In a shrill voice, Lena asks Lil if it is true she is going to be a servant when she grows up. Lil doesn’t seem to mind the question: she only gives her usual silly, shamefaced smile. The other girls who are watching titter at Lena’s embarrassment for not having gotten a rise out of Lil.
Lena grows indignant. She places her hands on her hips and shoots forward. She hisses spitefully that Lil’s father is in prison. The narrator comments that this is a such marvelous thing to say that the girls rush off in a body, wild with joy. They skip rope. They have never skipped so high, run in and out so fast, or done such daring things as on that morning.
That afternoon Pat picks the Burnell children up in a buggy and drives them home. There are visitors. Isabel and Lottie, who like visitors, change into pinafores upstairs. Meanwhile Kezia sneaks out back. With no one around, she swings on the big white gates of the courtyard. She sees two little dots coming down the road, growing bigger as they come toward her.
Kezia sees that the dots are the Kelveys. She stops swinging and slips off the gate as though she is about to run away. She hesitates. The Kelveys come nearer; their shadows stretch long, reaching across the road so that the shadows of their heads are in the buttercups. Kezia clambers back up the gate, swings out, and says hello. Lil and Else, astounded, stop. Lil gives her usual silly smile and Else stares. Dragging one toe on the ground, Kezia says they can come and see the doll’s house if they want. Lil turns red and shakes her head quickly. Kezia asks why not. Lil gasps, then says, “Your ma told our ma you wasn’t to speak to us.”
Kezia says oh well, it doesn’t matter, they can come and see the doll’s house all the same. She says nobody is looking. Lil shakes her head harder. Suddenly there is the twitch of a tug at Lil’s skirt. She turns. Else looks at her sister with big, imploring eyes. She is frowning; she wants to see the doll’s house. Lil looks at her doubtfully. Else twitches the skirt again.
Kezia leads the way. Like two stray cats, the Kelveys follow Kezia across the courtyard. Before the doll’s house, Lil breathes loudly and almost snorts. Else is still as a stone. Kezia undoes the hook so they can look inside. As she points out the drawing room and the dining room, Kezia hears her voice being shouted.
Startled, Kezia realizes Aunt Beryl is standing at the back door, staring as if she can’t believe what she sees. In a cold and furious voice, Aunt Beryl says how dare Kezia ask the little Kelveys into the courtyard. Aunt Beryl says Kezia knows she isn’t allowed to talk to them. Aunt Beryl tells the Kelveys to run away at once and not to come back. She steps into the courtyard and shoos them as if they are chickens.
Lil and Else shrink in stature as they huddle together and burn with shame. They cross the courtyard and squeeze through the white gate. Aunt Beryl calls Kezia a wicked, disobedient little girl and slams the doll’s house closed. The narrator says it has been an awful afternoon for Aunt Beryl: Willie Brent had sent a letter threatening to come to the house if she did not meet him that evening in Pulman’s Bush. But her heart felt lighter now that she had frightened the little rat Kelveys and scolded Kezia. Aunt Beryl goes back inside humming.
Once the Kelveys are well out of sight of the Burnells’, they sit to rest on a big red drainpipe on the side of the road. Lil’s cheeks are burning. She takes off her hat and looks past hay bales to where cows are waiting to be milked. She wonders what their thoughts are.
Else nudges up close to Lil. By now she has forgotten the angry lady. She strokes the quill on Lil’s hat with her finger and smiles her rare smile. “I seen the little lamp,” Else says softly. The story ends with the girls both becoming silent again.
The theme of class prejudice is evident in the taunt the girls circulate: that Lil Kelvey is going to grow up to be a servant. The thought of being a servant is deeply shameful to the privileged girls, but when Lena asks Lil if it is true that she will grow up to be a servant, Lil has almost no response, suggesting she is too innocent to understand why being a servant is a shameful thing.
To hide her embarrassment, Lena shouts that Lil’s father is in prison, as if her father’s rumored imprisonment is a reflection of Lil’s worth. The girls find the cruel statement so “marvelous” that they are reinvigorated as a group, and they skip rope with more energy than ever before. With this detail, Mansfield shows how privileged people use shame and ostracism to bolster their own notions of superiority.
The story enters its final scene when Isabel and Lottie go upstairs to change into pinafore dresses, leaving Kezia to wander out to the courtyard alone. Kezia sees the Kelveys walking down the street and decides that despite her mother’s inexplicable (to Kezia) rule against bringing the Kelveys over, she will invite them inside the gate. Lil is astonished and terrified to have Kezia suddenly speaking to her. She reveals that her mother said Kezia’s mother forbade them from speaking to each other. Kezia, still too innocent to comprehend the logic of her mother’s rule, says it doesn’t matter and invites them in.
Lil is old enough to have assimilated her own inferiority as the daughter of underclass people, and so is willing to abide by the rules of social exclusion set before her. However, Else is younger, and is similarly innocent to Lil: Else tugs at Lil’s dress to indicate her desire to see the mythic doll’s house she has heard everyone around her discussing.
The story reaches its climax when the Kelveys, finally viewing the object that has been used as a weapon of ostracism against them for weeks, are shouted at by Aunt Beryl. In this instance of situational irony, a character mentioned in passing at the beginning of the story interrupts the girls’ polite viewing of the house with brash language and cruelty. In another instance of free indirect discourse, Mansfield’s narrator breaks away from the narrative perspectives of Kezia or the Kelveys and dips into Aunt Beryl’s interior monologue, showing how she is stressed out and needed to shame the “little rat Kelveys” and scold Kezia in order to make her heart feel lighter.
The story ends with the narrative point of view returning to the Kelveys, who have slunk away in shame and walked far from the Burnells. Lil’s cheeks still burn with shame. Else, however, has forgotten about Beryl; she is fixated on the doll’s house. With the line, “I seen the little lamp,” Mansfield shows that Else, like Kezia, had been enchanted by the little lamp. Too young to comprehend the need to abide by the invisible class barriers their elders maintain, Else and Lil are connected through the innocence the little lamp symbolizes.