P. T. Barnum had always had an affinity for the extraordinary, and Jenny Lind was no exception. The first time he was graced by her singing, he could have sworn he felt something in his heart shift. His wife had taken issue with the way he looked at Jenny, but he had assured her it was nothing but business. What the Prince Of Humbug failed to mention to his dear Charity was that show business is quite an intimate business. After all, how could two people such as Barnum and Jenny deny the attraction they felt for one another when they spent so many nights alone together?
Jenny loved performing around America, and Barnum loved showing her America. The joy on her face after each performance as the crowd gave her a standing ovation only made him happier to be doing it all. Town after town flew by, the pair becoming accustomed to sharing a seat on the train and falling asleep together. They fell into a beautiful, almost loving balance, not as the ringleader and his dazzling main event, but as two human beings with respect and admiration for one another. Barnum connected to something in her that simply wasn’t present in his wife and Jenny adored a part of him that none of her famous suitors had. They had both spent their lives searching for someone who shared their ambition to better themselves and have everything.
Barnum, of course, fought his feelings, repressing them to where he could almost say honestly that he did not, in any capacity, have romantic or sexual feelings for Jenny Lind. He distracted himself from her by focusing on his daughters and how dearly he missed them. He bought them presents when he could, sent letters home when he couldn’t. Despite this, he struggled to focus on the task at hand: helping Jenny’s career. Cincinnati was the worst. She smiled at him before singing a new song, one that was partially in Swedish. The English portion told him all he needed to know.
“Love knows no rules, love has no time, love makes such fools of us all,” Jenny’s voice carried the sentiment to the world, but more specifically, to Barnum. His stomach dropped but his heart soared. He had a wife he loved deeply, but she was hundreds of miles away from him. When he walked out after Jenny’s performance to bow with her, she pulled him to her and kissed him. At that exact moment, every camera shutter in the room went off, capturing it.
“What the hell was that?” Barnum whispered, furious and mildly aroused. Jenny said nothing, turning to the audience with the widest smile she had ever had.
There was a tense silence between Barnum and Jenny as they left the theatre and returned to their hotel. Due to financial struggles, the two always shared a room. Almost every night, it was fine with the both of them, but as Barnum sat on the small couch watching Jenny brush her hair while wearing only her black slip and a robe, he regretted the arrangement.
“What you did on stage tonight… That was very inappropriate, Jenny,” Barnum managed, tearing his eyes away from her. She smiled in the mirror as she set her hairbrush down. He had no choice but to watch as she turned around and stared him down with those enchanting blue eyes.
“Don’t lie to yourself, Phineas. We were practically made for each other. It isn’t hard to tell you have feelings for me.” Jenny stood and approached Barnum. He felt his mouth go dry as he attempted to make excuses. She sat down beside him, legs crossed.
“Jenny, my wife-”
“Your wife isn’t here, Phineas. I am.” Jenny placed her hand on Barnum’s chest, feeling his heart beat furiously under her touch. She looked into his dark eyes as she shifted closer. Barnum swallowed hard and tried to object, to tell her to stop.
“I love my wife. I love my children. I love my family,” Barnum insisted, though he didn’t move from Jenny’s touch. She chuckled softly at his words.
“Are you trying to convince me or yourself, Phineas?” Jenny inquired, her hand moving down his torso.
“I can’t do this. Not here, not with you.” Barnum shifted slightly, looking down at the ground.
“Can’t or won’t? There is a difference, you know,” Jenny said gently, using her free hand to tilt Barnum’s chin so that he was looking at her. His pupils were heavily dilated and his breathing was strained.
“Can’t,” Barnum whispered. Jenny raised an eyebrow.
“Do you want me, Phineas?” Jenny asked quietly, leaning closer.
“I can’t do this.”
“Do you want me?” Jenny repeated, her face inching closer to Barnum’s. Barnum nodded softly.
“Use those famous words of yours, Phineas,” Jenny purred. Barnum sighed, finally giving in.
“Jenny, I want you more than I have ever wanted anyone or anything. Your beauty rivals the stars and your voice is a blessing to all who hear it.” Barnum’s voice was shaky, scared. Jenny closed the gap between them, kissing him deeply. It was different from what had happened on the stage. It had more feeling, more heart. Yet, despite wanting to, Barnum couldn’t make himself return the gesture.
“Stop me if you really can’t do this.” Jenny slowly began unbuttoning Barnum’s vest, pressing a gentle kiss to his neck. He shifted his gaze down. Once his vest was removed, she began to work on the buttons of his trousers. Rather than remove them entirely, Jenny opted to leave them partially open and slide her hand down into his undergarments. Barnum’s breathing became even more heavily laboured.
“J-Jenny,” Barnum choked out as he felt her wrap her hand around him. She paused, looking at him, biting her lip.
“Do you want me to stop?” Jenny breathed. Barnum shook his head gently, leaning in and kissing Jenny. She began moving her hand again, returning the kiss passionately. It went on for some time, the room almost completely silent. Suddenly, Barnum grabbed Jenny’s wrist.
“No. We can’t do this. I can’t do this,” he insisted, pulling away from Jenny. He hastily stood and buttoned his trousers, then his vest. He swallowed the anger he felt at both her and himself. There were tears in his eyes. Jenny sighed, standing and going to the bathroom. She cleaned her hands before returning to Barnum.
“We could be perfect for each other, Phineas. You and I could rule the world.” She looked in the mirror. “We could have everything we ever wanted.”
“I want my wife, Jenny. I want my children.” Barnum was quiet for a moment. “In fact, I’m leaving tomorrow. I’m getting on the train and I am going home.”
“I love you, Phineas. I wasn’t certain until now, but… I love you.” Jenny’s confidence was almost gone and her guard was down.
“Oh, Jenny… Love makes such fools of us all.”