James is enjoying life at Baron’s Chambers, the London apartment house where he shares a flat with his sometime handler, an American fine arts agent. But his deductive abilities will be put to the test when he’s called on to detect philatelic forgeries at Thwaites, one of the city’s great auction houses. The recently knighted cat also finds time to coach a croquet team, oversee rehearsals of a sequel to Cats, and help deliver a baby. Not to be outdone by cheesy actors or blundering attorneys, he makes his film debut and testifies in a criminal trial at the Old Bailey. But he has a special place in his heart for St. James’s Palace, the address he longs to call home.
This delightful sequel to James the Connoisseur will prove irresistible catnip for feline lovers.
James, Fabulous Feline is the 2nd book in the Connoisseur Cat novels, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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James, Fabulous Feline
Further Adventures of the Connoisseur Cat
By Harriet Hahn
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Harriet Hahn
All rights reserved.
I had arrived in London the day before with commissions for a number of clients. I am an art expert of sorts and I do research for various individuals and institutions, bid at auction for clients and, on occasion, try to find specific items. This time I planned an extended visit in London.
"Peter in?" I asked Marilyn, who greeted me as I came in. Marilyn's blue-black hair was pulled straight back and worn in a braid on top of her head. She has huge brown eyes, sharp features and a very personal style. She is keenly intelligent and slightly intimidating until you know her. At that moment her handsome face had a tiny smear of white frosting, as she was eating a piece of Penny Black birthday cake.
She grinned at me. "Yes, and hard at work," she said through a mouthful of cake. "Welcome back to London; I'll tell him you are here." She picked up her phone and did so. "Have a piece of cake?"
I shook my head.
"Go right on in," she said. "You know the way."
"You look wonderful," I said, and she did.
I knocked at Peter's door and opened it to be assaulted by a flying grey bomb. I held out my arms and was embraced by a big, silver-grey, short-haired cat with golden eyes, who settled into my arms, grinning and purring.
Peter leaned back in his chair, which not only swings forward and back, but like a barber chair can go up and down as well. Hugging the cat I dropped into one of the wooden chairs. James, for that was the cat's name, wriggled out of my arms, encircled my neck, danced around the back of the chair, jumped to the worktable, where he did two or three somersaults, and then returned to my lap.
"Oh, James, sir," I said. James is an exceptionally aristocratic cat and likes to be properly addressed. "I am glad to see you. And you too, Peter."
Peter also had a piece of birthday cake on his desk because in the Thwaites stamp department this day was being celebrated. It was May 6. A banner printed out on lengths of computer paper was draped across the entry to the third-floor offices. It read HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PENNY BLACK. For those unacquainted with British postal history, the Penny Black was the first adhesive postage stamp and it made its appearance on May 6, 1840.
Thwaites is one of London's great auction houses and Peter Hightower, at seventy-four, is the head and moving spirit of its stamp department. Peter's office sported a big desk, bookcases jammed with books and catalogs, filing cases and a worktable with an excellent light. There were also two very old wooden chairs, comfortable but nondescript, for visitors. Peter himself is of medium height with a ruddy face, white hair, a rounding shape and twinkling blue eyes that miss nothing. He is one of my dearest friends.
There was a knock at the door and Marilyn appeared carrying a tray with coffee for Peter and myself and a saucer of cream for James, who has tasted coffee but doesn't really like it.
"Welcome to London," said Peter warmly. "What brings you to town this year?"
"Two rather dull pieces of research for academics who need to publish and don't want to do all the work. And there is an interesting commission which, if I can bring it off, or if it is there to be brought off, will mean a very handsome fee indeed."
"Let's hear about the interesting one," said Peter.
"It seems there was a French sculptor who made a name for himself in England about 1748. He was not only a very skillful artist but had a great flair for the dramatic, and he executed some marble monuments, particularly funeral pieces, which are still of interest. All I can find out about him at the moment indicates that he was born, or at least baptized, in Lyon in 1702 and then appeared in England in the 1740s. He is known at least once to have made a terra-cotta model of one of his sculptures before he committed it in marble. That one was of Shakespeare, but there is the vaguest hint that he may have made others."
"Yes, yes," said Peter, who not only knows postal history but has a wide-ranging interest in all the arts. "I think I know whom you mean. His name is Louis-François Roubiliac."
"That's the one. If I can find one or more of these terra-cotta models for his statues, presuming he made more than one, and can buy one or more, I stand to make a very handsome fee. My client is a collector of sculpture who has a passion for these dramatic pieces, and I should dearly love to find one. If I do, it will be sheer luck, I think, but I'm going to try."
Peter swivelled around in his chair and searched in a stack of monographs on the floor beside him. At last he found what he wanted.
"Here's old L-F.," he said. "According to this, it is possible that the young sculptor might have gone to Dresden from Lyon. There is the suggestion that he had an uncle in Dresden, an accountant. There was also a fine sculptor working in Dresden in the 1720s when your boy would have been in his teens." Peter began to chuckle. "It so happens we have just taken in a large correspondence covering the period from 1715 to 1738 in Dresden. It is largely commercial and I am starting to look it over just now. I'll see if anything at all suggestive turns up."
James, who had given up the cream and was playing with a wad of paper on the worktable, looked up at me and shook his head.
"You think it's hopeless, do you?" I asked.
James nodded and went on playing.
I got up. "I'm off for now," I said. "You've got a table full of work here and I've got to look in at the Victorian paintings coming up for sale soon. Come by Baron's Chambers about five for a sip or two of the water-of-life, as the Scotch would say."
"Love to," said Peter.
"Want to come with me?" I asked James. He likes to wander in the great room of Thwaites and sometimes sees something he fancies. He is beginning to develop as a collector. He owns three pieces: a Staffordshire porcelain cat, a copy of the Egyptian cat Bastet who wears gold earrings, and a pair of his own gold earrings for which he had his ears pierced some time ago.
This time James shook his head. Then he waved his paw at a line of bluish stamps on one edge of the worktable. James has extremely acute vision and can detect tiny differences between the printing on different stamps in a much shorter time than can the normal human being. He spends part of his week working with Peter or with Marilyn, sorting for forgeries, reentries and plate flaws. In this case he would look at the stamps lined up for him and very gently move the forgeries out of line with his paw.
James lives around the corner at Baron's Chambers, a building containing small furnished apartments that can be rented for as short a time as a week. He ostensibly belongs to Mrs. March, who manages the building from her apartment on the fifth floor, but he really belongs to the world. When I am in London I stay at Baron's. When James is not working for Peter Hightower, he sits on a small table at the entrance to Baron's and subjects possible tenants to careful scrutiny.
"I'm on the fourth floor in flat twelve," I said to James and Peter as I left. "Come anytime after four."
James gave me his I-know-where-you-are look and then relented and winked and grinned, and I knew my old friend was ready for any adventures we could find.
By four in the afternoon I was back in flat twelve, which has a charming sitting room with a big overstuffed sofa and one overstuffed chair, a glass-topped table that seats four easily and six in a pinch, and six straight chairs in case there is a pinch. There is a comfortable bedroom, a bath, and a tiny kitchen now stocked with bottles of Laphroaig single-malt whiskey, La Iña sherry, Strasbourg goose liver pâté from Fortnum and Mason's just down the street, Stilton cheese from Paxton's up Jermyn Street.
I had just settled down in the easy chair when I heard a scratch at the door. There was James. He gave me a nod, walked purposefully into the bedroom and patted my suitcases in approval. James likes tweed suitcases bound in leather—none of your plastic stuff for him. After assuring himself all was well in the bedroom he hurried into the kitchen, where he began opening the cupboard doors. He is good at this. He has had lots of practice. He patted the can of pâté and grinned at the Laphroaig.
"Very good choice," I said. I opened the pâté, put out some crackers, set out two glasses and a saucer and the food on a tray, and at that moment the downstairs bell rang. It was Peter. James and I stood in the hall, watching the tiny elevator rise in its elaborate gilded exterior cage in the center of the stairwell. The lift itself is made of mahogany with windows of bevelled glass cut in it. It moves slowly but with certainty and can hold four moderate-size people with only a little discomfort.
James greeted Peter ebulliently and led him to the sitting room, where Peter settled comfortably in the easy chair. I followed with the pâté and crackers.
"Laphroaig or La Iña?" I asked.
"I'll have La Iña, please," said Peter. He is especially fond of good, dry sherry.
I did not have to ask James. I went back to the kitchen for a glass of sherry for Peter, a glass of Laphroaig for me and a saucer of the same for James. I put the saucer on the coffee table. James sat next to the saucer, scattered a few drops on the table as a libation and lapped, while Peter and I clinked glasses.
We three friends sat for a moment in silence, relishing the delight of being together again after a long separation.
Then my telephone rang.
"Helena," I cried, delighted to hear her voice.
James was galvanized. He nearly knocked the phone out of my hand as he meowed into it. At the other end I could hear Helena making kissing noises while James purred his loudest.
Helena, Lady Haverstock, a tall, beautiful woman, about thirty, with golden hair and laughing blue eyes, is the wife of Henry Stepton, the 24th earl of Haverstock. Both Lord Henry and Helena are intimate friends of James's. In fact, it was James who brought them together when Helena was a struggling artist in London and Lord Henry a lonely widower. Lord Henry and Helena are also close friends of mine. Helena was calling to welcome me to England and invite James, Peter and myself for the weekend at Haverstock Hall, their estate, which was about an hour's drive from London. I relayed the message to Peter, who thought it a wonderful idea. James was lying on his back and patting his paws together with delight at the prospect.
"We'd all love to come," I told Helena.
"Fine," she said. "Weatherby will be in London Friday with the station wagon and he will pick you three up at Baron's about four if that is convenient."
"That will be super," I said. "We all send love."
I hung up the phone and considered. That left the following day in which to get started on my project.
"James," I said. He was back on the coffee table eating pâté. He always leaves the crackers. "How would you like to come to Westminster Abbey with me tomorrow?"
James looked at Peter.
"Go ahead," said Peter. "I have to spend time on the German correspondence and Marilyn is calling an auction so there is no work for you."
James turned to me and nodded. He loves expeditions around London.
A little later the three of us went around the corner and down the street to Colombino's Restaurant, where James is welcome. Peter and I had cannelloni and salad while James had a dish of clam sauce. James does not like pasta. The three of us split a bottle of good red wine. Outside the restaurant James and I said good night to Peter and walked back to flat twelve in time to watch the late evening news. As we sat before the TV there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find Mrs. March, the charming manager of Baron's Chambers.
"Is James here by any chance?" she asked.
I was about to call, but James was too fast for me. He had streaked out the door and was standing on the stairs leading up to the fifth floor. He somehow gave the impression that he had come to get Mrs. March rather than the other way around.
"He seems to be right there," I said, laughing.
"Silly cat," she said affectionately. "I hope he wasn't bothering you."
"Indeed not," I said. "In fact I should like to borrow him for the weekend. He has been invited to go with me to Haverstock Hall, if you agree."
"Of course he may go if you are sure he won't be any trouble."
I heard James snort. The descendant of the favorite cat of the Stuart kings, the boon companion of the earl of Haverstock be any trouble? Ridiculous!CHAPTER 2
The next morning when I opened my door to get the Telegraph, there was James sitting on the paper and in his mouth was his carry-bag. Last year Lord Henry commissioned Asprey's, one of London's finer shops, to make a bag specifically designed to allow James to travel on the underground, or go to Fortnum and Mason to pick out delicious items for the larder. The bag was made of parachute nylon with a sturdy leather bottom. Around the base of the bag, convenient to a paw, is a series of leather-bound holes, which permit James to reach out. Around the top of the bag is another set of holes at the right height to permit James to look out in all directions. The bag has a flap to cover the top and longish handles so it can be carried over my shoulder. James has taken many trips in it. It has his initial on it in gothic script.
I held the bag upright, James hopped in and I closed the top. He waggled a bit to get settled and we were off to the Green Park station. We changed trains at Victoria and finally arrived at the Westminster stop, walked up to street level and on to the Abbey. James loves to travel on the underground. Occasionally he has been known to scratch a pickpocket he caught in the act, but generally he remains invisible. However, I have to be careful to carry him at shoulder level. If I forget and rest the carry-bag on the floor, James will scratch me, or any leg he can reach.
It was a grey, misty May 7, not quite drizzling, but cold. It was a day to discourage tourists and the Abbey was not overrun with crowds. In a building like the Abbey, James can run free. He disappears in the shadows as soon as I let him out of the carry-bag and I cannot see him. He can, however, see me, so he follows where I am going, at the same time making little forays of his own.
Westminster Abbey is a place of worship and also a shrine to many of the heroes of the nation. Writers, artists, statesmen, military leaders and important clergymen are buried here, as well as kings and queens. For some of the great a simple plaque on the wall is sufficient, but for others great monuments, including many carved figures in marble, have been erected. The Abbey is a vast place and even these monuments are dwarfed in the gloom. I wandered happily, letting my imagination follow where time took me, past sixteenth- and seventeenth-century tombs but always looking for a mid-eighteenth-century monument designed by L-F. Roubiliac, which I knew was there.
I turned a corner and came upon a school group consisting of about fifteen ten-year-old children and a teacher. The teacher was standing facing the children in front of a large monument that consisted of a dying General Wolfe leaning on the arm of an aide and looking off into the infinite. Below him with expressions of grief and gratitude huddled a crowd of men and women wearing the dress of the Puritans, and two or three American Indians with feathers in their hair, also looking gloomy. The monument had been given about 1745 by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to honor the British general who saved the colony from the French. The monument was very dirty and it was not easy to distinguish details in the dim light.
I stopped to watch because the children seemed so interested.
"This memorial piece," the teacher was saying in a droning voice, "has representatives of all the various people in the colony at the time."
I heard a small snuffly sneeze.
"There it is again," said a boy in the front row.
"Where?" asked his neighbor.
"Just there, on that Indian or whatever he is."
"What is it?" asked another.
"Look, that Indian's feather moved."
I looked too and sure enough, above the tip of a dirty grey marble feather waved for just a moment a grey fur plume.
The teacher, sensing he had lost his audience, changed his direction. "Who can tell me where Massachusetts is?" he asked.
"Look, there it goes again," said one boy.
"I wonder how they do it?" said another.
The plume was waving quite excitedly now and little puffs of dust were rising in the air.
Excerpted from James, Fabulous Feline by Harriet Hahn. Copyright © 1993 Harriet Hahn. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A fun escape into fantasy
James is all things to all people. A master of all. His exploits end up being too much too soon. The cats of The Cat Who series and of course the Master himself Midnight Louie, are more catlike and as intelligent as James. Still it is a light and fun read without getting involved in the story or the characters.