Sing Your Heart Out

This uplift­ing story by Ali­son Carter is set in 18th-cen­tury Lon­don.

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They both re­lied on mu­sic for their liv­ing, but they couldn’t work to­gether!

I’VE a piece of in­for­ma­tion for you,” Kizzie Dock­rell said. The man had his back to her. He was just bid­ding farewell to a cus­tomer, and when Kizzie spoke he turned him­self round very slowly.

“In­for­ma­tion?” he asked, with one eye­brow cocked.

Kizzie noted that his tail­coat had one too many deep pleats in the skirt – a sure sign, she felt, of os­ten­ta­tion. An over­dressed man was not to be trusted.

“Yes, in­for­ma­tion,” Kizzie said. “This is my patch. You’re wel­come to pass through on your way to Shaftes­bury Av­enue, or up to Long Acre. But not to sell broad­sides here. I’m sure you un­der­stand.”

The man nod­ded slowly, and it was clear to Kizzie that he had no in­ten­tion of mov­ing on. He wore no wig, and a lock of sand-coloured hair dropped over his brow. The hair was clean enough, while the tail­coat needed a good brush­ing.

“I know this al­ley­way to be new,” he said, “so I can’t see how . . .” He looked her up and down. “How a . . . woman such as you has had the time to es­tab­lish her­self here. And our re­spec­tive pro­fes­sions don’t con­flict, do they?”

Kizzie re­alised, with hor­ror, that he thought she was a har­lot! She was out­raged.

“I am a broad­side bal­lad seller like you!” she said. “I sing the best pitch this side of Pic­cadilly, and you should note it!”

He was right about the al­ley be­ing new.

A month ago there had been a fire here, one of those sud­den con­fla­gra­tions that often flared up in a slum.

The build­ings were like dry match­sticks, and the fire had de­stroyed two houses, driv­ing a gap from Earl­ham Street to Shel­ton Street.

Kizzie Dock­rell had moved her trade in broad­side bal­lads into the re­sult­ing pas­sage­way. She had been look­ing for a new patch for some time, and it was ideal.

Kizzie kept her eye fixed on the new­comer. She was a young woman of sharp wit and re­silience. She was not go­ing to be chal­lenged.

“I’ve heard you sing your bal­lads,” he said with a touch of dis­dain. He had an odd ac­cent, and Kizzie sus­pected he was a yokel, come to make his for­tune in Lon­don.

These peo­ple lasted five min­utes be­fore run­ning home to their cows. Lon­don was not for those of a weak con­sti­tu­tion.

“So,” he said, “must I call you a chap­woman, as I am a chap­man?”

“Call me what you wish,” Kizzie said. “I buy, I sing, and I sell as well as any man. And now there is only one thing left to say, which is that you are go­ing to have to walk a dif­fer­ent street.”

****

Kizzie was born the daugh­ter of mu­si­cians in 1759, only a mile away from her patch.

Her life had been a hard one – or­phaned, taken in by an aunt, and obliged to earn her liv­ing.

She had worked the stalls of Covent Gar­den for a few years, un­til one day she’d used her last ha’penny to buy a broad­side bal­lad from a chap­man.

That same evening, in a tav­ern in Hen­ri­etta Street, a friend had made her sing the song, which re­lated the grue­some hang­ing of a no­to­ri­ous pi­rate.

Kizzie had al­ready known the tune that the chap­man had set it to, and she had sung it so well that all the inn had ap­plauded. Peo­ple said – half jok­ing – that Kizzie ought to sell bal­lads her­self. And so it had be­gun.

She had per­suaded a printer at Seven Di­als named Charles Pike to sell her a bag of broad­sides.

Mr Pike had hes­i­tated, but he was a man of busi­ness, and won­dered if a woman might be good for trade. He had Kizzie sing a carol.

“The mu­sic is all, in the end, Mis­tress Dock­rell,” he had said. “And you

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