‘I would now like to draw Your Honour’s attention to records kept by the German Army during the First World War. The Kommandant who was stationed at St Péronne from 1916, the man who brought his troops in to Le Coq Rouge, was a man called Friedrich Hencken.’ He pauses to let that sink in. ‘The records state that the Kommandant stationed there at the time, the Kommandant who so admired the painting of Édouard Lefèvre’s wife, was one Friedrich Hencken.
‘And now I would like to show to the court the 1945 census records of the area around Berchtesgaden. Former Kommandant Friedrich Hencken and his wife, Liesl, settled there after his retirement. Just streets away from the Collection Point storage facility. She was also recorded as walking with a pronounced limp, given a childhood bout of polio.’
Their QC is on her feet. ‘Again, this is circumstantial.’
‘Mr and Mrs Friedrich Hencken. My Lord, it is our contention that Kommandant Friedrich Hencken took the painting from Le Coq Rouge in 1917. He removed it to his home, seemingly against the will of his wife, who might reasonably have objected to such a – a potent image of another woman. It stayed there until his death, upon which Mrs Hencken was so keen to dispose of it that she took it a few streets away to the place she knew held a million pieces of artwork, a place where it would be swallowed up and never be seen again.’
Angela Silver sits down.
Jenks continues – there is a new energy about him now: ‘Ms Andrews. Let’s go back to your mother’s memories of this time. Could you read the following paragraph, please? This, for the record, comes from the same journal entry. In it, Louanne Baker apparently finds what she believes is the perfect spot for The Girl, as she calls the painting.’
‘As soon as I put her in that front parlour, she looked comfortable. She’s not in direct sunlight there, but the south-facing window, with its warm light, makes her colours glow. She seems happy enough, anyhow!’
Marianne reads slowly now, unfamiliar with these words of her mother’s. She glances up at Liv, and her eyes hold an apology, as if she can already see where this is going.
‘I banged the nails in myself – Howard always does knock out a fist-sized chunk of plaster when he does it – but as I was about to hang her, something made me turn the painting over and take another look at the back of it. And it made me think of that poor woman, and her sad, embittered old face. And I remembered something I’d forgotten since the war.
‘I always assumed it was something out of nothing. But as Liesl handed over the painting, she briefly snatched it back, as if she’d changed her mind. Then she rubbed at something on the back, like she was trying to rub something off. She rubbed it and rubbed it, like a crazy woman. She rubbed so hard I thought she actually hurt her fingers.’
The courtroom is still, listening.
‘Well, I looked at the back of it just now, just as I looked at it then. And it was the one thing that really made me wonder whether that poor woman had been in her right mind when she handed it over. Because it doesn’t matter how long you stare at the back of that painting – aside from the title – there is truly nothing there, just a smudge of chalk.
‘Is it wrong to take something from someone not in their right mind? I still haven’t worked it out. Truthfully, the world seemed so insane back then – with what was going on in the camps, and grown men weeping, and me in charge of a billion dollars’ worth of other people’s things – that old Liesl and her bleeding knuckles scrubbing away at nothing seemed actually pretty normal.’
‘Your Honour, we would suggest that this – and Liesl’s failure to give her last name – is pretty clear evidence of somebody trying to disguise or even destroy any sign of where the painting had come from. Well, she certainly succeeded.’
As he pauses, a member of his legal team crosses the court and hands him a piece of paper. He reads it and takes a breath. His eyes scan the courtroom.
‘German census records we have just obtained show that Sophie Lefèvre contracted Spanish influenza shortly after she arrived at the camps at Ströhen. She died there shortly afterwards.’
Liv hears his words through a buzzing in her ears. They vibrate within her, like the aftershock of a physical blow.
‘Your Honour, as we have heard in this court, a great injustice was done to Sophie. And a great injustice has been done to her descendants. Her husband, her dignity, her freedom and ultimately her life were taken from her. Stolen. What remained – her image – was, according to all the evidence, taken from her family by the very man who had done her the greatest wrong.
‘There is only one way to redress this wrong, belated as it might be – the painting must be returned to the Lefèvre family.’
She barely takes in the rest of his words. Paul sits with his forehead in his palms. She looks over at Janey Dickinson, and when the woman meets her eye, she realizes with a faint shock that for some other participants, too, this case is no longer just about a painting.
Even Henry is downcast when they leave the court. Liv feels as if they have all been run over by a juggernaut.
Sophie died in the camps. Sick and alone. Never seeing her husband again.
She looks at the smiling Lefèvres across the court, wanting to feel generous towards them. Wanting to feel as if some great wrong is about to be righted. But she recalls Philippe Bessette’s words, the fact that the family had banned even the mention of her name. She feels as if, for a second time, Sophie is about to be handed over to the enemy. She feels, weirdly, bereaved.
‘Look, who knows what the judge will decide,’ Henry says, as he sees her to the rear security area. ‘Try not to dwell on it too much over the weekend. There’s nothing more we can do now.’
She tries to smile at him. ‘Thanks, Henry,’ she says. ‘I’ll – call you.’
It feels strange out here, in the wintry sunlight, as if they have spent much longer than an afternoon in the confines of the court. She feels as if she has come here straight from 1945. Henry hails a taxi for her, then leaves, nodding farewell. It is then that she sees him, standing at the security gate. He looks as if he has been waiting there for her, and walks straight over.
‘I’m sorry,’ he says, his face grim.
‘Paul, don’t –’
‘I really thought – I’m sorry for everything.’
His eyes meet hers, one final time, and he walks away, blind to the customers exiting the Seven Stars pub, the legal assistants dragging their trolleys of files. She sees the stoop to his shoulders, the uncharacteristic dip of his head and it is this, on top of everything else that has happened today, that finally settles something for her.
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