“Who Was She? A Tale Of A Hopeless Quest” By Bernard Victor

This humorous story was first published in “The People’s Friend” in June, 1911.

It’s typical of the sorts of stories the magazine published at the time, that carried a strong moral message.

We hope you enjoy!

“You’re a real right down lazy man, Timothy Biggs — that’s wot you are; and if you don’t end up in the poor-‘ouse, I’ll eat my ‘at!”

“Wot nonsense! Wot nonsense you do talk, Keziah!” replied the man in the chair, waving his clay pipe with an injured air.

“You’ve plenty of money to keep us both ‘appy and comfortable, so why should I do another poor feller with a wide and fambly out of a job? ‘Tain’t common-sense. So there!”

“Then wot did you marry me for?” demanded his wife defiantly. “Was it because you scented the bit o’ money my first ‘usband left me?”

“No, no! Pray, don’t ‘arbour such mean thoughts, ‘Ziar. You need only just look in the glass to see it warn’t that.”

Even this doubtful compliment failed to soothe the injured lady’s feelings, she she snorted with disdain —

“Well, all I can say is that when yer Uncle Abe comes down next month and sees wot sort of a lump of idleness I’ve got, good-bye to an ‘expectations’ from that quarter. ‘Twill be yer own fault.”

“You needn’t worry that Abe’ll notice anybody much, considerin’ you told me he’s always buried in them there ‘religis’ books,” said Timothy Biggs sulkily, as he planted two feet on the opposite chair and perpared for a soothing slumber.

Now, Uncle Abel was possessed of a nice little fortune and also a mania for religion. His periodical visits to each one of his relatives brought all the elements of a religious revival.

All the prayer and hymn-books were carefully dusted and arranged into pairs around the centre tables, to make them appear as if in regular use; and the family Bibles of each respective family shone resplendent from their conspicuous positions in the centre of the prayer and hymn-books.

And now Uncle Abel was about to make a short stay with his niece Keziah, and she was thinking fearfully what would be the outcome of it all.

The sluggard habits of her better-half(?) would assuredly ruin their chances of a plump portion of the rich old man’s money-bags. As yet the two had not made each other’s acquaintance, and Mrs Biggs dreaded introducing her husband, for he had not done an honest day’s work since their marriage.

But the relentless wings of Time flew onwards and brought Uncle Abel, who took up his position, with his usual load of books, in the Biggs’ household.

As Timothy Biggs had predicted, the old man was never happy unless deep in some musty old volume, tracing the genealogical tree from Adam onwards.

Timothy was watching him one morning with lazy wonder between the puffs from his stale clay pipe.

“Seems to keep ‘im quiet, an’ ‘e don’t worry me, so let ‘im keep a-‘unting,” he soliloquised. “I likes to see people regular busy.”

Uncle Abe was hot on the scent, searching like a maniac for the long lost relative of a never-to-be-forgotten patriarch.

Book after book he overhauled from end to end, and still he remained unsatisfied and Timothy Biggs nodded peacefully in his chair in the corner.

The last book he shut with a bang that nearly caused the startled sleeper to swallow his clay pipe as he jumped up in affright.

“Half my fortune! Half my fortune!” the old man muttered, oblivious to everything save his inexhaustible researchings. “I’d give half my fortune for the mother-in-law of Moses.”

“‘Oo? Wot?” said the astonished Timothy, staring at the old man as if he were afraid he’d quite gone off his head.

“The mother-in-law of Moses,” the old man repeated excitedly. “If anybody could find out who was the mother-in-law of Moses, I’d give them half my fortune.”

“Lor’, guv’nor, yer don’t mean it do yer?” replied the amazed Timothy.

“I tell you, I’ve been looking for weeks, and I must find it, and the sooner the better. Half my fortune if someone could only tell me,” Uncle Abe ended muttering.

“Well, if that’s all you wants for it, I’ll soon be a jolly rich bloke a-riding in my kerridge,” spoke the noble Timothy as he reached for his cap and sallied forth to find his wife.

“I say, ‘Ziar,” said he on reaching the scullery, where his better half was engaged in white-washing the ceiling, “happen to know ‘oo was the mother-in-law of Moses?”

“The mother-in-law of Moses!” repeated she in astonishment, staring at her husband. “Wot do you want to know about ‘er for, when I can’t even get you to look at yer own mother-in-law?”

“Oh, never mind if you don’t know,” said the wily Mr Biggs. “We’d only got a little argument on, Bill Dorkins and me, and I said you’d be sure to know.”

“Well, if I did I wouldn’t tell you, for ‘twould do you more good to sit down and hunt through the Bible for it yerself,” and Mrs Biggs continued to dab wrathfully and whitewash on the ceiling.

Timothy Biggs next confided in his bosom friend Bill Dorkins, and together they spent the morning searching through the scriptures, but all in vain.

Then Timothy concluded to go round and interview the lay reader of the parish church, who was the manager in the gas office.

Here’s a look at “Friend” Illustrations Ed Manon creating the great illustration to accompany this story:


In this especial office were half a dozen small windows, behind which sat clerks to receive money. Applying at one of these, Mr Biggs said —

“Is Mr Drawl in?”

“What’s your business?”

“Why, I want to find out the name of Moses’s—”

“Don’t know anything about it. Look in the directory,” and the clerk slammed the window shut.

Then Timothy went to the next window and said —

“I want to see Mr Drawl a minute.”

“What for?”

“I want to see if ‘e knows Moses’s—”

“Moses who?”

“Why, Moses, the Bible Moses — if ‘e knows—”

“Patriarchs don’t belong in this department. Apply across the street at the Christian Association rooms,” and then the clerk closed the window.

Still undaunted, Mr Biggs appeared at the next window and said—

“I want to see Mr Drawl a minute, in reference to a matter about Moses.”

“Want to pay his gas bill? What’s the last name?”

“Oh, no. I mean the first Moses; the first one of all.”

“Anything the matter with his meter?”

“You don’t understand me, young man. I mean the ‘Ebrew man. I want to see—”

“Well, you can’t see him here. This is the gas office. Try next door.”

At the adjoining windiw, Mr Biggs said —

“Look ‘ere, I want to see the lay reader, Mr Drawl, a minute about the Prophet Moses, and I wish you’d tell ‘im so.”

“No, I won’t,” replied the clerk. “He’s too busy to be bothered with anything of that kind.”

“But I must see ‘im,” said Timothy, “I’ve made up my mind to see ‘im; I’ve got a bet about Moses’s—”

“Don’t make any difference what you’ve got; you can’t see him.”

“But I will. I want you to go and tell ‘im that I’m ‘ere and that I wish to know something ‘specting Moses. I’ll have you discharged if—if you don’t go.”

“Don’t care if you want to see him about all the children of Israel, and the Pharaohs and Nebuchadnezzars. I tell you, you can’t. That settles it. Turn off your gas and quit.”

The Timothy resolved to give up the lay reader and try the Rev. James.

When he called at the parsonage the vicar came down into the parlour. It was the vicar’s misfortune that he was very deaf, and there was a little misunderstanding when Timothy said—

“I called, parson, to know if you could tell ‘oo was the mother-in-law of Moses.”

“Well, really,” said the vicar, “there isn’t much preference. Some like one kind of roses and some like another.

“A very good variety of the pink rose is the Duke of Cambridge; grows large, bears early, and has very fine perfume.

“The Hercules is also excellent; but you must manure it well and water it often.”

“I didn’t ask about roses, but Moses. You’ve made a mistake,” shouted Timothy in his ear.

“Oh, of course! By all means. Train them up to a stake if you want to. The don’t blow them about so, and they send out more shoots.”

“You ‘aven’t heard right,” yelled Mr Biggs, his face purple with shouting. “I asked about Moses, not roses. I want to know ‘oo was the mother-in-law of Moses?”

“Oh, yes! Certainly. Excuse me, I thought you were enquiring about roses. The law of Moses was the foundation of the religion of the Jews. You can find it in full in the Pentateuch.

“It is admirable; very admirable for the purpose for which it was ordained. We, of course, have outlived that dispensation, but it still contains many things that are useful to us, as for instance—”

“Was Moses married?” shrieked Mr Biggs.

“Married! Oh, yes, the name of his father-in-law, you know, was Jethro, and—”

“‘Oo was ‘is wife?” screamed Timothy excitedly, as he almost felt the huge fortune within his grasp.

“Why, she was the daughter of Jethro, of course. I said Jethro was his father-in-law.”

“No; Jethro’s wife, I mean. I want to know to settle a bet.”

“No, that isn’t her name.” ‘Bet’ is a corruption of Elizabeth, and that name, I believe, is not found in the Old Testament. I don’t remember what the name of Moses’s wife was.”

“I want to know what was the name of the mother-in-law of Moses, to settle a bet.”

“Young man,” said the old vicar sternly, “you are trifling with a serious subject. What do you mean by wanting Moses to settle a bet?”

Then Mr Biggs rolled up a sheet of music that law on the piano, and, putting it to the doctor’s ear, he shouted—

“I—made—a—bet—that—I—could—find—out—what—the—name—of—Moses’s—mother-in-law—was. Can—you—tell—me?”

“The Bible don’t say, and you did very wrong,” responded the Rev. James, “and unless you can get a spiritualist to put you in communication with Moses, I guess you will lose.”

Then Timothy returned home to his wife.

“Well, di you find out about the mother-in-law?” was her first salutation.

“Yes,” replied Mr Biggs sulkily, “’tain’t known.”

“If it ‘adn’t been for spoiling the game I could ‘ave told you as much this morning,” said Mrs Biggs.

“I could ‘ave told you also,” she continued smiling wickedly, “that it was only a ruse of Uncle Abe’s to get you to read your Bible.

“He said as much before he left for your brother Tom’s this afternoon.

“Evidently ‘e thought you needed it.”

Click here to read more of our fantastic Fiction content.

Click here to delve into our dramatic Daily Serial.

Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.