THE St. Louis Speakeasy
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is a spider-child
 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2015 2:42 pm GMT 
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I'm not afraid.

The words crossed her mind but they stayed off her tongue. It stirred those old memories of the silent competition between herself and her brother, herself and her friends. The one between her and Magnus had been entirely one sided, and she imagined her brother hadn't really been very aware of her efforts to impress him, while the one with her friends had slowly grown along with them, become sophisticated, more subtle. She was losing that one, unofficially, what with her lack of fiancé, her lack of a proper goal, her supposed lack of ambition; the soft kind that was appropriate for a lady. But this particular challenge, the one that involved daring a house full of reptiles under the watchful eye of Ansel Vanderberg, was not one she was particularly inclined to take on just yet. It was a relief that he offered them both such an easy way out, all she needed to do was feign fear—

"We don't want to stand in the way of you enjoying yourself Veronika," Harald quickly said, at the same time starting to usher his wife forward.

"Definitely not! If you do not wish to go alone then perhaps we can come along," Louise interjected and stepped forward, leaving no other way for Veronika to go but in through the door. Once she was inside however, the two other Swedes yet again paused, lingering just outside the door, leaving that brief moment for her to respond. She was almost impressed. Apparently her relatives knew her better than she had thought, because she got the uncanny feeling that they knew how her thoughts would turn, and that she would rather suffer Ansel's company alone if it meant that she got away from their interference.

"... It's alright." Perhaps it came out a bit more sullenly than she would have wanted it to, but she put on a pleasant smile that she even had the courtesy to aim Ansel's way before she turned around to look around the building, her eyes slowly adjusting to the slightly dimmer light indoors compared to that outside. "I'm sure Mr. Vanderberg will make sure no snakes get to me. He's probably fought off one or two in the past."

"Oh. If you're sure." Harald sounded genuinely apologetic, even if he really wasn't. He glanced to his wife. "Then perhaps we will wait out here after all."

"I would hate to ruin it all by flinching at everything," Louise agreed.

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 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Sun Oct 25, 2015 8:41 pm GMT 
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"Oh, I--hm. Well! It's decided then." A brief, polite smile flickered across Ansel's face. Keenly feeling the gaze of the older generation, he offered Veronika his elbow. Turning back to address Louise and Harald, he added, "The exit can be found at the back of the building. If you'd like to wait and meet us as we come out, I seem to recall there being benches. I doubt we'll be long."

As little as he wanted to be shunted off alone with Veronika, he wanted to stay with her aunt and uncle even less. So as soon as the plans were settled, he immediately opened the door and guided his youngest guest inside.

The interior of the Reptile House was, like the outside, state of the art. It was a little warmer than the outside, too, as many of the reptiles had heat lamps placed specifically in their exhibits to help them remain active and make for more interesting viewing. The Reptile House had been around just long enough that its novelty had worn off for most local zoo-goers. On a day like today, it was even more sparsely populated than the rest of the zoo, with only a handful of scattered visitors in groups of two or three. As soon as they had turned the first corner, out of sight of the entrance, Ansel breathed what was unmistakably a sigh of relief. And while he didn't exactly pull his arm away from Veronika's grip, he relaxed it so that she could easily release her hold on him, should she choose to do so.

"Well, we walked right into that one, I suppose," he said as they drew to a halt on a walkway above a small turtle pond.

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is a spider-child
 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Mon Oct 26, 2015 1:02 pm GMT 
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Being able to take being surprised was not something Veronika excelled in, and she was still feeling a touch on edge from having been blind-sided by her relatives' unexpected unexpected ability of manipulate the situation when Ansel betrayed that he was not as blissfully oblivious as she had suspected he might be. Because she was beginning to feel a bit too much like a pawn on a board she took the opportunity to take her hand back from his arm a touch too abruptly, but did so under the acceptable pretence of stepping forward to inspect the turtles and then the carvings that adorned the pillars supporting the ceiling. She chose to not respond straight away, and instead let her eyes keep wandering for a few moments before settling them on her company again. While she so far had largely stuck to the role of the quiet and soft young woman she was supposed to be there was a slightly more openly inspecting element to her eyes now; that, or the naturally sloping line of her mouth was simply fooling you in to thinking her more sombre than she really was.

"It was rather inevitable," she then finally agreed. It felt a bit strange, because so far she had been rather stuck in her own thoughts on the matter and mostly focused on her own feelings about it, which in turn had bled in to the conclusions she had drawn regarding Ansel's behaviour. To have what she had thought was an elephant that only she could see in the room be pointed out made her feel strangely embarrassed, but if it was on her own or her aunt and uncle's behalf she wasn't sure, but it made her unsure if she should continue on the same topic or just go back to ignoring it. It was certainly the easier thing to do, to just go back to pretending neither of them knew about the campaign they were both subject to, but there was also an opportunity here that if taken might make her stay in the man's house a lot easier. There was a time to be subtle and uncontroversial, and others when it was best to be pragmatic and to the point.

"They have been waiting for that chance all day. They used to be stricter about leaving a chaperone, so I admit to being a bit caught off guard."

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 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Mon Oct 26, 2015 2:39 pm GMT 
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"I hope you won't hold it against me if I speak frankly, Miss Falck."

As he spoke, he didn't look at her directly. He kept his eyes on the slow, steady movement of the turtles. It calmed him. Here, away from the trappings of his staff and the imposed discomfort of his visiting relatives, some of his superficial cartoonish qualities fell away. When left to his own devices to discuss serious matters--matter-of-factly, as though speaking to an equal--he seemed less a caricature of the explorer-naturalist, and more of... well, a human being. This was the person society so rarely allowed him to be: level-headed, candid, direct. If Veronika had wondered before how anyone so apparently flighty as Ansel Vanderberg could survive, much less lead an expedition, into the heart of untamed wilderness, his present demeanor would begin to answer that question. This was a side of him which Akku, who'd spent his whole life in civilized America, had never seen. The boy had judged him accordingly.

"You seem to be a very sharp young woman. I assume you know, or have surmised, why our families have conspired to bring us together in such a fashion. No doubt you have many fine qualities, so I implore you not to take offense when I say I'm not interested in a wife." Although his gaze stayed riveted to the exhibit, his brow was furrowed and the expression on his face was very far away. "For a while, I was very much in love; my family would never have accepted--or indeed acknowledged--her, and then she died. Some time ago now. Believe me when I say it's no slight to you, so much as my..."

A pause. His frown deepened. "I lost something irreplaceable, do you understand? And while I appreciate the concerns of my dear family," he added, in a tone which lightly implied that he neither appreciated their concerns nor considered them particularly dear, "I cannot and will not cheapen my loss by attempting to fill that hole as though it never existed."

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Last edited by i_heart_dvorak on Tue Oct 27, 2015 7:31 pm GMT, edited 1 time in total.

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is a spider-child
 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2015 12:52 pm GMT 
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Veronika could feel the budding discomfort grow, spread unease in her body; that particular kind that came out when you started to actually speak to someone for the first time, someone who as a stranger and who you weren't sure you were ready to not be one. It was only magnified by this new side of Ansel. It wasn't a shock that this conversation would come about, one way or another it would eventually have become impossible to avoid it, but Veronika was realizing now that she hadn't expected Ansel to be not only the one who brought it up but also that he would do so with such calm. Stoicism wasn't something she would have put past him, or indeed a bit of nervous coughing and awkward phrasing, but instead he was being every bit the adult that she hadn't thought he could be, and it was making her feel very naïve.

As Ansel spoke, Veronika merely nodded at first, before he mentioned the death of his lover. The almost sharp look in her clear eyes softened with momentary surprise before they were averted when empathy settled. When asked if she understood she knew that the question was rhetorical, but none the less she had to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that her response would either be a lie, or a disappointment; she had no idea what a loss like that could feel like. It only served to make her feel even younger, and more embarrassed, because suddenly it was as though her own reasons for being so adverse to marriage to just about anyone were trivial compared to his, even if it in reality wasn't too different. While Ansel thought of love lost she thought of love she hadn't felt yet, and while she knew she wasn't enough of a romantic to be holding out for a Mr. Right she wouldn't have minded to feel something other than dread when she couldn't keep dodging anymore.

"I'm very sorry to hear that. About your... partner, that is." She wet her lips slightly, and like him she kept her focus now on the turtles. One of them was peering back up at them, almost as though it was a bit displeased to have an audience as it slowly crawled across a rock. "I understand perfectly that you aren't interested, and while I of course wish it was for a different reason I have to say I am... a bit relieved. If you don't mind me being frank as well."

At this point the turtle seemed to have decided that haughtily ignoring the gawking, two-legged specimens lingering by its enclosure and had settled down on the warm rock, pointedly staring in the opposite direction from them. Veronika did the opposite and instead turned towards Ansel, her shoulders now a little bit less tense and her head daring to be a bit more lifted; it came easier when someone was speaking to her like an equal. The unease had also receded some now that she had gotten to talking herself, and the young woman's practical side was kicking in to try and draw this business to a conclusion.

"I'm not looking for a husband any more than you are looking for a wife so it is quite... calming to hear we are on the same page. But I would ask for a favour, which is that this could perhaps stay between you and I, Mr. Vanderberg." While there wasn't even a hint of a plea in her voice her expression was now a bit more troubled, Ansel's frown being echoed on her forehead. "I didn't come to St. Louis on a whim, and I worry that if my relatives hear that you are not interested in me I will not have time to do what I set out to before they insist we leave. My parents might even demand I need to come back home." This, she hoped was something that would hit close to home for Ansel himself. She wasn't really worried that her parents would call her home, but she imagined that a chord would be struck with her present company and that it would make him more likely to go along with her scheme.

"If you could bear it for a little while longer, I would be very grateful."

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2015 8:03 pm GMT 
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He inclined his head in simple acknowledgment, adding a brief, "Of course. You can rely on my absolute discretion."

However, it seemed there was still something on his mind. As such, the silence which descended upon them was an uneasy one. The turtles' stubborn refusal to make themselves interesting was not helping the situation. Thus far, Miss Falck had taken his candor in stride, a fact which relieved him immensely. But although he felt the necessity to proceed, he had the vague suspicion he was about to cross a line.

"There is... one other thing. From what I've seen of your family, they don't intend to let you alone until they've found you a suitable match. My family is the same, with additional mania brought on by twenty years of feverish impatience. You, of course, have every right to a husband who will cherish you as you deserve. However, should you find yourself running short on options, we might consider making an arrangement. You would, of course, be provided for, and absolutely free to spend your time as you chose, with no expectation of... marital duties, or indeed duties of any kind beyond an occasional social appearance to appease our respective families. In a typical year, I spend six to nine months out of the country. You would be free to consort with whoever you liked, and live here or elsewhere at your pleasure and convenience. In short, we would be married in name only. You would have your freedom, and I would have mine."

For the first time since he'd begun to speak, he glanced over to look at her directly. From the initial hesitation in his voice, it had seemed almost as though he might be embarrassed. His face, however, showed only the same calm, neutral expression. He appeared composed and very mature: the very image of a classic society gentleman, were it not for the utterly scandalous nature of the offer he'd just made. He half-expected Veronika to slap him and storm away.

Before she would have the chance to reply, he added quickly, "I realize, of course, that as far as marriage proposals go, it's about the most abysmal history has ever seen. And I don't expect a reply, now or in the near future. I simply wished to mention it, largely as a contingency plan should your circumstances necessitate some sort of... concession."

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is a spider-child
 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Sun Nov 01, 2015 10:52 am GMT 
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Veronika actually let slip a genuine smile when Ansel agreed to keep this between the two of them. If he'd had the decency to end it there she would most likely have held on to that for the rest of the day, but the more words that passed his lips the more the corners of hers fell. Some took pride in being able to control their expressions but for Veronika it was something she had learned to do without really knowing she had; it was a natural thing in her family, in her society, to not let everything slip. But this was more than her instinctive self-control could cope with, and as the smile fell her eyes widened, and while Ansel was avoiding eyecontact she now openly stared at him in disbelief.

Married in name only. Provided for. Running out of options. His words dug in to her stomach rather than her heart, making her feel vaguely nauseous. It wasn't as bad as it could be really, it could be some half-hearted attempt at making a business proposal in to something romantic, make it sound like something it was not. A marriage of this nature was of course not unheard of, and was a thought she had entertained, and dismissed because it left a sordid taste in her mouth. In theory they would indeed be free, finally their families would be satisfied, and quiet. For a while at least, Veronika knew that her parents would not stop at marriage, they wanted more than that from her; because her brother was unlikely to bring forth either a wife or children she was supposed to pick up the slack. While that could be explained, avoided, excused, they were still not free. "Free to consort with whoever you like" he'd said, putting it nicely that he didn't care what she did, or with who, but that was not what it meant to be free. There was an entire world that was planning on judging them both if they didn't hide it, hide how they were choosing to lead their lives. It wasn't allowed to flaunt that the marriage you were living in was a sham, it was one of the holiest illusions of their society, that it was always a perfect union.

"I... what are you..." She was lost for words and didn't realize she had been talking until she had fallen silent again. If Ansel had looked like a deer caught in the headlights the previous night it was certainly Veronika's turn now, and you could almost see the panic bubbling in the dip between her collar bones where her pulse was showing under the skin, ticking away. It took a few heart-beats before she had composed herself and she looked back to the turtles. Her hands had clenched at her sides, crumpling he fabric of the dress she hadn't wanted to wear between her fingers, and she forced them to relax together with her face. Return to a state of normality.

"I think I would like to go outside again, Mr. Vanderberg."

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 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2015 9:31 pm GMT 
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"Yes. Yes, of course," he said, and clamped his mouth shut. These days, one heard all sorts of chatter about the free-wheeling ways of younger generations. Ansel did his best to ignore it, of course, but he'd nonetheless gotten the impression from somewhere that these days, young women in particular were wholly unconcerned with the strictures of contemporary morality. So much for that.

For his own part, Ansel wasn't exactly eager to rush into a commitment of any sort, much less a marriage of convenience. Still, he admired her spirit and thought that, while he didn't feel any strong or immediate attraction, over time he could become quite fond of her. Their coexistence, he suspected, would be an easy one, thanks in a large part to her independence. That was perhaps the single most important quality he valued in a woman.

He led her briskly past the snakes and the little crocodile pool. They were nearly through the lizards before he stopped again, abruptly. This time he turned to face her, the hand on her arm giving just the slightest tug to suggest that she should stop as well.

"Miss Falck, before we go outside--" But before he could speak, a blast of wind and energy swept past them in the form of a group of schoolboys. They crowded immediately around a large, glassed-in enclosure on the opposite side of the hall, pressing their faces to the window and rapping noisily against the glass. Ansel swallowed a long-suffering sigh, his face an epitome of barely-contained distaste. He looked over his shoulder at the jostling crowd of children, apparently unaccompanied by adults, then back to Veronika, then back to the boys. Clearly there was some sort of inner struggle playing out in him.

His biologist's instincts, it seemed, won out.

"Excuse me for a moment, Miss Falck." Without waiting for a reply, he spun sharply and strode across the hall. "Boys! Boys! Stop that, you mustn't-- Don't--"

He might as well have been invisible. The children continued shouldering closer to the exhibit, smearing popcorn-grease handprints on the glass as they tapped and knocked, trying to provoke some reaction from the creature within. For an instant his shoulders slumped: the very picture of an impotent middle-aged gentleman completely out of his depth. And then--

"BOYS." Shoving to the front of the small crowd, he grabbed a few children by their collars and bodily hauled them back until they appeared to get the message. "What the devil's got into you?" There was a harshness in his voice that seemed to command the children's attention. For a moment it seemed he was about to give them a fierce scolding. Instead, his volume dropped back to normal, although his gaze stayed sharply focused on the kids, scanning the front row in particular. In his eyes was a dangerous sort of look, the kind that dared anyone to try anything. For the most part, being shouted at by an unknown adult in fine clothes was enough to bring them to a momentary standstill.

"Would you like it if a crowd of giant lizards came to tap and scream at your window?" The kids shuffled awkwardly and exchnged sidelong glances. Ansel flashed a brief, humorless smile to show that he'd been joking, and it was permissible to show some amusement. "Now you may not be aware, but this is only the fifth ever Komodo dragon to live in captivity. So we want him to live a good, long life, because people come from all over the country to see him and learn about his species. See, he's not looking at you--because you don't interest him. He was fed earlier this morning. If he starts to look at you, it's because you're about the right size and shape for his dinner."

Just then, a pair of nuns swept around the corner, strolling at a leisurely pace. Ansel's eyes snapped from the children to the nuns. Immediately he disengaged from the crowd and peeled away, heading straight for the nuns at a purposeful clip. The boys, on hearing that they resembled the creature's dinner, had inched back a bit--still closer than Ansel would have liked, but at least they weren't touching the glass anymore.

"Sister. Sister," he began, nodding once to each nun in turn. Then he pointed to the school group. "Are these yours?" Without waiting for a reply, he forged on. "...because they are an absolute menace to the sensitive species. Screaming? Pounding on the glass? Those boys are completely out of control. The disrespect they've shown towards animal life is, quite frankly, appalling. Virtually every man on the Board of Directors is a personal friend, and it is well within my ability to have you and every one of your classes banned from this zoo for life. Do I make myself clear?"

The nuns stared at him, goggle-eyed, their mouths slightly ajar. One of them started to protest, but before she could say anything, Ansel cut her off with a brief, cheerful "Have a fine rest of the day, ladies," and walked away.

When he returned to Veronika's side, he heaved a sigh and ran a hand over his face. "I apologize for the interruption. I'm sorry, what were we talking about a moment ago?"

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 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Thu Dec 24, 2015 4:05 pm GMT 
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Veronika didn't really need to force herself to let the animals they passed distract her. As with the fireflies the previous night it was easy to think the creatures fascinating, and some even striking or beautiful, when they were housed behind a pane of glass and unlikely to be of any danger. As they walked, she was painfully aware of Ansel' presence next to her, and the silence that hung around her, and while she wasn't feeling that one of those crocodiles they passed would be better company she truly wouldn't have minded to have a few minutes to herself. It felt as though she needed a moment alone to let her brain arrange its processes again and put them back in to order; mostly she just needed to mull over the strange and unexpected offer and figure out how to play that new card, or if it was best to just put it aside, face down, for the time being. Unlike her brother Veronika didn't care for quick analyses under pressure even if she was just as good as he was at making them.

When Ansel spoke again the young woman kept her face calm and collected as she glanced over, but inside she was putting up her guard again when he was suddenly distracted by the children. She looked over to them, but weren't as obviously affected by them as Ansel had been. Usually she didn't spend any time around children because of their ability to make her uncomfortable, and because there was not really any reason for her to. This particular brand of children, the loud and boisterous kind, was not any adult's favourite and thus not Veronika's either, but ignoring them would have been her tactic rather than confronting them. She couldn't really lie, when she was that age she was probably just as obnoxious and she had put both one or two animals through torment; unintentional, well-meaning and childish torment, but none the less. Her first pony had endured hours of having its mane and tail braided, of a chubby and inexperienced little princes bouncing in the saddle in sheer excitement, and a whole range of stable cats and family dogs had been put through being swaddled and placed in doll's beds and clothing, or in general having her presence forced upon them.

Ansel's decision to actually take care of the situation, not just verbally, came as a surprise that was as big as the almost-proposal had been. Veronika's eyes widened a little as she stood where she had been left, hands still clasped before her. He had definitely not seemed like the type to want to have anything to do with children and would avoid it however possible, but not only did he reprimand them he actually got them to stop, and then moved on to give their care takers a taste of the same medicine.

When he returned, the young woman was still staring at him, as though he was one of the exotic reptiles personified and had suddenly stepped straight out of its cage. She finally blinked when he spoke to her, his voice a great deal less authoritative again, and that short movement of her eyelids woke up the rest of her from her shock.

"... I wouldn't suggest displaying such passion in front of my relatives. Or, perhaps you should, because they would likely be as surprised as those school boys."

A short "hah" left her and a still slightly confused smile rose on her lips as she took her eyes off him and set them on the Komodo dragon which seemed even less interested in the children now, who were all whispering insecurely amongst themselves now.

"I don't know what we were talking about. You didn't finish saying what you were about to say."

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 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Wed Dec 30, 2015 5:55 pm GMT 
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"Hah, well." He ran a weary hand over his eyes and looked away, staring at nothing in particular. "Brought it back myself from the East Indies. I admit that this--" He indicated the cage and the children who still lingered to gawk "--was not quite what I had in mind. I can't help but feel somewhat responsible."

He removed his hat just long enough to smooth back his hair before replacing it on his head. When he turned back to face her, hands flattening the lapels of his coat and returning them to their original pristine state, he appeared to have recovered his composure.

"Ah, indeed. What I had meant to say was: Forgive me if I shocked or offended you. I've spent a good many years in societies a bit more... hm, 'freewheeling' than ours, and I suffer the occasional lapse... Forget that what's perfectly acceptable in Tahiti might scandalize a well-bred lady in Saint Louis. Or indeed, vice versa." He shrugged and offered a vaguely apologetic smile. "In short: Forget I said anything."

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 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Fri Jan 01, 2016 3:05 pm GMT 
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Veronika raised a delicate eyebrow. "What else could you have had in mind for it then? Keep it on your wall? I'd say it seems happier where it is now compared to that fate."

Lowering her eyes again she took to being reminded of the proposal-of-sorts with a great deal of composure. She wet her lips, and took a few moment to sort out her thoughts a bit before reacting this time, because while Ansel did give her a much appreciated opportunity to just let it drop for good she did still feel as though it required more consideration, and perhaps a touch of frankness. Ansel's acting out had rattled her from what might have descended in to a maelstrom of self-pity and a feeling of things being a bit unfair, and given her a chance to calm down a bit. There was no need to panic over it. Yet.

"To be honest, Mr. Vanderberg, you'll have to try harder than that to shock me." After lightly brushing some imaginary dust from the skirt of her dress she again clasped her hands in front of herself and breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth with the outmost discretion. When she looked up at Ansel now she found that he didn't feel quite as intimidating now as he had just a few minutes ago which gave her the confidence to press on.

"So, as far as being 'scandalous' goes... I would perhaps instead say it was... 'unexpected'. I hadn't thought you would suggest it now, I have after all hardly been here for more than 24 hours." The tone threatened to get a bit accusatory there, but when she lifted her chin a little and regarded her current company she did so without anger in the blue eyes. "I'm flattered that you think you could bear my presence enough to make an arrangement like it. But I'm not a little girl or some... character out of a novel. I think first and act after, and I'm not done thinking. There's more to it than wearing a ring and getting my parents to stop nagging. I've considered arrangements like it before, and I find them a touch... cynical."

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 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Sun Jan 17, 2016 11:31 am GMT 
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He was about to protest her sarcasm. Actually, he'd thought capturing the Komodo Dragon offered a unique opportunity for the study of a creature only recently discovered by the western world. He'd been born in the midst of a paleontological heyday in America, and an entirely new take on the discipline had been kicked off by Darwin's theories on evolution and the origins of species. As a young boy, his love of bugs had been second only to a fascination with dinosaurs. The first time he'd laid eyes on a Komodo Dragon, then, it was only natural he'd immediately thought of the evolutionary implications. Ansel was of the opinion that these enormous, carnivorous lizards were the closest thing to a living dinosaur. Though he tended to regard popular culture with healthy disdain, he'd gone along with everyone else to see The Lost World when it hit theaters. The prospect of a living specimen had thrilled him, and he'd brought it back with a specific recipient, a New York paleontological society, in mind. Paleontologist after paleontologist had balked at taking on the Komodo Dragon, generally once they found out about its venomous bite. In the end, only the zoo had remained. With reluctance, he had handed it over--on the condition that the zoo build a new reptile house to mark the occasion.

None of that, however, was Veronika's concern. Besides, Ansel didn't particularly care what she thought of him beyond the ordinary, superficial desire to make a good impression.

Cynical. Hah.

"Is there really?" His tone was polite, if a little dry. "Much more to marriage, I mean. I've been all over the world, Miss Falck, and seen marriage ceremonies from the Arctic to the Congo. Forgive me if I sound presumptuous, but from everything I've learned and observed, humans are contract-makers by nature. The particulars may differ from place to place, but it seems to me that marriage is, in short, the ultimate contract. Go north, and you'd be expected to butcher the walruses I brought home to the igloo. Go east, you'd hide your face from other men and tend goats while I rode around on a camel and battled other tribes for water rights. In the African colonies, I'd swap your father for a herd of my best cattle. Or paint my face yellow and win your hand dancing. Still, it's a marriage. And it's not as easy to escape as I would've liked to believe."

He shrugged and looked away, suddenly very interested in the buttons on his coat cuff. "A diamond ring and peace of mind isn't the worst deal in the world."

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 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Mon Jan 25, 2016 12:18 pm GMT 
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The thought of Ansel going to the very business minded Bernard Falck and offering him a pack of animals (probably some exotic kind given Ansel's interests) in exchange for his daughter would usually have made her want to laugh, but not right now. Not even the thought that someone would dare entrust her with even the lives of goats was enough to make her think of this as funny. It was actually getting annoying because now it felt like he thought she was stupid for not understanding what a good idea this was, and what was worse was that she couldn't deny that he was in a way right; it wasn't the worst deal in the world. Not the worst deal, but perhaps not the best either, her own business-orientated side told her, and it meant giving up quite a lot in an exchange for getting her parents off her back; she wasn't yet sure if that weighed heavier than leaving her home, what friends she had, the world where she had grown up.

"Is this the first time you offer someone a ring and peace of mind?" The corners of her lips were naturally set quite low, so her neutral expression usually appeared a bit more morose than she really was; now however they were firmly pulled down in an expression of unease. "Usually women aren't very impressed by being offered a business deal."

Her own words, while meant as a bit of a barb, had raised her hackles a little because she suddenly realized that this might indeed not be the first time Ansel tried something like this. Perhaps he had offered others, and they had the good sense to turn him down because they knew something she didn't, which would mean she was perhaps not a second choice, or even a third, but simply an opportunity passing by; a cat pawing at a ball of yarn simply because it happened to come within reach. Even her usually rather tolerant pride got nicked at the edge at that thought.

"If my father ever taught me anything, then it would be that there's always fine print in a contract, Mr. Vanderberg." The young woman was now making a conscious effort to reign in her temperament and stay the proper, composed young lady that she was expected to be. "Now, if we must discuss this here, at a zoo," here she paused to give a pointed look to him, and then the small groups of people milling about, leaving the sentence hanging a moment in the hopes that he would take the hint and leave this be for now, because suddenly her words were starting to sound as though she was actually considering his offer. "Then I can say I'm not inclined to agree to something without reading that fine print."

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 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2016 8:42 pm GMT 
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"Quite so."

He thought it best to leave her question unanswered. Say yes, and she would no doubt envision herself as one of a long line of eligible young women who'd turned him down in disgust. Say no, and she would ask herself why he'd chosen to ask her, of all people--whether she seemed an especially sad marriage prospect, or just a likely dupe. In truth, it simply hadn't occurred to him until his relatives had begun twisting the screws, so to speak.

Based contentedly out of a stylish--if eccentric--home in New York City, he'd passed long months living abroad in a state of numb complacency. In general, he'd never lacked for companionship; he'd found comfort in the arms of native women on nearly every continent, whether for a single night or a period as long as several months. It was only in the past year or so that he'd begun to feel societal and above all familial pressures like a gradually tightening noise about his neck. He'd come home from Malaysia to find his New York property occupied by a fifty-something year old opera singer. Storming into his brother's office, still gaunt from a bout with malaria, he'd demanded an explanation and been coolly informed that, in his absence, the family had decided it would be best for everyone if Ansel were relocated to Saint Louis, from whence he could oversee one of the Vanderberg shipping hubs.

In short, he was grounded. And while Edmund had never explicitly stated just what would be required to regain some measure of his freedom, Ansel has reason to strongly suspect that marriage was the first step down that road. Still, the simple fact of the matter was that his lifestyle brought him into contact with very few eligible women, and even less who might be considered suitable by his family. Veronika represented his first chance at a reasonably painless solution. He'd at least thought it necessary to ask.

They were approaching the doors at the far end of the Reptile House. As before, Ansel stepped ahead to open the door for Veronika. Before he did so, however, he paused and turned to her with one brow raised.

"Knowing that a great deal of scrutiny is headed our way in the next few minutes... Ought I to adopt a particular facial expression or demeanor? I defer to your judgment."

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 Post subject: Re: Columbus [dvorak]
PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2016 11:25 am GMT 
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Veronika was pleased that Ansel saw that this was neither the time nor the place to continue this conversation, and could thus follow his lead towards the door feeling a little bit more at ease. The matter of what impression to give her relatives was one she had given little to no thought, nor did she really think that one course of action would be better than another; if he looked pleased who knew what they might start telling her parents, and if he looked displeased she wouldn't hear the end of it. It was perhaps a bit defeatist, or cynical, of her but Veronika had rather given up on her relatives being anything but one-track-minded marriage-mongers, or indeed that it would matter much what impression she gave to them.

"It's kind of you to try," she said, unable to truly express gratitude as she was still a bit cross with him for having come dangerously close to making this unbearably complicated, not to mention that it didn't sit well with her to be reminded of that how her evening played out relied entirely on if he smiled or not. In truth, he could turn the situation whichever way he wanted, following nothing but his own whims. The more jovial he seemed during their stay in America, the greater the chances were of her family bullying her in to marriage, and if she had managed to cross him he could simply frown and it would only be a matter of time before she was called back home. This didn't occur to Veronika, luckily, mostly because she didn't think Ansel much of a social mastermind, but also because she didn't think him cruel. If he had wanted to he could simply have written her father and proposed the marriage, and thus Veronika would be an irrelevant factor in the equation; Direktör Falck was as pragmatic as he was impatient and unreasonable, and the only reason Veronika was not yet married was because so far all her suitors had the good taste to be gentlemen and ask her first.

"But I'm afraid it's a lost cause, Mr. Vanderberg. They will make up their own minds no matter what, and they will gladly inform me of their thoughts later. I'd say it's fair you should know that you are being talked about in your own home."

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