‘And here, the looting of the First World War would seem to be a precursor to that of the Second. Here we have educated German officers, knowing what they want, knowing what may hold value, and earmarking it –’
‘Objection.’ Angela Silver, Liv’s QC, is on her feet. ‘There is a vast difference between somebody admiring a painting and having knowledge of the artist, and actually taking it. My learned friend has not provided any evidence whatsoever that the Kommandant took the painting, simply that he admired it, and that he ate his meals in the hotel where Madame Lefèvre lived. All of these things are circumstantial.’
The judge mutters, ‘Sustained.’
Christopher Jenks wipes his brow. ‘I am simply attempting to paint a picture, if you like, of life within the town of St Péronne in 1916. It’s impossible to understand how a painting might be taken into somebody’s custody without understanding the climate of the time, and how the Germans had carte blanche to requisition, or take what they liked, from any house that they chose.’
‘Objection.’ Angela Silver studies her notes. ‘Irrelevant. There is no evidence to suggest that this painting was requisitioned.’
‘Sustained. Keep to the point, Mr Jenks.’
‘Merely trying, again, to … paint a picture, my lord.’
‘Leave the painting to Lefèvre, if you will, Mr Jenks.’ There is a low murmur of laughter around the courtroom.
‘I mean to demonstrate that there were many valuable items requisitioned by German troops that went unrecorded, just as they were not “paid for”, as promised by the German leaders of the time. I mention the general climate for such behaviour because it is our contention that The Girl You Left Behind was one such item.’
‘“He stares at your portrait of me and I want to tell him he has no right.”’ Well, it is our case, Your Honour, that Kommandant Friedrich Hencken felt he had every right indeed. And that this painting did not leave German possession for another thirty years.’
Paul looks at Liv. She looks away.
She concentrates on the image of Sophie Lefèvre. Fools, she seems to say, her impenetrable gaze appearing to take in every person there.
Yes, thinks Liv. Yes, we are.
They adjourn at half past three. Angela Silver is eating a sandwich in her chambers. Her wig lies on the table beside her, and a mug of tea stands on her desk. Henry sits opposite.
They tell her that the first day had gone as they had expected. But the tang of tension hangs in the atmosphere, like salt in the air miles from the coast. Liv shuffles her photocopied pile of translations as Henry turns to Angela.
‘Liv, didn’t you say that when you spoke to Sophie’s nephew, he mentioned something about her being disgraced? I wondered whether it would be worth pursuing that line.’
‘I don’t understand,’ she says. They are both looking at her expectantly.
Silver finishes her mouthful before she speaks. ‘Well, if she was disgraced, doesn’t that suggest her relationship with the Kommandant might have been consensual? The thing is, if we can prove that it was, if we can suggest that she was having an extra-marital affair with a German soldier, we can also claim the portrait might have been a gift. It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that someone in the throes of a love affair would give her lover a portrait of herself.’
‘But Sophie wouldn’t,’ Liv says.
‘We don’t know that,’ says Henry. ‘You told me that after her disappearance the family never spoke of her again. Surely if she was blameless, they would have wanted to remember her. Instead she seems to be cloaked in some sort of shame.’
‘I don’t think she could have had a consensual relationship with the Kommandant. Look at this postcard.’ Liv reopens her file. ‘“You are my lodestar in this world of madness.” That’s three months before she is supposed to have had this “collaboration”. It hardly sounds like a husband and wife who don’t love each other, does it?’
‘That’s certainly a husband who loves his wife, yes,’ says Henry. ‘But we have no idea whether she returned that love. She could have been madly in love with a German soldier at this time. She could have been lonely or misguided. Just because she loved her husband, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t capable of falling in love with someone else once he’d gone away.’
Liv pushes her hair back from her face. ‘It feels horrible,’ she says, ‘like blackening her name.’
‘Her name is already blackened. Her family don’t have a decent word to say about her.’
‘I don’t want to use her nephew’s words against her,’ she says. ‘He’s the only one who seems to care about her. I’m just – I’m just not convinced we’ve got the full story.’
‘The full story is unimportant.’ Angela Silver screws up her sandwich box and throws it neatly into the wastepaper bin. ‘Look, Mrs Halston, if you can prove that she and the Kommandant had an affair it will wholly improve your chances of retaining the painting. As long as the other side can suggest the painting was stolen, or obtained coercively, it weakens your case.’ She wipes her hands, and replaces the wig on her head. ‘This is hardball. And you can bet the other side are playing that way. Ultimately, it’s about this: how badly do you want to keep this painting?’
Liv sits at the table, her own sandwich untouched as the two lawyers get up to leave. She stares at the notes in front of her. She cannot tarnish Sophie’s memory. But she cannot let her painting go. More importantly, she cannot let Paul win. ‘I’ll take another look,’ she says.
I am not afraid, although it is strange to have them here, eating and talking, under our very roof. They are largely polite, solicitous almost. And I do believe Herr Kommandant will not tolerate any misdemeanors on the men’s part. So our uneasy truce has begun …
The odd thing is that Herr Kommandant is a cultured man. He knows of Matisse! Of Weber and Purrmann! Can you imagine how strange it is to discuss the finer points of your brushwork with a German?
We have eaten well tonight. Herr Kommandant came into the kitchen and instructed us to eat the leftover fish. Little Jean cried when it was finished. I pray that you have food enough, wherever you are …
Liv reads and re-reads these fragments, trying to fill in the spaces between her words. It is hard to find a chronology – Sophie’s writings are on stray scraps of paper, and in places the ink has faded – but there is a definite thawing in her relationship with Friedrich Hencken. She hints at long discussions, random kindnesses, that he keeps giving them food. Surely Sophie would not have discussed art or accepted meals from someone she considered a beast.
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