Eve fervently hoped Gareth would change his mind and choose her to be his queen at the annual spring festival
EVER since she was a little girl it had been Eve Weston’s ambition to be crowned the village carnival queen. A highlight of the social calendar, the carnival was a hugely popular event and always attracted large crowds.
Recently, the local history society had researched the carnival’s origins. They were surprised to discover it dated back to pagan times. Although historians had produced sound evidence to indicate the festival had begun as an act of celebration to mark the arrival of spring, this didn’t stop the odd rogue from telling tourists the local legend as to why the event supposedly started.
The night before that year’s carnival, Eve and her boyfriend, Gareth, found themselves in The Royal Oak listening to old Tom relate the tale to a rapt group of visitors. “The crops had failed for several years in a row so our ancestors made a deal,” Tom explained.
“What kind of deal?” an American tourist asked.
“They made a deal with the devil.” Tom paused for effect and drained the last of his pint. “They turned to the devil and asked him to ensure our village would never experience a bad harvest again. The devil agreed, so he drew up a contract which demanded that every May Day he must have the first dance with our carnival queen. And we still honour his demand to this day.”
By the time Tom had finished speaking you could hear a pin drop. Eve turned her back on her uncle and stifled a giggle. As his audience gazed at him in awe, Tom twirled his empty pint glass in an absent-minded manner. Suddenly the silence was broken by one of the Americans, who asked Tom if he’d like another drink. “That’s kind of you, sir,” Tom replied. Deciding to call it a night, Eve and Gareth left the pub. On the way home Eve tried her best to persuade Gareth to select her the next day. Gareth had been chosen as that year’s carnival king and ultimately it was down to the king to choose a queen. Eve had explained to Gareth several times how much it would mean to her to be picked, but Gareth was adamant he should select someone else, to appear impartial. “Why?” “Because if I chose you everyone would
accuse me of favouritism,” he said. “So?” Gareth tried to placate Eve. “You’ll always be my queen.”
The pair kissed then Eve wandered across the road to her parents’ cottage. As she did so, she hoped her boyfriend would have a change of heart.
THE next morning Eve woke early. Hastening downstairs she found a note from her parents in the kitchen. They’d gone on ahead. After grabbing a quick shower, Eve got dressed. Admiring herself in her old bedroom mirror she felt like a fairytale princess. All she needed now was for her handsome prince to choose her as carnival queen.
But when she called on Gareth she found him still in bed. His cheeks were flushed and he was feverish. Eve felt his brow. “You’re burning up.” “I’ll be fine.” “Would you like me to get you a drink?” she asked.
Barely able to respond he nodded weakly, so Eve made her way downstairs and brewed a hot toddy. By the time she returned Gareth was fast asleep. Given that it seemed highly unlikely he’d manage to perform his duties that day, she felt she ought to tell the carnival committee. Turning to leave, she caught sight of Gareth’s costume hanging on the cupboard door. Running her fingers down the lapels of his tuxedo she couldn’t help wondering who’d take his place.
AS SHE made her way to the main tent on the green, Eve was surprised at how busy the village was already. It looked as if there’d be a record number of visitors that year. On entering the main tent Eve discovered most of the carnival committee members were helping out with last-minute preparations. Spotting the carnival queen’s crown on a table she wandered over and picked it up, marvelling at how it gleamed in the sunlight.
Sensing something was troubling his niece, Tom sidled over and asked, “What’s the matter?” “It’s Gareth.” “What’s wrong with him?” Eve was about to explain that Gareth was feverish when she felt someone tap her left shoulder. Turning around she found herself face to face with a handsome figure wearing a tuxedo and a devil mask. Eve had almost forgotten how dashing her boyfriend looked in the outfit. The elegant figure gestured at the crown in her hands and asked in a gruff voice, “May I?”
As Eve handed the crown to him her fingers brushed against his. She noted that he still seemed to be running a fever as they were warm to touch.
“You’ve made a miraculous recovery,” Eve remarked.
“It must have been that toddy you fixed me,” he replied.
“Has my niece been fixing you the old family remedy the morning of the carnival?” Tom interjected. “I’m surprised you can still stand.
“Now, Mr Carnival King, about the procession-” Tom said as the pair wandered off.
AN HOUR later half a dozen young women from the village were standing on the stage in the main tent. The carnival king took the microphone from its stand and strode to the centre of the stage. Sensing that the carnival queen was about to be chosen, the large crowd fell silent. In a loud voice he announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my great pleasure to announce that our carnival queen this year will be . . . Miss Eve Weston!”
The crowd broke into thunderous applause. Eve gasped in surprise as she received congratulations from her fellow competitors. Her heart pounding in her chest, she took her place at the king’s side. As he placed the crown on her head he whispered, “My queen.”
He extended his right hand and invited Eve to join him in the first dance. She accepted his hand and the band struck up. He was just about to lead off when Eve suddenly remembered what an appalling dancer Gareth was. “Try not to worry,” she said, reassuringly. “You’ll be fine.”
The carnival king bowed and then, to her great surprise, led her into a dramatic tango. As the pair glided effortlessly across the stage she whispered, “Have you been taking lessons?” “No,” he said. “So where on earth did you learn to dance like this?”
“That would be telling.”
The first dance of the day was just the start of proceedings. The procession to the maypole followed, then the afternoon was taken up by slightly bizarre competitions, including boot throwing and sheep racing. Presiding over each event, the carnival king and queen were never far from the centre of attention.
Alas the day passed too quickly. All too soon Eve found herself back in the carnival king’s arms as they took to the stage for the final dance, which brought proceedings to a conclusion. On this occasion they performed an elegant waltz. As the music stopped the king bowed gracefully to his queen, just as the church bells chimed midnight. At the twelfth stroke the tent suddenly plunged into darkness.
It was a few moments before the lights came back on. Glancing around Eve was surprised to find herself standing alone on stage, her king nowhere to be seen. She found this puzzling because the pair had a final duty to do, which was to bid everyone good health for the remainder of the year. Eve was just about to start searching for Gareth when she felt a tap on her shoulder for the second time that day. She turned to find her boyfriend standing behind her, minus his mask. Eve barely recognised the elegant creature she’d spent the day with. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes puffy.
“You look like hell,” she said.
He smiled wanly. “I’m so sorry.” “What for?” “I haven’t felt myself all day.” Eve put her right arm around his shoulders. “Come on, let’s get you home.”
As they left the stage Eve happened to catch sight of her uncle Tom at the back of the tent. He was deep in conversation with someone dressed in a resplendent tuxedo.
After bidding Tom good night the stranger turned, bowed at Eve, then wandered off into the foggy night. Curious, Eve steered Gareth in her uncle’s direction. “Who was that you were talking to?” Eve asked Tom.
Her uncle smiled, enigmatically. “Just an old friend.”
“Why didn’t you introduce us?” Eve said.
“Maybe next year,” Tom replied. “He always comes back for the carnival.”
‘If I chose you everyone would accuse me of favouritism,’ Gareth said to Eve