A doll’s house arrives at the Burnell home as a gift. The dollhouse smells so strongly of paint that Aunt Beryl thinks it could make someone sick. Isabel, Lottie, and Kezia, the Burnell’s three daughters, do not mind the smell, however, and couldn’t be more delighted by the house. Kezia, the youngest sister, notices a small lamp, which she thinks it the best part of it.
The next morning, the Burnells are excited to boast to the other girls at school. Isabel, the oldest, forbids her sisters from saying anything before she’s had a chance to describe the doll’s house to the others. She also reminds Lottie and Kezia that she is allowed to choose which two girls will visit first to see the house.
At playtime, all the little girls gather around to hear Isabel’s talk about the house except for Lil and Else Kelvey—the daughters of the village washerwoman and the poorest girls at school. Everyone in the village gossips about the Kelveys, saying that their father is in prison, and many children, the Burnells included, aren’t allowed to talk to them. As such, the Kelveys can only eavesdrop as Isabel proudly describes the doll’s house. Kezia reminds her sister to mention the lamp, though no one else seems to care about it. Isabel chooses Emmie Cole and Lena Logan as the first two girls to come see the house.
Kezia asks her mother if she can invite the Kelveys to see the doll’s house, but Mrs. Burnell refuses and tells Kezia she knows why. More days pass, and by now everyone has seen the house except the Kelveys. At school the other girls cruelly taunt the sisters, who react only with silence. Later that afternoon, Kezia is at home swinging on the big white gates of her family’s courtyard. When she spots the Kelveys walking down the road, she decides to swing the gates open and invite them inside. Lil shakes her head and reminds Kezia that they aren’t supposed to talk to one another. Kezia assures Lil that it doesn’t matter. Lil still doesn’t want to go, but Else, standing behind her, tugs on her dress and looks at her pleadingly.
Kezia leads the Kelveys inside. While she is showing the Kelveys the doll’s house, Aunt Beryl spots them and shouts furiously at Kezia. She shoos the Kelveys away and slams the doll’s house shut.
It is revealed that earlier that afternoon Aunt Beryl had received a letter from Willie Brent. In the note, Willie had threatened to come knock on the door if Aunt Beryl didn’t meet him that night in Pullman’s Bush. Aunt Beryl is terrified by the idea of Willie coming to the door. After yelling at the girls, however, she feels better, and hums as she walks back into the house.
The Kelveys, meanwhile, run off and sit by the side of the road. Else inches closer to her sister and smiles. She speaks for the first time in the story, saying, “I seen the lamp.”