THE FIVE QUEER BROTHERS
By Adele M. Fielde
AN old woman had five grown-up sons that looked just alike. The eldest
could gulp up the ocean at a mouthful; the second was hard enough to
nick steel; the third had extensible legs; the fourth was unaffected by
fire; the fifth lived without breathing. They all concealed their
peculiar traits, and their neighbors did not know they were queer.
The eldest supported the family by fishing, going alone to the sea, and
bringing back loads of spoil. The neighbors often besought him to
teach their sons how to fish, and he at last let all their boys go with
him, one day, to learn his art. On reaching the shore he sucked the
sea into his mouth, and sent the boys to the dry bottom to collect the
fish. When he was tired of holding the water, he beckoned to the boys
to return, but they were playing among strange objects and paid no heed
to him. When he could contain the sea no longer, he had to let it flow
back into its former basin, and all the boys were drowned.
As he went homeward, he passed the doom of the parents, who inquired
how many fish their sons had caught and how long they would be in
coming back. He told them the facts, but they would not excuse him.
They dragged him before the magistrate to account for the loss of their
children. He defended himself by saying he had not invited the boys to
go with him, and had consented to their going only when the parents had
repeatedly urged him; that after the boys were on the ocean bed, he had
done his utmost to induce them to come ashore; that he had held the
water as long as he could, and had then put it in the sea basin solely
because nothing else would contain it.
Notwithstanding this defense the judges decided that since he took the
boys away and did not bring them back, he was guilty of murder and
sentenced him to be beheaded.
He entreated leave to pay, before his execution, one visit to his aged
mother, and this was granted.
He went alone and told his brothers of his doom, and the second brother
returned in his stead to the judge, thanked him for having given him
permission to perform a duty required by filial piety, and said he was
then ready to die.
He knelt with bowed head and the headsman brought the knife down across
the back of his neck, but the knife was nicked and the neck was left
A second knife and a third of finer steel were brought and tried by
headsmen who were accustomed to sever heads clean off at one stroke.
Having spoiled their best blades without so much as scratching his
neck, they took him back to prison and informed the judge that the
sentence could not be executed.
The judge accordingly decreed that he should be dropped into the sea
which covered his victims.
When the old woman's son heard this decision he said that he took leave
of his mother supposing that his head was to be cut off, and that if he
was to be drowned he must go to her and make known his fate and get her
Permission being given, he went and told his brothers what had
happened. The third brother took the place of the second and presented
himself before the judge as the criminal that was to be sunk in the
sea. He was carried far from shore and thrown overboard, but he
stretched his legs till his feet touched bottom, and he stood with his
head in the air. They hauled him aboard and took him farther from
land, but still his extensible legs supported him above the waters.
Then they sailed to mid-ocean and cast him into its greatest depths,
but his legs still lengthened so that he was not drowned. They brought
him back to the judge, reported what had been done, and said that some
other method of destroying him must be followed.
On hearing this the judge condemned him to death by being boiled in
oil. While the caldron was being heated he begged and obtained
permission to go and tell his mother of the way he had survived from
the attempt to drown him, and of the manner in which he was soon to be
His brothers having heard the latest judgment, the fourth one went to
bear the penalty of the law and was lowered into the kettle of boiling
oil. In this he disported himself as if in a tepid bath, and he even
asked his executioners to stir up the fire a little to increase the
warmth. Finding that he could not be fried, he was remanded to prison.
At this the populace, the bereaved parents, and the magistrate joined
in an effort to invent a sure method of putting him to death. Water,
fire, and sword all having failed, they finally fixed upon smothering
him in a vast cream cake.
The whole country round made contributions of flour for the pastry, of
sugar for the filling, and of bricks for a huge oven; and it was made
and baked on a plain outside the city walls.
Meanwhile the prisoner was allowed to go and bid his mother farewell,
and the fifth brother secretly became his substitute.
When the cake was done, a multitude of people with oxen, horses, and
ropes dragged it to the execution ground, and within it the culprit was
As he was able to exist without air he rested peacefully till the next
midnight, and then safely crawled forth, returned to his home, and
dwelt there happily for many years with his remarkable brothers.