The White Witch
Her Christmas Dealings with the Children of Polaria.
A Story for Discontented Little Ones Who Have Too Many Presents for One Day.

Mary E. Wilkins

From The Press December 24, 1893

Polaria is an undiscovered country, and there has never been anything written about it in the newspapers.

Polaria was once a perfectly white country. Even in the summer there were no green leaves and bright flowers; they were all white. The forests were all white like the frost forests on the window panes in the winter. The pastures were white also, and white cattle with horns like pearls, and sheep with fleeces like silver fed in them.

All the people in Polaria, young and old, had white hair and white faces like statues, and they always dressed in white.

Polaria had for a long period been a very prosperous country. But at one time there were two very serious causes for unhappiness in Polaria.

One was a strange disease, peculiar to the country, which the doctors called by a learned name, which meant “hunger for color.” People who were attacked by it never recovered, but went about with their eyes shut. By keeping their eyes shut they could imagine colors, and the doctors ordered that treatment. Fully one-third of the population of Polaria groped about with their eyes shut, and that was a great evil, since it hindered progress as well as looking awkward and stupid.

The other affliction of Polaria was also of the nature of a disease, although it was a moral one. It might have been called a great national discontent, and it affected only the rising generation. All children were attacked by it, and the doctors could not cure them; and finally a national council was held to see if nothing more could be done.

The council was in session for a week. The King of Polaria announced it as his opinion that the cause of the trouble was the great prosperity of the country and the absence of taxes. Everything was so cheap that the children had all they wanted and consequently were not satisfied with anything.

Everybody voted “yea” to this, and there were no contrary minds, but though they knew the cause, it was not so easy to settle upon any remedy for the evil.

The council was in session twelve hours a day, and the members all brought their dinners in tin pails, and did not go home at noon, but they got no nearer a solution.

Yet it was very important that something should be done speedily, as Christmas was approaching, and on that day the epidemic of discontent always grew positively alarming. When the children were given their presents off the Christmas trees they were so discontented that they pelted each other with them. Many little boys had their foreheads plastered with brown paper for weeks because they had been hit by jumping jacks and Noah's arks and tops. Little girls, too, dragged the dolls from their stockings on Christmas morning and threw them out of the windows; and, as the dolls in Polaria had feelings, that was truly shocking to the community.

The poor dolls who had been invented by a great genius of Polaria and had feelings just as natural as life, lay under the windows in the snow banks and wept piteously, until the officers of the Humane Society came with ambulances and gathered them up. There were dolls in white satin trains and silver crowns, like queens, who could walk and talk, and baby dolls, and beautiful boy dolls, and they all had feelings; but it made no difference. The little girls rejected them all.

On the Christmas the year before it had been suggested that all the children be summoned into the market place on Christmas day and be obliged to exchange their presents. The plan had been tried, but nearly occasioned a riot. The children had been more discontented than ever when forced to take each other's presents. The air had been thick with toys, and dolls had sprawled about on their faces everywhere, weeping because their feelings were hurt. It would not do to try that plan the second time.

At last the Lord High Chamberlain arose. His eyes were shut, for he had the color disease. He proposed that they should consult the White Witch.

Everybody said “Yea.” There were no contrary minds, and it was evident there was nothing else to be done.

It was arranged that the King and the Lord High Chamberlain should visit the White Witch at 3 o'clock the next afternoon.

At that time they set out in a white chaise, with a white satin hood, all feather-stitched around the edge by the Queen, and a white fur robe and a white horse, with white reins.

The King drove because he still had his eyes open. His pointed silver crown flashed white light in the sun, and he shook his whip with its ivory handle and white leather lash over the horse's back. He was impatient to reach the White Witch's house, for that day week was Christmas.

The White Witch lived about ten miles away in a white house with five gables. The five gables were all trimmed around with a wide knitted lace, which the White Witch had stiffened with some magic starch, so that it looked like ivory network. This wonderful knitted lace of the Witch's was in great demand; indeed the king's palace was trimmed with it. The White Witch earned her living in that way. She got nothing for her witchcraft, for she predicted nothing but White Magic, and there never was much profit in that. Black magic was a capital offense in Polaria, and she could not have practiced that if she wanted to.

When the King and the Lord High Chamberlain came in sight of the Witch's house, the King made an exclamation.

“What is the matter?” asked the Lord High Chamberlain, for he could not see with his eyes shut.

“There stand six detectives looking over the Witch's garden wall,” replied the King.

And indeed there were six of the government detectives in the white great coats and capes and white peaked hats, which was their uniform, standing on tiptoe looking over the Witch's garden wall. They rested their chins on the edge of the wall, and each had the telescope, which was his insignia of office, at his eyes.

The King drew rein before the wall and tied the horse to a white birch tree, then he and the Lord High Chamberlain joined the detectives and looked over the garden wall. The Lord High Chamberlain had his eyes shut of course, but he stood tip-toe and rested his chin on the ledge like the rest.

The White Witch was moving up and down the flower beds in her garden. She leaned on an ivory staff and her white gown was ruffled around her like a white pink. Long ribbons floated from her white steeple crowned hat. She carried her white tea kettle, and the steam was coming out of the spout, and the lid was bobbing up and down as if there were still a fire underneath it. She poured a little of the boiling fluid in the tea kettle over the dry roots of the dead flowers and fruits and vegetables. Little rainbows appeared in the steam; then directly green leaves, bright flowers and fruits sprang up.

The King and the six detectives stared at the green lettuce leaves and blue violets and red strawberries with round eyes; they had never seen any but white ones before.

The Lord High Chamberlain grew so curious that he ventured to peep out of the corner of one eye, then directly opened both eyes wide. “I can see colors with my eyes open!” he cried in delight.

“This must be Black Magic,” said the King in a low voice.

“It must be, Your Majesty,” assented the six detectives.

The King happened to have a pocket manual of magic in his pocket. He pulled it out and looked at the index. “There is nothing like this in the list of either Black or White Magic,” said he.

“Well, then, Your Majesty, it must be the Black,” said the chief of detectives, “because whatever is not White Magic must be Black Magic, of course.”

It was agreed to take the White Witch into custody.

This was, of course, very unfortunate, because she might refuse in consequence to give advice, of which the country stood in need; but the law had to be maintained.

The Chief of Police said he would go and summon the Police Department and the patrol wagon. But the King thought he and the Lord High Chamberlain might just as well take her between them in the chaise; she was a small, thin witch, and besides in the case of a witch it is never safe to delay an arrest.

This witch, being a White Witch, kept no black cat. Instead she had twelve white robins, who chirped and sang on a silver perch above her hearth.

When the poor witch, bound hand and foot with silver chains, was being driven rapidly to the city, these twelve white robins fluttered around the chaise, making cries of distress. They even flew in the faces of the King and the Lord High Chamberlain. But the witch ordered them away. She said:
  Le, Lan, Liminy, Nan,
  Duxey, Adney, Achsey, Ann,
  Do ye my will, if ye will or will not,
  Or — Diminy, Woxy, Vicksey Hot!

The last word was an awful threat to the robins, and they immediately flew on to the hood of the chaise, and were still.

The witch was very meek with her captors. She had merely mentioned that she was not practicing Black Magic at all, but strictly White Magic. Then she had submitted to be chained without another word.

She never complained at all when she was dragged into her white dungeon, which was cold as the heart of an icicle, and chained to the white stone floor, and given a little cold flour porridge for her supper. She gave nearly all of that to her twelve white robins who had flown into the dungeon with her, and all night long they rested close to her, and spread their little white wings over her bosom and tried to keep her warm.

It was not the fashion in Polaria to give a witch who was accused of Black Magic any trial. This one was simply sentenced to be burned alive in the market place in six days.

However, this left the King and the council and the country in great perplexity.

Everybody felt that the law must be maintained, yet their only hope of deliverance from one at least of the national diseases lay in the White Witch, who was to be burned. It did not seem polite to ask her assistance, when they were going to burn her. The King said, decidedly, that he for one had not the face to do it.

Another council was called and it was decided that the King should visit her and see if they could not effect a compromise.

So on the night before the day set for the execution, the King and the Lord High Chamberlain and the six detectives all took lanterns and went to the dungeon of the White Witch.

The twelve white robins flew in their faces and attacked them with their little beaks, but the witch said her spell over them, and they settled quietly down on her bosom again.

Then the King stated the case and tried to effect a compromise. The witch listened attentively, and then declared her willingness to give them all the assistance in her power if they would spare her life and permit her to water not only her own garden with the magic tea which she had brewed in the tea kettle, but also all the gardens in the country.

“But that is Black Magic,” objected the King.

“It is strictly White Magic,” said the witch firmly, and she would not yield a jot of her conditions. She would not consent to refrain from using her tea kettle and have her life spared. She was obstinate, and that, of course, made a deadlock. They began to think a compromise could not be effected, but suddenly the chief of police fell upon his knees before the King.

“Your Majesty,” said he, “I think I see a way out of the difficulty.”

“What is it?” said the King.

“At the garden Your Majesty stated that this offense was neither in the list of Black nor White Magic?”

“Yes,” said the King impatiently. “What then?”

“Why, then, Your Majesty, if it is not in the list of Black Magic, it must be White Magic, of course.”

“Of course,” cried the King; and he was so overjoyed that he raised the chief of police and embraced him and gave him a pearl ring.

So the White Witch was released, and it was high time, for the next night was Christmas eve, and the trouble over the Christmas presents would begin.

All that day all the carpenters in the city worked hard building a great storehouse next to the witch's house. She said that must be done, if she was to render any assistance.

All day long the White Witch, with her white robins flying around her, visited the shops and all the houses where Christmas presents were collected, and in every one she repeated her spell:
  Le, Lan, Liminy, Nan,
  Duxey, Adney, Achsey, Ann,
  Do ye my will, if ye will or will not,
  Or — Diminy, Woxy, Vicksey Hot!

The last was an awful threat, but only the Christmas presents understood it.

The dolls who had feelings, trembled, and nodded and said, “Yes, ma'am.”

The jumping jacks curtesied so deeply with their rattling joints that they turned somersaults. The drums beat, the penny whistles blew and all the animals in the Noah's arks tried to kneel and fell on their noses, then over on their sides.

At nightfall the white Witch went home. She fed her white robins with rice, and made herself a dish of white soup. Then she flung the doors of the new storehouse wide open and sat down by the hearth and knitted on her architectural lace, while she waited. She knew well what would happen. She had commanded all the Christmas presents to do her will, and her will was that they should come to her the second that any discontent was expressed with them.

It was very early, as early as the first Christmas tree was lighted up, when the White Witch laid down her architectural lace and listened. There was a strange din out in the road, and it grew louder and louder.

Presently one could distinguish quite plainly the tread of hundreds of little kid shod feet and the tiny lamentations of the dolls with feelings. The pretty little girl dolls and the boy dolls ran ahead panting and sobbing; then the young lady dolls and the queen dolls and the bride dolls, holding up their satin trains out of the dust and weeping, and their crying was quite pitiful to hear.

Then there was the rattling of the wooden joints of hundreds of jumping jacks, and a stampede of rocking horses and the Noah's ark animals. The Noah's arks trundled after them in company with little express wagons and wheelbarrows. The air overhead was thick with books and pictures and bonbons, and perfumery bottles, and mittens, and skates, and all the Christmas presents that one could think of.

The witch took them all into her storehouse and comforted the dolls with feelings, and packed the other presents away safely.

The next morning very early, before dawn, the presents began to come again. All Christmas day until after midnight there could be no travel and no traffic on the road past the witch's house it was so blocked with Christmas presents.

The day after Christmas not one child in the city had a Christmas present. The White Witch had them all.

And all through the next year the children had no playthings and story books. They had no old ones, for they had despised them and thrown them away. Not a little girl in the country had a doll. Moreover, there were none to be bought, for the King, by the witch's advice, had ordered all toy shops closed, and the keepers to retire for two years on pensions.

The witch kept all the Christmas presents safely locked away, and went about the country with her white-tea kettle watering all the gardens with her magic tea. The whole face of the country became changed. It grew verdant and blooming. Purple grapes ripened on the walls and rosy apples and peaches and golden oranges. Gradually also the people got rosy cheeks and brown and black and golden hair, and went about with their eyes open. Finally the doctors announced that the national epidemic was extinct.

The King wished to give the White Witch a pension, but she refused, saying she preferred knitting her architectural lace for a livelihood.

The witch also made a magic ointment with which she anointed all the dolls in her storehouse, and their cheeks and lips became rosey, and their hair flaxen and brown and golden, and she also made the other presents, the express wagons and sleds and Noah's arks and all, gay with her magic arts. She was busy day and night.

When the next Christmas drew near the King and the Lord High Chamberlain drove down one afternoon in the white chaise to see the witch.

“Do nothing,” said the White Witch.

“What?” cried the King, “cut no Christmas trees? hang no stockings? buy no presents?”

“Do nothing,” said the White Witch.

“On Christmas do nothing!” echoed the King.

“What I have set myself to do, I am able to do,” replied the witch with dignity, and she would say no more.

The King got into the white chaise and drove away with the Chamberlain. They resolved to trust her, although they felt uneasy in their minds. It did seem as if any country must go to pieces that made no preparations at all for Christmas.

But nothing whatever was done. The shutters remained up at the shop windows, the doors were barred and there were no firs cut for Christmas trees.

On Christmas eve the White Witch went through the storehouse and stood before all the corners and walls, and said over eight times:
  Le, Lan, Liminy, Nan,
  Duxey, Adney, Achsey, Ann,
  Do ye my will, if ye will or will not,
  Or — Diminy, Woxy, Vicksey Hot!

Then she opened the doors and sat down near them and knitted her architectural lace, while she waited. She knew what would happen.

Very soon there was a stir among the dolls with feelings. Several of them came running to the door.

“We are called,” they cried out joyfully, and ran out in the road with a swish of golden locks and a flutter of silken skirts. All the rest of the dolls followed as fast as they could, and the jumping jacks tumbled out the door, and the stampede of various animals begun, and the rattle of the little wagons and sleds.

Long before midnight all the Christmas presents were out of the White Witch's storehouse, and safe in their own homes, where their old owners welcomed them with love and gratitude.

All the bells in the steeples rang for Christmas, and for joy, because the epidemic of discontent was over. The White Witch shut the storehouse door and went into her own house. She sat down beside her own hearth and knitted on the architectural lace, while the twelve white robins sat on their silver perch and sang a Christmas carol.