'Everybody knows her, you just said so yourself.'
'But I don't know her personal- '
'She's a person!'
Jenny turned back curiously, and they fell silent. The younger man stepped closer and unwillingly nodded.
‘Miss Lind, my name is Philip Carlyle, and' – he looked at his companion, embarrassed and blaming – ‘this extraordinary gentleman next to me is – ‘
‘Phineas Taylor Barnum, the pleasure is mine.' He kissed the woman’s hand and looked into her eyes. Jenny has never seen such a wide smile before, except on little children's face. She hasn't seen a smile so natural since she left the continent. Only then realised she what he said.
‘Of course, you're the American, I believe I might have heard of you.'
He looked surprised.
‘Oh, well, if I'm heard of all the way over here, I must be doing something right.' Jenny couldn't decide whether he was joking or he was serious, so she replied in the same manner.
‘That, or something very wrong.' She remembered the headlines of the American newspapers, half of them praising, the other half cursing this man. She knew that all she had was this few minutes to make up her mind about him.
‘Hah, in the world of publicity there is hardly a difference.' He kept on smiling. He apparently enjoyed their little battle of words, after all, Jenny thought, that's the most exciting thing one can do here, in the English court.
‘I believe those are the words of a scoundrel, Mr Barnum.' Well, maybe this was too harsh, she thought.
‘A showman, Miss Lind, just a showman, the best on my side of the Atlantic.'
Oh, how he said "showman"! Serious, proud, enthusiastic! It brings such a joy, to see someone being enthusiastic about what they do, she wondered, and yet it is so rare.
‘If you just say so yourself.' She looked at him with as an apologising smile, offering peace.
‘I do,' he said proudly ‘but I don't have to.' He elbowed Carlyle's arm, who looked puzzled for a moment before he joined in.
‘Oh no, no, he is one of the best – ‘ It was like in a comedy. Jenny genuinely enjoyed this conversation more than any she had in the last two months since she was in England. An Englishman would never act this naturally, she thought.
‘That's very kind of you,' Barnum cut him off. ‘Miss Lind, let me get to the point. I'd like to take you to New York. And if you agree, I could make you the most famous singer not in Europe, but in the entire world.'
Now, that surprised her. New York. He would take her to New York, with this warm, wide smile, these sparkling eyes. He would take her to New York, just like that. However, an annoying voice inside her head warned her; what if that's just a business to him? She couldn't stand businessmen who don't even care what they're selling as long as someone is paying for it. Especially if that thing was her.
‘Ah, and have you heard me sing?' she tried to ask as carelessly as she could, although she felt like this particular answer was to decide everything.
‘Absolutely,' Carlyle replied at the same time, looking at Barnum. He tried to save this, us maybe, Jenny thought, but it was hopeless.
‘No, I haven't.' Mr Barnum raised his voice. ‘But like mine, your reputation precedes you, and I trust your reputation more than my own taste, so – ‘
Jenny couldn't help smiling. At that moment, she deeply understood the struggle of all journalists who had to form an opinion about Mr Barnum. When it comes to someone like him, so honest and straightforward the world can't judge. ‘What can I lose, after all?’ she thought.
‘I have never been to America,' she replied.
‘You'll sing in the grandest theatre with the finest orchestra in the greatest city on Earth. Jenny Lind, one night only. Maybe two.' I laughed, and that put him at ease. ‘And at twenty percent at the gate, it will be a queen's revenue for your reference.’
'I give most of my earnings to charity, Mr Barnum. To the orphans and widows.'
'Voice of a nightingale, a heart of an angel,' Philip said ceremoniously, as he was reading a poster. She rather just smiled politely.
'That's brilliant.' Barnum suddenly seemed very excited. 'I mean, the press will be crazy for that story.' Definitely one of those hateful businessmen, she thought, despite all the honesty and his handsome smile.
'Oh, that's not a story,' Jenny replied. She lifted her head and looked him in the eyes. 'May I ask you, Mr Barnum?'
'Anything.' He seemed a bit alarmed, yet those polite, willing eyes!
They both looked surprised. Barnum looked at her and she could see on his face that he was thinking hard, carefully choosing the right words to use.
'People come to my show for the pleasure of being houdinied.' he answered slowly 'Just once, I'd like to give them something real.'
And there was he, Jenny thought. Finally, the masks had fallen off. It wasn't really the money he cared about. It was to give something to the people, to this world. She smiled at him, relieved, happily. Oh no, he wasn't the businessman he pretended being only to earn a place in this world of the elite. He was really a showman.