"Every so often, there comes along a bookor if you're lucky bookswhich gladden the heart, cheer the soul . . . Just such books are those written by Doreen Tovey." Cat World
More Cats in the Belfryby Doreen Tovey
After Cats in the Belfry, more warm and witty tales of cats and cozy country life, first published more than 40 years ago
When she's not chasing errant donkeys in her best chiffon gown or leaving the teapot in the fridge, Doreen has her hands full looking after her family of Siamese cats. In this installment of cats and/b>/i>
After Cats in the Belfry, more warm and witty tales of cats and cozy country life, first published more than 40 years ago
When she's not chasing errant donkeys in her best chiffon gown or leaving the teapot in the fridge, Doreen has her hands full looking after her family of Siamese cats. In this installment of cats and calamities, new feline characters arrive to terrorize the tranquil village of Rowberrow. First comes the timid lilac-point kitten Shantung, then, after the untimely death of the beloved Saska, a new male influence appears in the bold-as-brass Saphra, who was raised by a parrot and has a penchant for hidden treasure. The terrible twosome are all set to make the cottage a hotbed for mischief once again. With cameo appearances from much-loved personalities, including Father Adams, Fred Ferry, and the nosy Mrs. Binney, there's never a dull moment, and love is in the air for one of the villagersbut who?
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More Cats in the Belfry
By Doreen Tovey
Summersdale Publishers LtdCopyright © 1995 Doreen Tovey
All rights reserved.
I could have bet on it. Within minutes of taking my new Siamese kitten, Shantung, into the garden for the first time, Mrs Binney was peering over the front gate, mouth turned down to match her hat-brim, gloomily predicting that I'd never raise her.
Mrs Binney, once as rare a sight in the valley as a cuckoo in December, had taken to haunting it since the death of my husband Charles the previous year. She'd told me several times that her son Bert fancied the cottage if I was thinking of selling. Whether she was keeping an eye on things from that angle – to see if I showed signs of moving – or whether she didn't want to miss the excitement if, in trying to maintain the place myself, I fell off a ladder, or out of a tree, or did myself a mischief with Charles's electric chainsaw, all of which she forecast constantly – the fact was that whenever I saw Mrs B. coming down the hill, my heart sank like a stone. It was like having Cassandra perpetually around in a po-shaped hat and ankle boots. It didn't help either that, where Shantung was concerned, I was inclined to agree with her.
Almost from the time we'd first had Siamese cats there'd been a blue-point queen and a seal-point male at the cottage. Our first Siamese had been a blue-point female called Sugieh, and when she'd had kittens one was a seal-point male with big feet and spotted whiskers whom we decided to keep as a companion for her and call Solomon (Solomon Seal, we thought, was rather good). When Sugieh herself died tragically when the kittens were three months old, we'd kept Sheba, her blue-point daughter, as company for Solomon, and the tradition had gone on from there.
For almost all that time, too, there'd been a donkey called Annabel bawling for peppermints over the half-door of her stable or keeping an eye on us from the hillside behind the cottage – small, wilful, her idea of a side-splitting joke being to butt us from behind when we weren't expecting it; loving us, for all that, as dearly as we loved her. She'd died three months after Charles, whom she'd adored, and Shebalu, Sheba's successor, had followed her within a year. The cottage and its big garden seemed so empty then, with only myself and Saska, the current seal-point boy, in it, that when I was unable to find a blue-point kitten quickly to restore that part of my life, at any rate, to normal I settled for a lilac-point instead.
There wasn't all that difference between blue- and lilac-points, I reasoned. They often occurred in the same litter. Just so long as there was a prissy little pale-coated girl around the place. Then I drove down to Devon to fetch her, met a twelve-week-old lilac-point for the first time, and wondered what I'd let myself in for. I'd never seen anything so fragile.
All Siamese kittens are white when they are born. Longer than ordinary kittens, blunt at both ends, they look exactly like those white Continental sausages, boudins blancs. When their colour points start to develop, however, while their bodies remain basically white, there are subtle variations in the whiteness. Seal-point kittens' bodies take on a creamish tinge; the bodies of blue-points have more of a milky hue; the two lilac-point kittens I was looking at were the purest ice-white, with the faintest shading on ears and paws like shadows on a snowfield and – I couldn't take my eyes off them – the oddest-coloured noses. A pronounced pinkish mauve as though they were Orphans of the Storm and not half feeling the cold.
Actually they were curled together in an armchair in front of a log fire in a huge old country sitting-room, with low-beamed ceilings, rugs on a polished oak floor and adult Siamese everywhere – draped over chairs, squatting on the bookcase, one on its back with its feet in the air in front of the big fire-basket in the inglenook, one coming in from the kitchen, another strolling out through the doorway into the hall ...
Maybe it was the presence of so many big cats in full colour that made the kittens look so frail. One kitten, actually, at second glance. The other was bigger, more solid and confident-looking, regarding me with the calmest of periwinkle blue eyes. I would have picked her like a shot, but she was already spoken for. She was entered in a show for the following weekend and if she won a top award a breeder was going to have her. It was her sister who was for sale – the one who by comparison resembled a small white mouse and seemed just about as nervous. The moment she saw me looking at her she was flat on her stomach under the dresser, cringing away from me as if I were Sweeney Todd.
She was healthy, I knew. My friend Pauline Furber, a breeder herself, had found her for me. If Pauline said she was good, she was. It was just that she looked so fragile – as if rearing her would be like trying to raise a flower fairy. I thought of Saska and quailed. He was more like a miniature elephant. Rumbustious, clumsy-footed – supposing he stepped on her and squashed her? She looked so solemn, too. I wanted a lively kitten to cheer things up, not one apparently in training for a sainthood.
As if reading my thoughts, 'She's rather reserved,' said her breeder. 'We've never heard her purr yet – but she might be different if she weren't with all the other cats.' Maybe she would. That conclave of superior- looking felines was enough to intimidate anybody, sitting there, except for the one with its feet in the air, like a session of the House of Lords. 'She's got a beautiful head,' said Pauline, who'd come with me. She had indeed. She was a miniature Nefertiti in cat form, even if her sister did have the edge ...
Hoping I was doing the right thing, I said I'd have her. It was May Day, a Sunday. I told her she was my small May Queen. It was also one of the worst May Days on record, cold and pouring with rain, hence the log fire at the breeder's. On the way back to Somerset we drove through a tremendous thunderstorm and the May Queen had diarrhoea in her basket. If she hadn't had a nervous stomach previously she certainly did from then on, what with the lightning, travelling in a car for the first time, and meeting up with Saska.
I'd carried her into the cottage in her basket and put it on the floor for his inspection, which was how we'd always introduced new kittens to older cats. The usual procedure was for the cat-in-residence to approach on its stomach, regard the kitten with horror through the wire door at the front of the basket, threaten to murder it if it didn't go away, then slink off, flat-eared, to sit on the sidelines and watch the effect. After a day or two of peering at it round corners and spitting if it came too close, the older one would capitulate, wash it all over to make it smell better (half the trouble in the first place was its having its mother's scent), and the next thing they'd be curled up together on the hearthrug or in a chair, the senior cat looking suitably sheepish at having given in. From then on it was Siamese United against the world.
Through the front of the basket was what mattered. That way the kitten could see its intimidator was another cat. Why Saska had to be different and spy through a gap in the wickerwork back goodness only knew, but Shantung had never seen a seal-point before – her world had consisted of blues and lilacs – and when she saw his black triangular face staring in at her through the little peephole she must have thought it was a cat-demon. She was very brave. Didn't make a sound. Just had diarrhoea again on the spot.
I did my best. Changed her blanket. Pulled the sofa across in front of the fire, put the basket on it, inserted a saucer of chicken and left the door ajar. In due course the sound of eating came from the depths. She didn't venture out, though. She stayed in hiding at the back, Saska sat on my lap in an adjacent armchair watching television, I worried like mad, and so we passed the evening.
I took her to bed with me that night in case she developed delayed shock. I hadn't a clue what to do if she did. I could hardly have given a kitten that size the kiss of life. But I put her, still in her travelling basket with a blanket and hotwater bottle in it, on the chest at the bottom of the bed and it was from there, once the light was out, that I heard her voice for the first time. She alternated between dozing for a few minutes and then waking up and screeching like a barn owl in the darkness for her mum. I switched on the lamp and brought her into bed with me. She scrambled out, hid in the basket, and yelled for her mum again. At half-past one, in desperation, I went down to fetch her some chicken, waking Sass as I passed his bed in front of the fire.
He came with me to the kitchen and started shouting for chicken himself. He could have been heard at the other end of the valley – probably was. He bawling downstairs, she wailing upstairs, half-past one in the morning and all the cottage lights on – it was like old times, I had to admit, even if it did occur to me that I needed my head read.
I gave him some, took a saucerful up to her. She wasn't backward in eating, that was one thing. The chicken vanished in a flash. She started to purr, which her breeder had said she didn't do. A purr so loud it filled the bedroom. I could hardly believe it. She rubbed her head against my hand. She was making the best of things, of course, as all kittens and puppies do. It is the innate law of survival – if Mum isn't around, tack on to whoever looks as if they might take care of you, the pointer being if they give you food.
For all that, the courage of such tiny creatures is astonishing. Humans would never be so philosophical. I got back into bed and this time she advanced up the eiderdown and crept into my arms like a small white snowflake. Overjoyed, I stroked her ears: upstanding lilac triangles reminiscent of a couple of pyramids on a miniature Egyptian skyline, that were the biggest thing about her. She liked me. Tomorrow would be a new beginning. It wouldn't take her any time to get used to Sass.
Like heck it wouldn't. I took the precaution of taking her basket downstairs ahead of her next morning and putting it on the sofa in case she needed a refuge, though I didn't think she would. I went into the hall and called her. I'd forgotten how steep the cottage stairs were for a kitten. She came down as if she was climbing Everest in reverse, front paws plopping down together, bottom perpendicular in the air. Nothing to that, she announced when she reached the bottom. Lay on, Macduff. Was it chicken again for breakfast?
Unfortunately Saska was crouched in ambush behind the sitting-room door and spat 'Tchaah' at her as she passed. She made for the sofa and into the basket as if shot from a gun and there she stayed for the rest of the day emerging only when he went out of the room, vanishing into the depths the moment he reappeared. When he was around, meals and litter box had to be handed in to her. She wasn't taking any chances. The evening passed like the previous one: Saska on my lap acting as if kittens had never been heard of – couldn't be one within miles – and boy, I gathered from his attitude, wasn't that Western good on the telly, look at those horses run; Shantung in the depths of the basket not making a sound; me with despondent visions of her living in there on the sofa for ever, and what sort of existence was that going to be for all of us?
Tuesday was much the same, except that was the day my school-teacher friends, Dora and Nita, came to see her, took her photograph with a Polaroid camera and said, as we watched it develop, that it was odd, but she didn't appear to be on it. She was, but you needed a magnifying glass to see her. For the occasion I'd got out the cats' Snoozabed, sent by an American reader years before as a present for Solomon and Sheba. It consisted of an enormous rectangle of foam rubber four inches deep, with an oval hollow big enough for several cats scooped out of its surface and a pale blue fur-fabric cover over the lot. 'Washable, hygienic, draught-proof – the ideal bed for your pets', read the wording on the outsize box in which it came, and the postman was so intrigued that he asked for days afterwards 'How'd they like the Snoozabed, then?' until in desperation I invited him in to see it, taking up most of the hearthrug with two cats stretched out in it like Turkish pashas, whereupon he said 'Trust the Yanks to think up something like that' and went off, as was duly reported back to me, to tell everybody else on his rounds that I had friends over in America as daft as I was.
Successive generations of Siamese had luxuriated in it; since Shebalu's death Saska had slept alone in it at night; and now, as he was out in his garden run, I draped a pale pink blanket over it as she was a girl and put Shantung in it to have her photo taken.
What with her hiding in the folds of the blanket from the two strangers she was sure had come to kidnap her, and the fact that film colour can vary, the picture that came out was what appeared to be an expanse of pale pink sand-dunes with, if one looked hard enough, a couple of pallid pyramids faintly visible over the top of one of them. 'Shantung's ears,' I said, pointing them out. Nita told me later that that was the moment she decided I'd never raise her, but she hadn't liked to say so.
Wednesday morning was when Mrs Binney gave me her opinion, overheard as he came up the lane by my neighbour Father Adams, who called out to me to take no notice of she, she'd put the damper on th' Angel Gabriel hisself if he listened to her, to which Mrs B. replied that he was a daft old fool and marched up the hill in high dudgeon. Wednesday I spent reflecting on how right Mrs Binney probably was – about Shantung, at any rate. And on Wednesday evening something happened.
I was sitting in an armchair sewing. Saska lay curled in the opposite one, his black whip tail over his nose. Between us, on the sofa, was the cat basket – from which, after a while, there stealthily emerged the small white figure of the May Queen. She paused, studying the recumbent form across the way. The Big Cat was obviously asleep. Paw by paw she crept along the sofa on to the armchair and crouched there, studying him intently. At that point he snored a resounding snore, woke up with a start, saw her looking at him practically nose to nose, and nearly hit the ceiling, after which he hid under the bookcase while the May Queen fled for her basket.
Next day, presumably having taken comfort from the fact that he hadn't eaten her so far, she ventured into the Snoozabed while he was in the garden house and stayed there when I brought him in. He made no attempt to frighten her, but sat on a nearby chair looking long-suffering. By Thursday evening they were walking past each other across the room – obviously deliberately, and obviously equally deliberately ignoring each other. And on Friday evening, washing up after supper, with the door to the sitting-room open so that I could rush to her rescue if need be, as they still showed no real sign of becoming friendly, I nearly dropped a plate with astonishment when something big and dark flashed past the open doorway closely followed by something small and white travelling like a midget express train.
Before I could move, they hurtled back in the opposite direction, Shantung whizzing along in front this time, ears flattened for lessened wind resistance, Saska bounding behind her in full chase. I peered furtively round the corner after them. Shantung, all six inches of her, had stopped and was sitting in the middle of the floor with a paw raised, daring Saska, advancing across the carpet on his stomach, to come One Step Nearer and she'd Bop Him – and Saska, everything forgotten save that he had a girl to play with again, was looking happier than he'd done in weeks.
One small hiccup barred the progress of the entente cordiale. Later that evening, ensconced in his favourite armchair with Shantung between his front paws, washing her fit to flatten her to show she was now one of the family, Saska slipped his tongue accidentally into one of her ears. The rest of her, having been around the place for nearly a week, had obviously acquired the cottage smell by this time and was acceptable. Protected by those enormous pyramids, however, the insides of her ears still bore the taint of other cats and places. He withdrew his tongue, curled back his lips in the familiar feline gesture of having just smelled something unbelievably awful, and said 'Tchaah' again – which could have set things right back to square one but for the fact that Shantung took no notice, presumably having decided that he was a bit potty and did that sort of thing from time to time, or else that it was me he was swearing at. As she didn't respond to his Monster act he considered the situation for a moment, steeled himself, then shut his eyes and licked the inside of both ears thoroughly until they tasted right. Had to be done Some Time, he said – after which they curled together in a white and seal-coloured ball and went to sleep. Things at the cottage were apparently back to normal.
Excerpted from More Cats in the Belfry by Doreen Tovey. Copyright © 1995 Doreen Tovey. Excerpted by permission of Summersdale Publishers Ltd.
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Meet the Author
Doreen Tovey (19182008) was the author of more than a dozen books about the life she and her husband shared with their Siamese cats and other animals Somerset, England, including Cats in the Belfry and Cats in May. The books have sold more than 120,000 copies in 10 countries.
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