THE $30,000 BEQUEST and Other Stories by Mark Twain

and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently unaware that they

are absurdities, is the basis of the American art, if my position

is correct. Another feature is the slurring of the point. A third

is the dropping of a studied remark apparently without knowing it,

as if one where thinking aloud. The fourth and last is the pause.

Artemus Ward dealt in numbers three and four a good deal. He would

begin to tell with great animation something which he seemed to

think was wonderful; then lose confidence, and after an apparently

absent-minded pause add an incongruous remark in a soliloquizing way;

and that was the remark intended to explode the mine–and it did.

For instance, he would say eagerly, excitedly, “I once knew a man

in New Zealand who hadn’t a tooth in his head”–here his animation

would die out; a silent, reflective pause would follow, then he

would say dreamily, and as if to himself, “and yet that man could

beat a drum better than any man I ever saw.”

The pause is an exceedingly important feature in any kind of story,

and a frequently recurring feature, too. It is a dainty thing,

and delicate, and also uncertain and treacherous; for it must

be exactly the right length–no more and no less–or it fails

of its purpose and makes trouble. If the pause is too short the

impressive point is passed, and the audience have had time to divine

that a surprise is intended–and then you can’t surprise them,

of course.

On the platform I used to tell a negro ghost story that had a pause

in front of the snapper on the end, and that pause was the most important

thing in the whole story. If I got it the right length precisely,

I could spring the finishing ejaculation with effect enough to make

some impressible girl deliver a startled little yelp and jump out

of her seat–and that was what I was after. This story was called

“The Golden Arm,” and was told in this fashion. You can practice

with it yourself–and mind you look out for the pause and get it right.


Once ‘pon a time dey wuz a momsus mean man, en he live ‘way out in de

prairie all ‘lone by hisself, ‘cep’n he had a wife. En bimeby she died,

en he tuck en toted her way out dah in de prairie en buried her.

Well, she had a golden arm–all solid gold, fum de shoulder down.

He wuz pow’ful mean–pow’ful; en dat night he couldn’t sleep,

caze he want dat golden arm so bad.

When it come midnight he couldn’t stan’ it no mo’; so he git up,

he did, en tuck his lantern en shoved out thoo de storm en dug her

up en got de golden arm; en he bent his head down ‘gin de ‘win, en

plowed en plowed en plowed thoo de snow. Den all on a sudden he

stop (make a considerable pause here, and look startled, and take

a listening attitude) en say: “My LAN’, what’s dat?”

En he listen–en listen–en de win’ say (set your teeth together

and imitate the wailing and wheezing singsong of the wind),

“Bzzz-z-zzz”–en den, way back yonder whah de grave is, he hear

a VOICE!–he hear a voice all mix’ up in de win’–can’t hardly

tell ’em ‘part–“Bzzz–zzz–W-h-o–g-o-t–m-y–g-o-l-d-e-n ARM?”

(You must begin to shiver violently now.)

En he begin to shiver en shake, en say, “Oh, my! OH, my lan’!” en de win’

blow de lantern out, en de snow en sleet blow in his face en mos’

choke him, en he start a-plowin’ knee-deep toward home mos’ dead,

he so sk’yerd–en pooty soon he hear de voice agin, en (pause) it ‘us

comin AFTER him! “Bzzz–zzz–zzz W-h-o–g-o-t–m-y–g-o-l-d-e-n–ARM?”

When he git to de pasture he hear it agin–closter now,

en A-COMIN’!–a-comin’ back dah in de dark en de storm–(repeat

the wind and the voice). When he git to de house he rush upstairs

en jump in de bed en kiver up, head and years, en lay da shiverin’

en shakin’–en den way out dah he hear it AGIN!–en a-COMIN’! En

bimeby he hear (pause–awed, listening attitude)–pat–pat–pat HIT’S

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Categories: Twain, Mark