Read The Cabinet of Earths Online

Authors: Anne Nesbet

The Cabinet of Earths (17 page)

that in there?”

“A rat, I guess.”

“The shadow of a rat!”

“Policeman almost caught us.”

“One half second later—”

For a time they hardly even noticed the chill in the air. But then they had caught their breaths again, and Valko took her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze.

“Well, now you know, anyway,” he said. “Your hourglass is gone. It's probably wrapped in seven layers of plastic on a shelf in the back room of the Préfecture de Police. No one will ever see it again.”

“I just wanted my earth back,” said Maya.

Valko looked like someone imagining what a police secretary might say, if a couple of kids came up to her counter and asked for
three grains of earth, left by accident in an hourglass
. He opened his mouth and snapped it shut again.

“What?” said Maya.

“What do you mean,
?” said Valko, innocently. “And what's that you're wearing?”

It was the shiny disk of Cabinet glass on its string; it must have slipped out of her jacket when they were running away from that shadow in the theater. She showed him its tricks, how it could melt in her hand if she asked it to, and then in another blink of an eye be solid again.

“Very cool,” said Valko. “What's it made of, anyway?”

And he poked a finger at it, but the disk almost seemed to flinch away; at any rate, his hand couldn't grasp it.

“It's shy,” said Maya.

“Shy!” said Valko. “Necklaces aren't

But his eyes were all alive with scientific interest.

“Can't be mercury,” he said. “It's transparent. And what's that thing in it?”

It was true, there was something there, trapped in the glass. Why hadn't she noticed that before? A narrow speck of darkness, like a question mark, like a microscopic creature caught in a drop of water on a slide.

It was,

in fact,

the tiniest of salamanders.

And it looked up over its shoulder at them, looked over its shoulder and flicked its tail.

They watched it for a moment in silence, and then Maya tucked the disk of glass away, a warm mysterious circle against the bottom of her throat.

“A trick of the light,” said Valko, shaking his head with a smile.

A little bit of Lavirotte in me, thought Maya, and something in her heart fell comfortably into place.

Because some people are like that: They live in more worlds than one.

They may have dogs and friends and a wonderful, ordinary life in some wonderful, ordinary town far away—and yet in Paris they can find themselves walking in magic.

And that, in the end, is the nature of salamanders:

Salamanders are amphibious.

Author's Note

his story is also, like its heroine, a little bit amphibious. Everything that happens is fictional, as are all of the main characters, but some of the people and places mentioned are real. Antoine François Fourcroy (1755–1809) and Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) were both chemists in France in the eighteenth century. They worked together for many years, and after Lavoisier was sent to the guillotine during the French Revolution, Fourcroy (who was part of the Revolutionary government) was widely accused of having played a role in Lavoisier's death—or at least not doing much to save the man who had been his mentor for so long.

There are some excellent books about Lavoisier, who really did have an interest in everything from guinea pigs to sheepfolding: I recommend
Antoine Lavoisier: Founder of Modern Chemistry
(Great Minds of Science), by Lisa Yount (Enslow Publishers, 1997), for a good introduction. The book I got the guinea pig story from (and so much else besides) is a wonderful biography by Douglas McKie:
Antoine Lavoisier: Scientist, Economist, Social Reformer
(New York: Henry Schuman, 1952).

The painting in the Louvre Museum that Maya's mother loves so much was painted by Jan van Eyck around 1435 and is called
The Madonna of Chancellor Rolin
. Look closely, and you will see the island of the Lavirottes!

And if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Paris, do try to get to 29 avenue Rapp. There is a house there you might recognize—and it really does have a bronze salamander on its door.


o book ever had better friends than this one. Its editor, Rosemary Brosnan, is my hero. She read each revision with a gimlet eye and a kind heart: Madeleine L'Engle would have called her a Teacher.

Present at this story's birth were some particularly generous and inspirational Parisian godmothers—Tioka Tokedira, Sarah Towle, Michèle Helene, and Emma Pearson Groleau. They read the earliest drafts with wise, writerly eyes, and I am deeply grateful to them.

Sharon Inkelas, Will Waters, and Jayne Williams have been the truest of friends, not just to this book (which wouldn't be itself without them), but also to the author, whose breath is taken away time and time again by their patience, their support, and their love.

At a critical moment, Andrea Brown came aboard to pilot the book into safe harbor. Mary Kole, Lee Naiman, and Kathleen Duey saw early versions of the story and gave sage advice. Marguerite Holloway encouraged me. My tolerant colleagues in Slavic and Film have been as tickled by my interest in magical salamanders as any colleagues could possibly be.

Marie-José Hadifé is the true Keeper of the Cabinet of Earths and the kindest of hosts; she taught us some wonderful lessons about the nature of desert glass and how to treat bee stings.

My world wouldn't be the same without my sisters: Barbara Nesbet made me the most beautiful salamander quilt when I finished this book, and Susan Nesbet Sikuta was always the one who found the best library books when we were kids—I hope Caroline likes this one!

My mother, Helen MacPherson Nesbet, would have been thrilled to see this story in print, and doubly thrilled to read the bit about a mother dragging a kid to the Louvre. I miss her. Thanks to her and to my physicist father, Robert Nesbet, I know all too well what it feels like to be popped into schools where no one speaks your language.

Eric Naiman has strange ideas about what should go into a book, but he is the best possible person with whom to explore the world's odd corners. Thera Naiman, Eleanor Naiman, Ada Naiman, and Jenna Archer made life in Paris complete: This book is dedicated, with love and gratitude, to them.

About the Author

Anne Nesbet
teaches Russian literature and the history of film at the University of California at Berkeley. She lives near San Francisco with her husband, several daughters, and one irrepressible dog.
is her first novel. You can visit her online at

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Jacket art and lettering © 2012 by Iacopo Bruno


The Cabinet of Earths

Copyright © 2012 by Anne Nesbet

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins ebooks.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Nesbet, Anne.

The Cabinet of Earths / Anne Nesbet. — 1st ed.

   p. cm.

Summary: Twelve-year-old Maya, in Paris with her family for a year, lands in the middle of the mysterious La Societé's quest for immortality when the magical Cabinet of Earths chooses her as its next Keeper, promising to restore her mother's health. Includes historical notes.

ISBN 978-0-06-196313-1 (trade bdg.)

[1. Magic—Fiction. 2. Immortality—Fiction. 3. Family life—France—Paris—Fiction. 4. Paris (France)—Fiction. 5. France—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.N437768Cab 2012



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Epub Edition © November 2011 ISBN: 9780062099198

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