A DISHONEST PENNY -- THE TEA-LEAFER.
AMONG the many minor comforts that render lift agreeable, there are, perhaps, few that can fairly take precedence of a good cup of tea—the cup "which cheers but not inebriates." It is a daily blessing, and all the more so that, luxury though it be, it is one within the reach of the slenderest purse. The hissing urn, the silver service, and the transparent porcelain, afford no advantage to
their possessor in the matter of tea-drinking: the beverage is just as grateful
and exhilarating when sipped from the cheapest crockery replenished from a tin
tea-pot, as when brewed in the costly material of Rundall and Bridge. Unfortunately, however, the owner of the tin tea-pot is not unfrequently the victim of a species of sophistication, from which the owner of the silver service is for the most part exempt. Now and then it happens that the poor man misses the refreshment his tea should afford him, and gets a headache, or something worse, in the place of it. The hot stream from the tin spout gushes forth temptingly brown, but proves inodorous to the sense, and nauseously acrid to the palate, in spite of a double allowance of sugar and milk: and if he drain the cup, it is from habit and without enjoyment that he does so, and
he pushes it away with a sense of loathing. For this disappointment and deprivation
he is indebted, without knowing it, to Madge Marpot, and her travelling sisterhood.
Madge began life as a small servant in a small family, where she served for a small wage, for a very short period; and this, with very little alteration, might serve for the history of forty years of her career, during which she has lived in numberless households, and has ostensibly fulfilled every capacity in which woman lends her aid in carrying out the purposes of domestic economy. As nursemaid, housemaid, cook-maid, laundry-maid, barmaid, and housekeeper, she has figured in her time—everything by turns, and nothing long. Partly from incorrigible, slatternly habits, and partly, perhaps, from a nomadic element in her constitution, she has left one place after another, until at length her numberless servitudes are past even her own power of recapitulation. At the are of fifty-five she made the discovery that "service is no inheritance;" and striking out a new path to emolument, more in accordance with her wandering predilections, now pursues that, much more to her own profit, it must be confessed, than to the advantage of that portion of the public who reap unwittingly the pernicious fruits of her labours.
Madge's career of servitude has helped her to a large and various acquaintance among both mistresses and servants ; and these constitute her business connexion. Her demand is seemingly the most modest that can be preferred. She pleads in forma pauperis for the possession of the tea-leaves which would else be thrown away after the extraction of their virtue. A species of charity which can be so cheaply exercised, is not likely to b refused ; and hence it comes to pass that Madge having established a right of reversion in the peculiar staple of commerce, in at least a hundred different places, walks forth upon her daily round to collect the spoil, which she deposits in a capacious receptacle beneath her outer garment.
Her walk comprises a pretty extensive district and as she levies her contributions not only upon private families, but upon near a score of innkeepers, to boot, some of whom do a large business. ha gains are by no means contemptible. The tea-leaves thus collected she consigns at stated periods to the care of an industrious dealer, who, "born to blush unseen," trades unostentatiously in an obscure quarter in one of the labyrinths eastward of St. Paul's, and who, having first subjected them to the embrace of an ingenious instrument, which expresses every remaining drop of moisture, pays her generously a shilling a pound for the trouble of collecting—just half the amount which government exacts as duty. This clever genius, by dint of a little drying and rolling, and the adroit admixture of some dissembling drug and of a suitable colouring solvent, in the course of a few days will concert a hundred-weight of Madge's indiscriminate collections into so much genuine and extraordinarily fine and full-flavoured Souchong, Pekoe, or indeed —such magic power does he possess—into any other denomination of tea which may happen to be in demand among his customers. Mr. Jonathan Sloeman, who plumes himself upon his respectability, drives a large trade among the small houses, "general shops," and struggling tradesmen of the side streets, narrow courts, and poorer districts of the metropolis; hundreds of whom, as they can only pay for one consignment upon the receipt of another, are pledged irretrievably to transact business with him alone. Of such tradesmen the poor man, or the poor man's wife, purchases the weekly ounces of tea; and hence the transformation of what should be a refreshing meal into the cause of discomfort and temporary indisposition.
In this pursuit Madge leads a life much more to her taste than that passed in the laborious atmosphere of the kitchen or the servants' hall. She can indulge her wandering propensity in the full enjoyment of liberty, calling no man master, and no woman mistress. We have often encountered her upon her rounds, basin in hand, as though a basin full were all that she desired, and have seen her, when she fancied herself unobserved, depositing the contents of the basin in the furtive bag, previous to appearing before the next contributor on her route. She may be seen, with other matrons of a class which it would be difficult to define, refreshing herself with a glass of "mountain dew" at the gin-shop at the corner, after the fatigues of the day. There is a tell-tale tint at the end of her nose, which, as not a few of her unsuspecting patronesses would be horrified at the thought of encouraging intemperance, bids fair to militate against the continuance of her traffic. That, and her potations too, together with the prosperity of Mr. Jonathan Sloeman, world be abolished at once, were tea-drinkers, by way of contributing towards the integrity of' their favourite beverage, unanimously and invariably to make sure of the fate of their tea-leaves.
The Leisure Hour, 1852