Belling the Cat

A fable from Aesop, in which we see a lack of both moral courage and physical courage

A large community of mice had been comfortable in the barn for many generations. Then, like a bolt of lightning, a cat appeared out of nowhere, picking them off without regard for age or prestige – a patriarch yesterday, a nursing mother today – even the bold buck mice were keeping in their holes.

“Council! Call a council!” the mice began to squeal.

Under the floorboards, the mice congregated in a great huddle. Over their heads was the soft pad-pad-pad of the hunting cat.

“We’ve got to do something,” the head mouse said. “Who has an idea?”

They all looked at each other, but hesitated to make eye contact. Finally, one young mouse piped up. “If we had a warning system, and could hear him coming, we’d have a better chance of escaping.”

“See! See!” his friends squealed. “Great idea!”

Even the big mice were impressed, and they all put their heads together to figure out what kind of warning system would work. There was much chitting and chatting about systems and techniques and devices. At last a big gray mouse stamped his foot. “I’ve got it! A bell! If that cat had a bell hung around his neck, we’d hear him wherever he went!”

The mice crowd erupted in wild cheers. Friends clapped the genius on the back and congratulated him, and he looked pleased and proud. There was some talk of replacing the head mouse with this fellow, and some of the young mice started planning a party to celebrate. At last the clapping died down. An uneasy silence descended, and again the footsteps of the cat could be heard overhead.

“So,” said a granny mouse looking around. “Who’s going to put the bell on that cat?”

Not a peep.

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