Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel rises early and goes to his first assignment of the day. In Paris, he’s been sent to examine important collections of jewels and other treasures, and today, he’s speaking with Professor Hublin of the Museum of Natural History. The professor sits down with Rumpel and shows him the museum catalog, which contains hundreds of thousands of entries, many of them for priceless gems.
We can sense that von Rumpel is hunting for the Sea of Flames—a diamond which, we already know, will be important to the plot of the novel. It’s not clear to us if von Rumpel is interviewing Hublin because it’s his job, or because—at least partly—he greedily desires the diamond for himself.
Rumpel asks to see the gems that are not in a catalog. Hublin replies that this would be impossible, and tries to draw Rumpel’s attention to the museum’s other items. Rumpel will not be distracted, however, and eventually he asks Hublin, in a falsely casual manner, how Hublin’s children are doing. Hublin begins to shake, and whispers, “Enough.” Hublin takes Rumpel to a large, beautifully designed safe, and produces a “blue stone as pig as a pigeon’s egg” from the safe. Rumpel is impressed with the stone and the safe that’s kept it hidden.
Here we can sense that von Rumpel will eventually be drawn to tracking down Marie-Laure’s father—he’s clearly the brilliant craftsman who designed the safe in which the diamond is kept. We can also guess that this particular stone is a clever forgery, designed by the museum to throw the Nazis off. The von Rumpel storyline is the most conventional of the book, as the Sea of Flames acts as the novel’s “MacGuffin” (sometimes meaningless object that drives the plot), and von Rumpel’s quest for it is a tale of a villain inexorably chasing the unsuspecting hero (Daniel, or Marie-Laure herself).