It should have been a quiet early Monday morning in Swiftbend. Maddie had made the walk from the hostelry to the diner a thousand times and never heard so much as a sneeze on her way to work.
She never expected a bell to ring through the cold predawn of Christmas Eve, either. Especially not a bell so sweet and full, loud but mellow … coming from inside the post office.
Maddie didn’t even know there was a telephone anywhere in town.
She stopped there in the street. Should she go inside? Wasn’t any of her business, really. But then … it just kept ringing.
Maddie pushed on the door and it swung open. Inside, the ringing was louder, but also even sweeter. There in the dim morning light, she saw the source — a gigantic silver sleigh bell on the post office counter that vibrated as it rang.
Emotion fluttered through her chest and into her hands, and, before she knew it, Maddie was holding the bell. It rang again, and an old man’s voice sounded … inside the bell.
“What do you want for Christmas, Maddie?”
She was scared silly but somehow replied: “A porcelain doll.” It was a childhood dream she still held onto.
“Maddie, is that you?” Jacob Ralston called from behind the counter, and guilt flushed Maddie’s face.
“Oh, Jacob! I’m sorry … the phone was ringing and the door was open …”
Jacob looked confused. “We don’t have a phone. But, say … I have a package for you.”
Jacob rummaged around under the counter and handed her a string-tied brown paper package. “Came in yesterday. Just in time for Christmas!”
Maddie managed a weak smile and untied the string. She pulled back a flap and gasped.
A beautiful porcelain doll grinned at her from behind the crinkled wrapping.