The Green Mile
by Stephen King

9.

Toot-Toot felt that four cents was far too little for a prime Corona cigar box, and in that he was probably right - cigar boxes were highly prized objects in prison. A thousand different small items could be stored in them, the smell was pleasant, and there was something about them that reminded our customers of what it was like to be free men. Because cigarettes were permitted in prison but cigars were not, I imagine.

Dean Stanton, who was back on the block by then, added a penny to the pot, and I kicked one in, as well. When Toot still proved reluctant, Brutal went to work on him, first telling him he ought to be ashamed of himself for behaving like such a cheapskate, then promising him that he, Brutus Howell, would personally put that Corona box back in Toot's hands the day after Delacroix's execution. “Six cents might or might not be enough if you was speaking about selling that cigar box, we could have a good old barber-shop argument about that,” Brutal said, “but you have to admit it's a great price for renting one. He's gonna walk the Mile in a month, six weeks at the very outside. Why, that box'll be back on the shelf under your cart almost before you know it's gone.”

“He could get a soft-hearted judge to give im a stay and still be here to sing 'Should old acquaintances be forgot,'” Toot said, but he knew better and Brutal knew he did. Old Toot-Toot had been pushing that damned Bible-quoting cart of his around Cold Mountain since Pony Express days, practically, and he had plenty of sources, better than ours, I thought then. He knew Delacroix was fresh out of soft-hearted judges. All he had left to hope for was the governor, who as a rule didn't issue clemency to folks who had baked half a dozen of his constituents.

“Even if he don't get a stay, that mouse'd be shitting in that box until October, maybe even Thanksgiving,” Toot argued, but Brutal could see he was weakening. “Who gonna buy a cigar box some mouse been using for a toilet?”

“Oh jeez-Louise,” Brutal said. “That's the numbest thing I've ever heard you say, Toot. I mean, that takes the cake. First, Delacroix will keep the box clean enough to eat a church dinner out of - the way he loves that mouse, he'd lick it clean if that's what it took.”

“Easy on dat stuff,” Toot said, wrinkling his nose.

“Second,” Brutal went on, “mouse-shit is no big deal, anyway. It's just hard little pellets, looks like birdshot. Shake it right out. Nothing to it!”

Old Toot knew better than to carry his protest any further; he'd been on the yard long enough to understand when he could afford to face into the breeze and when he'd do better to bend in the hurricane. This wasn't exactly a hurricane, but we bluesuits liked the mouse, and we liked the idea of Delacroix having the mouse, and that meant it was at least a gale. So Delacroix got his box, and Percy was as good as his word - two days later the bottom was lined with soft pads of cotton batting from the dispensary. Percy handed them over himself, and I could see the fear in Delacroix's eyes as he reached out through the bars to take them. He was afraid Percy would grab his hand and break his fingers. I was a little afraid of it too, but no such thing happened. That was the closest I ever came to liking Percy, but even then it was hard to mistake the look of cool amusement in his eyes. Delacroix had a pet; Percy had one too. Delacroix would keep his, petting it and loving it as long as he could; Percy would wait patiently (as patiently as a man like him could anyway), and then burn his alive.

“Mousie Hilton, open for business.” Harry said. “The only question is, will the little bugger use it?”

That question was answered as soon as Delacroix caught Mr. Jingles up in one hand and lowered him gently into the box. The mouse snuggled into the white cotton as if it were Aunt Bea's comforter, and that was his home from then until ... well, I'll get to the end of Mr. Jingles's story in good time.

Old Toot-Toots worries that the cigar box would, fill up with mouse-shit proved to be entirely groundless. I never saw a single turd in there, and Delacroix said he never did, either, anywhere in his cell, for that matter. Much later, around the time Brutal showed me the hole in the beam and we found the colored splinters, I moved a chair out of the restraint room's east corner and found a little pile of mouse turds back there. He had always gone back to the same place to do his business, seemingly, and as far from us as he could get. Here's another thing: I never saw him peeing, and usually mice can hardly turn the faucet off for two minutes at a time, especially while they're eating. I told you, the damned thing was one of God's mysteries.

A week or so after Mr. Jingles had settled into the cigar box, Delacroix called me and Brutal down to his cell to see something. He did that so much it was annoying - if Mr. Jingles so much as rolled over on his back with his paws in the air, it was the cutest thing on God's earth, as far as that half-pint Cajun was concerned - but this time what he was up to really was sort of amusing.

Delacroix had been pretty much forgotten by the world following his conviction, but he had one relation - an old maiden aunt, I believe - who wrote him once a week. She had also sent him an enormous bag of peppermint candies, the sort which are marketed under the name Canada Mints these days. They looked like big pink pills. Delacroix was not allowed to have the whole bag at once, naturally - it was a five-pounder, and he would have gobbled them until he had to go to the infirmary with stomach-gripes. Like almost every murderer we ever had on the Mile, he had absolutely no understanding of moderation. We'd give them out to him half a dozen at a time, and only then if he remembered to ask.

Mr. Jingles was sitting beside Delacroix on the bunk when we got down there, holding one of those pink candies in his paws and munching contentedly away at it. Delacroix was simply overcome with delight - he was like a classical pianist watching his five-year-old son play his first halting exercises. But don't get me wrong; it was funny, a real hoot. The candy was half the size of Mr. Jingles, and his whitefurred belly was already distended from it.

“Take it away from him, Eddie,” Brutal said, half-laughing and half-horrified. “Christ almighty Jesus, he'll eat till he busts. I can smell that peppermint from here. How many have you let him have?”

“This his second,” Delacroix said, looking a little nervously at Mr. Jingles's belly. “You really think he ... you know ... bus' his guts?”

“Might,” Brutal said.

That was enough authority for Delacroix. He reached for the half-eaten pink mint. I expected the mouse to nip him, but Mr. Jingles gave over that mint - what remained of it, anyway - as meek as could be. I looked at Brutal, and Brutal gave his head a little shake as if to say no, he didn't understand it, either. Then Mr. Jingles plopped down into his box and lay there on his side in an exhausted way that made all three of us laugh. After that, we got used to seeing the mouse sitting beside Delacroix, holding a mint and munching away on it just as neatly as an old lady at an afternoon tea-party, both of them surrounded by what I later smelled in that hole in the beam - the half-bitter, half-sweet smell of peppermint candy.

There's one more thing to tell you about Mr. Jingles before moving on to the arrival of William Wharton, which was when the cyclone really touched down on E Block. A week or so after the incident of the peppermint candies - around the time when we'd pretty much decided Delacroix wasn't going to feed his pet to death, in other words - the Frenchman called me down to his cell. I was on my own for the time being, Brutal over at the commissary for something, and according to the regs, I was not supposed to approach a prisoner in such circumstances. But since I probably could have shot-putted Delacroix twenty yards one-handed on a good day, I decided to break the rule and see what he wanted.

“Watch this, Boss Edgecombe,” he said. “You gonna see what Mr. Jingles can do!” He reached behind the cigar box and brought up a small wooden spool.

“Where'd you get that?” I asked him, although I supposed I knew. There was really only one person he could have gotten it from.

“Old Toot-Toot,” he said. 'Watch this."

I was already watching, and could see Mr. Jingles in his box, standing up with his small front paws propped on the edge, his black eyes fixed on the spool Delacroix was holding between the thumb and first finger of his right hand. I felt a funny little chill go up my back. I had never seen a mere mouse attend to something with such sharpness - with such intelligence. I don't really believe that Mr. Jingles was a supernatural visitation, and if I have given you that idea, I'm sorry, but I have never doubted that he was a genius of his kind.

Delacroix bent over and rolled the threadless spool across the floor of his cell. It went easily, like a pair of wheels connected by an axle. The mouse was out of his box in a flash and across the floor after it, like a dog chasing after a stick. I exclaimed with surprise, and Delacroix grinned.

The spool hit the wall and rebounded. Mr. Jingles went around it and pushed it back to the bunk, switching from one end of the spool to the other whenever it looked like it was going to veer offcourse. He pushed the spool until it hit Delacroix's foot. Then he looked up at him for a moment, as if to make sure Delacroix had no more immediate tasks for him (a few arithmetic problems to solve, perhaps, or some Latin to parse). Apparently satisfied on this score, Mr. Jingles went back to the cigar box and settled down in it again.

“You taught him that,” I said.

“Yessir, Boss Edgecombe,” Delacroix said, his smile only slightly dissembling. “He fetch it every time. Smart as hell, ain't he?”

“And the spool?” I asked. “How did you know to fetch that for him, Eddie?”

“He whisper in my ear that he want it,” Delacroix said serenely. “Same as he whisper his name.”

Delacroix showed all the other guys his mouse's trick ... all except Percy. To Delacroix, it didn't matter that Percy had suggested the cigar box and procured the cotton with which to line it. Delacroix was like some dogs: kick them once and they never trust you again, no matter how nice you are to them.

I can hear Delacroix now, yelling, Hey, you guys! Come and see what Mr. Jingles can do! And them going down in a bluesuit cluster - Brutal, Harry, Dean, even Bill Dodge. All of them had been properly amazed, too, the same as I had been.

Three or four days after Mr. Jingles started doing the trick with the spool, Harry Terwilliger rummaged through the arts and crafts stuff we kept in the restraint room, found the Crayolas, and brought them to Delacroix with a smile that was almost embarrassed. “I thought you might like to make that spool different colors,” he said. “Then your little pal'd be like a circus mouse, or something.”

“A circus mouse!” Delacroix said, looking completely, rapturously happy. I suppose he was completely happy, maybe for the first time in his whole miserable life. “That just what he is, too! A circus mouse! When I get outta here, he gonna make me rich, like inna circus! You see if he don't.”

Percy Wetmore would no doubt have pointed out to Delacroix that when he left Cold Mountain, he'd be riding in an ambulance that didn't need to run its light or siren, but Harry knew better. He just told Delacroix to make the spool as colorful as he could as quick as he could, because he'd have to take the crayons back after dinner.

Del made it colorful, all right. When he was done, one end of the spool was yellow, the other end was green, and the drum in the middle was firehouse red. We got used to hearing Delacroix trumpet, “Maintenant, m'sieurs et mesdames! Le cirque presentement le mous' amusant et amazeant!” That wasn't exactly it, but it gives you an idea of that stewpot French of his. Then he'd make this sound way down in his throat - I think it was supposed to represent a drumroll - and fling the spool. Mr. Jingles would be after it in a flash, either nosing it back or rolling it with his paws. That second way really was something you would have paid to see in a circus, I think. Delacroix and his mouse and his mouse's brightly colored spool were our chief amusements at the time that John Coffey came into our care and custody, and that was the way things remained for awhile. Then my urinary infection, which had lain still for awhile, came back, and William Wharton arrived, and all hell broke loose.