(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One day Isabel, Lottie, and Kezia Burnell are given a beautiful dollhouse by a houseguest. After it is placed in a courtyard so that its paint smell will disperse through the remainder of the summer, the children lift back its entire front wall to examine its contents. Its beauty overwhelms them. Kezia particularly loves a little lamp, filled with oil, that stands in the middle of the dining room table. To her, the lamp is real.

Burning to boast about their new dollhouse to classmates, the girls go to school the next morning. They are permitted to bring other girls home, two by two, to see the dollhouse in the courtyard. As girls surround the Burnells during a school recess, the eldest sister, Isabel, describes the dollhouse. The girls crowd in to get as close as possible, but two girls do not join the ring; they are the little Kelvey girls, who know better than to try to approach the Burnells.

The Burnell girls are not allowed to speak to the Kelveys, whose mother is a washerwoman and whose father is rumored to be in prison. Lil Kelvey, the elder sister, is a “stout, plain child, with big freckles.” Her younger sister, Else, follows her everywhere, holding onto her skirt, which she tugs when she wants anything. The Kelvey girls wear “bits” given to their mother by the people for whom she works. Lil wears a dress made from an old tablecloth belonging to the Burnells, and her feathered hat once belonged to the postmistress. Else wears a white dress that looks like an old nightgown. She never smiles and rarely speaks.

The Kelvey sisters hang about around the...

(The entire section is 654 words.)