Tell Me a Story

The Boy Who Loved Cheese (A Dutch Folktale)

Caspar loved cheese. He could never get enough. He loved Gouda and Edam, Leyden and Bluefort, Maasdam and Onion. The boy weighed only 60 pounds, but he ate like a man three times his size.

Caspar's father was a farmer. Every morning for breakfast the family ate thick slices of rye bread, fresh milk from their cows and slices of cheese. At dinnertime, along with his boiled potatoes and hot melted butter, he also ate cheese, and for dessert Caspar always begged for cheese curds with brown sugar sprinkled on top.

"Enough of the cheese," his mother scolded him. "Don't be greedy!" But in between meals Caspar would sneak thin slices of cheese, and still he never had enough.

"More cheese!" he'd cry.

"Is your stomach an empty well?" his father asked, laughing at him.

His sisters, Anneke and Saartje and Taatje, loved their brother, but they, too, teased him. "You're worse than butter and eggs," they said, "and just as difficult." They meant their brother was as difficult as toad flax, the pretty weed that grew in their fields.

"Stop eating!" Anneke cried out one warm spring night, and his mother pulled away his plate. "You're a greedy boy!" she scolded him.

Caspar was terribly upset. He ran outside to a sandy slope not far from home. He inhaled the sweet spring air and dried his tears. "I'm not greedy," he muttered to himself, and he began to walk toward some pine trees. Suddenly he saw a string of lights dancing beneath a tree. One beam shot near him and passed in front of him. Then he heard a voice in his ear saying, "Caspar, follow us."

"Fireflies?" he thought uneasily. "They must be fireflies." But he watched more closely as those lights converged into one long beam of light. Out of that beam of light stepped a lovely young girl as wispy and beautiful as a fairy.

Caspar shook his head. "It's only a dream," he whispered, and he closed his eyes. Again the voice called to him: "Caspar, follow us." Then he heard laughter.

"Follow us; there's plenty of cheese where we're from."

Now Caspar thought of the tales the ladies in the village told about fairies that inhabited the pine forest. They said those fairies lived in fairy rings deep in the woods. This must be a fairy trying to lure him into the woods.

Would he be safe?

The light circled his head and shot into the sky, rising toward the fat full moon that hung over the chimney of Caspar's little house. The light rose higher, and the voice called, "Come with us ... there's plenty of cheese."

Caspar's mouth began to water. "What have I to lose?" he asked, so he began to follow that light, walking right into the dense pine woods.

His wooden shoes crushed the soft earth beneath him, and though he tried to walk quietly, before long he came to what looked to be a circle of fireflies. He blinked three times, for he could not believe his eyes.

There before him were dozens of pretty little creatures, tiny as the little dolls his sisters loved, pretty as any of them, and they were dancing up a storm.

The fairies sparkled with light, as if they were tiny lamps with wings. They were holding hands, dancing around and around the ring of grass in the center.

"It is the fairy ring," Caspar gasped, amazed.

In a wink the fairies surrounded the boy. Two of them, with dainty fingers, took his hands and pulled him forward. "Come, dance with us," they entreated.

Caspar never danced, but he felt his wooden clad feet growing light, and his legs began to twitch. And then he was dancing! Amazing that a boy who never danced was here in the pine forest, hands clasped by two pretty fairies, dancing and dancing, hoping never to stop.

He could not remember ever having as much fun as this!

All night long Caspar and the fairies danced. Then, just as the first beam of light filtered through the branches above, the fairies stopped dancing and disappeared.

When they re-appeared before him, they were carrying great trays laden with different cheeses: Gouda and Edam, Leyden and Bluefort, Maasdam and Onion...

The fairies handed Caspar slice after slice, brick after brick, and he gleefully ate and ate and ate.

He was delighted, for there was no sister to tease him, no father to laugh at him, no mother to stop him from eating and eating and eating.

Eventually, Caspar's stomach began to feel so full, he could barely breathe. "Stop," he said to the fairies. "I can't eat another bite!"

But fairies do not like to stop, so more flew out of the sky and came in from the forest, each one carrying a round of cheese. Those rounds were piling up higher and higher, rising up to the sky. Soon the forest no longer smelled like pine trees; it smelled like Limburg.

"Stop, please!" Caspar cried, for the strong smell of Limburg made him feel sick. It was the one cheese he had never liked.

Then the fairy queen appeared, holding the largest cheese of all, a brick of cheese so big that Caspar feared if she dropped it, it might crush him.

Her arm trembled. "Eat this!" she cried, and he let out a scream of terror.

That's when he woke.

The sun was rising up above the crest of the hill near his house. The village clock rang out six times. His hair was wet with dew. He looked around but saw no fairies anywhere, and his stomach no longer ached.

Caspar hurried home and sneaked into his room. He never told a soul about the fairies, and he was never certain if he had met them or not. Still, from that day on he was no longer so greedy for cheese!

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