“Don’t forget to scrub that turtle thoroughly before you cook it,” the Ch’engs said on their way out to do some errands. “It’s so big you’ll have to be careful how you cook it. Be sure to do a good job.”
“Sure, I know,” their maid said. When they had left, she went to the kitchen and looked at the turtle, figuring out where to start. But when she saw the turtle sitting there on the floor, she felt sorry for it. “Poor turtle. Wouldn’t you rather be swimming in the river than swimming in gravy?”
Why did the maid feel sorry for this particular turtle? She had cooked plenty of turtles for the Ch’engs, because they loved to eat turtle. Well, who knows, she felt sorry for it, that’s all, so she picked it up and headed for the door to let it go.
“No, that won’t do, what’ll the Ch’engs do when they come back expecting a turtle feast and I tell them, sorry, I let it go? But even if they whip me, that won’t hurt me as much as cooking this turtle would hurt it.” So the maid made up her mind and let the turtle go.
Sure enough, when the Ch’engs came back ready for a feast and found the table bare, they bawled out the maid and beat her and whipped her. But she got over it, and everybody more or less forgot about it.
Later, there was an epidemic. The maid got terribly sick. The Ch’engs had the doctor in to look at her, and the doctor told them they might as well get her coffin ready, because she was a goner.
That night, the maid sensed something crawling out of the pond, something slimy, wet, and muddy. It was coming closer to her. Closer and closer it came. It came into her room, and crept up to her bed. Then it crawled onto her bed, but for some reason, the maid wasn’t frightened.
Then that wet, muddy thing climbed up on top of her, and she felt cool all over. She hadn’t felt so comfortable for days.
The next morning, Mrs. Ch’eng came in with a tape measure to see what size coffin to buy, and found her maid sitting up. She was all muddy, but she looked much better. “You’re up?” Mrs. Ch’eng asked.
“Yes, Ma’am, it’s very strange, but I feel a lot better today.”
“Why are you all muddy?”
The maid told her about what happened during the night. Mrs. Ch’eng really got worried then, because she thought her maid was delirious. She decided to keep watch that night.
At midnight, the Ch’engs saw that big turtle the maid had let go crawl back into the room and smear mud all over the maid. They couldn’t believe their eyes, but within days, their maid was up and around again, one of the only persons to recover from the epidemic.
From then on, the Ch’engs never ate another turtle.