In the spring, Sarah went to a party at the racetrack, at Beaver Pond in Jamaica. She was invited by some people she met when she was doing a story for the newspaper about actors. They had a box — or friends of theirs had a box, it wasn’t very clear — and luncheon was served, and afterwards Sarah went out on the balcony to watch the fourth race.
“Do you have money on any of them?” The voice came from her elbow. Sarah turned to see a girl about her own age, dressed in extravagant blue silk. She had thick blond hair swept up in a loose topknot, turquoise-green eyes, and a sniffle that invited one in response.
Sarah shrugged. “I haven’t really got enough money to put on horses.”
“How dreary,” the girl sighed, adjusting a diamond pave bracelet on her slender wrist. “I’ve got forty dollars on Templar, but Freddie says that he hasn’t a chance of winning. I do so adore to see them win, don’t you? And have you seen Freddie, by the way?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Sarah said, looking back at the racecourse, squinting her eyes against the brightness of the sun. “I don’t know who he is.”
Her companion narrowed her eyes. “You’re new here, aren’t you?” she asked. “I don’t remember seeing you before.” She had delicate hands with long, tapered fingers and a habit of tapping her fingernails on things. Sarah had never seen fingernails of that length before, and the girl had polished them to a bright ruby red — she was tapping them now on the railing, impatient, filled with excitement, as though life were rushing by and she were holding herself in check before rushing off to be part of it all. She was extraordinarily beautiful, Sarah thought, delicate with startling eyes and alabaster skin, yet under it all, shining through was an intense gaiety.
“I’ve never been to the races,” Sarah said, at last, suddenly aware that she had been staring. ‘`Oh, look, they’re off!”
Far below them, the horses pounded around the track, the jockeys in their bright colors urging them on, faster, faster….Sarah was amazed at how quickly it was all over, the winner flashing by the post in a blur of movement which vaguely reminded her of something else, something within her own experience, and then the girl next to her was talking again.
“Oh, hell, I simply knew that he was going to lose. Silly name, that should have tipped me off right away. So tiresome, losing.”
“Forty dollars is a lot to lose,” Sarah said with genuine sympathy.
The blue-green eyes widened and stared at her for a second. “You are new around here. Who are you?”
“Sarah Martin,” she said politely, wondering if rudeness went along with money and resolving to watch herself lest her new salary go to her head — or to her manners. “And you?”
The blond head tossed. “Good heavens, I’m Amanda Lewis, of course. Where on earth have you been? Come and drink champagne with me.”
“But you lost,” Sarah said, bewildered.
“Oh, that!” Amanda laughed. “It’s only money, my dear Sarah. And I have lots and lots of it, and that’s what it’s for, don’t you know: spending! Besides, no one really loses anything at the races. They’re so amusing, don’t you think?” Without waiting for a response, she casually linked her arm through Sarah’s and led her back into the box. Her perfume smelled expensive, Sarah found herself thinking. The perfume was deep and rich and dark, a jungle flower scent filled with sultry promise that seemed oddly out of place on an afternoon outing. And yet — it was as though Amanda were an irrepressible child, delightful and charming, a touch out of place but endearing nonetheless. “Freddie! There you are, at last, how simply tiresome of you to go off and disappear just at the most crucial moment. Don’t be dreary, my love.”
Freddie was young, smartly dressed, and perspiring. “Amanda, I’m so desperately sorry. I didn’t have any idea that I was leaving you to your own devices. I just wanted to go down and place one more bet, just before post time, but I was too late and . . .”
Amanda was staring at him. “Don’t be absurd, Freddie,” she said coldly. Then, changing moods abruptly, she laughed, and there was a shift in the tension all around her. It was really extraordinary, how she seemed to affect people. “In any case, I wasn’t on my own, see who I found!”
Sarah felt embarrassed, as though she had been put on display. The people she knew had long since left, and the box was occupied by a group of strangers, young people dressed in expensive clothes who peppered their conversations with witty sayings. She felt at a loss.
Amanda was still talking. “And this is Sarah Someone, who never bets on horses.”
“Wise policy,” observed a blond young man sitting at the table with a cigar in his hand. He reached a languid arm for the champagne bottle before him. “Amanda, of course,” he said, pouring some into a glass, and offering it to her. He looked up at Sarah. “Champagne, Miss — er — ?”
“Martin,” Sarah supplied. “Thanks so much, but no. I really should be — ”
“What nonsense!” Amanda cried, tossing her head so that the tendrils of fine blond hair which fell from her topknot swirled in the air around her for a moment. “You can’t go now, we’ve just begun to talk. And besides, Gerald is going to tell us a story. Aren’t you, Gerald?”
The young man with the languid arm incdined his head slightly. “If you wish, Amanda.”
Amanda nodded and turned to Sarah, smiling ingenuously, a deep dimple on her left cheek emphasizing her merriment. “Don’t you see, I always get my way. So you must drink some champagne with us, to celebrate, and listen to Gerald’s story — which is sometimes tiresome, my dear, but he’s such a poppet that we all simply have to listen to him — and then perhaps we can all go down and place some money on the last race. Or Freddie will, for us.”
“I’d be happy to, Amanda,” Freddie said.
“Miss Martin,” observed Gerald, “doesn’t bet money on horses.”
Sarah smiled at him. “I don’t make enough money to bet. Not forty dollars, anyway.”
He offered her a glass of champagne, and she took it gratefully, glad to have something to occupy herself. Amanda turned to her again, arching her eyebrows. “Do you mean to say that you work?”
“Some people do, Amanda,” said Gerald, his voice dry.
“I worked once,” Freddie said brightly.