Travel Letters: In The Grand Hotel, Vienna (1882)

DEAR GERTIE, — This letter is an awful secret between you and me. If you tell anybody about it, I will not speak to you all this winter. And this is what it is about. You know Christmas is coming, and I am afraid that I shall not get home by that time, and so I want you to go and get the Christmas presents for the children. The grown people will not get any from me this year. But I do not want the children to go without, so you must find out, in the most secret way, just what Agnes and Toodie would most like to have, and get it and put it in their stockings on Christmas Eve. Then you must ask yourself what you want, but without letting yourself know about it, and get it too, and put it in your own stocking, and be very much surprised when you find it there. And then you must sit down and think about Josephine De Wolf and the other baby at Springfield whose name I do not know, and consider what they would like, and have it sent to them in time to reach them on Christmas Eve. Will you do all this for me ? You can spend five dollars for each child, and if you show your father this letter, he will give you the money out of some of mine which he has got. That rather breaks the secret, but you will want to consult your father and mother about what to get, especially for the Springfield children ; so you may tell them about it, but do not dare to let any of the children know of it until Christmas time. Then you can tell me in your Christmas letter just how you have managed about it all.

This has taken up almost all my letter, and so I cannot tell you much about Vienna. Well, there is not a great deal to tell. It is an immense great city with very splendid houses and beautiful pictures and fine shops and handsome people. But I do not think the Austrians are nearly as nice as the ugly, honest Germans. Do you?

Perhaps you will get this on Thanksgiving Day. If you do, you must shake the turkey’s paw for me, and tell him that I am very sorry I could not come this year, but I shall be there next year certain ! Give my love to all the children. I had a beautiful letter from aunt Susan the other day, which I am going to answer as soon as it stops raining. Tell her so, if you see her. Be a good girl, and do not study too hard, and keep our secret.

Your affectionate uncle

PHILLIPS.