Grey Sleeve by Stephen Crane
It looks as if it might rain this afternoon, remarked the
lieutenant of artillery.
So it does, the infantry captain assented. He glanced casually at
the sky. When his eyes had lowered to the green-shadowed landscape
before him, he said fretfully: I wish those fellows out yonder would
quit pelting at us. They've been at it since noon.
At the edge of a grove of maples, across wide fields, there
occasionally appeared little puffs of smoke of a dull hue in this gloom
of sky which expressed an impending rain. The long wave of blue and
steel in the field moved uneasily at the eternal barking of the
far-away sharpshooters, and the men, leaning upon their rifles, stared
at the grove of maples. Once a private turned to borrow some tobacco
from a comrade in the rear rank, but, with his hand still stretched
out, he continued to twist his head and glance at the distant trees. He
was afraid the enemy would shoot him at a time when he was not looking.
Suddenly the artillery officer said, See what's coming!
Along the rear of the brigade of infantry a column of cavalry was
sweeping at a hard gallop. A lieutenant, riding some yards to the right
of the column, bawled furiously at the four troopers just at the rear
of the colours. They had lost distance and made a little gap, but at
the shouts of the lieutenant they urged their horses forward. The
bugler, careering along behind the captain of the troop, fought and
tugged like a wrestler to keep his frantic animal from bolting far
ahead of the column.
On the springy turf the innumerable hoofs thundered in a swift storm
of sound. In the brown faces of the troopers their eyes were set like
bits of flashing steel.
The long line of the infantry regiments standing at ease underwent a
sudden movement at the rush of the passing squadron. The foot soldiers
turned their heads to gaze at the torrent of horses and men.
The yellow folds of the flag fluttered back in silken, shuddering
waves as if it were a reluctant thing. Occasionally a giant spring of a
charger would rear the firm and sturdy figure of a soldier suddenly
head and shoulders above his comrades. Over the noise of the scudding
hoofs could be heard the creaking of leather trappings, the jingle and
clank of steel, and the tense, low-toned commands or appeals of the men
to their horses. And the horses were mad with the headlong sweep of
this movement. Powerful under jaws bent back and straightened so that
the bits were clamped as rigidly as vices upon the teeth, and
glistening necks arched in desperate resistance to the hands at the
bridles. Swinging their heads in rage at the granite laws of their
lives, which compelled even their angers and their ardours to chosen
directions and chosen faces, their flight was as a flight of harnessed
The captain's bay kept its pace at the head of the squadron with the
lithe bounds of a thoroughbred, and this horse was proud as a chief at
the roaring trample of his fellows behind him. The captain's glance was
calmly upon the grove of maples whence the sharpshooters of the enemy
had been picking at the blue line. He seemed to be reflecting. He
stolidly rose and fell with the plunges of his horse in all the
indifference of a deacon's figure seated plumply in church. And it
occurred to many of the watching infantry to wonder why this officer
could remain imperturbable and reflective when his squadron was
thundering and swarming behind him like the rushing of a flood.
The column swung in a sabre-curve toward a break in a fence, and
dashed into a roadway. Once a little plank bridge was encountered, and
the sound of the hoofs upon it was like the long roll of many drums. An
old captain in the infantry turned to his first lieutenant and made a
remark which was a compound of bitter disparagement of cavalry in
general and soldiery admiration of this particular troop.
Suddenly the bugle sounded, and the column halted with a jolting
upheaval amid sharp, brief cries. A moment later the men had tumbled
from their horses, and, carbines in hand, were running in a swarm
toward the grove of maples. In the road one of every four of the
troopers was standing with braced legs, and pulling and hauling at the
bridles of four frenzied horses.
The captain was running awkwardly in his boots. He held his sabre
low so that the point often threatened to catch in the turf. His yellow
hair ruffled out from under his faded cap. Go in hard now! he roared,
in a voice of hoarse fury. His face was violently red.
The troopers threw themselves upon the grove like wolves upon a
great animal. Along the whole front of woods there was the dry,
crackling of musketry, with bitter, swift flashes and smoke that
writhed like stung phantoms. The troopers yelled shrilly and spanged
bullets low into the foliage.
For a moment, when near the woods, the line almost halted. The men
struggled and fought for a time like swimmers encountering a powerful
current. Then with a supreme effort they went on again. They dashed
madly at the grove, whose foliage from the high light of the field was
as inscrutable as a wall.
Then suddenly each detail of the calm trees became apparent, and
with a few more frantic leaps the men were in the cool gloom of the
woods. There was a heavy odour as from burned paper. Wisps of gray
smoke wound upward. The men halted and, grimy, perspiring, and puffing,
they searched the recesses of the woods with eager, fierce glances.
Figures could be seen flitting afar off. A dozen carbines rattled at
them in an angry volley.
During this pause the captain strode along the line, his face lit
with a broad smile of contentment. When he sends this crowd to do
anything, I guess he'll find we do it pretty sharp, he said to the
Say, they didn't stand that rush a minute, did they? said the
subaltern. Both officers were profoundly dusty in their uniforms, and
their faces were soiled like those of two urchins.
Out in the grass behind them were three tumbled and silent forms.
Presently the line moved forward again. The men went from tree to
tree like hunters stalking game. Some at the left of the line fired
occasionally, and those at the right gazed curiously in that direction.
The men still breathed heavily from their scramble across the field.
Of a sudden a trooper halted and said: Hello! there's a house!
Every one paused. The men turned to look at their leader.
The captain stretched his neck and swung his head from side to side.
By George, it is a house! he said.
Through the wealth of leaves there vaguely loomed the form of a
large, white house. These troopers, brown-faced from many days of
campaigning, each feature of them telling of their placid confidence
and courage, were stopped abruptly by the appearance of this house.
There was some subtle suggestionsome tale of an unknown thingwhich
watched them from they knew not what part of it.
A rail fence girded a wide lawn of tangled grass. Seven pines stood
along a drive-way which led from two distant posts of a vanished gate.
The blue-clothed troopers moved forward until they stood at the fence
peering over it.
The captain put one hand on the top rail and seemed to be about to
climb the fence, when suddenly he hesitated, and said in a low voice,
Watson, what do you think of it?
The lieutenant stared at the house. Derned if I know! he replied.
The captain pondered. It happened that the whole company had turned
a gaze of profound awe and doubt upon this edifice which confronted
them. The men were very silent.
At last the captain swore and said: We are certainly a pack of
fools. Derned old deserted house halting a company of Union cavalry,
and making us gape like babies!
Yes, but there's somethingsomething insisted the subaltern
in a half stammer.
Well, if there's 'somethingsomething' in there, I'll get it out,
said the captain. Send Sharpe clean around to the other side with
about twelve men, so we will sure bag your 'somethingsomething,' and
I'll take a few of the boys and find out what's in the dd old
He chose the nearest eight men for his storming party, as the
lieutenant called it. After he had waited some minutes for the others
to get into position, he said Come ahead to his eight men, and
climbed the fence.
The brighter light of the tangled lawn made him suddenly feel
tremendously apparent, and he wondered if there could be some mystic
thing in the house which was regarding this approach. His men trudged
silently at his back. They stared at the windows and lost themselves in
deep speculations as to the probability of there being, perhaps, eyes
behind the blindsmalignant eyes, piercing eyes.
Suddenly a corporal in the party gave vent to a startled
exclamation, and half threw his carbine into position. The captain
turned quickly, and the corporal said: I saw an arm move the blinds.
An arm with a gray sleeve!
Don't be a fool, Jones, now! said the captain sharply.
I swear t' began the corporal, but the captain silenced him.
When they arrived at the front of the house, the troopers paused,
while the captain went softly up the front steps. He stood before the
large front door and studied it. Some crickets chirped in the long
grass, and the nearest pine could be heard in its endless sighs. One of
the privates moved uneasily, and his foot crunched the gravel. Suddenly
the captain swore angrily and kicked the door with a loud crash. It
The bright lights of the day flashed into the old house when the
captain angrily kicked open the door. He was aware of a wide hallway
carpeted with matting and extending deep into the dwelling. There was
also an old walnut hatrack and a little marble-topped table with a vase
and two books upon it. Farther back was a great, venerable fireplace
containing dreary ashes.
But directly in front of the captain was a young girl. The flying
open of the door had obviously been an utter astonishment to her, and
she remained transfixed there in the middle of the floor, staring at
the captain with wide eyes.
She was like a child caught at the time of a raid upon the cake. She
wavered to and fro upon her feet, and held her hands behind her. There
were two little points of terror in her eyes, as she gazed up at the
young captain in dusty blue, with his reddish, bronze complexion, his
yellow hair, his bright sabre held threateningly.
These two remained motionless and silent, simply staring at each
other for some moments.
The captain felt his rage fade out of him and leave his mind limp.
He had been violently angry, because this house had made him feel
hesitant, wary. He did not like to be wary. He liked to feel confident,
sure. So he had kicked the door open, and had been prepared to march in
like a soldier of wrath.
But now he began, for one thing, to wonder if his uniform was so
dusty and old in appearance. Moreover, he had a feeling that his face
was covered with a compound of dust, grime, and perspiration. He took a
step forward and said, I didn't mean to frighten you. But his voice
was coarse from his battle-howling. It seemed to him to have hempen
fibres in it.
The girl's breath came in little, quick gasps, and she looked at him
as she would have looked at a serpent.
I didn't mean to frighten you, he said again.
The girl, still with her hands behind her, began to back away.
Is there any one else in the house? he went on, while slowly
following her. I don't wish to disturb you, but we had a fight with
some rebel skirmishers in the woods, and I thought maybe some of them
might have come in here. In fact, I was pretty sure of it. Are there
any of them here?
The girl looked at him and said, No! He wondered why extreme
agitation made the eyes of some women so limpid and bright.
Who is here besides yourself?
By this time his pursuit had driven her to the end of the hall, and
she remained there with her back to the wall and her hands still behind
her. When she answered this question, she did not look at him but down
at the floor. She cleared her voice and then said, There is no one
She lifted her eyes to him in that appeal that the human being must
make even to falling trees, crashing bowlders, the sea in a storm, and
said, No, no, there is no one here. He could plainly see her tremble.
Of a sudden he bethought him that she continually kept her hands
behind her. As he recalled her air when first discovered, he remembered
she appeared precisely as a child detected at one of the crimes of
childhood. Moreover, she had always backed away from him. He thought
now that she was concealing something which was an evidence of the
presence of the enemy in the house.
What are you holding behind you? he said suddenly.
She gave a little quick moan, as if some grim hand had throttled
What are you holding behind you?
Oh, nothingplease. I am not holding anything behind me; indeed
Very well. Hold your hands out in front of you, then.
Oh, indeed, I'm not holding anything behind me. Indeed, I'm not.
Well, he began. Then he paused, and remained for a moment dubious.
Finally, he laughed. Well, I shall have my men search the house,
anyhow. I'm sorry to trouble you, but I feel sure that there is some
one here whom we want. He turned to the corporal, who with the other
men was gaping quietly in at the door, and said, Jones, go through the
As for himself, he remained planted in front of the girl, for she
evidently did not dare to move and allow him to see what she held so
carefully behind her back. So she was his prisoner.
The men rummaged around on the ground floor of the house. Sometimes
the captain called to them, Try that closet, Is there any cellar?
But they found no one, and at last they went trooping toward the stairs
which led to the second floor.
But at this movement on the part of the men the girl uttered a
crya cry of such fright and appeal that the men paused. Oh, don't go
up there! Please don't go up there!pleease! There is no one there!
Indeedindeed there is not! Oh, pleease!
Go on, Jones, said the captain calmly.
The obedient corporal made a preliminary step, and the girl bounded
toward the stairs with another cry.
As she passed him, the captain caught sight of that which she had
concealed behind her back, and which she had forgotten in this supreme
moment. It was a pistol.
She ran to the first step, and standing there, faced the men, one
hand extended with perpendicular palm, and the other holding the pistol
at her side. Oh, please, don't go up there! Nobody is thereindeed,
there is not! P-l-e-a-s-e! Then suddenly she sank swiftly down upon
the step, and, huddling forlornly, began to weep in the agony and with
the convulsive tremors of an infant. The pistol fell from her fingers
and rattled down to the floor.
The astonished troopers looked at their astonished captain. There
was a short silence.
Finally, the captain stooped and picked up the pistol. It was a
heavy weapon of the army pattern. He ascertained that it was empty.
He leaned toward the shaking girl, and said gently, Will you tell
me what you were going to do with this pistol?
He had to repeat the question a number of times, but at last a
muffled voice said, Nothing.
Nothing! He insisted quietly upon a further answer. At the tender
tones of the captain's voice, the phlegmatic corporal turned and winked
gravely at the man next to him.
Won't you tell me?
The girl shook her head.
Please tell me!
The silent privates were moving their feet uneasily and wondering
how long they were to wait.
The captain said, Please won't you tell me?
Then this girl's voice began in stricken tones half coherent, and
amid violent sobbing: It was grandpa's. Hehehe said he was going
to shoot anybody who came in herehe didn't care if there were
thousands of 'em. Andand I know he would, and I was afraid they'd
kill him. And soandso I stole away his pistoland I was going to
hide it when youyouyou kicked open the door.
The men straightened up and looked at each other. The girl began to
The captain mopped his brow. He peered down at the girl. He mopped
his brow again. Suddenly he said, Ah, don't cry like that.
He moved restlessly and looked down at his boots. He mopped his brow
Then he gripped the corporal by the arm and dragged him some yards
back from the others. Jones, he said, in an intensely earnest voice,
will you tell me what in the devil I am going to do?
The corporal's countenance became illuminated with satisfaction at
being thus requested to advise his superior officer. He adopted an air
of great thought, and finally said: Well, of course, the feller with
the gray sleeve must be upstairs, and we must get past the girl and up
there somehow. Suppose I take her by the arm and lead her
What! interrupted the captain from between his clinched teeth. As
he turned away from the corporal, he said fiercely over his shoulder,
You touch that girl and I'll split your skull!
The corporal looked after his captain with an expression of mingled
amazement, grief, and philosophy. He seemed to be saying to himself
that there unfortunately were times, after all, when one could not rely
upon the most reliable of men. When he returned to the group he found
the captain bending over the girl and saying, Why is it that you don't
want us to search upstairs?
The girl's head was buried in her crossed arms. Locks of her hair
had escaped from their fastenings and these fell upon her shoulder.
Won't you tell me?
The corporal here winked again at the man next to him.
Because, the girl moanedbecausethere isn't anybody up there.
The captain at last said timidly, Well, I'm afraidI'm afraid
we'll have to
The girl sprang to her feet again, and implored him with her hands.
She looked deep into his eyes with her glance, which was at this time
like that of the fawn when it says to the hunter, Have mercy upon me!
These two stood regarding each other. The captain's foot was on the
bottom step, but he seemed to be shrinking. He wore an air of being
deeply wretched and ashamed. There was a silence.
Suddenly the corporal said in a quick, low tone, Look out,
All turned their eyes swiftly toward the head of the stairs. There
had appeared there a youth in a gray uniform. He stood looking coolly
down at them. No word was said by the troopers. The girl gave vent to a
little wail of desolation, O Harry!
He began slowly to descend the stairs. His right arm was in a white
sling, and there were some fresh blood stains upon the cloth. His face
was rigid and deathly pale, but his eyes flashed like lights. The girl
was again moaning in an utterly dreary fashion, as the youth came
slowly down toward the silent men in blue.
Six steps from the bottom of the flight he halted and said, I
reckon it's me you're looking for.
The troopers had crowded forward a trifle and, posed in lithe,
nervous attitudes, were watching him like cats. The captain remained
unmoved. At the youth's question he merely nodded his head and said,
The young man in gray looked down at the girl, and then, in the same
even tone which now, however, seemed to vibrate with suppressed fury,
he said, And is that any reason why you should insult my sister?
At this sentence, the girl intervened, desperately, between the
young man in gray and the officer in blue. Oh, don't, Harry, don't! He
was good to me! He was good to me, Harryindeed he was!
The youth came on in his quiet, erect fashion until the girl could
have touched either of the men with her hand, for the captain still
remained with his foot upon the first step. She continually repeated:
O Harry! O Harry!
The youth in gray man[oe]uvred to glare into the captain's face,
first over one shoulder of the girl and then over the other. In a voice
that rang like metal, he said: You are armed and unwounded, while I
have no weapons and am wounded; but
The captain had stepped back and sheathed his sabre. The eyes of
these two men were gleaming fire, but otherwise the captain's
countenance was imperturbable. He said: You are mistaken. You have no
All save the captain and the youth in gray started in an electric
movement. These two words crackled in the air like shattered glass.
There was a breathless silence.
The captain cleared his throat. His look at the youth contained a
quality of singular and terrible ferocity, but he said in his stolid
tone, I don't suppose you mean what you say now.
Upon his arm he had felt the pressure of some unconscious little
fingers. The girl was leaning against the wall as if she no longer knew
how to keep her balance, but those fingershe held his arm very still.
She murmured: O Harry, don't! He was good to meindeed he was!
The corporal had come forward until he in a measure confronted the
youth in gray, for he saw those fingers upon the captain's arm, and he
knew that sometimes very strong men were not able to move hand nor foot
under such conditions.
The youth had suddenly seemed to become weak. He breathed heavily
and clung to the rail. He was glaring at the captain, and apparently
summoning all his will power to combat his weakness. The corporal
addressed him with profound straightforwardness, Don't you be a derned
fool! The youth turned toward him so fiercely that the corporal threw
up a knee and an elbow like a boy who expects to be cuffed.
The girl pleaded with the captain. You won't hurt him, will you? He
don't know what he's saying. He's wounded, you know. Please don't mind
I won't touch him, said the captain, with rather extraordinary
earnestness; don't you worry about him at all. I won't touch him!
Then he looked at her, and the girl suddenly withdrew her fingers
from his arm.
The corporal contemplated the top of the stairs, and remarked
without surprise, There's another of 'em coming!
An old man was clambering down the stairs with much speed. He waved
a cane wildly. Get out of my house, you thieves! Get out! I won't have
you cross my threshold! Get out! He mumbled and wagged his head in an
old man's fury. It was plainly his intention to assault them.
And so it occurred that a young girl became engaged in protecting a
stalwart captain, fully armed, and with eight grim troopers at his
back, from the attack of an old man with a walking-stick!
A blush passed over the temples and brow of the captain, and he
looked particularly savage and weary. Despite the girl's efforts, he
suddenly faced the old man.
Look here, he said distinctly, we came in because we had been
fighting in the woods yonder, and we concluded that some of the enemy
were in this house, especially when we saw a gray sleeve at the window.
But this young man is wounded, and I have nothing to say to him. I will
even take it for granted that there are no others like him upstairs. We
will go away, leaving your dd old house just as we found it! And we
are no more thieves and rascals than you are!
The old man simply roared: I haven't got a cow nor a pig nor a
chicken on the place! Your soldiers have stolen everything they could
carry away. They have torn down half my fences for firewood. This
afternoon some of your accursed bullets even broke my window panes!
The girl had been faltering: Grandpa! O grandpa!
The captain looked at the girl. She returned his glance from the
shadow of the old man's shoulder. After studying her face a moment, he
said, Well, we will go now. He strode toward the door and his men
clanked docilely after him.
At this time there was the sound of harsh cries and rushing
footsteps from without. The door flew open, and a whirlwind composed of
blue-coated troopers came in with a swoop. It was headed by the
lieutenant. Oh, here you are! he cried, catching his breath. We
thoughtOh, look at the girl!
The captain said intensely, Shut up, you fool!
The men settled to a halt with a clash and a bang. There could be
heard the dulled sound of many hoofs outside of the house.
Did you order up the horses? inquired the captain.
Yes. We thought
Well, then, let's get out of here, interrupted the captain
The men began to filter out into the open air. The youth in gray had
been hanging dismally to the railing of the stairway. He now was
climbing slowly up to the second floor. The old man was addressing
himself directly to the serene corporal.
Not a chicken on the place! he cried.
Well, I didn't take your chickens, did I?
No, maybe you didn't, but
The captain crossed the hall and stood before the girl in rather a
culprit's fashion. You are not angry at me, are you? he asked
No, she said. She hesitated a moment, and then suddenly held out
her hand. You were good to meand I'mmuch obliged.
The captain took her hand, and then he blushed, for he found himself
unable to formulate a sentence that applied in any way to the
She did not seem to heed that hand for a time.
He loosened his grasp presently, for he was ashamed to hold it so
long without saying anything clever. At last, with an air of charging
an intrenched brigade, he contrived to say, I would rather do anything
than frighten or trouble you.
His brow was warmly perspiring. He had a sense of being hideous in
his dusty uniform and with his grimy face.
She said, Oh, I'm so glad it was you instead of somebody who might
havemight have hurt brother Harry and grandpa!
He told her, I wouldn't have hurt 'em for anything!
There was a little silence.
Well, good-bye! he said at last.
He walked toward the door past the old man, who was scolding at the
vanishing figure of the corporal. The captain looked back. She had
remained there watching him.
At the bugle's order, the troopers standing beside their horses
swung briskly into the saddle. The lieutenant said to the first
Williams, did they ever meet before?
Hanged if I know!
The captain saw a curtain move at one of the windows. He cantered
from his position at the head of the column and steered his horse
between two flower beds.
The squadron trampled slowly past.
They shook hands.
He evidently had something enormously important to say to her, but
it seems that he could not manage it. He struggled heroically. The bay
charger, with his great mystically solemn eyes, looked around the
corner of his shoulder at the girl.
The captain studied a pine tree. The girl inspected the grass
beneath the window. The captain said hoarsely, I don't supposeI
don't supposeI'll ever see you again!
She looked at him affrightedly and shrank back from the window. He
seemed to have woefully expected a reception of this kind for his
question. He gave her instantly a glance of appeal.
She said, Why, no, I don't suppose we will.
Why, no, 'tain't possible. Youyou are aYankee!
Oh, I know it, but Eventually he continued, Well, some day,
you know, when there's no more fighting, we might He observed that
she had again withdrawn suddenly into the shadow, so he said, Well,
When he held her fingers she bowed her head, and he saw a pink blush
steal over the curves of her cheek and neck.
Am I never going to see you again?
She made no reply.
Never? he repeated.
After a long time, he bent over to hear a faint reply:
Sometimeswhen there are no troops in the neighbourhoodgrandpa
don't mind if Iwalk over as far as that old oak tree yonderin the
It appeared that the captain's grip was very strong, for she uttered
an exclamation and looked at her fingers as if she expected to find
them mere fragments. He rode away.
The bay horse leaped a flower bed. They were almost to the drive,
when the girl uttered a panic-stricken cry.
The captain wheeled his horse violently and upon his return journey
went straight through a flower bed.
The girl had clasped her hands. She beseeched him wildly with her
eyes. Oh, please, don't believe it! I never walk to the old oak tree.
Indeed, I don't! I nevernevernever walk there.
The bridle drooped on the bay charger's neck. The captain's figure
seemed limp. With an expression of profound dejection and gloom he
stared off at where the leaden sky met the dark green line of the
woods. The long-impending rain began to fall with a mournful patter,
drop and drop. There was a silence.
At last a low voice said, WellI mightsometimes I
mightperhapsbut only once in a great whileI might walk to the old
treein the afternoons.