Sometimes litigants have sought to remove troublesome entries in those invaluable books which record with equal impartiality the entrance into the world and the departure from it of peer or peasant. And in such dramas the clerk frequently appears. The old man has to be bribed or cajoled to allow the books to be tampered with. A stranger arrives one evening at Rochester, and demands of the clerk to be shown the registers. The stranger finds the entry upon which much depends. In its present form it does not support his case. It must be altered in order to meet his requirements. The clerk hovers about the vestry, alert, vigilant. He must be got rid of. The stranger proposes various inducements; the temptation of a comfortable seat in a cosy corner of the nearest inn, a stimulating glass, but all in vain. There is something suspicious about the stranger’s looks and manners; so the clerk thinks. He sticks to his elbow like a leech, and nothing can shake him off. At length the stranger offers the poor clerk a goodly bribe if only he will help him to alter a few words in that all-important register. I am not sure whether the clerk yielded to the temptation.
There was a still more dramatic scene in the old vestry of Lainston Church, where a few years previously a Miss Chudleigh had been married to Lieutenant Hervey. This young lady, who was not remarkable for her virtue, arrived one day at the church accompanied by a fascinating friend who, while Mrs. Hervey examined the register, exercised her blandishments on the clerk. She expressed much interest in the church, and asked him endless questions about its architecture, the state of his health, his family, his duties; and while this little by-play was proceeding Mrs. Hervey was carefully and noiselessly cutting out the page in the register which contained the entry of her marriage. Having removed the tell-tale page she hastily closed the book, summoned her fascinating friend, and hastened back to London. The clerk, still thinking of the beautiful lady who had been so friendly and given him such a handsome present, locked the safe, and never discovered the theft. But time brought its revenge. Lieutenant Hervey succeeded unexpectedly to the title of the earldom of Bristol. His wife was overcome with remorse. By her foolish scheme she had sacrificed a coronet. That missing paper must be restored; and so the lady pays another visit to Lainston Church, on this occasion in the company of a lawyer. The old clerk unlocks again the parish chest. The books are again produced; confession is made of the former theft; the lawyer looks threateningly at the clerk, and tells him that if it should ever be discovered he will suffer as an accomplice; and then, with the promise of a substantial bribe, the clerk consents to give his aid. The missing paper is produced and deftly inserted in its former place in the book, and Miss Chudleigh becomes the Countess of Bristol. It is a curious story, but it has the merit of being true. Many strange romances are bound up within the stained and battered parchment covers of an old register.