After the rehearsals of Delacroix’s execution go well, Paul is impressed with Percy’s behavior and realizes that the reason the young man is behaving so well might be because he is finally doing something he enjoys. Impressed by Percy’s good behavior, the guards give Percy a few pieces of advice about the execution and Paul feels that Percy is truly listening—which he later discovers was not the case at all.
Percy’s good behavior is ironic, since Percy only pays attention when he is allowed to perform a cruel act on another human—this time, one that is allowed by the law itself. Moved by good will, the guards commit the same error they made when first seeing Wharton: believing that this cruel individual has somehow been subdued.
When Delacroix returns from his show, Percy jokingly lurches forward to scare him. In his fright, Delacroix steps back, trips, and hits his head. Surprisingly, Percy tries to follow Del to apologize—an extraordinary change in attitude that Paul attributes to the young guard’s excitement and pride at being in charge of an execution—but along the way Percy inadvertently steps too close to Wharton’s cell. Seizing his opportunity, Wharton jumps off his bunk and grabs Percy by the throat, dragging against his cell door and whispering threats of rape in his ear, before kissing it. The guards approach to defend Percy, but Wharton immediately releases him, saying that he didn’t hurt him and was merely fooling around. Percy runs away to the other side of the Green Mile with a look of pure terror on his face, panting so hard that it sounds as though he is crying.
Percy is saving his cruel energies for the moment of Delacroix’s death, in which he will be allowed to watch a man suffer and die before his eyes. In the meantime, Percy does not see any benefit in harassing the prisoner as he previously has, which explains his uncharacteristic desire to apologize. Wharton’s seizing of the situation to do harm is ironic given Percy’s tendency to do exactly the same. However, this confrontation between the two sadistic characters highlights the fact that Percy’s cruelty stems primarily from cowardice and is protected by his political connections, whereas Wharton’s is more entrenched, as he is inclined to harm even people who are capable of punishing him.
Suddenly, the sound of laughter interrupts the corridor’s silence. Paul initially believes it is coming from Wharton but soon realizes that Delacroix is laughing and pointing at Percy, saying he has wet his pants. Paul looks down, notices it is true, and tries to talk to Percy to soothe him. Percy, who until then has stood against the wall, mortified, suddenly gets his wits about him and realizes that he has indeed wet his pants. He threatens the guards to get them fired if they tell anyone what has happened. Dean reassures him and Percy, furious and shameful, begins to threaten Delacroix, but then he decides to go look for dry pants instead.
Delacroix’s outburst of laughter at Percy’s fear serves as a reminder that he, too, despite his seeming meekness, has cruel instincts that can come to light under the right circumstances. The guards attempt to reassure Percy but Percy’s violent reaction toward Delacroix shows that he will not forget this humiliation and will seek revenge on the inmate. Once again, Percy’s violent behavior is directed against someone weaker than him—instead of his true aggressor, Wharton.