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The elm-tree avenue was all overgrown, the great gate was never
unlocked, and the old house had been shut up for several years.

Yet voices were heard about the place, the lilacs nodded over the high
wall as if they said, "We could tell fine secrets if we chose," and the
mullein outside the gate made haste to reach the keyhole, that it might
peep in and see what was going on. If it had suddenly grown up like a
magic bean-stalk, and looked in on a certain June day, it would have
seen a droll but pleasant sight, for somebody evidently was going to
have a party.

From the gate to the porch went a wide walk, paved with smooth slabs of
dark stone, and bordered with the tall bushes which met overhead, making
a green roof. All sorts of neglected flowers and wild weeds grew between
their stems, covering the walls of this summer parlor with the prettiest
tapestry. A board, propped on two blocks of wood, stood in the middle of
the walk, covered with a little plaid shawl much the worse for wear, and
on it a miniature tea-service was set forth with great elegance. To be
sure, the tea-pot had lost its spout, the cream-jug its handle, the
sugar-bowl its cover, and the cups and plates were all more or less
cracked or nicked; but polite persons would not take notice of these
trifling deficiencies, and none but polite persons were invited to this

On either side of the porch was a seat, and here a somewhat remarkable
sight would have been revealed to any inquisitive eye peering through
the aforesaid keyhole. Upon the left-hand seat lay seven dolls, upon the
right-hand seat lay six; and so varied were the expressions of their
countenances, owing to fractures, dirt, age, and other afflictions, that
one would very naturally have thought this a doll's hospital, and these
the patients waiting for their tea.

This, however, would have been a sad mistake; for if the wind had lifted
the coverings laid over them, it would have disclosed the fact that all
were in full dress, and merely reposing before the feast should begin.

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