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.
THE GOLDEN ARM
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 A-comin’ upstairs! Den he hear de latch, en he know it’s in de room!