Sessions and the Steam-CoalThe Story of How Two Yankees Ran the Blockade at Port Arthur

by George Allan EnglandIllustrated by George Gibbs

Collier's The National Weekly January 14, 1905
Collier’s The National Weekly
January 14, 1905
Cover by F.X.Leyendecker

George Allan England’s entry into the field of writing is surrounded by a certain romantic aura, an aura that England himself helped to create. The most common version of the entry story states that England graduated from college and went to work in New York. Within a short period of time he became ill, went into the Maine wilderness to recover his health by "roughing it," and decided to try his hand at writing fiction as a means of supporting himself.

While this tale of hardship and determination has a slight "Horatio Alger" quality, it does stray a bit from the actual facts. We have discovered, after a large amount of research, that England wrote rather extensively while studying at Harvard (see "George Allan England: The Harvard Years" for more information) and was published—both at Harvard and elsewhere. He not only earned some awards for his work, but also published a book of poetry at some point after he graduated with a Master of Arts degree (assumedly in English or English Literature). Considering these facts, it should come as no surprise that he turned to writing when in need of income: he had already explored that creative outlet many times during his college years. What is surprising, however, is that his first sale should have been to Collier’s.

Founded in 1888, Collier’s (known as Collier’s The National Weekly at the time of our story) was a respected magazine of the "slick" variety. Serious articles concerning current events, with pictures, were one of Collier’s trademarks. By the early 1900s, the magazine was also becoming known for its fiction selections; Collier’s became the American publisher for Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories in 1903. Although every writer has to start somewhere, it was quite remarkable for a fledgling author’s first work to appear in Collier’s and England’s debut in the magazine presents sort of a mystery.

"Sessions and the Steam-Coal" is set during the early days of the Russo-Japanese War (for a short history of this war, please see the Afterword). News of the conflict was very much in the headlines during 1904—both in newspapers and magazines. Although reporters traveling with both the Russians and the Japanese were limited in exactly what they could report (in order to keep the military plans of both sides a secret from the other), the ebb and flow of the struggle was well known. With all the news coverage, it is not unlikely that England would have read about the various aspects of the hostilities and have used this as a springboard for the story. Yet, it does seem odd that he would choose a topic that would require some degree of research to make believable; especially at a time he was trying to break into the writing game. Similarly, his choice of Collier’s seems a bit of a reach for an unknown, particularly when there were other, easier markets for stories available. It also seems rather serendipitous that he would write, and submit, a story about Port Arthur to Collier’s, just as they were preparing the first in a three-part series covering the Siege, and eventual fall, of Port Arthur.

With all the principals long dead, it is impossible to come up with a definitive explanation as to how England and Collier’s came together. A college friend from Harvard may have been on staff and given England a "heads-up" about the upcoming issue. England may have known somebody on the staff from his short time in New York. Or, it may have been a case of being in exactly the right place at the right time; regardless of the circumstances, the sale to Collier’s gave England the confidence (and needed income) to proceed into his career as a writer.

After nearly 100 years, "Sessions and the Steam-Coal" reads quite well—mixing elements of both adventure and a grand con scheme into a semi-humorous tale. One of England’s stylistic trademarks, the use of dialect, appears throughout the story (at times, to the detriment of the narrative) and it is amusing that the only clearly understandable character in the entire story is Russian. As best as we have been able to discern, "Steam-Coal" has never been reprinted; the bibliographies of England’s work neglect the tale as well. Fortunately, while researching the references found in a 1923 newspaper interview with England (see "George Allan England: a 1923 Newspaper Interview"), we were able to find this "lost" story and can now present it to you in its entirety.

And, before we go, a couple of terms that need defining that may increase your enjoyment of the story:

an embankment or an embanked quay, with a promenade often built on its banks.
A dialect pronunciation of the word stone.
"genus mephitica"
Since mephitica is a variety of skunk, one would assume this means a really smelly, and therefore cheap, cigar.

"Sessions and the Steam-Coal" originally appeared in the January 14, 1905 issue of Collier’s The National Weekly and, as mentioned above, this may be the first time it has been reprinted since. We hope you enjoy it.

Bob Gay
October, 2014
Introduction © 2014 by Bob Gay
Editor's Note: We have reproduced the text and illustrations of "Sessions and the Steam-Coal" just as they appeared in 1905. We have also retained the place names as per the original, but have included an Afterword that attempts to trace where these places may have been, or where they may be today. Be aware we have left intact the numerous derogatory racial epithets that were common at the time the story was written and ask that the reader simply accept them as evidence of a less enlightened time.

Original title logo for Sessions and the STeam Coal

THE first I see of Sessions, he was settin’ in the bar of the Hotel Europa at Chee Foo, smokin’ one of them obnoxious native seegars. I was standin’ at the counter tryin’ ta make the fool Dutch bar-keep mix a Manhattan, an’ failin’ utterly. Sessions he sized up the situation, unfolded his six-foot-three off’n his chair an’ come over ta me.

"I reckon you’re a Yankee!" says he, puttin’ out a bony flipper. "So’m I! Shake! No self-respectin’ Yankee had oughta go agin one of these here Dutch-Chink bars. It ain’t fair ta the bar," says he, "an’ it’s death in a slow, unpleasant form ta the consumer. Better come along with me, an’ I’ll give ye su’thin’ wuth runnin’ yer muzzle inta!"

With that he hooks me by the arm, very positive, an’ leads me off ta the stuffy little hole-in-the-wall he calls his "sweet." I’d ben lonesome ever sence the Guv’nor Hall had busted open on a floatin’ mine an’ stranded me alone in that God-fersaken port, so I welcomed the nasals from New England.

When we was settled over his pine table an’ a reel long-necker of the good stuff, he offered me his card and one of them seegars aforementioned, genus mephitica. I stuck the seegar in my vest as polite as I c’d manage, but examined the card with care. It said: "Sumner Sessions, Promoter, Chee-Foo."

The "Chee-Foo" was wrote in with lead-pencil, also the card was some dirty, so I reckoned it had seen service already in other parts. I hadn’t no card of my own, ’long of everythin’ goin’ down on the Guv’nor Hall, but I writ my name on a bit of paper for him. Then we had another.

"Alvin Lovejoy, from New Hampshire," says he, wipin’ his long mustache on his sleeve an’ fixin’ his blue eye on me, "I’m glad ta know ye! I like yer looks! I ben watchin’ you off’n on fer two three days. I think you’re jes’ the man I’m lookin’ fer, an’ if so, it’ll be a darn good thing for both of us. The reason why I think you’re the right man is this—you’re a Yankee ta begin with, an’ you’re up-an’-comin’ an’ nervy inta the bargain. If you wa’n’t, you’d never-a stood up ta that Chink bar so often as I know you have! Now, look-a-here. I’ve got su’thin’ ta tell ye, and it’s a big thing, too! They’s money in it—barr’ls! I’ve simply got-ta have help, t’ put it through; they ain’t no two way ’bout it! It’ll take two men at,the very least cal’lation, an’ it’ll require nerve—nerve an’ grit—but they’s all kinds-a money inta it; you’ll see! You know how t’handle a boat? Raised on one? Bully fer you! That’s the exact ticket! They can’t be less’n a clean three thousand in this, fer only three days’ work, share an’ share alike. Are ye with me?"

"What’s the lay?" says I.

Gold, I'm a a-tellin' ye, every mite of it!
"Gold, I’m a a-tellin’ ye, every mite of it!"

"I’m a-goin’ ta do the Russkies!" says he in a whisper, bendin’ over the table, "an’ I’m a-goin’ la do ’em bad! Port Arthur ain’t fell yit, ’spite of all that hammerin’ an’ poundin’ over yender," wavin’ his lean paw to’ards the north winder, "but I reckons you an’ me, Americans born an’ bred, kin take a mighty smart tucker out-a her, an’ what’s better, come back here ta this very room in less’n a week, rotten with money—no paper either, but gold, gold, I’m a-tellin’ ye, every mite of it, the reel yaller boys, big an’ solid an’ heavier’n hell! Twenty pound of solid gold on each of us, in money-belts! An’ when it comes ta gold, I don’t care a continental cuss whether they’s one eagle on mine or two. Are ye in it?"

’Bout midnight I reckoned I was, an’ the long-necker bein’ squoze drier’n a codfish, we laid down on his outrageous bed an’ slep’ on the bargain. Nex’ day they’s busy doin’s fer us two, now I’m a-goin’ ta tell ye! First we pooled our capital an’ raised ’bout two hundred and fifty taels, say a hundurd an’ a half, American money, an’ then Sessions he chased out an’ chartered one of them junkboats with a sail like a flyin’-fish an’ a hull like a coffin—most God-fersaken vessil y’ever see, but big’s all outdoor. He engaged ’er fer a week, fer a trip south, so he told the Chink that owned ’er. Meantime, I routed out a half-caste contractor named Lao Tse Chang, an’ bought up all the cracked stun he had on hand, oh, say twenty-five thirty ton, an’ made the cuss deliver it. Took a whole string of them bumpety two-wheel Chinese carts ’bout all day ta git the stuff dumped proper onta the beach in a little cove three mile from town. We wa’n’t takin’ no resks from no inspecters by loadin’ cargo at the Bund, no sirree! ’Bout a hundurd Chinks from a fishin’ village called Ping Pong, or some sech name, swarmed out an’ rubbered us slanty-eyed an’ wonderin’.

Well, ’long about the time the stuff’s all there it’s evenin’, an’ I’m blessed if here don’t come Sessions in his junkerino, like some luggsurious Orientil potentate. Him an’ his temp’rary crew of two coolies rounds the headland magnificent, with him a-settin’ in the starn puffin’ a mephitica regardless. He has the crew run ’er in as snug ta the shore as he dares, say two three fathom, an’ then commands ’em ta put down the sampan an’ row him ashore. He act’lly radiated wealth an’ authority.

When he got ashore he greeted me very ceremonious, so’s t’ impress the heathen, an’ I tumbled an’ followed suit. When we’d got through with the kow-tows he cast his eye majestic over the pile of cracked stun an’ remarked sort-a casual:

"That’s a darn good foundation we got here fer a fortune!"

"Er fer destruction!" says I, " ’cordin’ as to how the deal comes off. Here’s hopin’!" an’ with that we draws our pocket-pieces an’ likkers ta the success of "The Sessions & Lovejoy Steam-Coal Company, Limited. Purveyors in Extra-ordinary to His Imperial Bombsky the Czar of all the Rooshias," while all the slant-eyes wonders an’ waters at the mouth.

"Now, then," says he, when this ceremony is concluded, "we’ll jest draft some of them Chinks over thar inta our service, an’ coal ’er up! Rustle out them baskits," says he ta one of the coolies that savvys a little American, "an’ tell them idolatrous countrymen o’ yourn that we’ll give ’em ten cash an hour ta load this here junk up. That’ll make ’em all dead rich fer life!" says he. "We’ll put in a few ton of these here bowlders fer a starter. Git busy, you!"

You’d ought-a seen them Chinks pitchin’ the beach-bowlders inta that junk—tons of ’em!—an’ afterward fillin’ her nigh up ta the gunnel with that fine cracked stun! Some of ’em brought torches from their pigpen village an’ stuck ’em down inta the beach, ’tween the rocks, an’ of all the sights I ever see that one beat ’em all—them half-nakid yaller devils shovelin’ our steam-coal by torchlight inta them funny flat baskits, an’ luggin’ ’em out inta the drink, then others takin’ an’ passin’ ’em ta them that’s on board—flare an’ smoke an’ stench an’ smoke—greatest sight ever I see, yes, sir! ’Twas past two in the mornin’ when the whole load was on board, an’ the junk was sunk couple-a feet lower in the water. No Plimsoll-marks on them junks, you bet! If they hed-a ben, I’m thinkin’ the last few ton of cargo would-a stayed on the beach! I reckon we had on no less’n forty-five ton, an’ nothin’ visible on board ’cept the mast an’ that bamboo wickerwork thing at the starn that does ’em fer a cabin. We pays off the Chinks lib’ral, an’ gives ’em an extry han’-ful cash all ’round ta make ’em keep their saffron faces shet. ’Bout three o’clock we weighs anchor, h’ists that accordion sail an’ beats out-a the cove. Last we see of the heathen they’s massed on the shingle, gapin’ by torchlight. I reckon the whole bunch of ’em retired from active life right then an’ thar, an’ never done another day’s work in all their lazy lives, on the strength of that heaven-sent visitation of the millionaire Melican-men.

SO then we sailed away from Ning-Hai like a pair o’ blame-fool Argonauts, lookin’ fer a golden fleece, jes’ same’s they done. We headed south till we was out-a sight of land; then we hauled ’er up inta the nor’-nor’-west. All-fired hard time we had of it, the contrary wind an’ a choppy sea that threatened ta come overboard every tenth wave. Sessions an’ me was a purty small crew ta handle sech a sizable craft, but he’d steer while I managed the sail, an’ vicky-verky; an’ then we’d lash the tiller an’ both of us take holt an’ tack. ’Twas a hard, sweatin’. resky job, now I’m a-goin’ ta tell ye! I hadn’t had no decent sleep ta speak of fer two nights nuther, an’ was most "all in," as they say. We beat about all night an’ hadn’t got beyond Tsi-Chau. as we cal’lated by dead-reckonin’, when "the sun come up like thunder out-a China ’cross the bay."

’Bout that time we’re gittin’ purty snug ta the Japs’ patrol-fleet, so we puts in ta shore agin, ties up in an inlet fer the day. an’ lets the ca’m Orientil hours slide overhead. Also we takes turns spreadin’ out the coal in a nice thick layer all over the stun, more’n spade-deep, till we has the very livin’ image of fifty ton steam-coal, first-chop, at a dizzy price delivered at Port Arthur. The cracked stun’s similar fineness ta the coal—crunches under foot very realistic. What with all this an’ some reely good seegars we’ve got (at last!) an’ my pipe an’ a long-necker or two, it ain’t so bad! Pow’ful purty sunset—the whole west’s blood-an’-gold color.

When it come good an’ dark agin—no moon—we warped ’er out fer the final run. Not sech hard work this time; light breeze, long, oily swell, an’ no danger of swampin’. We headed ’er up purty nigh due north which we figgered was boun’ ta bring us in purty snug ta the Port. Gosh! I c’n see that pole-star yit, winkin’ at us over the flyin’-fish sail, an’ hear the old bambooo mast creakin’ an’ jumpin’ with every lift o’ the junk. The slide an’ rattle of that fifty ton o’ coal is in my ears this very minute! An’ the moanin’ of the great gray, dim old Yaller Sea!

Wunst, a long, swift shadder, trailin’ smoke, slid by us not two cables’ len’ths away, an’ we thanked our joss we carried no lights. A close shave, yessiree. but the Japskys never tetched us, an’ on we kep’ slappin’ inta the little cross-seas, an’ never seen no more trouble ’t all. That thar Yaller Sea’s a pow’ful big place, an’ they wa’n’t none too many Jap patrols!

So we smoked an’ sweat an’ drinked an’ fed the night away, an’ talked some, too, ’specially Sessions, who was a’mighty keen on what he was a-goin’ ta do with all them Russky rubles. After a most etarnal long night the sun come up agin, an’ lo an’ behold! they’s land ahead off’n the port bow, p’raps four mile. It was Golden Hill, too—I knowed it well—a good omen! The risin’ sun tipped it a bright yaller, an’ our imaginations turned it all inta 18-K. It looked all-fired good ta us now I’m a-goin’ ta tell ye! Not a sign of Japs, nuther ’cept a smudge of smoke on the sou’east horizon. So we run along in snug, with me at the bow peelin’ my eye fer mines. We dodged one, too, by less’n the bigness of a bubble, bobbin’ almost under water at the end of its weed-foul chain.

But that ain’t nuther here ner thar. On we wallers, Sessions at the helm, under the big guns of the forts on Tiger’s Tail, an’ makes the roadstead ’fore seven. Patrol comes off ta us an’ speaks us p’lite as pie—takes us in charge an’ ties us up at a dock in the "Rooshian town," as it’s called. ’Bout then a slick-lookin’ officer’s waitin’ fer us. That was in the ’arly days of the siege, an’ the officers, at least, wa’n’t down ta mule-meat an’ bran-bread. We passes the time o’ day, an’ then he says, very p’lite an’ very careful-like, in the best book-English, but with that cur’ous Rooshian whang: "Allow me to congratulate you on running the blockade so successfully. Did you experience any difficulties, any encounters with the—the enemy?"

"None ’t all, Cap’n, none ’t all!" says I, "but this here deal gin us some middlin’ tall humpin’ ’fore we hit the reel trail fer the Port, now I’m a-goin’ ta tell ye!"

Mr. Russky smiles kind-a court’ous, listenin’ hard with both ears an’ tryin’ ta tumble ta my meanin’, but ’tain’t no use. I see right away he can’t talk reel United States. Nevertheless, he ain’t a mite set back, but starts in agin with: "I am happy to perceive that you have brought us in a cargo of a most necessary commodity, quite essential, I may say, to our welfare. I desire to thank you both in the name of his Imperial Majesty the Czar"—with a salute—"and I trust you will inform me relative to the quantity you have here the quality and the price?"

"This is jest like robbin’ a baby!" thinks I ta myself, but I says nothin’.

"Fifty ton, full weight," says Sessions, very delib’rate, "first-chop steam, an’ it’s wuth one-fifty rubles a ton, er ’tain’t wuth a kopeck."

"One-fifty a ton," thinks I—"Why, that’s clost onta seventy-five dollars! Jimminy Cripes! Sessions is out fer blood!" Ye see, we hadn’t cal’lated t’ask more’n one-twenty-five, but I reckon the officer looked dead easy ta him, an’ he thought he might’s well pile it on some.

"Good enough, my friend," says the Russovitch very easy-like, "but we are offering only seventy-five."

"Well, I said one-fifty!" says Sessions, " ’an’ you kin take it or leave it—don’t make no difference ta me! I reckon I kin tote the stuff back whar it come from, an’ no damage done, if yousky ain’t got the price! When’s the next tide run out, tide, tide, ye know, run out? We want ta be hikin’ back!" an’ he p’ints at the harbor mouth.

"Allow me to meet you half-way, my impetuous friend," says the Cap’n, smilin’ sort-a chilly-like, an’ wavin’ his hand careless over at the fort an’ guns. "Pray let us not indulge in further discussion! This coal will not return—we really happen to need it—neither will you receive one hundred and fifty rubles a ton. Pray be advised. Allow me to close the—the deal, I believe you call it, at one hundred. Done? Very well! Very well, indeed! You guarantee this weight? But then, we shall also weigh. It would be best for you, I think," once more that little wave of the hand, "to declare correctly, however. I think the quality will prove perfectly satisfactory." (No wonder! They wa’n’t no better in Chiny, as fur’s that thar layer went!)

With that he climbs down inta the junk, picks up a couple han’fuls of the stuff an’ looks at it good an’ clost. Then he kicks around an’ stirs it up with his top-boot. He makes quite a hole in’t, too. My mouth’s drier’n a last year’s robin’s nest! An, say! p’raps my heart ain’t jumpin’ some! But he never touches hardpan, an’ so he says it’s all O. K. an’ he’ll write us our vouchers fer the pay jest soon’s he’s satisfied as to the weight. Says he’ll have the stuff all unloaded sometime ’bout five that afternoon, so’s we kin slip out in our junk right after sundown. Very obligin’ he was, that Rooshian Cap’n!

All this ain’t in our plan at all, however. We ben cal’latin’ ta git our pay C. O. D. "Consid’able of a setback fer the Sessions an’ Lovejoy Steam-Coal Company!" thinks I ta myself. " ’Pears like we, the pres’dent an’ sec’tary of said corp’ration, are stric’iy up agin it! But Sessions, he’s equal t’ anything! I reely don’t b’leeve that thar old Sheeny Sherlock, the feller what wanted ta cut a pound of meat off’n a chap wunst, c’d-a got ahead of Sessions! Says he, mighty persuasive an’ sinoother’n butter:

"Now see here, Cap, I tell you what, they’s fifty ton here, yes, an’ fifty-five, too—any one c’d see that with half an eye—but [he whispers] I tell you what, I’ll call it forty-five, at one hundred, same’s you said, an’ if they’s any money saved ta Rooshia, say a matter of five hundurd rubles or so, why—you know! Are you on?" an’ he p’ints at the officer’s pocket.

Well, I betcha they ain’t a single officer in the hull Rooshian army, ner navy nuther, that ain’t amenable ta suggestion, as the books says, along them lines; so the upshot is that the Cap’n writes us out an order on the spot fer the full amount fer fifty ton on the Specie Bank. Sessions he agrees ta come back an’ deliver over five hundurd rubles at half-past five that aft’noon, when we’re t’ embark. Take m’oath. I don’t see what he’s drivin’ at; but I says nothin’, an’ lets him go his gait. We can’t none of us die more’n wunst, says I ta myself, an’ it looks some ta me as if that wunst is closin’ in purty snug fer us! However, jest then the Cap’n he blows his little silver whistle, an’ an orderly in boots an’ fatigue-jacket appears, salutin’. The two Russkies sneeze up a little of their God-fersaken lingo, an’ the orderly smiles at us quite friendly.

"My American friends," says the officer, "I would gladly accompany you personally to the Specie Bank, did my duty permit." (I’m thinkin’ p’raps them five hundurd rubles dictated that remark!) "Unfortunately, that will be impossible, so I give you in charge of this excellent fellow. He will guide you. Believe me, he is quite reliable!"

With that he writes us out a word of passport, an’ turns us over ta the orderly-boy. His last words was: "Your junk will be here, ready, at six o’clock, my friends. Again I thank you! Oh revwar!"

Then he waves his hand at us, still smilin’, an’ we at him, an’ that’s the last we ever see of him.

SESSIONS an’ me, we’s glad enough ta git away from all this p’liteness, now I’m a-goin’ ta tell ye! A man with his head in a b’ar’s jaws ain’t achin’ ta carry on no lengthy conversation with the critter. We jest gripped our passport, which was wrote in Greeky-lookin’ spasms, an’ kep’ clost behind the orderly-feller all the way, though Sessions he knowed the road all right, havin’ ben thar two three times ’fore the war. I reckon a silver tael he crossed the pa’m of that Rooshian minion with facilitated our progress some. Anyhow, he took us the shortest way. The darn town looked like it had ben busted open sudden by su’thin’ forcible; ruins all ’round in the most onlikely places, an’ the streets a mess—looked like they was a-gittin’ ready ta put down asphalt—darndest town I ever see! If any of them shells had-a ben act’lly comin’ in that day, an’ bustin’, I betcha no forty-five hundurd rubles wouldn’t-a hired me ta stay ’round thar, no, ner no forty-five thousand, nuther! Some Russky guns ’way off ta the north was shatterin’ the echoes ta smithereens. The streets was all a mix of soldiers, off’cers, nusses, commissary wagons, Lord knows what! But we never took no notice—not with them empty money-belts clamorin’ ta be fed !

Well, we got thar after quite a spell. We had all kinds-a red tape gittin’ our claim cashed, ’specially as we insisted on gold. Seems they’s quite a premium on ’t, too, so we didn’t git full count. It didn’t come ta much above forty-three hundurd rubles—say, ’bout twenty-one hundurd dollars—when all’s said an’ done, an’ we git it stowed. Must-a ben purty nigh noon by that time, an’ we’re beginnin’ ta git anxious.

Jes’ soon’s we hits the street Sessions he says: "Now, Lovejoy," says he. "it’s up t’ us, certain sure, ta git right out of this here bomb-bustin’, whiskery, bleedin’ Muscovite Hades, an’ we got-ta do it! Otherwise, Bing! Bang!! Good-by, Americanskys! No ’Oh Revwar’ about that! Ta stand up agin a wall an’ let a hull squad of moujiks sight on me would surely make me so nervous I’d be all of a fidget! I’m too all-fired bashful an’ retirin’ t’ enjoy any sech doin’s! Remember, they begins t’ unload that thar junk of ourn in jest about three hours, or mebbe four! It’s certainly up to us ta fade away immediate!"

I seconds that motion unanimous, an’ we hikes down to’ard the waterfront agin. Two three guards holds us up eng root, but the passport an’ our last few taels fixes ’em O. K., an’ finally we strikes the docks, not at the same place our palatial craft was a-layin’, but ’bout a mile further up, in the Chinese town. Thar we meets up, at last, with a half-starved Chink sampan-man, paddlin’ about in a mess of boats an’ shippin’. We hails him easy, an’ after ’bout ten minutes’ heartbreakin’ talkee-talkee, manages ta corrupt the mustard-colored son of the East right under the face an’ eyes of a squad of them darn dock-guards that kep’ rubberin’ us in a most obnoxious manner. It took three four dozen gold rubles ta quiet the nerves of all them pryin’ Rooshians; but after we’d got ’em fixed, I’ll give ’em credit that they never let on ta notice us agin. Ivan Ivanovitch has his weaknesses, an’ he has his good p’ints, an’ one of the latter is that he ain’t troubled by no civic conscientiousness. Gosh! That thar word nigh choked me, but I had ta have it! They ain’t no other that’ll fill the bill!

Well, anyway, we corrupts the guard an’ the sampan-man, as I was a-sayin, an’ old mustard-face agrees ta resk transportin’ us a short distance fer ten rubles. That was a most indecent price, as Chink hire runs in them parts; but possibly ’twas wuth it, considerin’ the real innardness of our junkerino. However, both Sessions an’ me begins ta perceive that our darned rubles has got wings hitched on ’em all the way round.

"Here, Confucius!" says Sessions ta the Chink, "here’s yer filthy Rooshian lucre! Now it’s time fer you ta git good an’ busy! See that junk out thar in midstream, junkee, she’s pullee up anchor, you savvy? Well, thar’s whar we want t’ go! You no hurry, no hurry ’t all! Go velly easy, velly quiet, er I’ll perforate you! Oh, shucks, Lovejoy! What’s the use wastin’ good talk on this perverted idolater? He can’t understand reel langwidge, anyway! Hey, you Chink, junkee out thar! You rowee velly slow! Savvy?"

The Chink only smiled sort-a sickly. He can’t ketch none of it, that’s plain ta be seen, but he understands good money an’ a gesture. Gosh a’mighty! How monev does talk! It’s surely the most eloquent thing on this mortal footstool!

"Allee lightee!" says he, "Inglisman getee in!" Think o’ that! The blame hop-hitter don’t know the diff between good Yankees an’ a couple-a bloomin’ beef-eatin’ Briddishers! But then what kin you expec’ from a Chink that’s low enough t’ associate with Rooshians?

"How d’ye do, John Bull?" says Sessions, lookin’ up

Anyway, we embarks in his mouldy sampan, stinkin’ of stale fish an’ such-like gurry, an’ he stan’s in the starn. The sampan leaked so that you’d-a had ta bale the whole harbor through ’er every day at the very least cal’lation, ta keep ’er top-side the water. Nevertheless, we takes our time—plenty of it! They ain’t no sign o’ hurry on us! "Make haste slowly" ’s a darn good proverb, ’specially when the whole horizon’s bris’lin’ with cannons like a jumbo pincushion. Sessions he reclines ’midships, like he was a foreign attachy, I sets up in the bow, likewise, an’ the Chink stan’s at the starn an’ sculls, same’s them fool heathen does. Well, after sev’ral etarnities we gits out in midchannel ta the junk that’s makin’ ready ta sail. We passes snug ta three warships, on the way, an’ all-fired battered they was, too, the great gray seadogs! Nubbody takes no notice of a simple sampan, an’ we arrives at the junk O. K., an’ circles ’round her, so’s ta git out-a sight o’ the town.

"I s’y, there, wot you fellows up to, eh?" cries a big husky voice, an’ a round bandanner-colored face peers over the rail. "You better move on, str’ight away, you know," says he, "or it’s more than like you’ll get a puncture!" an’ with that he pokes a pistol at us.

"Why, how d’ye do, John Bull?" says Sessions, lookin’ up with his big smile. "You open to a good proposition? ’Cause if ye are—why, we kin back up every word with the reel coin. You don’t know us, ner we don’t know you, but you’ve got room aboard this here junk that’s act’lly cryin’ fer occupation, an’ we’ve got a few shillin’s an’ pence we might be induced ta loosen our grip on! Room fer us ta Chee-Foo, versus the yaller boys! How’ll ye swap?" an’ with that he scoops a han’ful of rubles out-a his belt an’ holds ’em up.

"Wot kind of a gyme you playin’, anyway?" says the red face, openin’ an interested eye. "If you fellows are on the square I eyn’t got no objection to carryin’ a couple of Americans for ’ire, much as I dislike the breed; but if you’ve bean up to any blockade-runnin’ folderols, there eyn’t money enough in Port Arthur, no, nor in all Manchuria either, to ’ire me. I tell you, I value my own skin a bloomin’ sight more than wot I do a han’ful o’ coin. That’s the sort of a man I am!" says the crimson countenance.

I’VE heerd good lyin’ in my day—bear-stories, whale-whoppers, an’ minin’ yarns—but I ain’t never heerd the beat of what Sessions handed out then, impromptoo, to that thar Briddish junk-owner. When he got through I was darn night ta snivellin’, myself, at the cruel series of misfortunes that had pursued us poor American refugee missionaries from up-country, harrassed by Japs, an’ persecuted by Rooshians fer religion’s sake, an’ now flyin’ fer very life from the wrath ta come upon that foredoomed Muscovitish Sodom an’ Gomorrah. Him an’ old lobster-face chinned ’bout five minutes, an’ Sessions parried some purty warm cross-questionin’.

"Well, I fawncy you’re all right enough, as far as any American can be," says old J. B. at last, "so I’ll risk transportin’ you to Chee-Foo for one hundred rubles gold, an’ not a farthin’ less!"

That percipitates a fresh outpour of eloquence from Sessions, who fairly outjaws old beefy, an’ the upshot of it all is that he comes down ta seventy-five rubles, in advance, an’ we climbs on board. When I gits that thar deck-plankin’ underfoot I heaves one of the darndest sighs I ever hove, now I’m a-goin’ ta tell ye!

Purty soon we cl’ars away, the junk’s papers bein’ O. K., an’ beats out slow inta the roadstead. Tell ye what I don’t breathe easy till them big guns draws ’way astarn. The junk’s a small one, only J. Bull an’ two three Chinks an’ us aboard. Bull he’s at the tiller, the Chinks for’rard, an’ me an’ Sessions ’midships, not smokin’ at all, er talkin’ much, but lookin’ very sanctimonious an’ persecuted. Old Lobsterino prob’ly guessed our modest demeanor’s the result of piety an’ hardships; but the fact is, two poverty-stricken Yankees beatin’ out-a that gun-bristlin’ port with purty nigh two thousand dollars in Rooshian gold tucked away under their coats, an’ leavin’ a great big junk-load o’ concentrated drumhead court-martial behind ’em, ain’t apt ta spread ’round any more’n is absolutely necessary. So, after we’ve paid J. B. an’ passed a few remarks ’bout the weather an’ the war an’ sich, we relapses inta reticence amidships, as aforementioned. Cap’n Crimson, seein’ ’tain’t no use ta try an’ pump us, jest lets us relapse. Outward, I’m ca’m; but my innards feels all-overish. ’Side which, I’m nigh famished, not havin’ had no grub sence sunup, an’ it’s now goin’ on 5 p. m. Take it all together, I’m fidgety ’s a hoss in fly-time, though Sessions he keeps cooler’n a cowcumber.

The light off-shore breeze stiffens at last, as the sun draps low over the Gulf of Pechili, an’ we begins ta slap inta the waves quite smart. Already the forts is beginnin’ ta loom less threatenin’, an’ the guns is fadin’ out a mile er so off’n the port quarter, an’ already we’s beginnin’ ta chirk up some, when—"By Cripes. Lovejoy! Look-a that, will ye!" sings out Sessions, an’ p’ints with his lean forefinger at Golden Hill. Thar, top-a the fortifications, I see a little knot-a men, ten er a dozen, mebbe, separatin’, getherin’ together, an’ it seems ta me wavin’ teeny little arms like bugs’ feelers, only lookin’ ’bout a million times smaller. The sun glinted on su’thin’ bright that must-a ben a sword. I didn’t have no time ta notice nuthin’ else, when Puff! . . . out squirts a little white cloud from beside the group, an’ Zee-e-e-ee! . . . su’thin’ sings sudden, ’way high in the air, an’ down screams a shell an’ kerchugs inta the sea like a waterspout, some fifty fathom off’n the port bow. In a minute Boom-m-m-mm! comes the report, rollin’ an’ echoin’ over the bay. The Chink sailors lets out a yell you c’d-a heerd half a mile, an’ falls on their punkin-colored faces. Old J. B. looks thunderstruck.

"That’s a rotten bad shot!" says I, "if it’s us they’s after, an’ I reckon it is! If they can’t shoot no better’n that!" says I, "I wouldn’t be ’fraid ta go agin ’em with popguns! Look-a that, now, will ve?" Puff! . . . Zee-e-e-ee ! ! . . . PLOP- WHOOSH!! . . . Boom-m-m-mm!!! ’Nuther shell spouts like an old bull-whale less’n two boat-len’ths ahead.

"I dunno," says Sessions, settin’ down on the junk’s rail an’ spittin’ inta the water contemplative, "it looks like they’ve begun ta git the range, an’ mebbe we’ve gotta swim fer it, after all! Darn long swim ta Chee-Foo, ain’t it? But ... by Cripes. Alvin, what in tarnation d’you think that is?"

Over the jagged shoulder of Hwang Chin promentory they’s a long low smudge o’ smoke jest beginnin’ ta show. As I turns ta look at it they comes a jarrin’ footfall on the deck, an’ thar stan’s old Apoplexy, b’ilin’.

"Gawd blarst your dirty Yankee hides!" he blubbers, half-chokin’ with rage an’ fear. "Wot in ’ell does all this mean? Wot you mean comin’ aboard my junk with your dam’ pack o’ lies, runnin’ me into all this mess an’ riskin’ me an’ mine to save your filthy American carcasses? By Gawd, if ever I once get you fellows ashore I’ll jolly well——"

"You shet up!" snaps Sessions from the rail. "Go ’way! You make me peevish! Shoo! You done us fer fair when you had the chance, an’ it’s our turn now, you hear me? Git ’long back to that tiller, now, an’ swing’er round t’ starboard! I’ll have you understand I’m a-goin’ ta run this here junk myself, from this very minute! Git a hustle on, now, er I’ll jest natchully——" But he never got no further, for——

Puff! . . . Zee-e-e-ee!! . . . SMASH BANG!!! ... A six-inch shell shivers us plum in the bow, like hell bruk loose, an’ smashes in all the forepart of the junk like you’d mash an aig on a rock. The air’s jest a-rainin’ flyin’ splinters, steel bolts, cargo, an’ God knows what, the same failin’ on me promisc’us as I lays half-stunned on deck. In roars the sea, an’ the old junk she heels up by the starn, liftin’ J. B. high in air.

I pulls myself up agin ta my feet, on the slantin’ deck, an’ lo an’ behold! they ain’t no Sessions! "Hi!.. Sessions!.. Sessions!.. SUMNER SESSIONS!!..." I yells like a crazy fool, an’ stares around an’ yells agin. An’ will you b’leeve me, they ain’t a livin’ soul on that thar junk but me an’ old J. B.! They’s a string of bubbles a-comin’ up, though, ’longside, an’ I knowed only too well whar Sessions was--he’d got back ta land a dum sight quicker’n he’d cal’lated to, only ’twan’t dry land! That thar shell had blowed him clean off’n the rail, an’ he an’ his money-belt, a good solid twenty pound of gold, had went down t’gether ta Davy Jones like they was a dipsey lead. Our old wreck drifts on an’ on, away from the bubbles.

She’s fillin’ fast, an’ I knows she can’t last five minutes at the outside, so I looks lively an’ sees what’s best ta be done. They’s a middlin’ big teak deck-beam that the shell had all but bruk loose, an’ it don’t take me a minute ta finish the job, pryin’ with a splintered board. I drags the beam down inta the water in the waist of the junk (er what answered fer sech on that heathen craft!), unbuckles my belt, slips it over the end of the beam, an’ shoves off. Bull he refuses ta quit, an’ stan’s thar high in the air, tip-tilted, blasphemin’ himself crazy an’ rehearsin’ not only my own parentage, but also that of ev’ry Yankee ever born, six gen’rations back, ’cordin ta his way of thinkin’. As I dog-paddles off, thar he still stan’s at that ridic’lus tiller, sinkin’ lower an’ lower ev’rv minute, with his cargo spreadin’ out all ’round him on the surface as the vessil wallers down. I makes off as fast’s I kin, so’s not ta be pulled under by the swirl, but even so when junk an’ old J. B. goes down they’s enough suction ta wash me ’round three four times purty lively. But I hangs onta my teak an’ keeps my mouth shet, an’ finally we floats clear, me an’ my Rooshian rubles!

So then, it’s comin’ on dark, quite sudden, the way it does in them parts, which is salvation ta me, as it turns out, fer that smudge behind Hwang Chin that Sessions was a-pintin’ out ta me jest when the shell ketched us wa’n’t nuthin’ more ner less than one of them Jap patrol-boats that always closes in snugger to’ards night, a-watchin’ fer jest sech folks as us. It looked darn suspicious ta ’em ta see a junk smashed by the land-batt’ries more’n a mile from shore, an’ no wonder; so when it’s a little darker down the old patrol slides in the gloom ta where the junk went down. I waved an’ yelled like the very Old Harry when they got snug up ta me, an’ finally made ’em take notice, though I’m bound ta confess fer a while I thought they never would tumble! Well, anyway, the yaller chaps launched a dingey, at last, an’ picked me up, me an’ my rubles.

THE rest’s too painful t’ expatiate on. They was good enough ta me, ’long of me bein an American, nakid an’ in distress; but them rubles! . . . Don’t mention ’em! Gold, Rooshian gold with two-headed eagles on’t! Rankest kind of contraband! Oh, the devil an’ Tom Walker! . . .

They landed me a week later at Nagasaki, dressed in one of them kimoner-things—a cross ’tween a dressin’-gown an’ a nighty. ’Twas all they had ta spare—they hadn’t no Christian pants on board, ’cept uniforms, an’ them was illegal fer me ta wear. Anyway, I got ashore at last, pants er no pants, with ten yen in my pocket, which the commander gin me out-a charity. Them ten yen an’ the kimoner was all I got fer my ten hundurd in gold coin. Now, ain’t this a hell of a world, I want ta know!

Come ta think, the Russkies done better than what we did—they got them ten ton o’ coal anyway, an’ it reely was first chop, too! But as fer me an’ Sessions (whom I mourned sincere an’ still do!) all we got out-a that fool Argonaut business, ’side the loss of our entire capital, an’ his life an’ my clo’es, was experience, yessir, jest plain ornery experience; an’ shucks! you kin pick that up anywheres! You don’t have ta go way ta Chee-Foo ner ta Port Arthur nuther ta find that, now I’m a-goin’ ta tell ye! . . .


The Russo-Japanese War

The blockade of Port Arthur, the central plot point of "Sessions and the Steam Coal," occurred at the beginning of what would become known as the Russo-Japanese War—a conflict that lasted from February, 1904 to September, 1905. Without going into too much detail (we’ll let you look it up), suffice to say that Port Arthur was located at the southern tip of the Liáodong Peninsula (identified on the map as the "Liao-tung Peninsula"), across Korea Bay from Korea. Russia had leased Port Arthur in 1898 from the Chinese, after Russian forces had assisted the Chinese in ousting the Japanese from China, and the port was considered an important addition to Russian interests. With a naval base at Port Arthur, Russia not only gained year-round access to the Pacific Ocean, but also access to the natural resources available in Manchuria and Korea. Russia invested heavily in the port; making it the base for their Pacific fleet, fortifying the port and surrounding areas, and extending rail lines down the peninsula to connect to the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The Japanese, however, thought ill of Russia’s incursion into an area they had once controlled and were also concerned that Russian expansion into Northern China and Korea would prove to be a threat to Japan. On February 8, 1904, Japan launched a surprise naval attack on Port Arthur, shelling both the Russian fleet docked in the harbor and surrounding entrenched Russian forces: a battle that lasted into the following day. Around the same time, Japanese ground forces were deployed in both Korea and on the Liáodong Peninsula itself, with the goal of cutting the Russian land supply lines to the port and removing all Russian forces from the peninsula.

When the full-out naval assault of February 8th and 9th failed to take the port, the Japanese attempted to blockade the entrance to Port Arthur, both with mines and by sinking ships at the harbor entrance, in hopes of bottling the Russian fleet in the harbor and blocking the delivery of supplies from the sea. The Russians responded in kind and laid their own mines to block the Japanese vessels from coming close enough to use their guns effectively on the Russian fortifications. Our story is set during the early portion of the blockade, most likely in late February or early April of 1904, before the land attacks began and Port Arthur was fully cut off from the outside (the combined land and sea attacks eventually brought about the Russian surrender of the port in January of 1905. The war continued on other fronts, however, until a treaty, negotiated in part by US President Theodore Roosevelt, was signed on September 5, 1905).

The Places in the Story
A map of the Russo-Japanese War
Chee-foo is identified on the map as "Chi-fu."
Clicking this will open a larger version in a new tab.

Since the story "Sessions and the Steam-Coal" was written nearly 100 years ago, trying to chart the stopping points mentioned by the story’s protagonist is a bit of a daunting task. Place names have changed over the years, and England, following the maps from that era, uses Anglicized versions of the Chinese place names, which not only changed the spelling, but inserted hyphens into nearly all the names used. The map shown at the right was made to show the points of interest in the Russo-Japanese War and not a map of China proper, so it should only be used for general reference. Below are, as best we have been able to determine, the locations featured in the story.

Port Arthur
Port Arthur is today known as the City, and Port, of Lüshun.
Liao-tung Peninsula
The area that stretches north of Port Arthur on the map, is, in actuality, the Liáodong Peninsula.
The town England calls Chee-Foo was actually the town of Chefoo, known today as Yantai: a port city founded by the British in 1862 (listed on the map at right as "Chi-fu").
Ping Pong
There doesn’t appear to be any map reference that even closely resembles this place name. A village with a similar name may have existed at one time, but was so small that it doesn’t appear on any map.
Ning-Hai (South of the Shan-tung Peninsula below the bottom of the map)
More properly known as Ninghai, this city that is somewhat inland, but surrounded by six different ports (although none of them bear the name of Ninghai). It is quite far to the south from the starting point of Chefoo and, in order to get there, our protagonists bypassed both Shanghai (the largest port) and Ningpo (the second largest): both logical choices for buying a load of coal. It is mentioned in the story, however, that they wished to avoid suspicion and it is not known whether there was a port named Ninghai at the time the story was written.
This reference is quite confusing, as Tsi-Chau was at one point also known as Tsínan fu, the capital of Shadong Province (at least according to an 1870 reference book). This Province, north of Shanghai, encompasses an area that includes the starting point of the adventure, Chefoo (the current Yantai) and a portion of the Province is identified on the map as the Shan-tung Peninsula. The length of time mentioned in the story would be in keeping with a journey from a location south of Shanghai, suggesting that our placement of Ninghai is correct, especially since the one-way distance from Yantai to Ninghai is in excess of 800 miles.
"tied up at the P. & O. dock"
P. & O. was a common shorthand for The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. Founded in 1822, the Company ran mail, passenger and freight services from England to India, Australia and China, and is still in existence today. P. & O. had supply depots located along the routes they traveled and, with a major terminal in Shanghai, it is quite possible they had a depot in, or around Ninghai, as they traveled extensively up and down the east coast of China.
And lastly:
The quotation that "the sun come up like thunder out-a China ’cross the bay." is a dialect version of a line from "Mandalay" by Rudyard Kipling. Of course, if our intrepid adventurers are traveling "nor’-nor’-west" there is no way they could see the sun rising "out-a China."
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