“Not as yet,” Napoleon put in, and as though afraid to abandon himself to his feelings, he frowned and nodded slightly as a sign to Balashov that he might continue.

After saying all he had been instructed to say, Balashov wound up by saying that the Emperor Alexander was desirous of peace, but that he would not enter into negotiations except upon condition that… At that point Balashov hesitated; he recollected words the Emperor Alexander had not written in his letter, but had insisted on inserting in the rescript to Saltykov, and had commanded Balashov to repeat to Napoleon. Balashov remembered those words: “As long as a single enemy under arms remains on Russian soil,” but some complicated feeling checked his utterance of them. He could not utter those words, though he tried to do so. He stammered, and said: “On condition the French troops retreat beyond the Niemen.”

Napoleon observed Balashov’s embarrassment in the utterance of those last words: his face quivered, and the calf of his left leg began twitching rhythmically. Not moving from where he stood, he began speaking in a louder and more hurried voice than before. During the speech that followed Balashov could not help staring at the twitching of Napoleon’s left leg, which grew more marked as his voice grew louder.

“I am no less desirous of peace than the Emperor Alexander,” he began. “Haven’t I been doing everything for the last eighteen months to obtain it? For eighteen months I have been waiting for an explanation, but before opening negotiations, what is it that’s required of me?” he said, frowning and making a vigorous gesticulation with his fat, little white hand.

“The withdrawal of the forces beyond the Niemen, sire,” said Balashov.

“Beyond the Niemen?” repeated Napoleon. “So now you want me to retreat beyond the Niemen—only beyond the Niemen?” repeated Napoleon, looking straight at Balashov.

Balashov bowed his head respectfully.

Four months before he had been asked to withdraw from Pomerania; now withdrawal beyond the Niemen was all that was required. Napoleon turned quickly away, and began walking up and down the room.

“You say that I am required to withdraw beyond the Niemen before opening negotiations; but two months ago I was required in the same way to withdraw beyond the Oder and the Vistula, and in spite of that you agree to enter into negotiations.”

He strode in silence from one corner of the room to the other and stopped again, facing Balashov. Balashov noticed that his left leg was twitching more rapidly than ever, and his face looked as though petrified in its stern expression. Napoleon was aware of this twitching. “The vibration of my left calf is a great sign with me,” he said in later days.

“Such demands as to retire beyond the Oder and the Vistula may be made to a prince of Baden, but not to me,” Napoleon almost screamed, quite to his own surprise. “If you were to give me Petersburg and Moscow I wouldn’t accept such conditions. You say: I began the war. But who was the first to join his army? The Emperor Alexander, and not I. And you offer me negotiations when I have spent millions, when you are in alliance with England, and when your position is weak—you offer me negotiations! What is the object of your alliance with England? What has it given you?” he asked hurriedly. The motive of his words was obviously now not to enlarge on the benefits of peace and to consider its possibility, but simply to prove his own rectitude, and his own power, and point out the duplicity and the errors of Alexander.

He had plainly intended in entering on this conversation to point out the advantages of his own position, and to signify that in spite of them he would entertain the proposal of negotiations. But he had begun talking, and the more he talked the less able was he to control the tenor of his words.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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