Authors: Carla Neggers
Cut and Run
For Joe, Kate and Zacharyâ
and special thanks to Bill and Aunt Dini.
Delftshaven, The Netherlands
lone in her small dressing room, Juliana Fall took a handful of ice chips and rubbed them on her cheeks and the back of her neck. She was so unbelievably hot! But it was her own fault. She'd left her long, pale blond hair down and had chosen a dress of heavy winter white silkâand the tiny seventeenth-century stone church had been her idea. It was packed with people. Her manager had fought her choice for weeks.
make her Dutch premiere in a church with limited seating capacity when she could have had the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam? Was she crazy? No, she'd said, just adamant. She'd refused to explain that the church, in the old Delftshaven section of Rotterdam, was the one in which her parents had been married. It was the truth, but it sounded too sentimental for a rising international star in the highly fickle, competitive world of concert pianists.
Even at twenty-three, she was scrutinized not just for how she performed, but for what she wore, said, didâfor everything. Already she was being touted as the most beautiful pianist in the world. One critic had raved about “her dark emerald eyes, which fill with passion even as she gives her trademark distant smile.” If only he'd paid as much attention to her interpretation of the Mozart sonata she'd performed.
She laughed, wondering what he'd say if he could see her smudged mascara and the sweat that had matted her dress to her skin and dampened her hair.
Johannes Peperkamp smiled sheepishly from the doorway. He was her uncle, a balding, gentle old man, tall and all bones inside his ill-fitting suit, with a big nose and a permanent soft, sad look in his blue eyes. He was sixty-six but looked eighty. Until that afternoon, he and Juliana had never met. He'd taken the train from Antwerp, where he was one of the world's preeminent diamond cutters, and had taken his niece into his arms as if he'd known her all her life. He'd told her he owned all her recordings and liked to listen to them at dawn, when it was quiet. What a change from his younger sister! Wilhelmina Peperkamp was a stout, difficult woman. She lived in Delftshaven, one of the few sections of Rotterdam not demolished by the 1940 German bombings that had led to the capitulation of The Netherlands and the long Nazi occupation. Aunt Willie had been so annoyed at Juliana's ignorance of Dutch that she'd refused to speak English for their first thirty minutes together. Catharina, Juliana's mother and the youngest Peperkamp by thirteen years, had sat in quiet humiliation. She must have knownâJuliana certainly didâthat she was the one being criticized for not teaching her American daughter Dutch.
Juliana recovered from her surprise at seeing her uncle, and the indignity of being caught rubbing ice on her face. But she reminded herself that he was family. “Uncle Johannes, hello, what're you doing back here?”
“I've brought you something,” he said in his own excellent English.
Juliana winced. Now? She had fifteen minutes to pull herself together for the second half of the concert. She snatched up a hand towel as her uncle withdrew a small, crumpled paper bag from inside his jacket. What was she supposed to say? The Peperkamps mystified her, and she wondered if her idea for a family reunion had been a good one after all. She'd already had to accept the mediocre instrument, the lousy acoustics, and, although the church was sold out, the comparatively small audience. But now the Peperkamps themselves were proving to be quite a handful. Her mother was obviously ill at ease with her older brother and sister, whom she rarely saw, and hadn't had much to say since arriving in Rotterdam the night before. And Aunt Willie was impossible. After getting off to an inauspicious start with her niece, she'd snored through most of the first half of the concert.
And now this.
Johannes thrust the bag at her. “Pleaseâopen it.”
She couldn't bring herself to argue. Her uncle looked so eager, even desperate. Unprepossessing as his gift seemed, it meant a great deal to him, and with the death of his wife Ann a few years ago and no children of his own, Juliana guessed he was a lonely man. For the first time, she felt the weight of being the last of the Peperkamps. She could indulge him.
With the towel around her neck, she stuck her hand in the bag and pulled out a heavy object wrapped in faded purple velvet. Her uncle's water blue eyes glittered as he urged her on. She unwrapped the velvet. In a moment, she held in her hand a large, cool rock. But her pulse had quickened, and she lifted her eyes to her old uncle, licking her lips, which had suddenly gone dry.
“Uncle Johannes, this isn'tâtell me this isn't a diamond.”
The old man shook his head solemnly. “I can't do that, Juliana.”
“But it's too big to be a diamond!”
“It's what we call rough. It has never been touched by a cutter's tool.”
Juliana quickly wrapped up the stone and stuck it back in the bag. For four hundred years, diamonds had consumed the Peperkamps. They'd entered the trade in the late sixteenth century when Jewish diamond merchants had fled the Spanish Inquisition and arrived in more tolerant Amsterdam. The Peperkamps were Gentiles. Why they'd taken up one of the few trades open to Jewsâand dominated by them, even todayâremained a mystery. But it wasn't one that interested Juliana. She considered diamonds ordinary and bland. Even ones like the Breath of Angels, which her Uncle Johannes had cut and was now in the Smithsonian, bored her. An exquisite stone, everyone said. She supposed it was, for a diamond.
“I'm flattered, Uncle Johannes, deeply flattered. But this must be a valuable stone, and I just can't accept it. It would go to waste on me.”
“Juliana, this is the Minstrel's Rough.”
A look of anguish, but not surprise, overcame the old man. “Then Catharina has never told you. I've often wondered.”
She listened for a note of criticism of her mother in his tone, looked for it in his expression, but saw none. Perhaps he knew as well as his niece that Catharina Peperkamp Fall rarely discussed the first twenty-five years of her life, the years during which she'd grown up in Amsterdam, with her daughterâor anyone else. When Juliana had complained to her father about her mother's reticence, Adrian Fall had nodded sympathetically, for he too had been shut out from so much of his wife's early life. But he said that it was Catharina's past, not Juliana's or his.
“She won't approve of my telling you now, even less of my giving you the Minstrel,” Johannes Peperkamp went on heavily. “But I can't let that stop me. I have a responsibility to future generations of our familyâand to past generations.”
Juliana was beginning to question whether she should take her uncle seriously. Was he just a crazy old man? And what she was holding just a hunk of granite? But he seemed so intense, and his guttural accent lent a mysterious quality to his words. She said carefully, wiping her jaw with a corner of the towel, “I don't understand, Uncle Johannes.”
“The Minstrel's Rough has been in the Peperkamp family for four hundred years. Weâyour familyâare its caretakers.”
“Is itâ” Her voice was hoarse, her hands trembling as they never did when she performed. “Is it valuable?”
He smiled sadly. “It used to be that any Peperkamp could have identified what you now hold in your hand. On today's scales, Juliana, the Minstrel is a D grade, the highest grade for a white diamond. Few are one hundred percent pure and colorless, but the Minstrel comes as close as any rough can. In the business, we call it an ice white.”
“What will happen when it's cut?”
“If it's cut, Juliana. Not when. For four hundred years we've guarded the Minstrel's Rough from that very end. Surprising, isn't it? A family of diamond cutters protecting a rough from their own tools. We've had four centuries to study this stone, and should it ever have to be cut, we know its secrets. I have markings, which I will teach you. They will tell a cutter precisely where to strike in order to preserve weight without sacrificing beauty. But you must understand: the value of the Minstrel lies not only in what it will be when cut, but also in its legend.”
“Jesus, Uncle Johannes. What legend?”
“In 1581, when the Minstrel's Rough first came to the Peperkamps, it was the largest uncut diamond in the worldâand the most mysterious.”
“But that was a long time agoâ¦”
“Not so long. The Minstrel's Rough is still the largest and most mysterious uncut diamond in the world.”
Juliana's heart beat faster than it ever did when she had preconcert jitters. “Why mysterious?”
“Because its existence has been rumored for centuries, but never confirmed. What you are holding, my Juliana, only Peperkamps have seen for four hundred years. No one else can prove it exists.”
“Uncle Johannes, I don't even like diamonds.”
“Your mother's influence,” he said gently, and smiled. “I understand, but it doesn't matter. In each generation, one Peperkamp has served as caretaker for the stone. In mine, it was I. In your generation, Julianaâ”
He took her hand. “In yours, there is only you.”
Johannes Peperkamp returned to his seat in the wooden pew beside his two sisters. What a trio they made. At fifty-one, Catharina was still as slim and pretty as a girl, her eyes dark green like her daughter's, but rounder, softer, and her hair still as pale blond as it had been forty years ago when her big brother had whisked her out on the canals to go ice skating. Johannes wished she would smile. But he understood: she was protective of Juliana, afraid he or Willie would let something slip about a part of their shared past that she'd never told her daughter. And he already had, hadn't he? The Minstrel's Rough, however, had not been a slip. He'd planned what he'd tell Juliana for weeks abut had always hoped she'd already know, that her mother had long ago related the story of the Minstrel.
He should have known better.
Averting his eyes from those of his younger sister, guiltily sensing the fear in them, Johannes smiled briefly at Wilhelmina. Ah, Willie. She'd never change! She was as plain as ever with her stout figure and square features, with her blue eyes of no distinction and her blondish hair, never as pale and perfect as Catharina's, now streaked almost completely white. She was sixty-four years old and didn't give a damn if she were a hundred.
Willie might have approved of his visit backstage with their niece, but, never one to hide anything, she'd have insisted he tell Catharina. How could he? How could he explain his ambivalence, the duty he felt to generations of Peperkamps coupled with the horror he felt at what the Minstrel's Rough had come to mean to his own generationâto Catharina and Wilhelmina, to himself? Their father had passed the Minstrel on to him in 1945 under circumstances even more difficult than those Johannes now faced. How could he ignore the responsibility with which he'd been entrusted? He'd had to give the stone to Juliana. There was no other choice.
You could have thrown it into the sea, Catharina would tell him again, as she had so long ago.
Perhaps he should have listened to her then.
And Willieâdear, blunt Wilhelmina. She'd make him tell Catharina and then she'd make him tell Juliana everything, not just what he'd wanted to tell her.
What you are holding, my Juliana, only Peperkamps have seen for four hundred years. No one else can prove it exists.
They were the words his father had told Johannes when he'd first seen the Minstrel as a boy.
Now they were a lie.
Yet what did it matter? The past was done.
Juliana returned to the makeshift stage and smiled radiantly at her audience, and Johannes felt a surge of pride and admiration. After the shock he'd given her, she'd composed herself and began the second half of her concert with the same blazing energy, the same flawless virtuosity, as she had the first half.
Within minutes Catharina elbowed her older sister in the ribs. “WillieâWillie, wake up!”
Wilhelmina sniffed. “I am awake.”
“Now you are. But a minute ago your eyes were closed.”
“No more snoring. Juliana'll hear you.”
“All right.” Wilhelmina sat up straight in the uncomfortable pew, for her a major concession. “But all these sonatas sound the same to me.”
“You're hopeless,” Catharina said, but Johannes, at least, could hear the affection in her voice.
If the past had not been what it was, thought the old diamond cutter, feeling better, Juliana never would have been born. She's our consolationâCatharina's, mine, even Willie's. And now, through her, not just the Peperkamp tradition but the Peperkamps themselves would continue.