Excerpt from The Water Margin, chapter 20
(Read the original here.)
In Yuncheng County there was a man named Tang the Second, who made his living selling pickled vegetables. He was more commonly known as Tang the Ox, and often spent his time idling in the streets. Whenever Tang heard some useful gossip pertaining to a court case, he would tell Song Jiang and receive some pocket money in exchange. For this reason, Tang would never hesitate to help Song Jiang out.
Now on this particular night, Tang had lost all his money gambling, so he went to look for Song Jiang at the magistrate’s office. But the clerk was nowhere to be found. So Tang headed for Old Woman Yan’s house, where he saw a lamp was lit and the door was open. He snuck inside and walked over to the staircase, where he could hear Old Woman Yan’s laughter in the room above. Tang tiptoed up the stairs and peeked through a crack in the partition. Song Jiang and Poxi were both staring at the floor, looking miserable, while Old Woman Yan was sitting at the head of the table, talking a blue streak.
Tang entered the room, greeting everyone from the doorway.
“Just in time!” thought Song Jiang to himself. He made a discreet signal with his lips.
Catching on, Tang said, “Sir Clerk, I’ve been looking for you everywhere. And yet it turns out you were here all along, eating and drinking at your leisure!”
“Did something happen at the county office?” asked Song Jiang.
“Sir Clerk, how could you have forgotten? It’s that matter that came up this morning. The magistrate is in the tribunal and is furious. He’s sent several runners looking for you, and is running out of patience. You should hurry up!”
“Well, if it’s that important, I better get going.”
He stood up to leave, but Old Woman Yan stopped him. “Sir Clerk, stop pretending. I know this Tang is trying to trick me. You think you scoundrels can fool an old lady? You have about as much chance of stealing an axe from Lu Ban the Carpenter! At this time of night the magistrate is at home eating and drinking with his wife. What sort of matter would he be bothering with now? I can see straight through your lies!”
“The magistrate really is waiting for him,” Tang the Ox replied. “I wouldn’t lie to you!”
“Dog farts! My eyes are as clear as a crystal gourd! I saw Sir Clerk give you a signal when you came in. Instead of encouraging him to stay at home with his family, you’re trying to drag him away. As the saying goes: ‘Murder can be forgiven, but acting without principles cannot.’”
The old woman jumped up, ran over to Tang, and pushed him over to the staircase, her hands around his neck. Liang-liang-liang, qiang-qiang-qiang, down the stairs the two of them went, tumbling one step after another.
“Get your hands off me!” Tang cried.
“What you just did was as bad as killing your parents or your wife. If I hear you make another sound, I’ll beat you silly, you no-good beggar!”
Tang took a step forward. “Go ahead!”
The old woman, who by now was completely drunk, spread her fingers wide and smacked him twice in the face. The blow knocked Tang right out the door, taking the bamboo curtain with him.
Still swearing bloody murder, Old Woman Yan snatched the curtain off the street and rolled it up, shoving it inside. She then slammed the twin doors shut and locked them tight.
Tang the Ox, his face stinging from humiliation, yelled after her, “You thieving old louse! If it weren’t for Clerk Song, I’d tear down your house with my bare hands! If I don’t get you on an odd day, then I’ll get you on an even! If I don’t finish you, my name’s not Tang!” He walked away pounding his chest, cursing her name.