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Three Cups of Tea.

WE tumbled across him in the nor'-west corner of New South Wales. He was not what you might call a rouseabout. He seemed a decent sort of fellow, and his name was Good; but he astonished us when he said he didn't like tea.

“Not like tea?” spluttered old Packer. “You're not fool enough to drink the soup they call water here?”

“Sometimes I boil it,” replied Good. “Sometimes, if it's extrasmelly, I boil it and put wood-ashes in it; then I strain it through a handkerchief.”

“Well,” said Jim Bride, enigmatically, “wot doesn't fatten fills. If I'd strained some of the post-and-rail tea I've seen there wouldn't be much left to drink.”

One evening, when a common danger drew all our party together in human friendliness and Time weighed leaden hours, Good told us why he didn't drink tea.

“I had as good a claim on Flying Pig Hill as a man wants; and, though I lived pretty freely, I managed to put by a few notes. I reckoned to buy a farm down in Gippsland and take things easy. I lived in a hut right on my claim; but I boarded at old Ching Foo's, because I hated cooking for myself.

“Old Ching Foo kept a straight enough house, and he treated me real well. He would yarn away sometimes as if I was a relation of his; and once or twice he gave me a nip of the best brandy I ever tasted.

“One night, when I'd had a glass or two and was a bit excited-like because the claim was doing so well, Ching Foo said to me,

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‘You come along my house; I got something I show. You not tell any other fellow; I say when go.’

“It was dark when we started, but Ching Foo seemed to know the road all right, and I followed him. I don't know which way we went, but we didn't walk more than a mile when we struck a house, and Ching Foo took me in. He put me down in a snug chair in a room where one or two lights burned softly, and there was a curious tea-ey smell. Ching Foo left me; then the lights went up gradually, and in came Ching Foo again, but he was dressed differently. He had on a blue, shiny coat and loose white pants, and his pigtail hung down like a rope.

“We walked into another room, and there we had dinner. Not a boarding-house feed; but curried fowl, all sorts of vegetables, and such puddings as I'd never tasted before. After dinner we had cigars; and then a young woman—a little, slim creature with a veil over her face—brought in some tea, and I drank it. Now, that was tea. The smell of it seemed to send one into a kind of dream, and the taste of it made the dream as nice as a dream could be. I saw old Ching Foo smiling away; then he handed me the box of cigars and said: ‘You smoke these; velly good. I smoke pipe’—and I knew by the old fellow's face that he was going to take his opium.

“I was in a most inexpressibly comfortable mood—perhaps the whisky I'd had in the afternoon might have softened me a bit, but it was that tea that seemed to set me off. The girl entered with another cup. She came close against me, and there seemed to be a sort of magnetism in her. When she took the saucer she seemed to touch my knee, and I declare that touch made me feel as if I'd known her all my life and had been in love with her since I could remember. She was dressed in something thin and soft; something that showed her rounded shoulders and bust. Lord, the very sight of her was enough to make a fellow feel drunk! She thought I'd finished my tea, and stooped over me to take the cup; and then—I swear I couldn't help it—I slid the cup to the floor and put my arms round her. She didn't draw back; she seemed to think that

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I'd a right to do it. She snuggled softly against me; then she somehow dropped her veil and I saw her face. It was such a face as I'd never seen before, and I suppose I shall never see again. It was white as milk, and small, and her eyes were beautiful as—as … and they looked into mine, and I stooped down and kissed her. She whispered ‘Are you afraid of Ching Foo?’ and I laughed low. As if I'd be afraid of anybody then!

“ ‘Afraid of him!’ said I.

“‘O hush!’ she said; ‘be quiet, or he will come.’

“I kept quiet, for I had my arms around her, and I didn't want to move ever again. The whole thing seemed like a dream, but I knew it was real. Such a dainty little figure, and her skin as soft and white as a flower.

“There was a slight sound, and in a moment she was out of my arms and had disappeared.

“Ching Foo came in, and we had a yarn. I told him what the claim was yielding, and pretty well all the best side of my affairs; and he just nodded his head.

“Three nights after that Ching Foo asked me to go home with him again, and I jumped at the chance. It was just the same as before. The room with the lights—the same sort of dinner, the wonderful cup of tea, then Ching Foo taking his opium—then the girl coming in again. She and I drank the tea together. She sat by my side as close as close could be. I kissed her soft, little mouth and her hair—I could have kept on kissing her all my life, and wanted nothing better to do. We didn't talk much, but she asked me my name, and she got me to write it down on a bit of paper, and when I wrote it she kissed me and slipped away. Then Ching Foo came in.

“I fished for another invitation, but old Ching Foo didn't savee my hints until one day he asked me to lend him ten pounds, and said he'd give me security on a section of land he owned, and, as he couldn't write, he got Tom Abner and Jerry Brash to witness his mark. As he signed it, he whispered, ‘You satisfy take tea

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alonga me, to-night?’ and I said, ‘You bet I'm satisfied, and devilish glad to get it.’

“Old Ching Foo said low-like to me, ‘You sign paper, too.’ I was going to tell him that there was no occasion for me to sign, but he seemed to know what was in my mind, and looked sulky, and I was thinking of the chance of seeing that girl, so I signed just to please him, and he laughed like a happy boy.

“It came again—room, dinner, cigars, the cup of tea, and—and my girl. She seemed to come straight to my arms, and I held her fast.

“I drank the cup of tea at a gulp when I found she would not share it. It tasted a bit bitter, being a trifle strong. I wonder how I remember this, for I had her in my arms before the cup was well out of my hands. Her dark hair was loosened and hung down in long, wavy lines; her veil lay on the floor. I looked into her eyes, she looked into mine; then her lips seemed to come to mine, her arms went round my neck.… Poof! folks may talk about opium and that stuff; but that girl was real. Could I remember it all so well after so many years? No, I held her, and I don't want heaven to be any better than that; and it lasted—was it an hour or a second?…

“When I came to myself I was in a stinking little hovel that some Chinese gardeners used to own, and when Tom Abner saw me he said, ‘Well, I'm blamed! Why, it's town-talk that you had bought Ching Foo's section and had gone down to Melbourne to float a big thing in mines.’

“When I went to the township I found that Ching Foo had presented a cheque signed by me at the bank, and had drawn out all my money. Tom Abner and Jerry Brash had seen me sign the transfer, and had heard me say that it was all right, and that I was satisfied.

“Well, and I was satisfied. Ching may have got at me badly; but I'd pay twice as much—aye, a hundred times as much, if I had it—for another meeting with that girl.”