Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Best-Loved Passenger on the Titanic

1912, was a very bad year. And they kept getting worse, after that. 1911, on the other hand, held some personal satisfaction. But one minute you're on the bow of a luxury liner with Adele yelling "I'm on top of the world," and the next - you have a horrible enough time to make a ripping yarn of it.

The Bear assumes the Hagenbeck family needs no introduction. The Bear was performing in his animal act in Germany. Now at this time, animal acts in Europe were what is known as En Douceur. The Bear, would placidly create a tableaux with a beautiful woman languidly draped over him. That's it. (This was before he met Red Death, of course.) 

The Bear realized the girl (her name was Adele) was the star. The Bear just added a frisson of menace to what amounted to a high-toned girly show. He might as well have been stuffed. (In fact, call the Bear paranoid, but it was just a matter of time before Herr Hagenbeck realized he could save a lot on horse meat, although that is probably unfair to the old gentleman.) The Bear let Adele in on his little secret. 

Together, we planned a surprise for Herr Hagenbeck and the audience. One we figured would be far more entertaining.

And thus did the Bear and Adele introduce the act En Ferocit√©, which created first alarm, then a sensation in all the capitals of Europe. But there were other sensations, not so entertaining.

The German gunboat Panther docked in Morocco, causing the Agadir Crisis. Italy was at war with Turkey. Europe, as the Bear well knew, had always been a tinderbox, and the Bear seemed always to be the one to first get his fur singed. Of course, the Kaiser knew all about the Bear. The Bear had a feeling that if the zeppelin went up, the Bear would be pressed into doing who knows what. (Give a human a talking Bear and his imagination runs wild.)

In short, the Bear was a' sniffin' at the air, and smelled cordite.

Adele - somehow - had a sizable nest egg, and a determined Bear can always come up with a few marks. So we booked passage for the April sailing of the newest, fastest and safest ship of the Cunard line: the RMS Titanic. The Americans would love our act. (Needless to say, our relationship was nearly strictly professional.)

While the Bear languished below decks in a cage, Adele, on the strength of her sparkling personality, was making friends among the toffs. She did not forget her partner, fortunately, in light of subsequent events. It was not long before the Bear was receiving a steady stream of wealthy and famous passengers. He was quickly set free, and was undoubtedly the best-loved passenger on the Titanic. 

The best-loved passenger on the Titanic. The Bear thinks he has the title for his memoirs.

Of course you know the rest. The Bear has every reason to believe Adele made it into a lifeboat. (She was that kind of girl, bless her heart of gold.) Unfortunately, the Bear was also by far the biggest passenger on the Titanic, and he was not welcome in any of the lifeboats.

Why haven't you heard of this before? The Bear's voyage was eclipsed by bigger news, sadly.

It was the only time the Bear wished he were a dim-witted, seal-breathed, antifreeze-blooded polar Bear instead of a magnificent ursus arctos. Fortunately, there happened to be a large iceberg close by that he was able to reach before succumbing to the cold. However, whatever the thermal opposite of "out of the frying pan and into the fire" is, that was where he was.

As luck would have it, shortly after sunrise, the Bear spotted a small, odd ship, low in the water. The Bear stood on his hind legs and began waving his arms; dancing; goose-stepping back and forth; whatever he could think of to communicate that he was a sentient being in need of assistance. Finally, he dove into the cold water and swam toward the odd vessel, crying "Help me!" in several languages.

After deciding not to shoot the mad beast who was treading water off the starboard bow, yelling that he was a German citizen whose rescue was required by the law of the sea (he did not know this, but it sounded plausible) they brought him aboard Unterseeboot U 2 of the Kaiserliche Marine. (You had me at the goose-stepping, probably.)

The Bear got as far as the deck, there being no way for him to fit through the hatches of the ridiculous vessel. The captain saw to it that the Bear was as comfortable as possible, but he had a miserable voyage back to Germany. Someone let slip that the entire thing could sail underwater, which, at that time, the Bear thought was a joke.

And if it wasn't a joke, the Bear thought, it would never catch on. 

And that is how the Bear survived the sinking of the Titanic, and was rescued by an experimental German U boat, on a training voyage shadowing the British luxury liner. And found himself in Germany at the outbreak of WWI. (His adventures would result in being awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class, as well as the Hero of the Bolshevik Revolution, as related elsewhere. Now, considering the Bear practically won the war on the Eastern Front for Germany single-pawedly, he asks the reader: Iron Cross Second Class?  Seriously?)

The Bear is certain there is a point to this more than irony. He supposes it is that, like Jonah, you cannot sail away from your fate. Also, there is a time for even a Bear to be En Douceur, but especially to exhibit a completely unexpected talent.


  1. Years ago my nephew and I saw a museum exhibit about the Titanic. Each attendee was given a ticket with the name of one of the actual passengers on the liner. I went down with the ship.

    1. Thanks! That sounds like fun. At least to a Bear. Did you know only the first-class passengers got embalmed? A close call for the Bear.

  2. This is an awesome story, Bear.

    May you achieve your justly deserved glory by winning an Edgar for Judging Angels!


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