"The Golden Arm" is a classic jump story
in American folklore
. Samuel Clemens
heard it as a boy, probably from the family's hired hand, "Uncle Ned." He included this "negro ghost story
," as he called it, in his essay
, "How to Tell a Story
Once 'pon a time dey wuz a monsus 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 what 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? -- zzz -- 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 up-stairs en jump in de bed en kiver up, head
and years, en lay dah 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' up-stairs! Den he hear de latch, en he
know it's in de room!
Den pooty soon he know it's a-stannin' by de bed! (Pause.) Den -- he know it's a-bendin' down over him -- en he
cain't skasely git his breath! Den -- den -- he seem to feel someth'n c-o-l-d, right down 'most agin his head!
Den de voice say, right at his year -- "W-h-o -- g-o-t -- m-y -- g-o-l-d-e-n arm?" (You must wail it out very
plaintively and accusingly; then you stare steadily and impressively into the face of the farthest-gone auditor, -- a
girl, preferably, -- and let that awe-inspiring pause begin to build itself in the deep hush. When it has reached
exactly the right length, jump suddenly at that girl and yell, "You've got it!"
If you've got the pause right, she'll fetch a dear little yelp and spring right out of her shoes. But you must get
the pause right; and you will find it the most troublesome and aggravating and uncertain thing you ever
Source: Mark Twain, How to Tell a Story and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Brothers,