This Washington tale first catapulted into notoriety in 1978 with the publication of "Mosby, the Kennedy Center Cat: A True Story Made Legend." Written and illustrated by Beppie Noyes, the book has reappeared in a new edition. Doubtless, judging by letters and calls to Mrs. Noyes and the Kennedy Center, it will have seven more lives.

Mosby, a big elusive gray cat, was named by Jan Morse, secretary to the Kennedy Center's builder, for John S. Mosby, the fabled Confederate colonel called the Gray Ghost. Like the cat, the general was famous for appearing and disappearing.

"I never actually saw Mosby," Mrs. Noyes told the Chronicler over lunch on a visit to Washington last week. Her friend Ceci Carusi, a center volunteer and supplier of cat food for Mosby, had seen him a few times. She talked the author-artist into doing the book. So at about the time the Kennedy Center opened in 1971, Mrs. Noyes agreed to try to catch the feline -- and if not the actual cat, at least his trail of stories. As she writes in the new edition's "Welcome From the Author," "I spent many hours at the Center, talking to staff members who saw him, walking where he had prowled. . . . I think I heard him, walking behind me somewhere in the shadows. But I never saw him."

She especially enjoyed sitting in Mosby's Hideout, an unfinished spot on the top floor overlooking the river. "One day, he found a passage below the floor of his Hideout that led to a small platform . . . almost a nest, in the false ceiling over one of the theaters," Mrs. Noyes writes. That perch gave him one of the best seats in the house.

Mosby probably moved in during construction of the center, which broke ground in 1964. His mother and littermates and other felines came, hunting rats -- all that was left of the inhabitants of houses torn down to build the performing arts center.

Once discovered, he had several great protectors and feeders, among them building manager Ed Schlesser, who retired a decade or so ago, and animal defender Christine Stevens, widow of Roger L. Stevens, who for 27 years was the Kennedy Center's chairman.

Not that Mosby wasn't capable of foraging for himself. The author heard tales of workers' lunches disappearing. The Post's Henry Mitchell once wrote in his "Any Day" column that Mosby was "fond of lobster and ate his ever-loving share of it at various notable receptions. He knew how to get his and get out, before distraught chefs and caterers knew what hit them."

Stevens, not known as a Mosby friend, nevertheless provided a preface to this edition before his death in February. In it he tells of stories he had collected from actors performing in the Eisenhower Theater. During Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night," Zoe Caldwell and Jason Robards heard a sound "not unlike keening at an Irish wake" along with the play's foghorn sound effects "as Mosby joined with the actors in performance." Barbara Bel Geddes, playing the mother in Jean Kerr's "Finishing Touches," was "distracted by what sounded to her like the cries of a small baby. . . . She suspected the place was haunted until the histrionic instincts of Mosby were revealed to her."

Noyes also writes of catcalls, "long, lonely howls" reverberating through an air-conditioning vent in Mosby's Hideout. "The metal pipe echoed, rather like singing in a shower, giving his voice added depth. It sounded like a man he had heard in the Opera House."

Noyes came to the task of writing the cat's biography with considerable experience. She was a founder and editor of the Potomac Almanac community newspaper. Her late husband, Newbold Noyes Jr., was editor of the Washington Evening Star, of which his family had been part owners since 1867.

She also knew about cats. Theirs lived in the barn, attic, laundry room and kitchen on their Maryland farm. The Noyeses moved in 1988 to his family home in Sorrento, Maine, where Mrs. Noyes still lives with two dogs and four cats. She also has four children and, at last count, 12 grandchildren.

"All our animals were rescues," she said. "Our daughter Alexandra found a longhaired, fat and happy cat in a McDonald's parking lot. In June, Micmac, a Maine coon cat, named for an Indian tribe, moved in with me. It sits on my lap to watch the news."

As for Mosby, the book records his last vanishing act as coming on Jimmy Carter's inauguration night, when the Carters attended a performance at the Kennedy Center. Nobody really knows where the cat disappeared to; Schlesser searched all of Foggy Bottom to no avail.

There's no evidence that Mosby stowed away in the presidential limousine. But, Mrs. Noyes concludes, "I rather think he might have ended up in that big elegant' house. For a cat like Mosby, as Ed put it, not just ANY place would do." Beppie Noyes will sign her book from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Dec. 11 and from noon to 3 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Kennedy Center gift shop. For more information call 800-444-1325. CAPTION: Beppie Noyes, author of "Mosby, the Kennedy Center Cat," with her Maine coon cat Micmac. ec