Tea for Two in Tiny Cups

I thought I was invited to dinner, but the tiny, sparkly-eyed, white-haired woman named Miss Browndown had in fact invited me, a young, hitchhiking traveler in England, to high tea at 4:30. Almost dinner time to a hungry, tall American traveling by his thumb.

Her home, a Lilliputian stone cottage on the Isle of Wight, was so small I had to duck to enter the front door. Once inside, I immediately tensed. Everywhere were small glass figurines, little commemorative plates, and tiny pots.

I sat gingerly across from Miss Browndown in a low chair so remarkably tiny that it broke out in a fit of creaking and groaning when I sat in it.

''I love your inches,'' she said, praising my height while she poured tea from a fat but tiny blue pot into very tiny cups. To my right and left were plates of mouthwatering biscuits and cookies.

We chatted about California freeways, motorcars, and Hollywood while I submarined through the cookies.

After several cups of tea, I suddenly realized that my right index finger was stuck in the small handle of the cup. Although she couldn't prove it, she said, her family insisted that the very cups we were sipping from had been used by the queen.

Strategies to release my finger without breaking the cup swept through my mind. While my desperation increased cup after cup, Miss Browndown continued to pour tea in the tiny cup the instant I finished each round.

Casually, I would grasp the cup in my left hand, and while chatting amicably, I would unsuccessfully try to remove the cup from my finger rather than removing my finger from the cup. But hot tea sloshed on the rug and my hand.

Finally, after I had devoured most of the cookies and drunk six or seven cupfuls, Miss Browndown laughed delightfully at my appetite and excused herself with empty plate in hand to go to the kitchen for more. The instant she was out of sight, I shot into action.

I removed the lid from the pot, poured in my tea, grasped the empty cup, thought of very small thoughts and the longevity of the monarchy, and managed to ease my finger out of the tiny handle without shattering the cup.

Perspiration of relief danced upon my brow.

''More tea?'' Miss Browndown chirped upon her return.

''Thank you, no,'' I said.

''Are you too warm?'' she asked, rising to open a window.

When I left she graciously gave me a very small box of cookies. I thanked her profusely and fled.

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