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Musical Differences

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Emily found the rag doll in a dustbin. She was shabby and dishevelled, but her woollen hair was still copper bright and that caught Emily’s eye. She took the doll from where she lay and took her back to the shop, where she set the tattered thing in the almost empty window.

She picked up Bagpuss and whispered in his ear:

“Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss,
Oh fat furry cat-puss.
Wake up and look at this thing that I bring.
Wake up, be bright,
Be golden and light.
Bagpuss, oh hear what I sing!"

And Bagpuss woke up, and his friends woke up too: The mice on the Mouse Organ woke up and stretched. Gabriel the Toad woke up, and last of all Professor Yaffle, the distinguished old woodpecker, who came down from this bookend to see what Emily had brought.

“It’s an old rag doll,” he chuckled. “And quite recognisable. Not much magic to be worked on this one, Bagpuss; I think the mice need only patch up her seams and give her a little wash and she’ll be as good as new.”

He looked up at the mice on the shelf, but they hung back.

“Well then,” Bagpuss said. “Come down, mice. Don’t be afraid.”

“We’re not afraid,” Charlie Mouse replied.

“It’s just…” Janie Mouse began.

“She’s so lovely,” the mice crooned as one.

“Nyeh, nyeh, nyeh,” Yaffle scolded. “I don’t deny she could be, but not without your help. Now come down here and tidy her up. Don’t be shy, just be gentle.”

“It’s alright, mice,” Gabriel croaked. “She won’t mind.”

Warily at first, the mice scrambled down. Eddie Mouse and Janie Mouse fetched the sewing kid, Willie Mouse brought cotton wool for stuffing, Jenny Mouse and Lizzy Mouse brought scraps of sponge and Charlie Mouse filled a tiny bucket with warm, soapy water.

As they worked, the mice began to sing in tiny, soft voices, even tinier and softer than usual.

“We will mend her, not offend her,
We will make her good as new.
We’ll repair her, take good care sir,
We will love her too, too, too.”

Soon the rag doll was indeed as good as new.

“Yes, yes,” Yaffle said. “Why, she almost looks as though she could wake up and join us.”

“I’m sure she could,” Gabriel said. “That is the famous singing rag doll, Madeleine.”

“You know her?” Bagpuss asked.

“I do. We used to sing together, but then…”

“What happened?” the mice asked. “Tell us! Tell us, please.”

“Well, I’ll tell you about it, if Bagpuss will think about it.”

“What? Oh yes, of course,” Bagpuss replied. “Sing away. I’m thinking.”

Gabriel strummed his banjo and began to sing:

“There were many famous singers,
In the childhood nursery,
Who sang the songs of long ago
Bringing joy as you could see.”

And as he sang, Bagpuss thought, and they could see. They saw the nursery, filled with toys. A patchwork clown danced as a bear played the cymbals and sang.

“But of all the toys who sang those songs,
The most famous of all,
Were the beautiful rag doll Madeleine,
And a toad named Gabriel.”

“Gabriel doesn’t rhyme with all,” Yaffle muttered, but no-one paid him much attention. They were all too busy watching the image of Gabriel and the rag doll, Madeleine, singing before a rapt crowd.

“Old Gabriel strummed upon the strings,
Of a banjo made of wood,
While Madeleine sang upon a throne,
In a voice that was good.”

And then a new voice took up the tune as the rag doll sat up and lifted her head in song.

“The rag doll’s voice was like a bell,
The toad’s a silver boom,
The banjo led a merry dance,
And the toys tripped ‘cross the room.”

And then Gabriel and Madeleine lifted their voices together:

“Then came a fateful day of days,
When the children all were grown,
And the toys were packed in to the box,
With no room to call their own.”

And Madeleine sang:

“Then the rag doll she was given away,
To the daughter of a friend.
And passed along from hand-to-hand,
‘Til she came to a dismal end.”

And Gabriel sang:

“While the toad he languished in that box,
All a-whiling away the days.
‘Til a little girl named Emily,
Came and carried him away.”

And Madeleine sang:

“While poor Madeleine was cast aside,
Thrown out like last week’s news,
But Emily came and rescued her,
Like a bolt out of the blue.”

And they sang together again.

“And so now we are together again,
Singing out once more as one.
Let us never part from now until,
The shine falls from the sun.”

The toad played a last refrain on his banjo and then looked at his old friend. “It’s good to see you again, Madeleine.”

“And you,” Madeleine replied.