BELLING THE CAT
A long time ago, the mice of a particular suburb held a large meeting to determine what – if anything – could be done to resolve their clear and present danger. There had been discontented rumblings throughout the community for weeks, and all the mice were frightened and agitated. The Wise Old Mouse had finally agreed that a solution must be found, and all the mice heard through the grapevine that a meeting was to be held, and all were to rack their brains for proposals.
The clear and present danger facing the community was, by name, the Cat. Earlier that season, an old lady had seen fit to adopt a kitten, and now it had grown into a true huntress, terrorizing one and all. First, it had caught a family of four completely unawares, and slaughtered them, save for the baby which it toyed with and tormented mercilessly. The very next day, it had taken down a pigeon which had not been quick enough to take wing; chancing upon the remains of this latest victim, the mice could only hope that the Cat's tastes had changed. They hoped in vain, for while there were no more tragedies in the half-dozen days which followed, on the seventh day, disaster again struck. Subsequently, more mice were chased, injured, or even worse; it became clear that something had to give.
The general council was called for noon, as the mice had discovered that noon was when the old lady came back from the market, and gave the cat her daily saucer of milk. The cat would nap after that. So come noon, the mice all emerged from their various nests, and congregated beneath the Central Park gazebo. The mice all milled about in a hushed whisper until the Wise Old Mouse mounted a rock, and addressed all those gathered.
“We all know why we're here,” he said, “so I will skip the introductions, and ask that we get to the heart of the matter. What proposals are to be heard?”
The mice rushed to contribute opinions; some said this, some said that, but it seemed more mice just wanted to tell their stories of encounters with the beast, or close calls, than to offer any viable solution. Finally, one Young Mouse, who had just been dying for the opportunity to speak, took the floor.
“From the words offered here,” he began, “I think it is clear that just abandoning our homes is not a reasonable solution. Nor would we be able to construct a strong enough trap to catch and keep the Cat, not even considering the fact that the old lady would be sure to find it and set it free anyway.
“Therefore,” he continued, pausing for dramatic effect, “I think we can all agree that our prime difficulty rests in the sly and sneaky way the Cat stalks us. If we had some way – twenty-four hours a day – to be aware of her presence, we could easily scamper to safety whenever she was about, and otherwise go about our lives as free mice.
“So as to a signal,” the Young Mouse roared, “I propose that we get a bell, and attach it around the neck of the cat by means of a ribbon. That way, we should always hear her approach.”
This proposal was met with thunderous applause, near unanimous. Some of the mice even shouted with joy, and the Young Mouse beamed, triumphant. That is, until the roar died down, and the mice turned all their attention to the Wise Old Mouse. After a minute, he simply uttered: “But who is to bell the cat?”
His question was met with complete silence. The Young Mouse was humiliated, and drifted to the back of the room, unable to volunteer for such a mission himself.
“That's what I thought,” said the Wise Old Mouse quietly,
“IT IS EASY TO PROPOSE IMPOSSIBLE SOLUTIONS.”