'The Patched-Up Coat' | Circle Round 137

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Has there ever been a time when a friend or family member wouldn't share with you? Maybe they wouldn't let you play with a new toy. Or they wouldn’t give you a turn during a game.

Think about how it made you feel. Not so good, right?

Well, we’re about to meet a character who feels exactly like you did — until he takes matters into his own hands!

Our story is called “The Patched-Up Coat.” Versions of this tale come from Russia, the largest country in the world.

Voices in this episode include: Feodor Chin, Jessica Rau, and Peter Sagal. Peter’s the host of Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz. He's also the author of The Book of Vice: Naughty Things and How To Do Them and The Incomplete Book of Running, a memoir about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and other adventures while running long distances.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Supervising Producer Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

What’s one thing you can do this week to help someone in need?

Maybe you can go through your closet and donate clothing you no longer wear. You can collect canned goods for a food bank. Or you can volunteer your time at a soup kitchen or animal shelter.

Think about one thing you can do, then go out and do it. When we help others, we help make the world a warmer, sunnier place!

The harp-like gusli is the oldest East Slavic multi-string plucked instrument. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
The harp-like gusli is the oldest East Slavic multi-string plucked instrument. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

Musical spotlight: The Gusli 

The gusli is the oldest multi-stringed instrument in Russia. The gusli is a lot like a harp or zither (a.k.a. autoharp): it consists of a shallow wooden box with strings strung across the top. To play the gusli, you use your left hand to mute the strings you don’t want to play, then you use your right hand to pluck the strings you do wish to play. The gusli’s sound is high-pitched, resonant and sweet; some even describe it as “silvery.” You can hear the gusli in several other Circle Round stories from Russia, including Sadko and the Sea and The Rooster in the Sky


NARRATOR: At the edge of a small town, at the top of a steep hill, there lived a man and woman.

The man and woman on the hill weren’t especially rich, and they weren’t especially poor.

They weren’t especially tall, and they weren’t especially short.

What they were, however… was especially selfish.

If a neighbor was baking a cake and came up the hill to borrow a cup of sugar, the man and woman might respond like this:

MAN: Oh you can borrow a cup of sugar, alright...

WOMAN: ...provided you give us the cake when it’s done!

NARRATOR: If a farmer’s wagon broke down on the way to market, and he asked the man and woman for a ride in their cart, they might respond like this:

MAN: Oh we can give you a ride in our cart, alright...

WOMAN: ...provided you pay us ten silver coins for the trouble!

NARRATOR: So one brisk winter evening, when a weary traveler trudged up the hill to ask the man and woman for a bite of supper and a place to spend the night, they responded like this:

MAN: Oh, you can have some supper and spend the night, alright...

WOMAN: ...provided you chop some firewood and feed the horses!

NARRATOR: The weary traveler was a soldier, making his long journey home after fighting battles in faraway lands. His feet were tired, his stomach was empty, and the coat he wore was threadbare and covered with patches.

SOLDIER: I appreciate the offer, folks! Thank you. So... What’s for supper?

NARRATOR: The man and woman exchanged a look.

MAN: Well, my wife and I are having a hearty chicken soup.

WOMAN: It’s been simmering on the stove all day.

MAN: But you’ll be eating cold porridge.

WOMAN: There isn’t enough soup for three!

NARRATOR: The soldier cast his eyes toward the stove, where an enormous iron pot was boiling and bubbling away. The pot seemed to hold more than enough steaming, fragrant soup for three people. But the soldier just smiled and sat down at the table.

While the soldier choked down his cold, lumpy porridge, the man and woman slurped up their hot chicken soup with gusto.

MAN: Oh, this soup is scrumptious!

WOMAN: Delectable!

MAN: I’m going to have seconds!

WOMAN: I’m going to have thirds!

NARRATOR: As the man and woman refilled their bowls again and again, it began to dawn on the soldier just how selfish this pair truly was. But he kept quiet, and continued eating until his bowl was empty.

Once the man and woman gobbled up the entire pot of chicken soup, they brought out dessert: a fresh-baked apple pie. The soldier’s mouth watered as he waited to be served a slice. But instead, the man and woman carved out two massive pieces for themselves.

MAN: Mmmm! This pie is just marvelous!

WOMAN: Incredible!

MAN: So flaky!

WOMAN: So light!

NARRATOR: As the couple gulped down bite after scrumptious bite, the soldier sheepishly piped up.

SOLDIER: Excuse me, folks! I was wondering… may I please have some pie?

NARRATOR: The man and woman stopped chewing and fixed their guest with an irritated stare.

MAN: ‘Have some pie,’ you say?

WOMAN: Oh no, no, no!

MAN: You have work to do, soldier!

WOMAN: Didn’t you promise that you’d chop firewood and feed the horses?

NARRATOR: So the soldier got up from the table and headed outside. The night air was bone-achingly bitter. The soldier’s hands trembled so hard he could barely hold the axe as he split logs. By the time he loaded the stable with hay, his arms and hands, legs and feet had all gone numb. The old coat he wore was so scruffy and ratty, it did nothing to protect him from the cold.

After his chores, the soldier staggered back to the house, where the man and woman were licking pie crumbs off their fingers and sipping big mugs of piping-hot tea.

MAN: Oh look!

WOMAN: There he is!

MAN: Took you long enough out there, soldier!

WOMAN: We’re about to turn in for the night!

NARRATOR: Glancing around the house, the soldier spied a plush sofa in the living room. It was covered with thick woolen blankets.

SOLDIER: Hitting the hay is fine by me, folks! I’ve been traveling all day and I am beat. May I sleep on your sofa then?

NARRATOR: The couple shook their heads.

MAN: Oh, no, no, no, soldier!

WOMAN: Our house cat Fluffy sleeps on the sofa!

MAN: She just loves snuggling up with all those cozy blankets!

WOMAN: You’ll be sleeping... on the floor!

NARRATOR: The soldier felt his heart clench. Were there truly no limits to this man and woman’s stinginess?

SOLDIER: That’s fine. Just fine. But the sofa’s right next to the fireplace, and it seems the fire’s gone out. Would you mind if I started it back up again?

NARRATOR: Even as the soldier asked this question, he suspected he already knew the answer.

And he was right.

MAN: ‘Start the fire again,’ you say?!?

WOMAN: ...And waste all of our precious firewood?!?

MAN: No way, soldier!

WOMAN: Just use that ratty coat of yours as a blanket!

NARRATOR: Then the man and woman breezed into their snug, cozy bedroom and slammed the door.

NARRATOR: The soldier lay down on the living room floor, beside the unlit fireplace. As a chill whooshed down the chimney, he curled himself into a ball, pulling his patched-up coat even tighter around his quivering body. Naturally, the shabby old frock didn’t do a lick of good.

SOLDIER: Ugh! I can’t believe these people! They have plenty of supper to share, yet they don’t. They have plenty of dessert to share, yet they don’t. They have a whole extra sofa to sleep on, but do they share that? Of course not! To say nothing of parting with their ‘precious firewood’... Somebody really ought to teach these selfish scoundrels a lesson! And I know just the one to do it! 

NARRATOR: What will the soldier do next?

What would you do if you were the soldier?

We’ll find out what happens, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Patched-Up Coat.”

NARRATOR: Before the break, a man and woman allowed a poor, traveling soldier to spend the night in their home. But the selfish couple made him sleep on the floor, with nothing but his shabby, patched-up coat to keep him warm.

The winter’s night grew darker... and colder… and before long the soldier’s entire body felt frozen. But his brain was on fire as he cooked up a plan to teach the greedy pair a lesson.

Right around midnight, he leaped to his feet and raced to the kitchen. He plunged his hand into a big jar of butter, and smeared the thick, greasy stuff all over his face. Then he put on his coat, and knocked at the man and woman’s bedroom door.

MAN: What is it, soldier?

WOMAN: How dare you wake us up in the middle of the night?

SOLDIER: I’m sorry to disturb you, but it’s so hot and stuffy in the living room. Would you mind opening a window?

NARRATOR: The man and woman gaped at the soldier’s drippy, sticky face. The living room was the draftiest part of the house! Especially when the fireplace wasn’t lit! And yet this soldier — with his tattered, ragged coat — was sweating so much he needed to open a window...!?

The couple was confused, but they agreed to their guest’s request.

NARRATOR: And when a burst of wind swept through the living room...

NARRATOR: ...they scurried back to their snug, cozy bedroom and slammed the door.

NARRATOR: But then, an hour later, the soldier came knocking again.

MAN: What is it now, soldier?

WOMAN: We’re trying to get some sleep!

SOLDIER: I know, and I apologize, but even with the window open, I’m so hot I could pass out. Would you mind opening the front door?

NARRATOR: The man and woman’s jaws dropped. With the window open, the living room felt frosty as an icebox. Yet the soldier wanted to open the door...?!

MAN: Are you out of your mind, soldier?

WOMAN: With the door open, the house will freeze!

NARRATOR: The soldier shrugged.

SOLDIER: Well… I guess I’ll just take off my coat, then. Perhaps I’ll be more comfortable without it.

NARRATOR: The man and woman watched as the soldier removed his scruffy, worn-out coat and laid it on the floor.

SOLDIER: There! That’s much better! So sorry to bother you folks. I’ll see you in the morning.

NARRATOR: For the rest of the night, the man and woman couldn’t sleep a wink. The soldier had them positively flummoxed! How could the fellow possibly stay so warm? Was it really that shabby, patched-up coat of his...? Could it be… magic?

When morning came, the man and woman found the soldier in the living room, lacing up his boots and getting ready to go.

SOLDIER: Good morning, you two! I trust you slept well. As for me, I slept like a baby… once I took off my coat, that is.

NARRATOR: The man and woman flashed the soldier a smile.

MAN: Yes…

WOMAN: ...about that coat…

MAN: ...we were wondering…

WOMAN: … could we trade you for it?

NARRATOR: This was the moment the soldier had been waiting for. He stifled a giggle and feigned surprise.

SOLDIER: My coat, you say...?! You want to trade for my coat?!?

MAN: Indeed we do!

WOMAN: We want to trade it for this lovely goose-down jacket here!

MAN: It’s too bulky to wear while chopping wood or feeding the horses or driving to market...

WOMAN: ...but your coat would be perfect!

MAN: It’s so nice and light…

WOMAN: ...yet so nice and warm!

NARRATOR: The soldier gazed at the goose-down jacket. It truly was beautiful. But he pretended to hesitate.

SOLDIER: I don’t know, folks… This coat has been with me a long time. I’m not sure I’m ready to part with it...

NARRATOR: To the soldier’s delight, the man and woman took the bait.

MAN: Oh, we understand!

WOMAN: Completely!

MAN: That’s why we’ll sweeten the deal!

WOMAN: We’ll give you one of our finest horses…

MAN: …plus an entire bag of silver coins!

WOMAN: What do you say?

NARRATOR: The soldier acted like he was thinking it over. The man and woman waited… and waited… until at last, the soldier’s face broke into a grin.

SOLDIER: I say you’ve got yourself a deal, folks! Thank you!

NARRATOR: So the soldier traded his ragged, tattered coat for the man and woman’s goose-down jacket. Then he mounted his fine new horse, slung his bag of silver coins over his shoulder, and rode down the hill — warm, snuggly, and laughing all the way.

Once he was gone, the woman pulled on the patched-up coat and went out to the stable to tend the horses. It was a nippy, snowy morning, and by the time she was done brushing and feeding the animals, her cheeks were bright red, her lips were pale blue, and she was shaking like jelly.

WOMAN: Husband! The soldier’s magic coat doesn’t seem to be working for me! Perhaps you should give it a try?

MAN: Alright! I’ll wear it to market!

NARRATOR: So the man put on the soldier’s coat, harnessed a horse to the cart, then set off down the hill.

The snow was falling in great clumps now, and each biting, cutting gust of wind felt like the sting of a bee. The man’s teeth chattered, he could barely move his mouth, and when he lost all feeling in his fingers and toes, he turned right back around and headed home.

But he didn’t go alone.

He was so freezing cold that he picked up some travelers along the way, just so he could huddle up next to a warm body or two.

It was the first free ride the selfish man had ever given.

And you know what?

It wouldn't be his last.

When the shivering man returned to his home on the hill, he told the woman how the soldier had tricked them.

And from that day forward, the couple vowed to change their ways, and never give anyone the cold shoulder.

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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