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The Inaugural (…and Presumably Ultimate) Gathering of the RMS Titanic’s Gentlemen of No Class

by Joe Deez 25 days ago in Historical · updated 13 days ago
Runner-Up in Ship of Dreams ChallengeRunner-Up in Ship of Dreams Challenge
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A Tragedy but with Jokes

"Music In New Orleans" by Francis Davis Millet

Bertram, a slim and handsome man, embraced his family one last time before members of the Titanic’s exasperated crew lowered the lifeboat into the icy ocean below. Through tears but with confidence, brave Bertram vowed to reunite with his beautiful wife Eva and their lovely children; nine-week-old Millvina and her older brother who could barely walk but proudly bore his father’s given name.

“Well, I’ll hope to see you a bit later,” Bertram said to his family with a smile.

As the sparsely populated lifeboat bobbed onward over the choppy water, Bertram kept his eyes longingly fixed on his young family. That was until he received a polite tap on his right shoulder.

“Pardon me, good sir,” said a voice with a deep southern, American drawl. “Would you mind joining me upwards toward the stern for a moment?”

Bertram turned to face the man. He was a portly fellow who sort of leaned into Bertram as he spoke. And he kept his hands cupped gently behind his back as he waited patiently for Bertram’s response.

“What might this be about?” Bertram asked with his head cocked high.

“Oh, nothing of any grave concern,” the man replied before giving out a geekish chuckle. “Or should I rather say, nothing more serious than the predicament we currently find ourselves in at the particular moment.”

Bertram stood puzzled. Why was this man engaging in conversation with him? Clearly this was a first-class passenger. His attire gave him away. Bertram, who had been standing at the time in a blue serge suit and simple striped shirt, might as well have been wearing a clown’s costume next to this refined American gentleman.

“Well?”

Realizing the amount of gravity in which two strangers on a halted vessel bound for New York and taking in water already contained, Bertram responded the only way a proper Englishman knew how.

“Of course.”

And as the stranger sauntered by hurried and dumbfounded folks of all kinds along the promenade, he made sure to politely tip his head as they passed. Then, without warning and with a jolt, the stranger abruptly stopped and turned to face him.

“I so truly apologize,” he proceeded with the sincerest of dejection. “But I believe I have failed to give you my name. I’m Jacques.”

“Bertram,” he replied.

“Bertram, my dear fellow. It is truly an honor to make your acquaintance.”

He was completely bewildered that Jacques had put out his hand for a hearty shake. Had this man lost his mind?

“Now!” Jacques shouted as he turned back toward the end of the massive ship. “On we go! I’m being told that time is of the utmost importance.”

As the two gentlemen reached toward the ever-rising tail end of the ship, moving up and down staircases and in and out of fantastic spaces more gloriously decorated than Bertram ever could have imagined, they eventually made their way to the Titanic’s glorious and frigid stern. They were immediately greeted by a circle of jovial men who were more than excited to catch a glimpse of Bertram’s guide.

“Jacques!” they shouted in unison.

“You’ve got one, I see!” said the tallest of the group.

“Gentlemen,” Jacques declared. “Allow me to introduce to you my good friend Bertram.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Bertram,” said one of the men.

“Quite the exciting night isn’t it, dear Bertram?” asked another.

There were five men huddled together in total. Six counting Bertram himself. They were all chumming together and having pleasant conversations while hundreds of people around them seemed panicked and afraid.

The tallest sensed Bertram’s growing concern.

“Oh, never mind the fuss, old Bertram,” he responded with a sharp New York accent. “One way or another this will all be over in a matter of hours. And everyone will be resting peacefully. By the way. The name’s John.”

John offered his hand like Jacques did before him. Bertram instinctively shook it. He was dazed. It all seemed surreal. Men were arguing. Women were reaching out to them from inside the safety of lifeboats. One very animated fellow was lobbing deck chairs out into the cold, cutting sea. Meanwhile, these half dozen strangers were laughing it up with each other. They seemed completely unfazed. And most of them appeared extraordinarily wealthy.

“Let me introduce you to the rest of the gang if I may,” John added. “I apologize for old Jacques here. Southerners claim to have manners but it seems he’s lost his in the moment.”

“Careful there, old sport,” Jacques chimed in. “I was getting to it but it appears the jostling of this monstrosity of a ship has caused me to spill the last of my sherry.”

Jacques was not joking. Bertram had just now noticed the wine glass he had been holding in his left hand the entire time. He had heard wealthy people were eccentric but to remain as such in the face of a life-threatening disaster was absolutely inconceivable.

“No worries,” John assured Jacques. “We already have a plan in place. And nevertheless, good Bertram. This is the rest of the mob. The Englishman to your left there is Thomas.”

Bertram turned to make his acquaintance and was shocked to realize that he recognized Thomas; he had been staying just down the hall from him.

“I believe we’ve met down in third class. Your family was just a few doors up from mine,” Bertram stated.

Thomas looked shocked.

“So it was! Where’s your darling family now?” he asked. “I hope safely on one of the lifeboats. Mine got on board almost immediately. I know some of the men who worked on this old thing personally. Wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw the drunks. Not that I could judge, though. I’m currently in the throes of alcoholism as we speak.”

And with that quip, the whole group gave up a hearty laugh.

“Here! Here!” a booming voice of a man replied while taking a large gulp from a snifter he rested between his fingers.

“That boozer right there,” John added “is Archibald.”

“Please, please,” Archibald interjected. “Call me Archie. No need for formalities on such a monumental night.”

“The gentleman beside him is his long-time companion and better half, Francis,”

Francis was an older man with a very well-groomed mustache.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Bertram.”

“Be careful not to engage in him too much or he’ll talk your ear off about how Mark Twain was his close, personal friend. I’ve personally heard all of his stories four or five times apiece. They’re not as interesting as he’ll have you believe.”

The friendly ribbing and light-hearted pleasantries continued. Bertram watched as two of the men’s friends appeared to be betting on something near the center of the stern’s deck. One held a red leather cricket ball in his hand.

“Those two chaps are Joseph and the other John,” John leaned in and explained with a smile. “Joseph originally hails from Haiti and was planning to head that way before this incident deterred him. And John swears he was once a professional cricketer but he’s an American. Joseph, understandably, does not believe him so they’re currently holding a wager on whether John can bowl that cricket ball through that tiny window right there.”

“Can you believe it?” Thomas interjected. “The only cricketer on this entire ship leaving Southampton is a bloody Yankee.”

“That Joseph is certainly a strapping man,” Francis added. “You know, I painted a gentleman who looked just like him. I called it ‘Music in New Orleans’.”

“Oh, no,” Jacques added. “Here comes another Francis tale.”

Bertram felt that he needed to speak up soon or who knew how long these men would babble on. Most likely until the whole Titanic was under the sea, no doubt.

“I mean no disrespect,” he stated. “But shouldn’t we be making our way to the lifeboats?”

“The lifeboats?” John shouted and the group of men laughed aloud. “Why would we want to make our way onto those?”

“Agree,” Thomas added. “This is the longest I’ve been away from my wife in years and I plan to take full advantage of it.”

“Excuse me?” Bertram trembled.

John again read his emotions and turned to Jacques.

“Jacques, old boy. Did you fail to mention the club to dear Bertram?”

“Club?” Bertram asked.

“I didn’t forget,” Jacques bit back after swiping a drink from the glass in Francis’s hand. “I just hadn’t gotten to it yet.”

He put his arm around Bertram’s shoulder and leaned in before continuing.

“Bertram, my good man. We are the RMS Titanic’s Gentlemen of No Class. Established within the hour. And I would like to personally invite you to join our very private and exclusive club. We have many perks and amenities that I can’t really think of at the moment. But they’re all fairly good. Whaddya say, old chum?”

“I’m sorry but did you say private club?” Bertram was mortified. “Are you being serious? This ship is sinking, gentlemen. And you want me to join a club?”

“I meant no offense by it, Bertram,” Jacques pleaded. “You see, it’s just that I’m in charge of recruiting and I’m running for the club’s first president. And I just wanted to prove to everyone that I’m qualified. You certainly must understand.”

Bertram was appalled.

“There are people that need assistance!”

“We know,” Archibald added. “We have personally assisted most of those tiny folks you can see down there onto those half-filled boats.”

“Well then I must apologize, gentlemen,” Bertram stated sternly. “But I have a family to tend to. I believe that this will most unfortunately be the last time we speak.”

“Doubtful,” Francis whispered.

“Bertram, if I may,” Jacques added. “What exactly are your plans? When I met you I noticed that your family was already being lifted down to safety.”

“Plans? My plans are to remain in line for my turn at a boat.”

All the men laughed heartily.

“Good luck with that then!” Thomas shouted.

Bertram turned away in disgust only to be met by four men with the best of spirits and bottles of alcohol in hand. Two members of that crew were dressed to the nines. And the other pairing looked as third-class as Bertram. Yet here they all stood, arms around each other’s necks and grinning from ear to ear. He just could not make sense of any of it. They were apparently friends with the Gentlemen of No Class as the group shouted out in excitement upon their arrival. The four men swept up Bertram in their sloshy march to the circle of companions and he found himself back in the pit.

“See, Jacques!” John shouted. “I told you we had a plan in place!”

Upon catching a glimpse of the arrival of more alcohol, Joseph and the other John forgot their wager and headed to the group that had now grown to a dozen - including Bertram who just could not seem to get away. All the men at once reached for the bottles of booze like their fellow passengers were reaching for lifejackets.

“Where did you get all of this?” Joseph asked, with his thick French accent.

“A waiter at the Parisian café,” one of the men replied. “He said they have to stay at their posts until their shifts are over.”

“Even during a disaster?" Francis asked.

“Apparently so. Say, who’s this fellow?”

“Oh, deepest apologies!” Francis replied. “That’s Bertram, our newest member from third-class. Jacques recruited him.”

“It’s quite the honor,” the man said as he offered Bertram a full bottle of scotch. Bertram politely refused. “I’m Benjamin. And this is my assistant, Jim.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Jim added as he offered Bertram a full bottle of brandy. He politely refused again.

“And these two rapscallions,” Benjamin continued, “Are Len Lam and Yusef. We saw them earlier shoveling blocks of ice off of the bow. They were the ones who filled us in on what happened. Can you believe it? An entire sea to navigate through and we hit the only obstacle under the stars. Just our luck.”

“I was just telling John here that soon enough he’ll be the richest man at the bottom of the ocean,” Archibald said to uproarious laughter. “Told him he might want to change his name to Icebergafeller when he starts buying up land along the seafloor. Make a whole new life for himself.”

“Now, Bertram,” Jim asked with a full glass of wine in his hand. The bottles had all been passed around and he was now free to enjoy his alcohol. “What line of business are you in?”

“I apologize again,” Bertram said with more frustration. “But…”

He was cut off by a thunderous boom, flickering lights and shrieks of panic before everything settled back down. During this momentary silence, the other John took the opportunity to speak up.

“Is it time to vote for president yet? I’m not sure how long we want to wait before we simply run out of time.”

“Yes, yes. I agree,” John responded. “Now let’s see. Jacques is already in charge of recruiting.”

“And doing a superb job I might add,” Jacques threw in.

“Indeed you are. Good show. Then there’s Benjamin and Jim who’ve taken over catering. Len Lam and Yusuf offered to manage drinks and ice. Joseph has recreational and international activities with the other John. Thomas is in charge of travel. Archie and Francis have fashion and attire. And, of course, I’m responsible for finances. Am I missing anyone?”

“Don’t forget Bertram!” Yusuf announced.

“Oh, yes! Bertram! Any suggestions for a position, dear friend?”

He couldn’t even find the words if he wanted them. And in the quiet of bated breath, Wallace Henry Hartley and his close friends could be heard playing the solemn dirge “Nearer, my God, to Thee.”

“I say,” Benjamin chimed in. “How long is that band going to go on for? If they keep it up we’ll be required to hire them for all of our soirees.”

“No kidding,” John added. “And can you imagine how in demand they’ll be after all the attention they’ll be getting from this gig.”

“I can envision it now,” Jacques joked. “Come see the band that closed out the Titanic!”

“Limited seating!” Len Lam shouted.

Everyone laughed out loud.

“Look gentleman,” Bertram said, solemnly. “I apologize again but I certainly must return to my family.”

“What’s the hurry?” Thomas asked. “You’ll be with them soon enough in the hereafter.”

“How do you plan to get on a lifeboat anyhow?” Joseph asked. “They’re only permitting women and children and there are more women and children than there are available seats.”

“It looks like chivalry isn’t dead after all,” the other John added.

“Certainly not,” Jacques said as he raised his refilled glass of sherry. “But we will be soon enough!”

More laughter. This time followed with a collective “Cheers!”

“I’ll demand a seat!” Bertram declared.

“Like he did?” Joseph asked, pointing to the dead body of a young man with a bullet hole in his chest who had been slowly sliding along the deck toward the group.

Bertram turned pale.

John put his arm around Bertram’s shoulder.

“You know, there’s a saying that I rather like, good Bertram,” he told him. “Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.”

He patted Bertram on the chest. Then another nightmarish explosion burst and the entire ship went dark. The ship’s massive funnels crashed onto the face of the water and pure chaos ensued.

“Now what’s gotten everyone in such a hurry?” Benjamin complained. “All this bumping into each other is going to wrinkle my evening attire.”

With shouts of horror and despair, the stern of the Titanic began making its ascent upward into the stars. The gentleman disappointedly let go of their liquor to hold onto railings and anything else bolted down.

“I do have to admit,” Joseph said over the clamor and death, “I never thought I’d see the day a group of rich, white men would ask me to join their exclusive circle!”

Most everyone agreed.

“Live long enough and you’ll see anything!” Jacques declared.

“Looks like long enough pays out after twenty-five years then I suppose,” Joseph replied to another round of uproarious laughter.

“Good show, Joseph!” John was heard saying as grown men flopped and rained down over him.

In a matter of minutes the group was level with the frozen water. As they swam away from the sinking behemoth they remained together. Panicked strangers fought for survival as they climbed on anything they could find. That madman’s deck chairs now seemed rather useful for a handful of them. But the gentlemen did not seem interested in fighting. Instead, they longed for each other’s company.

“Say, Yusuf!” Francis exclaimed. “How did that dance you and those fellows were doing earlier go again?”

“You mean the dabke?”

“Yes! The dabke. It’s such a joyful romp.”

As the Titanic slurped down into the sea the gentlemen all tried their hand at it while simultaneously attempting to keep their frigid bodies afloat. They soon all gave up.

“Well,” the other John announced. “Goodbye, fellows. It looks like sand for breakfast tomorrow.”

“Oh!” Jacques jeered. “Stealing jokes at a time like this? Poor form, the other John. Poor form.”

“I must admit,” Benjamin spoke out through freezing blue lips, “I look forward to our collective arrival momentarily on a new ship more capable of enduring equality among strangers!”

“Here! Here!” the gentlemen shouted as they gave each other their goodbyes.

The Titanic bellowed and slumped down heavy into a heavier sea. Shouts of fear and cries for help slowly faded under the endless sky. There was some futile wading in the freezing abyss, but not much. Everything was going black. Until.

“Wait!” Bertram shouted out in the darkness.

“What is it, good Bertram?” John coughed out. “What’s wrong?”

“We never voted on president.”

John flashed a weak, frail smile out through the deep.

“We’ll get to it first thing next meeting. Good show, Bertram. Good show.”

Historical

About the author

Joe Deez

Joe Deez is a globally published writer, professional comedian and obsessed retro gamer. He founded the non-profit organization Humor Association and spends his free time operating his pop culture cricket website 365notout.com.

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