Sing Your Heart Out
This uplifting story by Alison Carter is set in 18th-century London.
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