When Charlotte returned, Christian was pacing the apartment hallway in agitation. “What’s the matter, Christian?” She asked alarmed. “Don’t tell me you have to leave suddenly?” The question laid bare her constant fear of being left unprotected.
He gave her a short but hardy hug to reassure her, but he was too agitated to convey comfort. Instead, he announced, “No, I think I’m going to have to stay longer than ever. Let’s talk where it’s warm.” He opened the door to the kitchen, and they sat down opposite one another. Charlotte looked at him expectantly, alarm over his behaviour written all over her face.
“Charlotte, today I went to the house of one of these odious parasites who have discovered how to manipulate the current situation to their advantage. I knew it wasn’t going to be pleasant, but I’d been tipped off that the man might be willing to place a large wine order. I told myself that I don’t need to like my customers, only the colour of their money. But I was still — I don’t know how to say this.”
“Hanging in his salon was the Lieberman painting that my father commissioned of Philipp and me in 1934.”
“The one that used to hang in the dining room of your apartment downstairs?” Charlotte remembered at once, her face lighting up at the memory of the lovely painting and the happier times that went with it.
“Charlotte! My brother —” Christian jumped to his feet and turned away.
Charlotte covered her mouth with her hand in distress and waited. When he spoke again, his voice was strained with the effort to hold back his tears. “It’s the most beautiful picture of Philipp anyone ever made. All the other pictures we have are mere snapshots — hasty, often blurred, awkward or stiff, rarely expressive. And always in uniform. Even his wedding photos are in a damn uniform with the swastika on it! Liebermann’s painting, on the other hand, captures his essence a hundred times better. Although it was done before the whole horror began, although he’s still young and unravaged, it depicts his inner soul. I’m smiling at the artist like the naïve fool I was, but Philipp is looking down, his expression pensive, while he gently caresses the withers of his horse. Philipp not only saw what was coming, he cared about what it would do to all of us — right down to the innocent horses. It was the inhumanity of the regime — not the geopolitical consequences, not the economics, much less the lost war, as the idiot Americans think -- that appalled him! The inhumanity of the regime drove him to treason, and it was to save others that he killed himself rather than risk betraying their names to the Gestapo under torture.”
Charlotte nodded mutely, sadly.
“Charlotte!” There was an urgency in Christian’s voice that made her look up at him.
He met her eyes. “I don’t think you, as a Protestant, fully understand what a sacrifice that was. Philipp was a devout Catholic. By taking his own life, he condemned his soul as well as his body.” He paused. “I pray every day that God will forgive him because he did it for the right reasons, and I — want — that — painting!”
The intensity of his emotions frightened Charlotte. All she could do was nod again.
“If the painting had been destroyed that would have been different, but now that I have found it, I’m not going to let some thief — who doesn’t even know who Philipp was — hang it in his stolen salon!”
Charlotte shook her head helplessly and whispered, “Of course not, Christian.” Inwardly, she was grateful. It meant he wasn’t going to leave her any time soon.
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