Wednesday, 6 May 1992

The Disappearance of Jacob Conifer

Fiction ~ short story
Published in The Windsor Magazine, October 1927
Collected in Desirable Residences and Other Stories (1991)
Approx. 2,700 words
(First read 06/05/1992) 

This one's a bit of an oddball, difficult to categorize ... let's call it 'allegorical satirical speculative fiction'¹ with a bit of a detective mystery thrown in for good measure ... try to imagine a Conan Doyle story rewritten by H. G. Wells then rewritten again by E. F. Benson. (!)
Well anyway, it tells the story of Mr Jacob Conifer, an American millionaire, "one of that amiable company of Transatlantic cousins whose mission in life appears to be to make the English folk of London acquainted with each other and with them."  Conifer sets out to conquer Society ("forcible feeding was his method"); his rise to the top of the crème is a total success.  Why then did he suddenly disappear one day? and what has become of him?²  This is what our narrator and his pal set out to discover; after comparing notes about their impressions of him, the narrator realizes a curious fact about Conifer's appearance:
I saw him once bowing to a Princess, and he looked immense.  I scorn to argue that it was a small Princess.  Let's agree that both you and I thought he looked small on some occasions and big on others.
And the 'joke' turns out to be that Conifer was such a terrific snob that merely being in the presence of aristocrats and the like caused him to increase in size ... and vice versa.
The big mystery for me, though, was this: "Why did EFB choose to make him an American?"

¹ The Satyr's Sandals (1920) is another piece that falls into this weird category.
² Apologies for the weird shift of tenses here.

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