Chapter no 72 – Lapidary‌

All the Light We Cannot See

In three months, Sergeant Major von Rumpel has traveled to Berlin and Stuttgart; he has assessed the value of a hundred confiscated rings, a dozen diamond bracelets, a Latvian cigarette case in which a lozenge of blue topaz twinkled; now, back in Paris, he has slept at the Grand Hôtel for a week and sent forth his queries like birds. Every night the moment returns to him: when he clasped that pear-shaped diamond between his thumb and forefinger, made huge by the lens of his loupe, and believed he held the one-hundred-and-thirty-three-carat Sea of Flames.

He stared into the stone’s ice-blue interior, where miniature mountain ranges seemed to send back fire, crimsons and corals and violets, polygons of color twinkling and coruscating as he rotated it, and he almost convinced himself that the stories were true, that centuries ago a sultan’s son wore a crown that blinded visitors, that the keeper of the diamond could never die, that the fabled stone had caromed down through the pegs of history and dropped into his palm.

There was joy in that moment—triumph. But an unexpected fear mixed with it; the stone looked like something enchanted, not meant for human eyes. An object that, once looked at, could never be forgotten.

But. Eventually reason won out. The joints of the diamond’s facets were not quite as sharp as they should have been. The girdle just slightly waxy. More telling, the stone betrayed no delicate cracks, no pinpoints, not a single inclusion. A real diamond, his father used to say, is never entirely free of inclusions. A real diamond is never perfect.

Had he expected it to be real? To be kept precisely where he wished it would be? To win such a victory in a single day?

Of course not.

One might think von Rumpel would be frustrated, but he is not. On the contrary, he feels quite hopeful. The museum would never have commissioned such a high-quality fake if they did not possess the real thing somewhere. Over the past weeks in Paris, in the hours between other tasks, he has narrowed a list of seven lapidaries to three, then to one: a half-Algerian named Dupont who came of age cutting opal. It

appears Dupont was making money before the war by faceting spinels into false diamonds for dowagers and baronesses. Also for museums.

One February midnight, von Rumpel lets himself into Dupont’s fastidious shop not far from Sacré-Coeur. He examines a copy of Streeter’s Precious Stones and Gems; drawings of cleavage panes; trigonometric charts used for faceting. When he finds several painstaking iterations of a mold that match exactly the size and pear-cut shape of the stone in the vault at the museum, he knows he has his man.

At von Rumpel’s request, Dupont is furnished with forged food-ration tickets. Now von Rumpel waits. He prepares his questions: Did you make other replicas? How many? Do you know who has them now?

On the last day of February 1941, a dapper little Gestapo man comes to him with the news that the unwitting Dupont has tried to use the forged tickets. He has been arrested. Kinderleicht: child’s play.

It’s an attractive and drizzly winter’s night, scraps of melting snow shored up against the edges of the Place de la Concorde, the city looking ghostly, its windows jeweled with raindrops. A close-cropped corporal checks von Rumpel’s identification and points him not to a cell but to a high-ceilinged third-story office where a typist sits behind a desk. On the wall behind her, a painted wisteria vine frays into a tangled modernist spray of color that makes von Rumpel uneasy.

Dupont is cuffed to a cheap dining chair in the center of the room. His face has the color and polish of tropical wood. Von Rumpel expected a mélange of fear and indignation and hunger, but Dupont sits upright. One of the lenses of his eyeglasses is already fractured, but otherwise he looks well enough.

The typist twists her cigarette into an ashtray, a bright red smear of lipstick on its butt. The ashtray is full: fifty stubs squashed in there, limbless, somehow gory.

“You can go,” says von Rumpel, nodding at her, and levels his attention on the lapidary.

“He cannot speak German, sir.”

“We will be fine,” he says in French. “Shut the door, please.”

Dupont looks up, some gland within him leaching courage into his blood. Von Rumpel does not have to force the smile; it comes easily enough. He hopes for names, but all he needs is a number.

Dearest Marie-Laure—

We are in Germany now and it is fine. I’ve managed to find an angel who will try to get this to you. The winter firs and alders are very beautiful here. And—you are not going to believe this, but you will have to trust me—they serve us wonderful food. First-class: quail and duck and stewed rabbit. Chicken legs and potatoes fried with bacon and apricot tarts. Boiled beef with carrots. Coq au vin on rice. Plum tarts. Fruits and crème glacée. As much as we can eat. I so look forward to the meals!

Be polite to your uncle and Madame too. Thank them for reading this to you. And know that I am always with you, that I am right beside you.

Your Papa

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