The following is in answer to a set of numbered questions from his mother.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 1, 216].
To his mother [Colvin 1912, p. 53-54]
[Menton], Monday, January 19th, 1874.
4. Nelitchka, or Nelitska, as you know already by this time, is my adorable kid’s name. Her laugh does more good to one’s health than a month at the seaside: as she said to-day herself, when asked whether she was a boy or a girl, after having denied both with gravity, she is an angel.
5. O no, her brain is not in a chaos; it is only the brains of those who hear her. It is all plain sailing for her. She wishes to refuse or deny anything, and there is the English ‘No fank you’ ready to her hand; she wishes to admire anything, and there is the German ‘schön’; she wishes to sew (which she does with admirable seriousness and clumsiness), and there is the French ‘coudre’; she wishes to say she is ill, and there is the Russian ‘bulla’; she wishes to be down on any one, and there is the Italian ‘Berechino’; she wishes to play at a railway train, and there is her own original word ‘Collie’ (say the o with a sort of Gaelic twirl). And all these words are equally good.
Portrait of girl in Little Russia costume, Saint Petersburg, 1900s [http://artblart.files.wordpress.com/]
7. I am called M. Stevenson by everybody except Nelitchka, who calls me M. Berechino.
8. The weather to-day is no end: as bright and as warm as ever. I have been out on the beach all afternoon with the Russians. Madame Garschine has been reading Russian to me; and I cannot tell prose from verse in that delectable tongue, which is a pity. Johnson came out to tell us that Corsica was visible, and there it was over a white, sweltering sea, just a little darker than the pallid blue of the sky, and when one looked at it closely, breaking up into sun-brightened peaks.
I may mention that Robinet has never heard an Englishman with so little accent as I have – ahem – ahem – eh ? – What do you say to that? I don’’t suppose I have said five sentences in English to-day; all French; all bad French, alas!
I am thought to be looking better. Madame Zassetsky said I was all green when I came here first, but that I am all right in colour now, and she thinks fatter. I am very partial to the Russians; I believe they are rather partial to me. I am supposed to be an esprit observateur! À mon age, c’est étonnant comme je suis observateur!
The second volume of Clément Marot has come. Where and O where is the first? – Ever your affectionate
Robert Louis Stevenson