced him to keep his head down low. It covered all tracks, and he could not see the earth. He looked up, and he could not see the sky. He could see nothing but darkness, and feel nothing but the thick stinging snow. In another moment Anthony was lost.

He stumbled about among fields, of unknown shapes and sizes, and ups and downs he did not remember. Sometimes he came upon unfamiliar hedges, burdened with snow, hedges that he was sure he had never seen before. He fell into strange ditches, and hit against strange trees. He was cold, he was frightened, he was tired and he began to cry. Oh, how cold he was - if only he had his coat! Oh, how frightened he was - if only his Mother would come! Oh, how tired he was - if only he dared stop and lie down!

At last he had to, because his legs gave way. He did not know where he lay, but he just lay there, crying and crying while the snow went on falling and falling. Sometimes he sobbed, "Iím so cold! Iím so cold!" and sometimes, "Mother, Mother, Mother!"

"Poor Tony!" whispered a voice. It was so like his motherís voice that he lifted his head. A Woman in a big cloak was stopping over him. But he couldnít be sure it was his Mother, though it looked and sounded like her. He held out his arms to her and whispered, "Iím so cold, Mother, Iím so cold!"

"Poor Tony," she said again, we must find you a coat. Now what would be best?" She thought for a moment, and then called, "Baa-baaa!"
A wooly Lamb trotted over the snow. "Well, Mother, well?"
"Anthonyís cold and wants a coat."
"Let him have mine,then," said the Lamb, and slipped off its wool in one whole fleece. The Woman wrapped it around Anthony and said, "There!"
"Iím still cold, Iím still cold; it isnít enough!" wept Anthony.

"Qua-quaaa!" said the Woman, and down from the sky few a Wild Duck. "Well, Mother, well?"
"Anthonyís cold, and wants two coats."
"Let him have mine,then," said the Duck, and slipped off its coat of feathers. The Woman put the duck feathers on Anthony over the lambskin, and said, "Is that better?"
"It isnít enough!" wailed Anthony.

"Croo-crooo!" said the Woman, and out of a tree flew a dove.
"Well, Mother well!"
"Anthonyís cold and wants three coats."
"Let him have mine, then," said the Dove. Off came the downy plumage, and over the Duckís feathers went the Doveís. "How does that feel?" asked the Woman.
"It isnít enough yet," said Anthony.

"Moo-mooo!" said the Woman, and out of the hedge lumbered a little Calf.
"Well, Mother well!"
"Anthonyís cold and wants four coats."
"Let him have mine, then," said the Calf and took off its skin. The Woman put the calfskin on tope of the Doveís plumage. "Are you warm enough now?" asked she.
"Nearly," whispered Anthony.

"What," said the Woman, "you want five coats, do you?" Whose coat will make you warm enough, poor Tony?" Her voice sounded sorry and smiling, both at once, and she held out her arms to him, and Anthony crept into them, and her cloak fell all around him.
At last he was warm enough, and fell asleep.

When he awoke he was still in his Motherís arms, and the dog-cart was nearly home. John Burden was driving it.

Anthony blinked at her rather dazed, and she hugged him close, saying, "It's all right, darling, itís all right." A she was driving back from the school she had met John Burden on the road, and together they had looked for Anthony. They had found his school books scattered by the stile, and just over the stile in the field they had found Anthony himself. And they had looked for him by the light of the very bullís eye lantern which Anthony had coveted so long in the shop-window. And his mother whispered to him that she had bought it for him that very afternoon on her drive to school, and that it was to be his very own. Anthony whispered, "Oh, Mother!" and felt warmer than ever.

When they got to the house John Burden carried the little boy in, and they had to unwrap all sorts of things from him before they got down to Anthony himself: his Motherís own cloak, and a big shawl, and John Burdenís leather waistcoat, and his own two coats: Anthony counted them one by one as they came off.

"Five coats!" he shouted triumphantly. "I had five coats on!"

His Mother laughed, and his Father gave John Burden some shillings and a drink, and Baa bustled in to carry him off to a hot bath.
"And count yourself lucky if you get off with a shocking cold!" she scolded.
But Anthony felt he didnít mind if he did have a cold. "May I take my lantern to look at in bed?" he asked.
"Yes, dear," said his Mother, just as Baa was going to say, "Certainly not!"
"Lantern!" sniffed Baa, instead, "You donít deserve to have a lantern, you naughty little boy."
"That will do, Baa," said Anthonyís Mother.
And when he had had his bath, and a hot drink, and was looking at his lantern inside and out, his Mother came and sat on the edge of the bed, and told his all sorts of queer things about Russia, and what they did in winter.

The next day, oddly enough, Anthony hadnít a cold at all. Bass said it was a lucky escape, and wanted to keep him home all the same; but Anthony begged to go to school, and his Mother decided he could.

As soon as he got into the grounds, someone shouted, "Mammy Two-Coatsí boy!" at him. Anthony marched up to the boy and said, "Two-Coats, pooh! Yesterday I had five coats on! And thatís nothing. In Russia they have nine or ten. And when itís cold, their house have two windows and two doors, on on top of the other. And when their ears and noses get frozed still, they break right off, like glass. And I got a bullís-eye lantern."

"What, not the one in the corner shop?" said the boy.

"Yes, that one. Here it is," said Anthony. "You can really track things in the dark with it."

"My eye!" said the boy, and took the bullís-eye lantern in his hands and began to work the shutter, while all the other boys crowded round to look.


This is a story about anger. It is a story from childhood that we can all relate to; having experienced similar feelings ourselves. The situation is set-up quickly - the problem created accidently, out of motherly concern, Anthonyís angry reaction, his subsequent attempt at revenge, and its nearly disastrous consequences. But there is also a Motherís efforts at reconcilation, and her gentleness, rather than anger, at her wayward child, and a solution to his problem. "Do not let the Sun set on your anger," says the Good Book; and "A soft word turns away wrath."

This is a superb Personal Story, which takes an incident, often from our childhood; which resulted in feelings that are faced by all of us at some point in our lives - for such feelings of anger and revenge we all wrestle with. People connect with the story, through these common emotions. Stories such as this help us to connect with each other. And help us to explore and find our way through our own crises. Shows like many of the Disney movies, Little House on the Prairie, and the Wonder Years have used a similar means to pluck our heartsí strings. Personal Stories offer many possibilities to storytellers.

Of course, this story is a bit dated. Few children take open dog-carts home from school, though name-calling will always be a part of a childsí life. And as for the "two-door houses" in Russia, I remember stories of "two story out-houses" in the mining camps in the Rockies. When the snow piled deep, around them, a second-story door gave access to a ladder inside.


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