In its mix of politics, military tactics, action, martial arts, magic, and even the bawdy (the chapters on Wu Song laying the groundwork for Jin Ping Mei), this beloved novel is an unsurpassed classic in any language.
“The leader is Ward Chief Chao of East Bank. To tell you the truth,
we don't know the names of the other six. We beg your utmost
Song Jiang was shocked. He said to himself: “Chao Gai is one of my
dearest friends! This crime he's committed is a capital offense! I must
save him. If they capture him he's sure to die!”
Concealing his anxiety, Song Jiang said: “That dirty scoundrel.
Everyone in the county hates him. So now he's come to this. We'll make
“Please help us apprehend him.”
“There won't be any difficulty. 'Easy as catching turtles in a jug.
Just stretch out your hand,' as the old saying goes. But you'll have to
present your order to the magistrate when the court is in session. He
will read it and send men to make the arrest. I'm only a clerk. I
couldn't assume responsibility for an important matter like this. What
if word leaked out!”
“You're quite right. Please lead me in.”
“The magistrate has been busy all morning and he's taking a short
rest. If you'll wait a bit, court will be resumed soon. I'll call you.”
“I hope you'll help us accomplish our mission, come what may.”
“Naturally. That goes without saying. I must go home to attend to a
few things. I'll be right back. Please sit and rest a while.”
“Go ahead, sir Clerk. I'll wait here for you.”
Song Jiang rose and left the booth. “If that gentleman wants any more
tea, put it on my account,” he said to the waiter. He hurried from the
teahouse and told his attendant to remain outside the door. “When the
magistrate resumes court, go into the tea-house and tell the officer
I'll be back soon,” he instructed. “Ask him to please wait a bit.”
At his house, Song Jiang saddled his horse and led it out the rear
gate. Quirt in hand, he mounted and walked the beast slowly from the
county town. Once outside the East Gate, he struck the horse sharply
twice with his quirt, and the animal scooted like a rabbit towards East
Bank. In less than half a watch Song arrived at Chao Gai's manor. When
a vassal saw who it was, he went in and reported.
Chao Gai was drinking wine with Wu Yong, Gongsun Sheng and Liu Tang
beneath a grape arbor in the rear garden. The three Ruan brothers had
received their share of the loot and returned to Stone Tablet Village.
The vassal announced that Clerk Song was at the front gate.
“How many people with him?” asked Chao Gai.
“He's alone, and his horse is in a lather,” replied the vassal. “He
wants to see you at once.”
“Something must be up.” Chao Gai hastened out.
Song Jiang hailed the ward chief respectfully, grasped him by the
hand and walked to a small building nearby.
“Why have you come in such a hurry, sir Clerk?”
“You know my devotion, brother. I'd lay down my life for you. They've
broken the Yellow Earth Ridge case! Bai Sheng has been taken to the
prison in Jizhou. He's confessed about you seven. The prefect has sent
an Inspector Ho and several men, with orders both from himself and
Premier Cai that all seven be apprehended, and naming you as the
leader. Thank Heaven the matter fell into my hands! I put the inspector
off by saying the magistrate was sleeping, and told him to wait for me
in the teahouse opposite the court. Then I came galloping out here to
warn you. 'Of all the thirty-six possible solutions, the best one is—
leave.' Get out, quickly! Don't delay! I'm going back now to take the
inspector and his documents into court. The magistrate will send men
this very night. You mustn't delay. If anything goes wrong, I'll be
helpless. Don't blame me if I can't save you!”
“Brother,” said the startled Chao Gai. “I'll never be able to thank
“Save your breath. Just concentrate on getting away. Don't linger. I
must go back.”
“There are seven of us. The three Ruan brothers—Second, Fifth and
Seventh—have returned to Stone Tablet Village with their share. The
other three are here. You must meet them.” Chao Gai led Song Jiang to
the rear garden and introduced him.
“Wu Yong. Gaongsun Sheng, from Jizhou. Liu Tang, from Dounglu.”
Song Jiang exchanged a few brief courtesies and turned to leave.
“Look after yourself, brother,” he urged the ward chief. “Get away
quickly. I'm going now.” He mounted his horse at the front gate,
flailed his quirt, and flew back to the county town.
“Do you know who that was?” Chao Gai asked his three companions.
“What was he in such a hurry about?” countered Wu Yong. “Who is he?”
“This will surprise you, but if he hadn't come all of us would be
“Does that mean there's been a leak and our story's got out?” cried
“That brother came to warn us, at the greatest risk to himself. Bai
Sheng has been arrested. He's in Jizhou Prison, and he's named the
seven of us! The prefect has sent an Inspector Ho and some men,
together with a special order from the Premier, to request Yuncheng
County to apprehend us immediately. Fortunately, my friend kept the
inspector waiting in a tea-house while he rushed out here. When he gets
back the magistrate will issue his orders and send men this very night
to arrest us. What shall we do?”
“If he hadn't informed us, we'd all be in the net,” said Wu Yong.
“Who is our benefactor?”
“A clerk in the magistrate's court, Song Jiang, Defender of
“I've heard of him, but we've never met, though we live not far
The other two asked: “Isn't he the one known among chivalrous men as
Song Jiang the Timely Rain?”
Chao Gai nodded. “That's the man. He and I are very close, we're
sworn brothers. Teacher Wu hasn't met him, but I can assure you he's
worthy of his reputation. Since I became his blood brother I feel that
my life hasn't been lived in vain!”