The clerk’s pen wobbled slowly over the paper, scratching in the silence. At long last, he frowned up at her.
“Let me see if I’ve understood, miss,” he said with confused patience. Gwendolyn swallowed. “You wish to change your name to…”
“Gwendolyn Marie Fairfax.” She was sweating through her dimity.
“And your current legal name is…”
She closed her eyes. “Ethel Beulah Fairfax.”
“I see.” The clerk scribbled on the form. “You understand the change must be printed in the papers.”
Panic wrapped around her stomach.
“I’m afraid it’s not possible,” she said. “You see, I’m getting married tomorrow, and my fiance thinks -”
The clerk was watching her, pen poised over the form. Gwendolyn swallowed again.
“The point is, it’s absolutely vital that this be a private matter.”
“I’m afraid it’s a legal matter, miss.” His voice was apologetic, but firm.
She bit her lip, holding tears back.
How could she have been so stupid, to make such an enormous matter about it all with Ernest — knowing the whole time that she carried that horrible name? Ethel. Her parents had told her it was a beautiful name, a family name, but Gwendolyn had always hated it. At the age of six, she announced her name was now Gwendolyn, like the princess in her favorite storybook. She refused to answer to her Christian name until at last, everyone seemed to forget which was which.
But now…now she had left it so late.
Gwendolyn took a deep breath.
“Might this entice your charity?” she asked, holding up a bank note. The clerk’s eyes brightened with interest. In a swift motion, he had concealed the note in his glove.
“You’re very kind, Miss,” he said. “Allow me to see what I can do.”
He stepped into the back room.
Gwendolyn barely registered the tinkle of the bell above the doorway.
“Gwendolyn?” Ernest said in surprise. She whipped around.
“Darling, what are you doing here?”
She felt her spine stiffen. “Some….last-minute wedding nonsense. Mother insisted. You know how she is.”
Normally, Ernest would have made a joke about that, but he only chuckled, looking anxious.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Oh, a small errand. Nothing to trouble you with.”
“I should hope not.”
“Miss Fairfax?” said the clerk, coming back in. “It’s all ready, miss.”
“Thank you so much,” she said. She turned to Ernest. “Darling, I’ll see you tonight. Don’t be late.”
“I shouldn’t dream of it,” he said.
As soon as the bell had rung farewell behind Gwendolyn, Ernest turned to the clerk. “I would like to change my name as quickly as possible.”