Monday, December 26, 2011

Patricia Highsmith / The Coquette

Photo by Francesca Lukasik

Patricia Highsmith
There was once a coquette who had a suitor whom she couldn’t get rid of. He took her promises and avowals seriously, and would not leave. He even believed her hints. This annoyed her, because it got in the way of new temporary acquaintances, their presents, flattery, flowers, dinners and so forth.
Finally Yvonne insulted and lied to her suitor Bertrand, and gave him literally nothing – which was a minus compared to the nothing she was giving her other men friends. Still Bertrand would not cease his attentions, because he considered her behavuiour normal and feminine, an excess of modesty. She even gave him a lecture, and for once in her life she told the truth. Unaccustomed as he was to the truth, expecting falsehood from a pretty woman, he took her words as turn-abouts, and continued to dance attendance.
Yvonne attempted to poison him by means of arsenic in cups of chocolate at her house, but he recovered and thought this a greater and more charming proof of her fear of losing her virginity with him, though she had already lost her virginity at the age of ten, when she had told her mother that she was raped. Yvonne had thus sent a thirty-year-old man to prison. She had been trying for two weeks to seduce him, saying she was fifteen, and mad about him. It had given her pleasure to ruin his career and to make his wife unhappy and ashamed, and their eight-year-old daughter bewildered.
Other men gave Bertrand advice. ‘We have all had it,’ they said, ‘maybe even been to bed with her once or twice. You haven’t even had that. And she’s worthless!’ But Bertrand thought he was different in Yvonne’s eyes, and thought he realized he had pertinacity beyond he common order, he felt this a virtue.
Yvonne incited a new suitor to kill Bertrand. She won the new suitor’s allegiance by promising to marry him, if he eliminated Bertrand. To Bertrand, she said the same thing about the other man. The new suitor challenged Bertrand to a duel, missed the first shot, and then began talking with his intended victim. (Bertrand’s gun had refused to fire at all.) They discovered that each had been given promises of marriage. Meanwhile both men had given her expensive presents and had lent her money during small crises over the past months.
They were resentful, but could not come up with an idea for scotching her. So they decided to kill her. The new suitor went to her and told her he had killed the stupid and persistent Bertrand. Then Bertrand knocked the door. The two men pretended to fight each other. In reality, they pushed Yvonne between them and killed her with various blows about the head. Their story was that she tried to interfere and was accidentally struck.
Since the judge of the town had himself suffered and been laughed at by the townsfolk because of Yvonne’s coquetry with him, he was secretly pleased by her death, and let the two men off without ado. He was also wise enough to know that the two men could not have killed her if they had not been infatuated with her – a state that inspired this pity, since he had become sixty years old.
Only Yvonne’s maid, who had always been well paid and tipped, attended her funeral. Even Yvonne’s family detested her.

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