As tea is the one meal of intimate conversation, a servant never comes to the room at tea-time unless rung for, to bring fresh water or additional china or food, or to take away used dishes.
When the tray and curate are brought in, individual tables, usually glass topped and very small and low, are put beside each of the guests, and the servant then withdraws.
The hostess herself “makes” the tea and pours it.
Those who sit near enough to her put out their hands for their cup-and-saucer. If any ladies are sitting farther off, and a gentleman is present, he, of course, rises and takes the tea from the hostess to the guest. He also then passes the curate, afterward putting it back where it belongs and resuming his seat. If no gentleman is present, a lady gets up and takes her own tea which the hostess hands her, carries it to her own little individual table, comes back, takes a plate and napkin, helps herself to what she likes and goes to her place.
If the cake is very soft and sticky or filled with cream, small forks must be laid on the tea-table.
As said above, if jam is to be eaten on toast or bread, there must be little butter knives to spread it with.
Each guest in taking her plate helps herself to toast and jam and a knife and carries her plate over to her own little table. She then carries her cup of tea to her table and sits down comfortably to drink it. If there are no little tables, she either draws her chair up to the tea-table, or manages as best she can to balance plate, cup and saucer on her lap—a very difficult feat!
In fact, the hostess who, providing no individual tables, expects her guest to balance knife, fork, jam, cream cake, plate and cup and saucer, all on her knees, should choose her friends in the circus rather than in society.